Letang close to return as Penguins visit Flyers

PHILADELPHIA — Pittsburgh won three of its four games without defenseman Kris Letang in the lineup and there is a chance the Norris Trophy candidate could be back in uniform when the Penguins renew their rivalry with the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday night.

Sidelined by an upper-body injury suffered on Oct. 18 in Montreal, Letang was examined by a doctor on Friday before boarding the team's flight to Philadelphia.

“He's getting closer for sure,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the team's website. “Obviously, he's a big part of our team and we're a better team when he's a part of our lineup.”

The same can be said of captain Sidney Crosby, who has two goals and one assist in two games since returning from his third concussion in six years.

Pittsburgh is 2-0 with its captain in the lineup and if history is any indication, Crosby will get an earful when he steps on the ice at the Wells Fargo Center. Crosby has scored more goals against the Flyers (33 in 55 games) than he has against any other NHL team.

While the Penguins (5-2-1) are coming off Tuesday night's 4-2 home win over the New York Islanders, the Flyers (3-4-1) are coming off a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, whose only two wins of the season have come against Philadelphia.

Slow starts have been an Achilles' heel for the Flyers, who surrendered the first goal in each of their four home games and have been outscored 8-1 in first periods this season, including 2-0 against Arizona on Tuesday.

“The first period was not pretty and we know that,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We need to find a way to come out stronger.”

“We did some good things sporadically,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “But you don't win games by doing a few good things sporadically throughout the game. You have to be good from start to finish, individually, collectively and that's how you win games.”

Giroux is still seeking his first goal of the season but leads the NHL with nine assists. He is on a seven-game point streak, which ties the second-longest of his career. He also recorded a seven-game streak from Jan.14-25, 2011 and posted a nine-game streak from Dec. 11-30, 2013.

Flyers right wing Jake Voracek leads the team and ranks third in the NHL with 33 shots this season. He has three goals.

Philadelphia defenseman Andrew MacDonald (1 goal, 1 assist, minus-3) could be a healthy scratch for the first time this season in favor of Nick Schultz on Saturday.

Sullivan said Marc-Andre Fleury (5-2-1, 2.97 GAA) will be between the pipes for the Penguins on Saturday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has a tougher decision. Both Steve Mason (2-4-1, 3.15 GAA) and 1-0-0, 4.47) have struggled. Neuvirth was pulled from each of his first two starts.

Penguins forward Carl Hagelin, who is struggling with one goal in eight games, was checked into the boards from behind against the Islanders but practiced on Friday and is expected to play, despite sporting stitches and a black left eye.