It’s tough to wait for someone you hate.
The NHL’s most vicious rivalry won’t square off until halfway into the regular season. The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will know each other quite well into the season’s final stretch with three match-ups in the final twelve games based on Philadelphia’s schedule.
It seems the NHL wanted the Keystone State rivals to play for more than just bragging rights. There’s a strong chance the Flyers and Penguins will muck it out to ultimately win a Wild Card spot or the Metropolitan Division.
Based on each team’s eventful off-seasons, we can see that improvements were not just subtle. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh cleaned house in their own respect. For any Flyers fan, we know a majority of the changes.
On the flip-side with evaluating the Penguins, there is only one thing to know: It’s Stanley Cup or bust in 2016.
Let’s start with the blockbuster trade that shook the NHL on July 1st. Pittsburgh acquired Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Phil Kessel, defenseman Tim Erixon, and forward Tyler Biggs, along with a future 2nd round draft choice for their highly touted prospect (2014 1st round pick) Kasperi Kapanen with 1st and 3rd round picks in 2016.
Kessel, 27, has a hefty contract of $8 million dollars due for 7 more seasons. However, he puts up hefty statistics that benefit Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense. Kessel managed 25 goals and 36 assists last season for a floundering Toronto squad. Recent reports from training camp confirm that Kessel will be paired with Center Sidney Crosby over Center Evgeni Malkin.
Nevertheless, adding depth to the Penguins’ lines was a priority for management. They exchanged third line Center Brandon Sutter to the Vancouver Canucks for C Nick Bonino, who may be an upgrade due to change of style. The Penguins also added winger Eric Fehr from the Washington Capitals to make way for some offensive pressure. Watch out for forward Pascal Dupuis to emerge as a player talked about as a ‘comeback player of the year’ type. He suffered a blood clot in his lung but has recently spread the word that he’s ready for hockey again.
A good clean bill of health is concentrated on their prized defensemen Olli Maatta and Kris Letang. Penguins fans hope that these two will fuly recover from their injuries by October. Maata suffered a shoulder injury late last season and Letang missed the final twelve games (including post-season) due to a concussion.
Their starting goaltender is none other than Marc-Andre Fleury. Flyers fans know what to expect from Fleury based on laughable performances mixed with shades of dominance. Fleury, 30, showcased his highest save percentage (.920) since 2008. Expect a solid year from Fleury as long as his defense is healthy and stable.
I’ll have to give a fair prediction to how these Penguins will perform against the Flyers. I still believe Philadelphia can handle close to 3 wins since they somehow have not lost any mojo playing at Consol Energy (a 13-2-1 overall record since its opening in the 2010-2011 season).