Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL playoffs Flyers vs. Penguins: Previewing possible 1st-round matchup

NHL playoffs Flyers vs. Penguins: Previewing possible 1st-round matchup

Leading up to the Flyers' Aug. 2 round-robin opener — which officially commences the team's run at the 2020 Stanley Cup in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament — we're going to break down every possible first-round matchup for the club.

Today, we look at the fifth-seeded Penguins.

Flyers by the numbers

Goals per game: 3.29 (seventh overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.77 (tied for seventh fewest)
Power play percentage: 20.8 (14th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 81.8 (11th overall)

Penguins by the numbers

Goals per game: 3.20 (10th overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.84 (tied for 11th fewest)
Power play percentage: 19.9 (16th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 82.1 (tied for eighth overall)

How they could meet

If the Flyers remain the fourth seed after the round-robin tourney and the Penguins beat the 12th-seeded Canadiens in their best-of-five qualifying-round series.

Why matchup could be favorable for Flyers

If the Flyers draw a Metropolitan Division team in the first round, the familiarity could be beneficial. The Flyers went 16-4-4 with a plus-25 goal differential (90-65) against divisional opponents during the regular season.

In three meetings with Pittsburgh, the Flyers went 1-1-1 and were outscored 11-7. The Flyers, though, put up 30 shots per game in the regular-season series compared to the Penguins' 25.3. After being blasted by Pittsburgh, 7-1, in October, the Flyers dominated the Penguins, 3-0, in January before losing to them, 4-3, in overtime later that month.

Following the season's opening month, the Flyers got significantly better and more comfortable from November on with new pieces, a new head coach and a new system.

Albeit an exhibition game, the Flyers faced a full Pittsburgh group Tuesday and it resulted in another tight game — a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers.

A few other things to consider in the Flyers' favor:

• No. 1 goalie Carter Hart didn't start in any of the three games against the Penguins. The Flyers should like their chances with Hart getting a shot at Pittsburgh in a best-of-seven series.

• The Flyers feature a bona-fide one-two punch down the middle in Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, two centers with size, reach and defensive strengths that can help combat the Penguins' big names by making things difficult in all three zones.

Why matchup could be trouble for Flyers

Pittsburgh will be a scary team to face because it's seeing one of the biggest returns in this entire tournament: Jake Guentzel.

Guentzel (shoulder injury) played the Flyers only once during the regular season and missed 30 total games. The 25-year-old winger scored 40 goals last season and had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in six games against the Flyers during the 2018 playoffs.

The Penguins were ravaged by injuries in the 2019-20 regular season but still found a way to finish seventh among the league (three points behind the No. 6 Flyers) despite losing:

Brian Dumoulin for 41 games
Guentzel for 30 games
Sidney Crosby for 28 games
Patric Hornqvist for 17 games
Evgeni Malkin for 14 games
Bryan Rust for 14 games
Kris Letang for eight games

Crosby and the Penguins have often been a thorn in the Flyers' side, as well. Pittsburgh's three-time Stanley Cup champion center has knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs three times.

No doubt, a Flyers-Penguins series would be as competitive as any in the first round.

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Flyers celebrate return of hockey with OT win and positives in exhibition vs. Penguins

Flyers celebrate return of hockey with OT win and positives in exhibition vs. Penguins

BOX SCORE

No fans and their first game action in 140 days — apparently, no problem for the Flyers.

All things considered, Alain Vigneault's bunch put on a positive exhibition performance Tuesday to record a 3-2 OT win over the Penguins at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

The Flyers' tune-up to the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament marked the club's first game of any kind since March 10. The 2019-20 NHL season was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton netted the Flyers' goals. Laughton scored the overtime game-winner off a sweet lead pass by Travis Konecny.

Carter Hart played the opening two periods and Brian Elliott finished the deal in the third period and extra session.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's standout trio of Jim Jackson, Keith Jones and Taryn Hatcher was on the call from the Wells Fargo Center.

Next time the Flyers take the game ice in Toronto, it will truly matter.

Let's get into some observations from the exhibition:

• Two of the biggest positives to come from the game: the Flyers left it healthy and didn't show a whole lot of rust.

They emphasized that they were pleasantly surprised how quickly chemistry and timing came back during training camp.

There were no glaring negatives Tuesday and the Flyers have the round robin to continue ironing out any wrinkles.

• A quotable on the aspect of no fans and the arena setup:

I don't think for me that it's any different whether there's nobody in the stands or 18,000 — usually my players can hear me most of the time. When you're behind the bench and you're in the flow of the game and you're coaching and you're making adjustments and you're giving feedback, you don't really notice the fans during the game and I think that as players, you're focused on what you have to do.

I looked at the setup a few times before warmups tonight and it looks real good; I think everybody is going to get used to it.

- Vigneault

• Hart made 11 saves on 12 shots. The goal he allowed was a clear look in close for Conor Sheary as the Flyers were slow in retreat.

Elliott also fared well with 13 stops. The goal he surrendered was a rebound marker by Jason Zucker.

