Flyers-Penguins Preview

Recent struggles have nearly erased the Philadelphia Flyers’

leads in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are more than willing to take both from

the sputtering division rivals, but may have to settle for gaining

just a share right now.

In a game that could further tighten the conference and division

races, the Penguins look to pull even with the Flyers atop both

standings on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Philadelphia (45-20-10) leads the East by two points on

Southeast-leading Washington and Pittsburgh (45-23-8), which is

also second in the Atlantic and has won four straight.

The Flyers have a game in hand on both clubs, but could find

themselves in a three-way tie for first with a regulation loss to

the Penguins coupled with Washington beating Carolina.

Coach Peter Laviolette, however, is welcoming a visit to

Pittsburgh as a major test for his club ahead of the playoffs.

“It’s a good thing, going to Pittsburgh and playing the

Penguins. They’re hot right now and lets go in there and see how we

do,” he told the team’s official website.

Philadelphia’s advantages in the races have nearly vanished

during a 2-1-3 run that includes a 2-1 shootout loss to the

Penguins at home Thursday. That sluggish stretch continued with

Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Boston.

“If you want to talk about what you need to do … You need to

lay with a lot of intensity,” Laviolette said. “When the playoffs

roll around, there should be and will be desperation in our game

because now you’re talking about either winning four or losing four

and then you become desperate.”

The Penguins have increased the pressure on Philadelphia by

winning eight of 10, winning each game during their current streak

via shootout.

Pittsburgh beat Florida 2-1 on Sunday as Alex Kovalev and James

Neal netted the only goals in the shootout.

“It would definitely be nice to win it in regulation and not go

into overtime every game, but two points is two points,” Kovalev

said. “We set the goal to catch Philadelphia and get first in the

conference and that is what we are doing right now.”

Marc-Andre Fleury, who should be back in net, is having a major

impact during Pittsburgh’s surge. He’s won six of his last eight

starts with a 1.68 goals-against average and one shutout, and he’s

compiled a 0.62 GAA while getting beat on just one of nine shootout

chances in winning his last three contests.

“He’s our MVP,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “and I think he deserves

to be mentioned as league MVP with his play this year.”

Fleury made 19 saves through overtime before stopping three

shootout chances against the Flyers last week, ending a personal

three-game slide in the series that included a 3.06 GAA.

Pittsburgh has dropped three of five season meetings with

Philadelphia, including both at home.

Kris Letang, the Penguins’ leading scorer among defensemen with

48 points, has scored at least one point in all five games in

2010-11, totaling one goal and six assists.

Claude Giroux leads the Flyers with 70 points, and he’s netted

four goals in five games against the Penguins this season. Jeff

Carter has eight goals and two assists over 17 visits to