Pittsburgh Penguins

Jason Zucker trade, Seth Jones injury have impact on Flyers' chances in NHL playoff race

Jason Zucker trade, Seth Jones injury have impact on Flyers' chances in NHL playoff race

The crazy Metropolitan Division became even crazier in a span of 24 hours.

As the Flyers took care of business Monday night and prepared for another big game Tuesday night, they saw two notable headlines that could impact their playoff push.

On Monday night, the Penguins made a splash by acquiring winger Jason Zucker in a trade with the Wild. On Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Jackets announced defenseman Seth Jones underwent surgery for a fractured ankle and is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks.

Both news items apply to the Flyers, who entered Tuesday holding the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot and a 65.2 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com. The Flyers came into their road game against the Islanders only one point behind the Blue Jackets in the divisional race and four points back of the second-place Penguins.

Zucker is a quality addition for experienced Pittsburgh, which plays the Flyers once more on March 29 at the Wells Fargo Center. The 28-year-old scored 33 goals in 2017-18 and will complement Sidney Crosby on the Penguins' top line. Zucker is projected to finish with 20-plus goals for the fifth time in his career and has the chance to boost Pittsburgh's middle-of-the-pack power play.

The Blue Jackets, who have been a surprise postseason contender, suffered a blow with Jones' injury. The three-time All-Star has 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) and leads Columbus in ice time per game (25:17). No Blue Jacket has played more shorthanded minutes than Jones and only Zach Werenski has more power play points on the team.

The Flyers, who are already 2-0-0 against Columbus after losing all four meetings last season (0-2-2), play a home-and-home set with the Blue Jackets next week. They won't see Jones, who has six career goals vs. the Flyers, his most against any NHL team.

Will Columbus be able to weather the loss of Jones and stay in the playoff hunt? That's a valid question. Coming into Tuesday, six of the NHL's top 10 teams were from the Metropolitan Division.

Some traffic could clear for the Flyers because of Jones' absence. Never count out John Tortorella's team, though.

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Sidney Crosby stars, Flyers need more, but this overtime loss to Penguins isn't a bad one

Sidney Crosby stars, Flyers need more, but this overtime loss to Penguins isn't a bad one

BOX SCORE

Sidney Crosby wasn't quiet this time.

The Flyers turned him away before the extended break but Crosby turned it on after to hand the orange and black a 4-3 overtime loss Friday night to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

Pittsburgh's superstar delivered his second three-point game in three meetings with the Flyers this season. He capped this performance with the OT winner after the Flyers impressively erased a 3-1 deficit (see highlights).

Following the All-Star festivities and their NHL-mandated bye week, the Flyers (27-17-7) entered the game one point out of a playoff spot. They have 31 games remaining, 13 of which come against the deep Metropolitan Division (see standings). To their credit, the Flyers are 9-2-4 within the division.

The Penguins (32-14-5) haven't lost consecutive games since Nov. 29-30, a stretch in which they've gone 18-5-1.

• The Flyers didn't play a terrible game. They allowed only 20 shots. They outshot the Penguins 17-4 in the third period. They got contributions from role players. They didn't have Carter Hart.

But Pittsburgh's big names earned the headlines. On the other hand, the Flyers' big names must do more. Head coach Alain Vigneault has said it over the course of the season.

In three games against the Penguins, Claude Giroux (one assist), Travis Konecny (one assist), James van Riemsdyk (one goal), Kevin Hayes (one assist) and Ivan Provorov (scoreless) have combined for four points.

• In their 3-0 blanking of Pittsburgh before the break, the Flyers held Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to without a point.

Those two going scoreless in the same game against the Flyers has happened only nine times.

It didn't come close to happening again 10 days later. Crosby and Malkin flipped the game with five points in a 7:08 span of the second period as the Penguins seized their 3-1 lead.

Matt Niskanen was caught watching the play on Malkin's goal, which ended the Flyers' 1-0 advantage.

