Well, technically it’s six days, or four games, until the end of the regular season calendar for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the end of an odd regular season that began in mid-January is finally in sight. Just for context, on this night three years ago the Penguins won Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Washington Capitals, which would be the last postseason game the Penguins would win that year. In fact, in case you wanted reminding, Pittsburgh has won just one other postseason game in the last two postseasons as they were swept by the New York Islanders in the 2019 playoffs and then managed just one win against the Montreal Canadiens in last year’s postseason-induced Qualifying Round.
The mood around the Penguins seems modestly brighter than it may have in the approaches to the last three postseasons. Despite being pestered all season long with injuries, since March 1 Pittsburgh has managed to surge towards the top of the League-wide standings, not to mention the fact that they are presently in sole possession of first place in the East Division. If they win the remaining four games on their schedule, they will remain in first place and that will be very important for their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup. With the exception of two teams, the Penguins will finish the regular season with winning records against their division foes. One of those foes is the Boston Bruins, against whom Pittsburgh played effectively five games without Evgeni Malkin, against whom the Penguins will find themselves matched if the current standings hold.
The other team is Pittsburgh’s opponent for the next two evenings, their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers currently are 4-2 against the Penguins, although it’s actually 2-3-1 for Pittsburgh, but regardless the Flyers hold the advantage in their season series. Despite this success against the Penguins, Philadelphia has had a rough two months, falling out of first place from March 1 all the way down sixth place and out of the playoff conversation altogether.
A lot of the blame for this collapse lay at the feet of the Flyers’ miserable goal prevention. Despite allowing the twelfth-fewest shots against, Philadelphia has allowed the most goals against (tied with Pittsburgh’s last opponent this season, the Buffalo Sabres) and they have the worst save percentage in the League as well. In terms of goals saved above average, Carter Hart and Brian Elliott are the worst and third-worst goaltenders in the League, respectively. Their penalty kill is pretty bad too, as they’ve been faced with the twelfth-most power plays against and they have the second-worst penalty kill. Their offense is decidedly average, both in terms of goals scored, shooting percentage, and shots in general. They are just as mediocre as they have been since losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
But, they are still the Philadelphia Flyers, and they will be perfectly happy not only trying to beat the Penguins on the scoreboard but also beat them bloody. The Flyers have nothing but their pride to play for at this point, and part of that pride will be trying to derail Pittsburgh’s hopes at a healthy playoff run, at least to start. With Malkin returning as soon as this evening and maybe Brandon Tanev as well, the only other players who could be expected to be out of the lineup tonight are Evan Rodrigues and Mike Matheson, and both of those players shouldn’t be out for too long. With any luck, the Penguins could start the playoffs with a fully healthy roster for the first time since opening night. I wouldn’t assume that the Flyers will allow that to happen on their watch.