It will only be an exhibition, but it will be the Flyers’ first game in 4½ months and it will be a chance to gauge their progress in Training Camp 2.0.
Tuesday’s 4 p.m. game against Pittsburgh in Toronto will also be the Flyers’ only tune-up before the round-robin, seeding tournament starts Sunday.
And, so, yes, this is more than a typical exhibition.
“I think it’s going to be pretty intense,” captain Claude Giroux said. “You want to get into it, you want to put yourself in positions and situations that you’re going to be put in during the round robin. I think both teams want a little bit of momentum. Make sure you play the right way, make sure everybody follows the system. If you do that, it’s going to give us a step for the round-robin games.”
Coach Alain Vigneault, speaking after the Flyers had their first practice Monday in the Eastern Conference’s hub city, Toronto, said goalie Carter Hart would play the first two periods Tuesday and Brian Elliott would get the call in the third period.
“I know our guys are excited about the exhibition game after two weeks of practicing against your teammates,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “It’s good to have some real competition.”
Vigneault said there was some “good internal competition” on the team for lineup spots — including a battle between rookie left winger Joel Farabee and veteran center Nate Thompson for playing time, which would affect whether Scott Laughton plays center or left wing.
Assistant Michel Therrien said he wanted all of his players concentrating on “doing the little things right and your game will start to kick in.”
“Everyone’s in the same boat; we haven’t played hockey for four months, so it’s going to be a little sloppy for everybody as they just get their feet back under them,” said Hart, who has recovered from the apparent back spasms that briefly sidelined him last week. “But it’ll be nice to get back into that game mentality.”
Sean Couturier said even though it’s just an exhibition game, “it’s a rivalry, so emotions will probably be high. You can’t ask for a better way to get into it.”
After the exhibition with the Penguins and Sidney Crosby — the superstar center was on the ice Monday after missing most of camp with an injury — the Flyers open the seeding tournament by playing Boston on Sunday. They will also face Washington and Tampa Bay in the round robin.
Hart likes playing an exhibition and the seeding tourney while 16 teams — eight in each conference — are in best-of-five play-in series.
“We kind of get into a back-into-game mode and just feel things out,” he said. “We put ourselves in a good position. We’re lucky to have those four games to see what it’s going to be like, as opposed to some teams that have one exhibition and then have to fight for their lives to get into the postseason.”
Couturier, the Flyers’ MVP the last two seasons, agreed.
“It’s a little less pressure right off the bat,” he said. “It’s going to be important, though, to find our game as quick as possible and ramp up the intensity so we’re ready right at the start of the actual playoffs.”
The Penguins are also eager to finally play a game Tuesday, even if it’s only an exhibition.
“Both teams have that fire under themselves,” said Pittsburgh left winger Jake Guentzel, whose team will later oppose Montreal in a play-in series. “It’s the last chance for a tune-up.”
While both teams are taking Tuesday’s game seriously, Vigneault is using it as a chance to get some defensemen into his lineup who aren’t expected to play much in the round robin or the playoffs unless there are injuries. He said Egor Zamula, Mark Friedman, and Shayne Gostisbehere will face the Penguins, meaning two regular defensemen (likely veterans Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun) will be rested.