PENGUINS (0-0-0) vs. FLYERS (0-0-0)
WHEN: January 19, 2013 - 3:00 pm | WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
Hockey is back and the Keystone State rivalry is alive and well. One half of that matchup, the Philadelphia Flyers, defeated the other half, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in a wild six-game opening round playoff series in April that saw 56 goals scored between the two clubs. Although the Flyers lost one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen this past offseason in former Jaromir Jagr, they still possess one of the game's brightest stars.
Claude Giroux came into his own during the 2011-12 campaign, as the 25-year-old center put up 28 goals and 93 points in 77 games. The Hearst, Ontario native finished third in league scoring and second in assists with 65. With Chris Pronger's career likely over, Giroux was named Flyers team captain on Jan. 15. Giroux’s fellow linemate, Scott Hartnell, also had a career year in Flyer orange. The feisty winger amassed a career-high 37 goals, good for sixth in the league. Hartnell also added 30 assists to go along with 136 penalty minutes, skating in all 82 games for Philadelphia.
Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds also had quality years for the Flyers up front (though Briere likely won't play on Saturday as he is recovering from a hairline fracture in his wrist). Center Sean Couturier, who excelled defensively in the playoffs for Philadelphia, has moved from the fourth line to the second line and is flanked by former Penguin Max Talbot and Voracek.
Former Penguin great Jagr made his NHL return last season after a three-year hiatus, joining the Flyers and still putting up solid numbers (19G-35A) for a 40-year-old. Jagr consistently played on the top line along with Hartnell and Giroux, helping his linemates to career years. But with Jagr now in Dallas after signing one-year deal with the Stars in July, it looks like Brayden Schenn will be filling his skates on Giroux and Hartnell's line. Schenn had a big playoff series against Pittsburgh as a rookie after scoring 12 goals in 54 regular-season games. He had success with the American Hockey League's Adirondack Phantoms during the work stoppage with 33 points in 33 games, but it remains to be seen if he'll gel with Giroux and Hartnell.
Defenseman Matt Carle also departed Philly via free agency, inking a deal with Tampa Bay. The club was active in the trade market, dealing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus the morning of the 2012 NHL Draft. A day later, general manager Paul Holmgren made his second deal in as many days, sending winger James van Riemsdyk to Toronto in exchange for defenseman Luke Schenn. The elder Luke joins his brother Brayden in a Flyers sweater this season.
Philadelphia made pitches for prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, with both ultimately landing in Minnesota. The club also signed all-star defenseman Shea Weber to an offer sheet, only to have it matched by Nashville. They didn’t land any of the big fish, but Philadelphia was still active in the free agent market. The Flyers brought on some veteran presence, adding former Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko for his second stint with the team, along with defenseman Bruno Gervais – a close friend of current Flyer and former Penguin Max Talbot.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren told the media earlier this week that it was "highly unlikely" that Chris Pronger would ever play again. Pronger only skated in 13 games last season after suffering a concussion back in November. The 38-year-old missed the remainder of the regular season and playoffs with post-concussion syndrome and remains on the injured reserve list. However, the Flyers still possess plenty of NHL-caliber defensemen, including Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn should round out the top four, while the Flyers traded for big defenseman Kurtis Foster (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) to add even more size to their blue line. Foster, who has a big shot and should be on the second power-play unit, should be paired with Andrej Meszaros.
Goaltending always seems to be a hot topic for the Flyers, and after dealing Bobrovsky over the summer, they’ll look for Ilya Bryzgalov to carry the load once again. Bryzgalov recorded 33 wins over 57 starts, but was inconsistent at times during his first year in Philly.
FLYERS: CLAUDE GIROUX
Giroux became one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league last season, picking up eight points (1G-7A) in five playoff games against the Penguins after scoring 93 points (28G-65A) during the regular season. The playmaking center also developed quite a rivalry with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. With the loss of Jagr, Giroux will have to adapt to a new winger on his line.
PENGUINS: EVGENI MALKIN
Malkin should hit the ice flying, as he returns to the NHL having played a full schedule of games in the Kontinental Hockey League. He dominated there, scoring 23 goals and 65 points in 37 games with his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The reigning NHL MVP and leading scorer (109 points) should set the pace for Pittsburgh on Saturday, as most of his teammates did not play overseas during the work stoppage.
F Danny Briere, hairline fracture in wrist
D Chris Pronger, post-concussion syndrome