What to Watch For: Pens vs. Flyers
Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:00 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
WHEN: March 18, 2012 - 12:30 pm | WHERE: Wells-Fargo Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
The Penguins aren’t the only team in the Atlantic Division that’s heating up as the Philadelphia Flyers have gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games and have climbed within three points of Pittsburgh in the division and conference standings.
And it’s goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov who has been the star of the show, as he’s gone 7-0-1 in the month of March with Saturday’s shootout loss to Boston. Bryzgalov struggled throughout much of his first season in Philadelphia after spending the previous four with Phoenix, but lately he has returned to the form that earned him the nine-year, $51-million contract he signed last summer to make him the highest-paid goaltender in the league.
Bryzgalov has allowed just nine regulation goals in his last eight games and has four shutouts over that span. He set a franchise record with a shutout streak of 249 minutes, 43 seconds that ended Thursday, which is the second-longest shutout streak in the league since the NHL expanded in 1967.
But since Bryzgalov did start the first game first of a back-to-back situation on Saturday, there is a chance that Sergei Bobrovsky could get the nod Sunday against the Penguins. Bobrovsky is 1-1 against Pittsburgh this season and 4-2-1 in his career, but has started just one of the last 13 games with Bryzgalov surging.
Not only are the Flyers playing stingy defense, but they have the league’s best offense led by Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. Giroux set a new career high with his 26th goal of the season on Thursday against NY Islanders and also has 56 assists for 82 points, which ranks third in the NHL scoring race behind Evgeni Malkin and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Hartnell scored his 33rd goal of the year on Thursday, which ranks sixth most in the league. Hartnell also established a new career high in scoring with his 61st and 62nd points of the year in that game, eclipsing his previous high of 60, and he leads the league with 15 power-play goals.
But while everything seems to be clicking for the Flyers right now, their Achilles heel has been early starts. After the shootout loss in Saturday’s 1 p.m. start in Boston, the Flyers now have a 3-8-2 record this season in games that start before 3 p.m.
FLYERS: JAROMIR JAGR
Jagr always seems to raise his game when it comes to playing his former team. Jagr had just one goal in his previous 16 games heading into the two teams’ last meeting on Feb. 18 in Philly, but erupted for two goals just 18 seconds apart late in the first period of the contest. He also got on the board in his long-awaited and anticipated return to Pittsburgh on Dec. 29, and gave his trademark salute every time. Jagr has just two goals in his last 12 game entering Sunday’s game, but don’t be surprised if he changes that come Sunday with his former employer coming to town.
PENGUINS: MATT COOKE
Cooke has reinvented his game for the 2011-12 season, but lately, he’s been reinvented as a goal-scoring threat. Cooke has four goals in his last two games, producing his second two-goal game in as many contests on Saturday in New Jersey. Cooke now has 16 goals on the season – a new career high – and boasts 31 points. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Cooke has exploded for a pair of two-goal games in the last two contests, as he’s been paired with recently-returned captain Sidney Crosby in each of those tilts. But regardless, Cooke is red-hot entering Sunday’s game at Wells Fargo Center, where he actually had what head coach Dan Bylsma called his best game of the year Feb. 18th. The winger had two goals – one being 3-on-5 shorthanded tally – and added an assist for three points in the Penguins’ 6-4 win.
The Penguins enter Sunday's game on a season-high 11-game winning streak. It is now the NHL's longest winning streak this season. During the streak the Penguins are outscoring their foes 43-17 in regulation.
Pittsburgh's 11-game winning streak is just their fourth winning streak of 10 or more games in franchise history (17 games, March 9-April 10, 1993; 12 games, Nov. 17-Dec. 11, 2010; 10 games, Jan. 28-Feb. 15, 1999).
Forward Arron Asham was scratched for Saturday's game in New Jersey due to illness, with Eric Tangradi taking his spot in the lineup. Asham's status for Sunday is unknown at this time.
Goalie Brent Johnson has not practiced since March 7 with an undisclosed injury.
During the first period of the Flyers' game at Boston on Saturday, Andreas Lilja was struck up high in front of Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov at the top of the crease and left the game. He did not return and Flyers GM Paul Holmgren announced that Lilja is still being evaluated.
In addition, forward Max Talbot suffered an upper-body injury and did not return to the game following the second period. He received a five-minute fighting major after dropping the gloves with Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk approximately four minutes into the second period. Talbot did not return after serving the penalty.
F Arron Asham, illness (1)
G Brent Johnson, undisclosed (11)
D Pavel Kubina, upper body
D Andrej Meszaros, lower body
RW Tom Sestito, groin
LW James van Riemsdyk, broken left foot
Author: Michelle Crechiolo