GAME PREVIEW: Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Game: It’s finally here, ladies and gents.  Flyers hockey is back and the Orange and Black kick off their 2010-2011 regular season tonight against cross-state rival Pittsburgh.

The rivalry, of course, needs no introduction.  The season itself, however, does.  It’s a brand new slate for the Flyers as they crack open the bottle that is a new season tonight in Western Pennsylvania against the Penguins – a team that has, quite frankly, had the better of play between the two squads in recent years.  The Orange and Black went 5-2-1 in the preseason, one of the top records in the National Hockey League during that time.  They also enter this season as the defending Eastern Conference Champions, and many will be looking to see if they’ll still be able to have any momentum left to lead them to a repeat performance in 2010-2011.  Look for the Penguins to give them a healthy test in game number one of eighty-two.

The Story: As I mentioned, the Flyers have had a tough go at it in recent years when matched up against the Pittsburgh Penguins: the team has lost five of the last six to Sidney Crosby’s team and last season the Penguins manhandled the Flyers in every one of their victories against them.  Still, two vastly different teams will take the ice tonight as the two squads christen the brand-new CONSOL Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh.  The Flyers are left with the same question that seemingly follows them about at all times: can their goaltending hold up?  The Penguins will be dealing with a relatively new line-up and while the depth is there down the middle, there is some serious question as to whether or not the supporting cast (i.e. the wingers minus Evgeni Malkin) will be able to shoulder the load and expectations for a team that many feel will be right back in the race for the franchise’s second Cup in three years at season’s end. 

Who to Watch on the Penguins: Sidney Crosby, Center.

Crosby's success has tormented Flyers fans for years

There’s a reason why Crosby is constantly driving Flyers fans all over the world crazy.  He’s good.  He’s scary good.  And he makes games that the Flyers play against the Penguins a living hell for everyone in Orange and Black.  Sure, there are some questions about his manliness, and those questions are warranted – the guy flops almost as much as Sean Avery and Dan Carcillo combined –  but when he is playing at full steam there is not one player better than him in the entire National Hockey League.  In his five NHL seasons, Crosby has eclipsed the 100+ point mark four times, his lone season under 100 was in 2007-2008 when he missed almost thirty games with injury, yet still finished with 72 points.  There has been some concern as to Captain Penguin’s health heading into this season, as Crosby was held out of some preseason games with injury troubles, but earlier this week it was confirmed he would be good to go for tonight’s season opener.  And let’s not be fooled: a Sidney Crosby at even 70% is far better than 95% of the players in the league today.

The Skinny: The Penguins move from the run-down – yet historic – Mellon Arena after 43 years in the barn and now move on to the brand-spanking-new CONSOL Energy Center.  The arena is state of the art and built exclusively for Pittsburgh Penguins hockey, meaning the Flyers can expect quite a rowdy welcome for a fan-base that is just now finding their way back to their seats from nearly shipping their franchise away and are just now realizing that their hockey team is good, thanks to Mr. Crosby.  If the Flyers want to take solace in the situation that they are playing in Pittsburgh to open their season, they need look no further than last year: the only Flyers victory against Pittsburgh came in the form of a 7-4 win at Mellon Arena in the middle of January.  Here’s hoping they have another win inside the unfriendly confines of Pittsburgh left in them.

Notes: Brian Boucher will get the start tonight for the Flyers, with Sergei Bobrovsky serving as his primary backup.  Jordan Staal is still suffering from setbacks after infections acquired during foot surgery this off-season and will be out for the Penguins, while the Flyers will be missing Ian Laperriere (Post-concussion syndrome) for the duration of the season and Michael Leighton (bulging disc in back) for at least the next month.  The Flyers hold the all-time series edge against the Penguins, leading it 132-85-31.

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