Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL game to post on the radar for your weekend hockey viewing.
For this weekend’s pick I will have to go with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday. Two top Eastern Conference clubs that have been playing some great hockey as of late in March, and as a bonus for us watching, they really don’t like each other!
Keys to victory for the Penguins:
–Ten times the fun: The Penguins are on a ten-game win streak as I write this. They do visit the Devils (6-3-1 in past 10) on Saturday, and could possibly be riding an 11-game streak Sunday versus the Fyers. Pittsburgh got markedly better Thursday against the Rangers, welcoming back Sidney Crosby (+3, assist), and Kris Letang (+5, assist) in a 5-2 win at MSG. If the Penguins can continue to have their recent balanced attack firing, then they will be a nightmare for everyone, including the Flyers this weekend.
-Up the Middle: In the past two seasons, the center-ice trio of Evgeni Malkin (85 points), Jordan Staal (22 goals), and of course Crosby, have only played in ten games together! This team has three of the best pivots in the game today, yet they’ve only had 10 appearances as a group over the past 164 regular season tilts. If these guys remain in tact for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, then put some cash on the Penguins to finish first overall and go very deep in the post-season.
-The Flower: Over the past four NHL campaigns, Marc-Andre Fleury has won 146 games in net for the Pens. That’s an average of over 36 W’s a season! This guy, for all his heroics, gets lost in the headline shuffle in Pittsburgh behind the likes of Crosby and Malkin. But make no doubt about it – there’s no more valuable guy in black, white and gold than Fleury. He is one of the NHL’s most underrated keepers, yet one of the most consistent in the entire league. If he starts and is on form Sunday, the Flyers will have plenty to worry about from the crease out!
Keys to victory for the Flyers:
–Flying High: Like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia has also been on a great roll over the past 10 contests (8-2). They visit a struggling team in Boston Saturday, so could continue their winning ways against the Bruins, before returning home to host the Pens Sunday. It’s actually an interesting few days for Flyer fans. The team in orange leads the entire NHL with 226 goals scored, and play the 2nd (B’s 225 goals) and 3rd (Pens 224 goals) highest scoring teams in 48 hours! Could be a few fun games for Philly observers. The key here will be how the Flyers can hold back the offensive waves of the Pens – they do that, they win at home Sunday.
–Helping Hands: Claude Giroux is having a career year in Philly (26G, 56A, 82 points), and ranks third overall in NHL points behind Malkin (85) and Steve Stamkos (84). He actually is leading everyone with his 56 helpers, and has been the spark for the Flyers in the past few months. He has soft hands, and crazy skills in the attacking zone, so if he’s going good on Sunday, expect him to try and outshine Malkin and prove he’s the real-deal in the scoring race!
–The Bryz is blowing: Let’s be honest – Ilya Bryzgalov (29-13, 2.52 GAA, .909 SV %) has been at times awful in the Philly crease! He came in this past summer as a high priced acquisition, an acquisition that was supposed to solve the Flyer goaltending woes for the foreseeable future. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, and Bryz has spent a lot of time on the end of the bench watching. It does appear though that he is turning a corner! In his past five starts, he’s 5-0 with three shutouts. If he can keep that dominance going and continue to get his confidence back, then everyone will forget his dreadful start. If he gets the nod on Sunday against the Pens, he will need another ‘lights-out’ game, like his recent form has shown he’s capable of delivering.
Enjoy this battle Sunday! It should be an intense and physical match-up, and it’s always entertaining when top Eastern Conference teams clash at this time of year. Especially two sides that hate each other!
Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ game in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a good NHL weekend, and of course a great St. Paddy’s day!
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