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Flyers-Penguins Preview

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:46 AM

As the excitement keeps building for the Winter Classic, the Philadelphia Flyers' momentum sure isn't.

The same can't be said of the 2011 host.

That was the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will go for a fifth consecutive victory Thursday night and try to keep the Flyers in a funk before returning home for the NHL's annual outdoor extravaganza.

Adding more intrigue to this matchup between Atlantic Division rivals tied for the third-most points in the Eastern Conference, Jaromir Jagr will make his long-awaited return to the city where he spent his first 11 NHL seasons.

This is Philadelphia's final game before hosting the New York Rangers on Jan. 2 for the Winter Classic. Preparations at Citizens Bank Park are nearly complete, but the Flyers (21-10-4) are not playing as if they're ready to impress a national TV audience.

A loss Thursday will give Philadelphia its worst six-game stretch of the season, having gone 1-3-1 since winning seven straight. The team has scored five goals in those four defeats.

The Flyers are at risk of dropping three straight for the first time this season after losing 4-2 to the Rangers on Friday and 5-1 to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

"What's frustrating is we didn't score goals on our chances," Jagr said Tuesday after the Flyers had 30-plus shots for a fifth straight game. "It looked like nothing went our way. Two weeks ago, everything went our way. That's the business."

Jagr might hear plenty of boos in his first game at Pittsburgh since March 30, 2008, while with the Rangers.

"It's not the first time that Jaromir Jagr has come into a building and not been liked," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I'm sure he's going to expect it and hear it."

After he decided to return to the league this season following three years playing in Russia, the Penguins publicly lobbied for Jagr to return. However, former teammate and current Pens owner Mario Lemieux withdrew their 1-year, $2 million offer after Jagr hesitated, and he ended up signing with the rival Flyers for $3.3 million.

"To me, it doesn't matter," Jagr said of returning to Pittsburgh. "I just play every game the same - Pittsburgh, Rangers, Tampa Bay. It doesn't matter."

Jagr already faced the Penguins (21-11-4) once this season and went pointless as the Flyers won 3-2 on Dec. 8. Philadelphia is 4-0-1 in the last five meetings and has won three straight in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins, though, enter the rematch having won four in a row - one over West-leading Chicago - and have scored at least four goals in five straight.

Pittsburgh had a season-high 52 shots in a 4-2 victory over Carolina on Tuesday.

"We had a lot of Grade-A chances," said winger James Neal, who scored his team-leading 21st goal. "... If you're putting pucks on the net and controlling the offensive zone like that, you're going to get your bounces."

Neal has a goal in four straight and is riding an eight-game point streak, as is linemate Evgeni Malkin. With 18 points in that span, Malkin has raised his season total to 42 to climb within two of Philadelphia's Claude Giroux for most among East players.

The other member of Pittsburgh's top line, Chris Kunitz, has a five-game point streak but is uncertain to play after missing practice Wednesday with an illness.

It's also unclear who will be in the Flyers' net. While backup Sergei Bobrovsky has a 1.47 goals-against average in his last seven appearances, Ilya Bryzgalov has lost four straight starts while posting a 4.58 GAA.

"Our goaltending, me, by myself, have got to do better," Bryzgalov said after making 11 saves Tuesday. "That's the bottom line."

Bylsma can pass Michel Therrien for second place in franchise history Thursday with his 136th victory.

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