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
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