The rivalry might have lost some of its luster in recent years because of the Flyers’ slippage, but it’s still a major event whenever these teams meet.
And, to hear the Flyers talk, Tuesday’s meeting at the Wells Fargo Center will be much different from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blowout win in October.
“We like to think we’ve grown since the start of the season,” Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk said after practice Monday in Voorhees.
The Flyers will try to avenge an early-season 7-1 loss when they host the surging Penguins in their final game before their All-Star/bye-week break.
The Penguins (31-13-5) have won six of their last seven games, including a 4-3 comeback victory Sunday over visiting Boston. In that game, Pittsburgh overcame a 3-0 deficit as Sidney Crosby collected a pair of assists.
The Flyers (26-17-6) have won four of six since returning from a 1-4-1 road trip and are battling four teams for a wild-card spot. In addition, they are just three points behind the Islanders, the third-place team in the Metropolitan Division.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux said the rivalry with the Penguins is different from when he broke into the league 12 years ago.
“My first five, six years, I think it was at the highest peak possible,” he said. “With those rivalry teams, it takes just one game for the rivalry to get back up. They’ve been playing pretty good lately. Crosby is back, so they’re pretty healthy now, so for us, it’s important we play our best game at home here.”
Pittsburgh is in second place in the Metropolitan, four points behind Washington. The Flyers are one point behind Carolina for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
“When teams are fighting and jockeying for position, it brings out more of the emotional stuff for the games,” van Riemsdyk said. “Obviously, we’re fighting to make a playoff spot and they’re fighting to climb in the division, so we both have a lot to play for here.”
Because of injuries, the Penguins were missing star centers Evgeni Malkin and Crosby for a while, but they didn’t skip a beat. Both are back in the lineup.
“They play a good team game,” Giroux said. “They go north-south a lot. They have a lot of skill, but they play a pretty simple game. For us, we really need to focus on being responsible defensively and the offense will take care of itself.”
When the Flyers were embarrassed in Pittsburgh on Oct. 29, Crosby, Dominik Simon, and Dominik Kahun each had three points to lead the Penguins, who scored six goals on 28 shots against Brian Elliott, chasing him after two periods. Pittsburgh scored four unanswered first-period goals and coasted.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted to in that game in Pittsburgh,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “That was a long time ago. We’re a little bit of a different team now, a better team, but we still need to go into the game with the [mentality] that we need to even the score and get the win. That win is important because everyone is picking up points in our division. It’s a tight race, and you can’t lose any points now.”
The Flyers rebounded from their loss in Pittsburgh and collected points in their next seven games (5-0-2).
Elliott (3.03 GAA, .901 save percentage) will start again Tuesday for the Flyers, who are without No. 1 goalie Carter Hart (abdominal injury). He is expected to face Tristan Jarry (2.16, .929)
The Flyers’ next two games will be against the Penguins. After Tuesday, they will have nine full days between games before playing in Pittsburgh on Jan. 31.
“Going into these breaks, you always enjoy them a little more if you go in on a winning note,” van Riemsdyk said. “Obviously, we know what’s at stake in the standings and where we’re at in regards to the playoff picture. … We have a job to do and then we’ll have time to relax and recover [during the break] for the stretch run.”