Penguins-Flyers rivalry has more on line

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No studies have been done, but it's a solid guess that when it comes to the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, the mere mention of a game between the teams would be enough to produce dilated pupils and dancing pulses.

Tonight, in a rivalry that has long been full of blood and guts, glory also will be on the line in the clash of the cross-state rivals at Wells Fargo Center. First place in the overall NHL standings is at stake.

The Penguins hold the top spot with 44 points; the Flyers are second with 43 points. Both clubs are on hot streaks.

"It's hard to think that you can add to [the level of the rivalry]. It's always intense, no matter what," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said after practice at Southpointe before the team flew to Philadelphia.


Scouting report
  • Matchup: Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 7:08 p.m. today, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
  • TV, radio, Internet: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9), http://penguins.nhl.com.
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Brian Boucher for Flyers.
  • Penguins: Are 5-2-1 inside Atlantic Division. ... One of five teams that hasn't given up short-handed goal on the road. ... Have won 88.9 percent of games when being outshot, best in the NHL.
  • Flyers: Flyers: Are 7-1-1 inside Atlantic Division. ... Are only team in East with six players who have at least 20 points. ... Jeff Carter among NHL leaders with 130 shots.
  • Hidden stat: Philadelphia has blocked 522 shots, most in the NHL going into Monday's games.

"But I guess if there was a way to, it would be now, with the way the teams are playing. The rivalry's already there. ... There's a little more with the teams being so close. Both have a lot of pride. It's been a while. I'm sure both teams want to show what they've improved on and where they're at."

The teams met three times in the first 22 days of the season, with the Flyers winning twice and the road team prevailing each time.

Each club was 5-4-1 after their third meeting, but look at them now.

The Penguins have won 12 games in a row and with a win tonight would set a club record with their eighth road win in a row.

With at least one point, Crosby would match his career best with a 19-game scoring streak. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury could extend his career-best winning streak to 12 starts.

The Flyers aren't quite that hot -- they are 7-3-1 in their past 11 games -- but they have been more steady through the season.

Only three of the Penguins' opponents during their winning streak -- Vancouver, New York Rangers and Atlanta -- are above the playoff line. Philadelphia is way above that line.

"It's an old cliche, but it's a measuring-stick game," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said. "They're playing some good hockey. We showed with our little streak we've got going here that we've played some good hockey as well.

"It's one of those games where it's going to be easy to get revved up, to get emotional -- not too much, but you can bring the passion to the game. That's the kind of game you like to play."

The Penguins and Flyers aren't just good. They also are multidimensional.

Going into Monday's games, Philadelphia had scored the most goals, 105, but also ranked fourth in goals-against average, 2.32.

The Penguins were tied for second with 101 goals and were third in goals-against average, 2.27.

That's about as strong a balance between offense and defense as you'll see.

"When you score goals and you don't give up goals, you're going to win some games," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

While the Penguins relied heavily on backup goaltender Brent Johnson early in the season, Fleury has been stellar for weeks.

The Flyers, meanwhile, have been more solid in goal than they have been in years, thanks in large part to the emergence of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. It appears, though, that Brian Boucher will start tonight, and he's 4-0-1 in his past five starts.

The teams are closely matched in areas other than standings points.

The Penguins and Flyers have identical numbers on the power play -- 21 goals on 130 chances, 16.2 percent. Each team has six short-handed goals, among the most in the NHL, and each has given up three short-handers. Each has a defenseman who, going into Monday's games, was tied for the league lead in plus-minus ratio at plus-18, Andrej Meszaros of Philadelphia and the Penguins' Kris Letang.

The Flyers had blocked the most shots; the Penguins had dished out the second-most hits. They are both among the most penalized.

Only one team has Crosby, who leads the NHL with 51 points and has 26 goals and 60 points in 35 career games against Philadelphia, but the Flyers' line of Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere and Ville Leino has been consistently strong, accounting for 30 goals and 66 points.

And those hard numbers don't take into consideration the flavor of the rivalry.

"Regardless of where both teams are at, this one always adds a little intensity to it, a little different flavor to it," Bylsma said.

"Just the fact that you can look up and see Philly in front of us for most of the season and then us catching them and now being a little bit ahead, I think it adds a little more interest to the story line."


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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