The Pittsburgh Penguins won all eight of their meetings with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. The Flyers would love nothing more than to return the favor this season, and they’re off to a good start.
Philadelphia looks for its fourth win in as many tries against its in-state rival in 2007-08 when it hosts Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Both teams have been among the NHL’s best over the past month, with each posting 10 wins in its past 13 games. The Penguins (27-17-4) are 10-1-2 since Dec. 23, outscoring their opponents 40-21, while the Flyers (26-16-5) are 10-2-1 since Dec. 27, scoring 50 goals while allowing 33.
That strong play has moved both teams near the top of the competitive Atlantic Division. Pittsburgh (58 points) and Philadelphia (57) are right behind division-leading New Jersey (59), while only seven points separate the first-place Devils from the last-place New York Rangers.
While suffering through the worst season in franchise history, the Flyers were outscored 40-21 by the Penguins in 2006-07, going 0-6-2 in the season series.
In 2007-08, though, they’ve turned the tables on Pittsburgh, outscoring the Penguins 16-5 to easily win all three games between the teams thus far.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder and it’s not just the guys that were here last year,” Umberger said after that win. “I think the guys that have come in know exactly what happened and they don’t want to be a part of that.”
Both teams will be missing a key offensive force in this game. Lupul, who recorded another hat trick two games after the Flyers’ last meeting with the Penguins, bruised his spinal cord on Jan. 5 and is expected to miss another month.
The Penguins will be playing their third game without reigning Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Friday’s loss to Tampa Bay. Crosby, who was tied for the league lead in points (63) at the time of his injury, will miss six-to-eight weeks.
Philadelphia’s offense hasn’t suffered with Lupul out of the lineup. They’ve scored 34 goals in their past seven contests, putting up six goals three times in that span while going 15-for-41 (36.6 percent) on the power play.
However, the Flyers’ defense let them down in their most recent game, a 7-3 home defeat to New Jersey on Tuesday.
“We had a total letdown,” coach John Stevens said of his team’s first regulation loss in nine games.
The Penguins have picked up three of four possible points in their first two games without Crosby, beating Montreal 2-0 on Saturday before losing 6-5 in a shootout to Washington on Monday.
Second-year center Evgeni Malkin has done his best to fill the void with Crosby sidelined. He has three goals and an assist in his last two games.
“Yeah, we lost our best player and you can’t really replace him,” said Malkin, who has a team-high 26 goals and 30 assists and was chosen to replace Crosby in Saturday’s All-Star game. “It’s not (only) me, everybody has to keep up with every game.”
Martin Biron will get the start between the pipes for the Flyers. After beginning his career against Pittsburgh 1-9-0 with one tie and a 3.67 goals-against average, he’s 8-0-1 with two ties and a 1.87 GAA in his last 11 starts versus the Penguins, including all three wins this season.