A little less than a month ago, Monday’s game against visiting Pittsburgh didn’t figure to have much meaning to the Flyers, who were 18 points behind the Penguins on Jan. 13.
That was then. This is now: The Flyers, on a 9-0-1 run, have climbed to within six points of the Pens, who hold the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
“We have to treat this like a playoff game,” Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon said after Monday’s morning skate in Voorhees.
“We’re 9-0-1 in the last 10, and if we lose tonight, it would be the worst-case scenario,” right winger Jake Voracek said. “It doesn’t matter what we did the last 10 games. We have to make sure we do good tonight and find a way to win.”
Captain Claude Giroux, mindful the Penguins are trying to snap a four-game losing streak, called it a “big game for both teams. … They have some special players out there and they’ve been successful in the past. Maybe their record isn’t as good as people think it should be, but they’re a very good hockey team.”
The Penguins are 28-20-7, while the Flyers are 25-23-7.
“We’ve been playing some good hockey,” said Giroux. “We’ve battled ourselves back in the playoff [race], you would say. We’re still a lot of points behind, but we told ourselves we wouldn’t be looking at the standings but how we’re playing. We have to build something here. ... You have to be able to be consistent, and the last 10 games, we’ve done that.”
“It’s our biggest game of the year for the position we are in,” Voracek said. “Those games are always fun to play. We have to go [hard] game in and game out, and we have a big one tonight.”
Voracek said the Penguins have “the best one-two punch in the league” in centers Sidney Crosby (62 points in 52 games) and Evgeni Malkin (55 points in 50 games, minus-18). Malkin took part in the Penguins’ morning skate and surprisingly was on a line with Nick Bjugstad and Phil Kessel. He has missed the last five games with an undisclosed upper-body injury and hasn’t been able to take contact in any practice while he was sidelined.
The Penguins said Malkin would be a game-time decision, but based on this morning -- he was also on the power play -- it appears he will play.
For the Flyers, the line of Sean Couturier centering Oskar Lindblom and Voracek has been on a roll recently, recording a combined 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) and a plus-23 rating in the last nine games.
“At home, we’ve been playing the top lines and haven’t been scored on in quite a few games,” said Voracek, whose team hasn’t been on the ice for an opponent’s goal in the first four games of the homestand but will be tested Monday by Crosby and Co.
“We’re focusing on that. Coots is obviously very good defensively and Oskar is a big body and protects the puck on the boards and that helps. For us, if we’re creating more and are more on the puck, they don’t have a chance to score.”