Since the 1994-95 season, the Philadelphia Flyers have missed the playoffs just once. In this decade they’ve won at least 40 games a season seven times.
Philadelphia Flyers (15-15-1, 31 pts.) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (22-10-1, 45 pts.)
So when Philadelphia visits Mellon Arena tonight for the first of back-to-back games against the Penguins, it might have a little bit different of a feel, considering the Flyers are currently tied at the bottom of the Atlantic Division out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
To summarize the recent Flyers’ free fall, John Stevens was fired on Dec. 4 with a record of 13-11-1 and the Flyers have gone 2-4-0 under new coach Peter Laviolette. Starting goaltender Ray Emery underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn muscle in his lower abdomen and will be out of the lineup for six weeks — an injury the organization was aware of but tried and failed at rehabilitating, leading to his current state.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn is currently walking around in a boot and is a longshot to start for a Philly team that has been outscored 20-13 in its last six games. Fans are questioning the team’s identity and feel they play without a sense of purpose.
Expect a desperate, frustrated and possibly angry group tonight.
But wait, there’s more. Simon Gagne has been out since the beginning of November for recovery from hip and abdominal surgery. He is expected to return soon, but not by tonight’s game.
It all seems like it would put the Flyers at a disadvantage against the Penguins and this is, surely, a unique situation. Compare the Flyers current troubles to the Penguins, whose struggles are few and whose injuries are in the past.
It’s night and day.
“This game is unique regardless of the situation: where they’re at; where we’re at; whether they have a new coach or not,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “This is a rivalry game. It has a different feel knowing you’re going to play the Flyers in the next two games.
“Knowing that they’re coming to your building tonight and knowing the Orange sweaters are going to be out on ice going against you. It’s a different feel no matter what the situations of the teams are.”
That’s the truth. This is Pens-Flyers and it seems to bring out the best in both teams, regardless of their current state.
The Flyers are dangerous on the power play — fifth in the NHL at 22.5 percent — which is always handy when these two teams face off. Emotions regularly run high and penalties are seemingly unavoidable, giving special teams added importance.
“The challenge is being emotionally right for the game, getting charged up, ready for physical confrontation and a tough game,” Bylsma said. “We have to make sure we’re focused on playing our game and not worry about the other things.”
But as Philadelphia’s power play is strong, its penalty kill is equally bad. The Flyers are fifth from the bottom of the NHL in the penalty kill — 78.3 percent.
If anything positive can be taken in to the game for the Flyers, it’s that they’re coming off a 3-1 win against Boston Monday night.
After seeing the Penguins drop a home game to Carolina — the only team with less points than the Flyers — anything can happen. When you add the heat of this rivalry that only increases.
“They’re intense games,” Sidney Crosby said. “I think we all realize there’s a little bit extra when these two teams meet. You can feel it out there on the ice. I think as players you look forward to games like that.”
Chris | PPT