The Flyers and Penguins have had some battles during the 2019-20 regular season.
Mark Recchi remembers them well and is likely rewatching them during the ongoing suspension of the NHL season amid the coronavirus outbreak.
If the 2019-20 regular season ended today and the league was to jump directly into the Stanley Cup Playoffs under its regular format, the Flyers would face the Penguins. The Flyers are in second place of the Metropolitan Division, which would slot them to meet third-place Pittsburgh for a first-round date.
Recchi, a Hockey Hall of Famer and current Penguins assistant coach, said the mindset of Pittsburgh's staff is pretty much on Philly. After all, if the NHL is able to find a way to finish the regular-season slate, the Flyers and Penguins would still have one more matchup. Both clubs have 13 games apiece left on the NHL's remaining regular-season schedule, the status of which is up in the air (along with the playoffs, as well).
“We actually think if we do play, we’re going to probably end up playing them, so we’re kind of preparing like we are anyways," Recchi said Tuesday in a video interview with former Flyer and current Flyers Pregame and Postgame Live analyst Chris Therien.
Recchi has been impressed with the Flyers' 2019-20 resurgence under Alain Vigneault and company.
One of general manager Chuck Fletcher's initiatives last offseason was to make the Flyers tougher to play against. With the implementation of Vigneault's system and the help of offseason additions Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Tyler Pitlick and Justin Braun, the Flyers accomplished that goal. They've allowed the NHL's fewest shots per game (28.7) and own a plus-36 goal differential after surrendering the league's third-most goals per game (3.41) last season and finishing with a minus-37 goal differential.
"You know what, they really came together as a team this year — they have become a really stingy team," Recchi said. "Our first 40, 50 games, with all of our injuries, we kind of played to that same identity. ... I think [the Flyers] didn’t get off to a great start, but they really did a good job, the players did a terrific job, obviously the coaches did a great job.
"They’re tough, they’ve done a great job, their goaltending has been very good, their combination of the veteran (Brian Elliott) and the young Carter Hart. It’s good, I think their D core is very solid, Matt Niskanen was a huge pickup for them. I think he’s a terrific defenseman — good veteran that stabilizes things and he’s a really good person.”
The three matchups between the Flyers and Penguins were all different. Pittsburgh blasted the Flyers, 7-1, in October. The Flyers then dominated the Penguins, 3-0, in January before losing to them, 4-3, in overtime later that month.
The potential series would project to be as competitive as any in the opening round.
Recchi, the former Flyer and three-time Stanley Cup champion as a player, can see why.
"They’re a really good team and they were stingy," Recchi said of the Flyers. "When we played them those couple of games — right before the break and then we played them not long after — they were tough games. They were playing really, really good hockey, so if we end up facing them, we know, no matter what, we’re going to be in for a dogfight. Because they were playing terrific before and it’s not going to go far away, they’re still going to come back, they obviously have the right attitude, the players do, so they’ve done a heck of a job there."
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