Flyers, Penguins Kick Off the Season in Philly
The NHL is back, and there is no better way to celebrate the return of hockey in Pennsylvania than to have its two bitter rivals battle in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will travel to Philadelphia for a 3PM show down at the Wells Fargo Center. The arena will be filled to capacity with nearly 20,000 orange-and-black-clad Flyers fans, with a little yellow sprinkled in the mix.
The last time these two teams met, it was a six-game thriller in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in which the Flyers won, 4-2. 56 goals were scored between the two teams, and a huge brawl broke out during Game 3 thar set the tone for the rest of the series.
Flyers forwards Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux blew up in that series, keeping Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in check. Giroux's Game 6 check on Crosby and goal only 32 seconds into the game are still played today, and has become one of the many reasons he was named captain of the Flyers this past Tuesday.
The Flyers will be without right winger Danny Briere for the opening weekend against Pittsburgh and in Buffalo on Sunday due to a left wrist fracture. Brayden Schenn found himself on the first line of practice, and will be paired with Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
The second line will feature Couturier centering Jake Voracek and Max Talbot. The checking line for Philadelphia will be Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read centered by rookie center Scott Laughton, who was taken 20th overall.
Laughton, 18, has impressed the Flyers early, but could head back to the juniors when Briere returns. There's a chance Laughton could stay on the team, pending how he plays in his first five games, also benefiting from a 48-game schedule.
The fourth line will be Eric Wellwood centering Zac Rinaldo and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Pittsburgh is expected to be top-heavy again this season. After losing Jordan Staal to free agency (Carolina), a bulk of their scoring will be relied upon the top two lines.
Crosby, Malkin and James Neal will be called upon to carry the team offensively. Pasqual Dupuis and Chris Kunitz will skate on the top line with Crosby and Eric Tangradi will join Neal and Malkin on their second line.
The bottom six forwards for Pittsburgh will feature a group of pests and heavy-hitters that the Flyers hope to match up with. Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy play a very gritty playing style that gets under the skin of their opponents, and Joe Vitale and Craig Adams will be the Penguins' answer to Rinaldo.
A lot is going to hinge on the success of Luke Schenn. Acquired straight-up for James van Riemsdyk, Schenn has been learning from injured Chris Pronger as well as his defensive partner, Kimmo Timonen. The two are expected to be the second pair.
Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann will be the Flyers top shut-down pairing. Both are big bodies, heavy hitters and good skaters. Grossmann was among the league leaders in shots blocked last year.
Andrej Meszaros appears to be ready for the season opener. Recovering from his Achilles injury sustained last year, he will be paired with new-comer Kurtis Foster. Foster is a good skater and features a heavy right-handed shot from the blue line.
Pittsburgh is very balanced defensively. Kris Letang is the perrenial all-star of the unit, and he is surrounded by a lot of strong, trust-worthy talent that plays on a consistently high level.
Letang and Brooks Orpik are paired together as the top pair. Both are dangerous offensively and defensively, and both are very physical.
Paul Martin, acquired from the Devils, is expected to pair with Matt Niskanen. Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy will give Pittsburgh a solid third pairing.
Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for their respective teams.
Bryzgalov and Fleury were absolutely dreadful in the last series against each other and are looking to start the season off on a high note respectively. Both are still regarded to as two of the best goaltenders in hockey.
Both Dan Bylsma and Peter Laviolette have a Stanley Cup victory under their belts, and only Bylsma's is with his current team.
After last season, the two have a new passionate hatred for each other as well. It always adds to the rivalry when the coaching staff and front office share the same disdain for each other as the players do on the ice.
Matchup to Watch
Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby.
The two captains of their respective teams share a special disdain for each other. They will be in each other's ears from the opening face off until the final buzzer has sounded.