PITTSBURGH -- Since the start of the 2010-11 season, the Flyers might as well have a seat at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Board of Directors - as they’ve won the lion’s share of the games between the two clubs.
After Sunday’s appetizer to a first round death match, the Flyers pushed their record to 8-2-1 against the Penguins since Oct. 7, 2010.
It is by far their most successful stretch against the Penguins since the Sidney Crosby era began in 2005. They were 8-15-5 against Pittsburgh from 2006-10.
The Flyers are 5-0-0 in the Penguins’ new Consol Energy Center, easily the NHL’s best building.
All of which begs the question: Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, are the Flyers in the Penguins’ heads?
“That’d be more of a question for them,” Claude Giroux said on Sunday. “I hope we are. Because we’re going to play them in the playoffs. I think it’s important for us to make sure they know it’s going to be a tough one.
“It’s a rival team. We know it won’t be easy and I think they know it won’t be easy.”
Not surprisingly, Scott Hartnell said he would use every chance available to make sure the Penguins - and their stars - knew how the Flyers felt about them.
“I think with every team, you try and get on their top guys and make them focus on you as a person or you as an agitator,” Hartnell said. “(See) what you can make them do with the puck when they’re trying to make plays ... There is a fine line, but I think we’ve done a nice job against them.”
If there is one thing about the Flyers and their run against Pittsburgh, you can tell it is a rivalry grounded with respect - though the two teams may not have shown it in the final minutes of Sunday’s games. The Flyers have kept their egos in check when facing the Penguins.
“They’re a good team and we respect their players,” Giroux said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to be hard on them.”
At the very least, the Flyers have it in their own heads that they on par with Pittsburgh. And that believe may be more important than being in the Penguins’ heads.
“It’s good that we have the confidence to win here,” Hartnell said. “We know in our hearts and our heads that we can beat these guys.”
Interestingly, another series full of head games - the Flyers and the Rangers - will wrap up on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers have lost 7 straight to New York, as the Rangers are gunning for a perfect 6-0-0 sweep in the season series, something that has never been done by them since 1971-72.
THE MATCHUP: More than enough will be written about the Penguins and Flyers’ impending first round matchup between now and April 11, but there are a few storylines within the matchup to dissect.
One is Dan Bylsma’s penchant for switching up his lines in the middle of games. For instance, against the Flyers on March 18, Bylsma used 14 different combinations of lines. Sidney Crosby played with 10 different players.
Bylsma tried to dismiss that notion on Sunday. He said most of the jumbling comes from the fact that the Penguins have experimented recently by using 5 forwards on the power play instead of the usual 3 forwards and 2 defensemen. Even quarterback Kris Letang, playing in his first game back in a week, was missing from the Penguins’ power play.
“There’s probably a little bit of a misconception that I mix and match,” Bylsma said. “There are occasions because of 5 forwards out of the power play, and coming out of the penalty kill, when guys get slotted up in other guys. I’d say 70 percent of the time, (the lines stay the same).”
Another matchup to watch: anyone against Zbynek Michalek. The Flyers have seemed to net the bulk of their chances when he is on the ice. He was minus-2 on Sunday, but was out for 3 goals against (1 was on the power play). Michalek, who signed a 5-year, $20 million deal with Pittsburgh in 2010, has been on the ice for 4 of the last 8 goals the Flyers have scored against the Penguins.
The Flyers have scored 20 goals overall in their 5 meetings with Pittsburgh this year. The Penguins have allowed 41 goals in the 11 games since Sidney Crosby’s return.
“We all just need to manage the puck better,” Michalek said on Sunday.
“We can play better,” Brooks Orpik said. “It’s just one game. It’s a good hockey team we lost to.”
MANGENE CLOSE: As reported by CBC’s Tim Wharnsby on Sunday afternoon, the Flyers are close to inking University of Maine defenseman Matt Mangene to an entry-level deal.
Mangene, a 23-year-old undrafted free agent, just wrapped up his junior year at Maine, where he posted an unbelievable 34 points in 40 games this year from the point.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he could not confirm the report, as he had not yet gotten confirmation himself, but was hoping to have more news soon. Mangene could sign a maximum of a two-year deal since he is already 23.
“If you know ‘Lavi’ at all, you’ll know that he is pretty emotional. That’s probably his biggest attribute when he’s coaching. In practices and during games, he gets fired up just like he was playing. This was one of those cases when he was fired up. It’s good to see. It doesn’t happen every game. But with the timeouts, and that kind of stuff, it’s fun to watch.”
-Scott Hartnell on coach Peter Laviolette’s shouting match with Penguins coach Tony Granato, in which he smashed
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers