Considering the NHL’s playoff format now places an early emphasis on intradivision play, the Pittsburgh Penguins might find themselves in a bit of a bind come April.
The list of Metropolitan Division teams that has their number isn’t even limited to current contenders.
Coming off a pair of lopsided losses to the Metropolitan’s two hottest teams, the visiting Penguins will try to figure out their issues against a struggling division rival Tuesday night as they look to avoid a sixth straight loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Pittsburgh (26-12-6) had few issues rolling through the Metropolitan last season, going 20-8-2 within a division it won by 13 points.
But the Penguins struggled with Columbus in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the New York Rangers, and those intradivision issues have only grown this season. Pittsburgh is 6-8-3 against the Metropolitan after Friday’s 6-3 loss to the division-leading Islanders and Sunday’s 5-2 home defeat against the surging Rangers.
"I think every team you play in your division is a different scenario," coach Mike Johnston told the NHL’s official website. "With the Islanders, we had a chance (Friday) night to even the series basically against them and with 14 minutes left in the game, they tie the game.
"(Sunday), we had another chance to even the series against the Rangers. … Is there any one thing you can pinpoint? No, I don’t think there is."
It’s been the same scenario for the Penguins the last five times they’ve faced the Flyers (18-22-7). They’ve lost them all and dropped four in regulation, including 5-3 at home Oct. 22.
While Pittsburgh is comfortably in playoff position, Philadelphia has plenty of ground to make up to avoid missing out for the second time in three seasons. The Flyers fell to 4-8-1 since Christmas and 5-9-2 in the Metropolitan on Monday as they surrendered 41 shots and a season high in goals in a 7-4 road loss to the Islanders.
"Obviously our record doesn’t show that we’re a good team," captain Claude Giroux said. "(Like New York), we can be a good team too. If we get it together, we’re going to start winning games and we know that."
The Penguins have started to get their power play going, converting on 5 of 11 chances over the past four games after going 4 for 58 (6.9 percent) over the previous 19. That’s bad news for Philadelphia, which has allowed teams to score 33.3 percent of the time since Christmas.
Yet the Flyers have shut down Pittsburgh almost completely during their series win streak. Ever since Sidney Crosby’s man-advantage goal in his team’s 2-1 loss Nov. 13, 2013, Philadelphia has killed 18 straight Penguins power plays. The Flyers also have gone 9 for 22 (40.9 percent) with the man advantage in the past eight meetings.
It’s unclear which goaltenders will square off in this game, which is Philadelphia’s last before the All-Star break while Pittsburgh closes with a visit from Chicago on Wednesday. The Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury and the Flyers’ Rob Zepp were pulled in their most recent contests, and Fleury has posted a 4.04 goals-against average while starting each game during the Penguins’ skid against the Flyers.
Much like they’ve been all season for Philadelphia, Jakub Voracek and Giroux have carried the load offensively of late against Pittsburgh. Voracek has two goals and four assists in his last three matchups, while Giroux has a goal and eight assists in his past four.
Crosby has been held to one assist in his last four versus Philadelphia, while Evgeni Malkin has two.