Penguins vs. Flyers: No introductions needed between these rivals



It seems that every season, newcomers on the Penguins roster are advised about or asked about the club's deep-rooted rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers before the teams' first game.

Most say something like this, from Penguins first-year winger Chuck Kobasew on Wednesday:

"It's a heated rivalry, playoff matches in the past, all that kind of stuff. I'm sure those rivalries are fun to be a part of."

Or this, from rookie defenseman Olli Maatta:

"You can see it when you follow the NHL. I'm excited. It's always fun to play games that really matter."

Inevitably, once they are indoctrinated, those players realize they didn't quite grasp the depth of the rivalry, especially for games in Philadelphia -- as tonight's matchup is.

"They'll soon enough feel the rivalry," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "If they don't know, they'll find out in warm-ups because the fans are 'welcoming.' "

Kobasew has played in rivalries such as Boston-Montreal and Calgary-Edmonton. Maatta's junior London Knights had big games against Kitchener and Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League. But other rivalries don't always match the emotion of Penguins-Flyers.

"I knew about it. I was in the organization for a couple of years before I came up to the big team," Bylsma said. "I still vividly remember fans instructing me as I left the ice after first win, against Montreal. It was like, 'You haven't done anything until you've beaten Philadelphia,' and not in that nice of words."

Early in his career, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin came away from games in Philadelphia with something less than affection for Flyers fans because, he said at the time, they threw popcorn on his head.

Those early experiences didn't exactly limit Malkin's production. He has 55 points in 39 career games against Philadelphia.

Tonight, the teams meet after having nearly opposite starts this season.

The Penguins are 5-1 and boasted the top scorer in the league, Sidney Crosby (12 points), before Wednesday.

The Flyers are 1-6, the worst record in the NHL, their only win coming the first game after coach Peter Laviolette was fired and replaced by Craig Berube.

"I am surprised to see them with the record that they have," Bylsma said. "I don't in any way, shape or form approach their team like their record says they are. I more look at what they are and what they should be."

Besides, this is Penguins-Flyers.

"There's another level to this rivalry, regardless of the situation, the teams. Regardless of the record, it's always got that flavor to it," Bylsma said.

Particularly when the games are at Wells Fargo Center.

"The people are funny in that building," Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said.

Funny, perhaps, but certainly predictable and provocative. It's a given that at several points tonight, the crowd, accompanied by the team organist, will engage as one loud voice in a two-word chant that involves Crosby and a mild vulgarity.

"That's a good thing," Kobasew said. "That must mean he's doing something right out there, eh?"

Well, Crosby has 71 points in 43 career games against the Flyers.

"There you go," Kobasew said. "That's why they're yelling at him."

Defenseman Rob Scuderi spent the past four seasons with Los Angeles before returning to his original club. He recalls the rivalry from his earlier days with the Penguins.

"I thought it was a heated rivalry, but one of respect," he said. "We certainly want to beat each other, but I can't remember it crossing the line."

But what about the fans?

"It's been our natural rival for a long time as far as organizations go, and that's part of it," Scuderi said. "As a player, you like playing anywhere where there's atmosphere."

One Penguins player is familiar with that atmosphere from a different perspective. Winger Harry Zolnierczyk spent his first few pro seasons in the Flyers organization and played in a handful of rivalry games against the Penguins.

"It will be exciting heading back to Philly," said Zolnierczyk, who signed with the Penguins over the summer. "It's usually a good atmosphere."

One of Zolnierczyk's calling cards is his ability to play a physical game and get under opponents' skin.

Might his familiarity with the Flyers come in handy tonight in a know-thy-enemy sort of way?

"No, I'm just going to play my game and see what happens," he said, although his smile suggested he might make sure his former teammates know which side of the rivalry he is on now.

penguins

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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