PITTSBURGH – Flyers centers Nolan Patrick and Val Filppula will have challenging defensive matchups, and how they handle them will play a major role in the opening-round playoff series with the Penguins.
The series begins Wednesday in Pittsburgh,
With the Penguins having the final line changes in Pittsburgh, look for Sidney Crosby's line to be matched against Sean Couturier's unit.
The line of Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Michael Raffl combined for 78 goals in the regular season, compared with 64 goals for Crosby and linemates Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.
But, on paper, the Penguins have more firepower on their second and third lines than the Flyers.
Evgeni Malkin, who centers second-line wingers Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist, will be difficult for the Flyers to contain. Lines centered by Patrick or Filppula figure to spend time against Malkin's unit.
Malkin finished with 98 points and 42 goals.
"Everyone knows how good of a player he is," said Patrick, who is 19, the same age that Couturier raised his defensive profile by frustrating Malkin in the 2012 playoffs. "The main thing is to be aware of where he's at in the defensive zone. I still have to focus on my game and try to contribute offensively, too, and not just [spend] my whole game following him around."
"He skates well and has a lot of skill," Filppula said of Malkin. "You have to be careful of where he is at all times. He doesn't need a lot of chances to score. Dangerous guy all the way around."
The Flyers have been the better team in five-on-five situations this season, outscoring their opponents, 159-145, while Pittsburgh was outscored, 176-161.
Playing most of the game at even-strength, right winger Wayne Simmonds said, is one of the Flyers' goals.
"We think we're a good five-on-five team. We know their power power play is the best in the league and is deadly, so we want to stay out of the box as much as possible," he said.
Simmonds said the key is to "manage the game" properly.
"We can't turn pucks over in the neutral zone, and we have to make sure we're getting pucks down low and playing where we want to play," he said.
The Penguins' third line of Conor Sheary (18 goals), Derick Brassard (21 goals, including 18 with Ottawa), and Phil Kessel (34) could present matchup problems for Travis Konecny (24 goals), Filppula (11), and Simmonds (24) — or against Patrick's line, which includes Oskar Lindblom, and Jake Voracek. Patrick and Lindblom are rookies.
"If you look at their lineup, they have lots of offense, so you have to take care of defense," Filppula said. "You're going to get your scoring chances when you play well defensively."
Pittsburgh set a franchise record and led the NHL this season by clicking 26.2 percent of the time on its power play.
"They're a hard team to prescout," Giroux said, referring to the Penguins' power-play unit. "They don't have a lot of set plays. They're just creative players and they move all over the place. It's going to be up to us to be responsible and to react well."
Crosby on the Penguins' chase for a third straight Cup: "You can't look back and think experience automatically gives you success. It's what you do with it and how you use it."… Michal Neuvirth took part in practice but won't be ready to play in either Game 1 or 2, GM Ron Hextall said, adding he didn't know when the backup goalie would be available. … Brassard is ready to play after missing the last five regular-season games with a lower-body injury……Based on practice, Jordan Weal and Robert Hagg will be among the Flyers' scratches. … Since the Phantoms are involved in the AHL playoffs, Hextall said he had no plans to call up any "Black Aces" to skate with the Flyers. … The Phantoms' Anthony Stolarz and Sam Morin are rehabbing from injuries. As for Morin, Hextall said he would "really like to see him play in the playoffs" at some point.