Better With Popcorn

Pittsburgh's in Town

After dropping Tuesday’s game to the Washington Capitals in a shootout, the Philadelphia Flyers will look to get back in the win column on Thursday. Awaiting them will be their bitter Atlantic Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh is without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but with timely offensive contributions, solid goaltending and excellent coaching they’ve managed to sit just five points behind the Orange and Black.

Although the Flyers didn’t gain two points against the Capitals, they showed that they were capable of playing like the team that breezed through the first half of the season. After some soft goals allowed by Sergei Bobrovsky, the team managed to erase a three-goal deficit with four unanswered tallies of their own. In their comeback, the team played physically on defense and applied relentless pressure on the offensive end. Given their struggles of the past month, the improved performance offered relief to their fans, and possibly in the locker room as well.

Scouting the Opponent

Since the beginning of March, the Penguins have gone 5-2-2, and their most recent contest was an exciting one. In fact, their 5-4 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings was almost an exact duplicate of the Flyers’ loss on Tuesday. Pittsburgh held a 4-0 lead in Joe Louis Arena, only to let Detroit come back and tie the game at 4-4. In the shootout, trade acquisition James Neal gave the Penguins the game-winning goal.

In their 5-2-2 stretch this month, Pittsburgh has scored 2.89 goals per game while allowing 2.44. Coming into Thursday’s contest, the Penguins trail the Flyers by only five points in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings. Although the Flyers do have a game-in-hand, Pittsburgh continues to hang around in the race. A two-point game in the Penguins favor would go a long way in their attempts to take over the division.

If there’s one nagging weakness the Penguins have had in the month of March, it would be the power play. In the nine games since the month began, they’ve converted on only one of their 34 attempts with the man advantage.

Keys for the Flyers

It’s really quite simple for the team with the ‘P’ on the front of their sweaters. If they continue to play to their talent level consistently, they will be able to control stretches of the game and generate quality chances. Tuesday’s performance was especially impressive in the way the team cycled the puck and sustained pressure throughout. If they continue to be strong on the puck and win battles along the boards, they should find more success on Thursday.

The biggest problem the team had on Tuesday was the poor performance in net that Sergei Bobrovsky offered. Pittsburgh will grind out shots on the Flyers net minder, and it’s important that he plays up to the task at hand. Although the Penguins have found success from some of their gritty forwards, they also have high level talent in Jordan Staal and James Neal, players that will convert given the opportunity. It is without doubt that the Flyers defense will have to minimize quality chances, but in the case of Staal and Neal, Bobrovsky will have to stand taller than he did on Tuesday.

The Last Time they Met

The Flyers lead the season series against the Penguins, 3-1.

October 7th @PIT : 3-2 W

October 16th @PHI : 5-1 L

October 29th @PIT : 3-2 W

December 14th @PHI : 3-2

Who Must Step Up

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Tuesday’s loss was the excellent play of Andreas Nodl. Nodl found himself scratched for a bit until being re-inserted into the lineup Saturday in Dallas. After leading the team in hits against the Stars, he again responded in his second game back. Nodl notched a goal and an assist and was one of, if not the, best skater on the ice.

There’s a chance that Nodl will continue his strong play Thursday, but his play exemplified how essential contributions from all players will be coming down the stretch. Players like James van Riemsdyk, Darroll Powe and Kris Versteeg will go a long way in deciding the Flyers’ playoff success. In another playoff-like atmosphere at Wells Fargo Center Thursday, one of those players needs to ‘step up’.

Bottom Line

If the Flyers can maintain the intensity that they played with after falling behind against Washington, they will beat almost any club in the NHL. Pittsburgh brings an enormous challenge for the Flyers, as they are clawing away to take the Atlantic Division away from Philadelphia. With the way the Penguins have been able to keep their boat afloat with key losses in the lineup, the Flyers will have to find that very same intensity. If they can do it, they will likely skate away with two points. If not, they’ll be left searching for answers again.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter or email me at mtrible@thecheckingline.com . Or, just browse over to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/flyerscorner to hear me talk Flyers hockey.