The Flyers' Mike Richards crunches Rob Scuderi against the boards in the first period of Game 4 of the NHL playoffs first-round series at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- The Penguins were the NHL's worst faceoff team in 2005-06. And 2006-07. And 2007-08.
Hard to miss the trend there, isn't it?
Even so, their collection of young centers steadily improved, progressing to the point where, in 2008-09, the Penguins were close to average in winning percentage (49.1) and league ranking (19th).
And their upward move has continued in the playoffs.
The Penguins entered last night's game as the second-best faceoff team in this postseason, having won 56.8 percent of the draws in the first three games.
Only Washington, which has controlled 58.6 percent of the faceoffs in its series with the New York Rangers, had fared better.
"We didn't know how good we were going to be," center Max Talbot said. "But we definitely wanted to be good."
The Penguins' best faceoff man was Sidney Crosby (63.8 percent), but Jordan Staal (58), Talbot (50) and Evgeni Malkin (46.2) all had fared better than in the regular season.
The Flyers who handled the most faceoffs were Jared Ross (45 percent), Mike Richards (42.6), Claude Giroux (42.3) and Jeff Carter (37.7).
Although there were no game-altering draws in the first three games, a single faceoff can have a profound impact on a series.
"It's a little part of the game, but it can turn out to be a big part of the game," Staal said.
Assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald, who works with the forwards, was aware of how well the Penguins had been faring on faceoffs, although he wasn't necessarily eager for his players to realize it.
"You don't want guys to get complacent," he said. "You always want to stay hungry."
Baby Penguins in front, too
The Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre has a 2-1 lead in its opening-round playoff series, too, although the Baby Penguins probably don't feel as good about it as they should.
After winning their first two games on the road against Bridgeport -- the games actually were played at Nassau Coliseum, home of the Sound Tigers' parent club (the New York Islanders) -- the Baby Penguins had a 4-1 lead in Game 3 Sunday at home but gave up two third-period goals en route to a 5-4 overtime loss.
Deflating as the defeat had to be, the Baby Penguins contend it shouldn't have any lingering effects.
"I think we're in a good spot," defenseman Joey Mormina told the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. "We stole two in Long Island and we've had success on the road all year. We're a very confident group and we know if we play the right way, we can beat this team."
There's a good reason for his optimism: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has scored on eight of its 16 power plays in the series, which will resume with Game 4 tonight in Bridgeport.
There also is cause for concern. Forward Janne Pesonen, the Baby Penguins' leading scorer in the regular season, has an unspecified injury that some in the organization suspect could prevent him from playing for the better part of a month.
Admiring the fourth line
Interim coach Dan Bylsma was a blue-collar forward in his playing days with Anaheim and Los Angeles and has a particular appreciation for the Penguins' No. 4 line, which features Talbot between Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams.
"This is a fourth line that can skate and can play physical and it can also score," Bylsma said. "Some fourth lines -- the ones that I played on -- couldn't always score, didn't always have the speed."
The Penguins scratched forwards Miroslav Satan and Eric Godard and defenseman Philippe Boucher for the fourth consecutive game. ... Defenseman Mark Eaton, a native of nearby Wilmington, Del., had to come up with a half-dozen tickets for relatives and friends. "The family is pretty good Pittsburgh fans," he said. "But the friends, they don't have a problem with the Flyers."