Because of their proximity, their dislike for one another, and the rivalry’s long history, the matchups between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins always create a buzz. Monday’s meeting at the Wells Fargo Center, however, will be even extra meaningful for the home team.
The Flyers, who were 18 points behind the Penguins on Jan. 13, have a 10-game points streak (9-0-1) and have inched to within six points of slumping Pittsburgh, which holds the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
And, so, yes, the stakes are high for the Flyers (25-23-7) on Monday.
“I think it’s going to be the biggest game of the year so far,” winger Michael Raffl said afteran optional practice Sunday in Voorhees. “We have to be ready to battle. It’s going to be a grind, for sure.”
The teams have three games left against each other, including the Feb. 23 matchup at Lincoln Financial Field.
Each game against the Penguins “has a little extra kick to it,” Raffl said. “I love playing them.”
“Pittsburgh presents a different challenge than some of the teams we’ve seen in a while,” interim coach Scott Gordon said, referring to the Penguins’ penchant to play at a high pace coming out of their zone. “… We either have to do one of two things. We have to make sure we put the puck in a good place, where we can establish a forecheck and not allow them to come up with pucks easily, or we have to be really good in our neutral-zone forecheck.”
The Penguins (28-20-7) have lost four straight, and their power play is 1-for-19 over the last eight games. That has followed a sizzling 10-for-22 stretch during an eight-game winning streak.
Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin, who has 55 points but a minus-18 rating in 50 games, is expected to miss his sixth straight game with an upper-body injury.
That means most of the Flyers’ defensive focus will be on superstar Sidney Crosby, who has 94 points in 64 career games against Philadelphia.
Flyers rookie goalie Carter Hart will face the Penguins for the first time. He will be trying to become the first goalie in NHL history to register nine straight wins before his 21st birthday.
“He’s always in control. … and that spreads through the team,” Gordon said.
Hart has a 2.35 goals-against average and .934 save percentage during his eight-game winning streak.
Gordon, who has reunited Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier during key situations recently, called it a big game for both teams and said, “We have to make sure we understand what’s important here -- and that’s the two points.”