Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal against the rival Philadelphia Flyers in 2009.
Tom Mihalek/Associated Press
The Flyers' Zac Rinaldo is sent flying after a check by the Penguins' Matt Niskanen in the third period of a game last month in Philadelphia. The Penguins won, 4-1.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s tempting to liken the start of Philadelphia’s season to a Dumpster fire, but that wouldn’t be fair. Or accurate.
After all, most trash-bin conflagrations don’t produce nearly that much of a mess.
The Flyers’ 0-3 start cost coach Peter Laviolette his job.
Their 5-7-1 record under his successor, Craig Berube, going into the game Tuesday night at Ottawa has kept them anchored near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
And their 3-0 loss at home last Thursday to New Jersey prompted owner Ed Snider to go public with his exasperation over what he has been witnessing.
“I’ve been in the game for 47 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he told reporters. “We certainly know that we’re more talented than we’re showing on the ice. I think the question is, ‘How talented are we?’”
A reasonable question, especially considering that Philadelphia’s most-gifted player, Claude Giroux — hailed by some as the planet’s premier talent when the Penguins were self-immolating against Philadelphia in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs — didn’t score his first goal of the season until Saturday.
The Flyers have some quality personnel, including proven producers such as Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, Mark Streit, and Kimmo Timonen, among others, but that hasn’t been reflected in their record. Or, more surprising, in their offense.
Philadelphia, like Buffalo, manufactured 22 goals in its first 15 games, making the Flyers and Sabres the first clubs to score that few since Chicago in 1956-57.
Although the Flyers played 16 games before facing the Senators, they did not have a player with more than eight points and their power play was the league’s second-worst (9.4 percent success rate).
Factor in team defense that was leaking in an average of 2.75 goals per game before the Ottawa game, and the Flyers’ miserable record isn’t so hard to understand, even if some of the Penguins find it a bit difficult to believe.
“I think everybody is [surprised],” center Sidney Crosby said.
All of which suggests the Penguins, whose 11-6 record includes a 4-1 victory Oct. 17 in Philadelphia, are well-positioned to pad their point total when the Flyers stop by Consol Energy Center tonight.
Seems perfectly logical, given the Flyers’ miseries in 2013-14 and the simple reality that they’ll be playing for the second time in 24 hours, while the Penguins have been off since Saturday.
But no matter how often people try to portray it as a rivalry, what the Penguins and Philadelphia have isn’t. A rivalry is something that exists between groups that don’t care much for each other.
The Penguins and Flyers share something that’s closer to a blood feud. Occasionally with a lot of blood, and most of it tainted.
It is so intense, so pervasive that toxic emotions seep into the marrow of nearly everyone involved. There’s an all-consuming ill will to which even a cobra and a mongoose could not relate, and that makes games between these teams nearly impossible to predict accurately.
“Sometimes you hear the football analogy, when it’s a rivalry, ‘Well, it really doesn’t matter where the records are at or where the teams are at. You’re playing a rival, and they’re coming into your building,’” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday.
“This feels exactly like that. … You’re not really so focused on their record or how they’ve been up or down.”
Philadelphia has won six of the eight regular-season games these teams have played at Consol Energy Center, so it is understandable that the Penguins aren’t taking the Flyers’ troubles at face value.
Predictably, they insist they are not enjoying watching a team they despise like no other sputter and struggle — “I don’t pay that much attention to what other teams are going through,” right winger Pascal Dupuis said — and that they don’t expect the Flyers to continue spiraling downward indefinitely
“There’s too much talent and too many experienced guys there,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “It’s not really a young team. I don’t see it going that long. I think they’ll snap out of it.
“Whether or not they can make a good enough run [to reach the playoffs] … sometimes when you get in a big hole, it’s tough to get out of.”
Almost as difficult as trying to extinguish a Dumpster fire.
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