Both goalies will play in the round robin. One would think Hart gets the first game, Elliott plays the second and Hart takes the third (depending on the game's implications).

Hart will be the No. 1 guy when the first round begins Aug. 11.

• Joel Farabee is fighting for a lineup spot and possibly one in the team's top six. He didn't get a chance to show himself a ton Tuesday in lesser minutes (8:56). He didn't do anything to really hurt his chances but the second line of Laughton, Hayes and Konecny (which often clicked in the regular season) played well, which doesn't exactly help Farabee.

The veteran Nate Thompson played down the middle and was good on the penalty kill. The Flyers have a good decision on that 12th and final forward. More looks to come in the round robin.

• Couturier, the new dad, got the Flyers on the board in the first stanza.

• Third-pair blueliners Justin Braun and Robert Hagg were among the healthy scratches with Morgan Frost, Andy Andreoff, Connor Bunnaman, Andy Welinski, Alex Lyon and Kirill Ustimenko.

The Flyers know exactly what they have in Braun and Hagg: two steady, stay-at-home guys who make life easier by killing plays and keeping the puck out of the defensive zone.

What the Flyers might not have as strong a read on is Shayne Gostisbehere, who has had to undergo arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees in 2020.

Gostisbehere moved well during practices and scrimmages in training camp. Everyone knows his capabilities offensively when he's elusive and transitioning the puck with his legs.

A week ago, he said he felt "10 times better" compared to how he felt during the regular season. 

"Just having a clear mind going into any sort of play," he said. "Not thinking is this movement going to hurt or is this going to hurt. Just having a clear mind and focusing straight on hockey. Making those plays, making those reads and trusting myself."

Gostisbehere had an assist and looked pretty good in 18-plus minutes. Building confidence will be important moving forward.

Vigneault is going to continue to get a look at the pieces to his lineup. Gostisbehere is pushing for a spot come Game 1 of the first round. If the Flyers struggle early in a series, especially on the offensive side of things, Vigneault could look to call Gostisbehere's number.

"I liked Ghost's game tonight, I thought he tried to make some plays with the puck," Vigneault said in a video interview. "But obviously like the rest of our group, it was his first game in a long time. Made some good plays; there are some battles for that starting lineup on [Aug. 11] that are going to happen here throughout the next couple of weeks. Tonight was our first game and I expect us to get better every day."

• Hayes was noticeable for all the right reasons. He was his alert and defensive self by picking off a pass to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the opening frame.

"T.K. and Scotty had a good forecheck, they were on them," Hayes said of the play.

The 6-foot-5 center is an X-factor for the Flyers in this tournament.

• How about Egor Zamula?

Regarded by many as a top-50 NHL prospect, the 20-year-old got his first taste of pro hockey by playing in Tuesday's exhibition game. His appearance was particularly impressive just because he hadn't played a hockey game since Jan. 5 with Russia in the title game of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Zamula, who went undrafted and is a lanky, smooth-skating defenseman with upside, underwent back surgery in late January, ending his junior hockey career.

The Flyers were permitted to play 13 forwards and seven defensemen, so they were able to closely monitor his minutes. Zamula will have to improve his strength and decision-making in his own end.

It would be surprising to see him crack the lineup during the playoffs (maybe the round robin if the Flyers are out of it by Game 3). But he's here and gaining valuable experience; that's a real positive for both Zamula and the Flyers next season.

• During the United States and Canadian national anthems, the Flyers and Penguins stood together to convey their solidarity in the fight against injustice and racism in society.

Very cool moment.

(Getty Images/Andre Ringuette)

• The Flyers open their three-game round-robin slate Sunday against the top-seeded Bruins (3 p.m. ET/NBC10).

In the round robin, the fourth-seeded Flyers can climb and go no lower than their current standing ahead of the first round.

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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Lauren Hart stays true to word, sings anthem for Flyers-Penguins exhibition

Lauren Hart stays true to word, sings anthem for Flyers-Penguins exhibition

The NHL officially made its return Tuesday afternoon when the puck dropped for the Flyers and Penguins exhibition game in the Toronto bubble. 

No fans, a new look and a journey reignited in hopes of lifting the Stanley Cup in a few weeks time. 

Exhibition game or not, it feels great to finally have hockey back. 

There are certainly a few aspects of home games that fans are going to miss when the round-robin tournament kicks off this Sunday for the Flyers — but a little imagination and some help from a few familiar faces are going to make that transition much easier. 

If you’ve ever ventured over to the Wells Fargo Center during the regular season or playoffs, there’s always one important staple — and that’s Lauren Hart singing the national anthem. It’s truly tradition at this point. 

Thanks to the power of the internet, fans were still able to hear the classic rendition of the anthem as Hart shared her singing it to her Twitter. 

Back in Toronto, the anthem looked a little different as well. The Flyers and Penguins — one of the biggest rivalries in sports — were lined up together, rather than apart. This was a way for the teams to stand in solidarity that Black Lives Matter. 

The Flyers’ race for the Stanley Cup officially kicks off Sunday, when they’re set to face the Boston Bruins in their first round-robin game. 

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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