Crosby and Malkin then generated power play goals for Bryan Rust and Kris Letang. In the previous meeting, Pittsburgh's man advantage went 0 for 3 with only three shots.

The Penguins were not happy with their performance in Philly, so everyone expected a different team in Pittsburgh. Crosby and Malkin led that charge.

• Brian Elliott had his three-game winning streak snapped. During that spurt, he allowed only four goals on 87 shots. The Penguins cracked him four times on 20 shots.

The 34-year-old goalie has given the Flyers a lot. He could have been better Friday, but he wasn't a huge problem.

Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry entered with a 2.16 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. The Flyers have put up five goals and 59 shots against him in the last two games. Not too bad.

• Depth at forward will be topic of discussion all next month as the Feb. 24 trade deadline nears. That's probably the most glaring area in which the Flyers can add.

Well, the Flyers' bottom-six forwards gave general manager Chuck Fletcher plenty to like against the Penguins. Goals from Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton tied the game at 3-3. Nicolas Aube-Kubel made a strong play to assist Pitlick's tally, while Pitlick notched a helper on Laughton's marker.

Positive performances from many of the Flyers' role guys. The team did not get enough from its big boys.

• The Flyers opened the game's scoring in the first period when Niskanen snuck a slick pass to Jakub Voracek for a power play goal.

Joel Farabee picked up an assist on the play, giving him a four-game point streak (two goals, two assists). Prior to the streak, he had two points (both assists) in his previous 15 games.

The Flyers will need the 19-year-old's offense down the stretch.

• Rivalry put aside, the Penguins showed they are "Oskar Strong" for Oskar Lindblom. Very cool gesture by Pittsburgh.

• In their 11th back-to-back set out of 17, the Flyers return home Saturday night to play the Avalanche (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).

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Flyers at Penguins: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Penguins: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Let the race begin.

After a nine-day layoff thanks to the All-Star break and their NHL-mandated bye week, the Flyers (27-17-6) return to action Friday when they visit the Penguins (31-14-5).

With 32 games remaining, the Flyers are three points out of third place in the competitive Metropolitan Division and one point out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: PPG Paints Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• Following Thursday's practice, head coach Alain Vigneault exuded confidence about his team's push for the playoffs.

After all, there's no reason he shouldn't be confident. This is Vigneault's fourth NHL head coaching gig. His overall record in Year 1 at his four stops is 158-106-32 with a .588 points percentage. With the Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers, each of Vigneault's first seasons resulted in playoff bids and at least one series win.

He has plans to make it 4 for 4 with the Flyers.

“I expected to be in and I’ve said all along, and I’m still saying it today, that we’re going to get into the playoffs," Vigneault said. "I believe that we’ve got the talent, we’ve got the veteran group, we’ve got good young players. We’re going to get in.

"We’re exactly where I’d thought we would be. If you try to break down the season, number of points, what you’ve got to get per 10-game segments, we’re right on track. It might take a few more points than I originally thought, and that’s how competitive the Eastern Conference is, but it’s great for everybody.

"As a player, as a coach, that’s why you’re in this business — this competitiveness and that’s what we’ve got.”

• The Flyers should expect the Penguins to come out with purpose. Pittsburgh was not happy with its final game before the extended break, a 3-0 loss to the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.

"It was a lack of executing, lack of attention to detail, no sense of urgency, no cooperative play," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said after the Jan. 21 defeat. "Can’t play that way in this league and expect to win.

"We were easy to play against, that’s what I think. We didn’t chip bodies, finish checks. We didn’t make great decisions with the puck. We didn’t execute when we had it. There’s nothing positive that I can draw on from this game."

Pittsburgh hasn't lost consecutive games since Nov. 29-30, a stretch in which it has gone 17-5-1.

• Sean Couturier has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last six regular-season games against the Penguins.

Over his last 40 games this season, Couturier has put up 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) and a plus-22 mark (see story).

Projected lineup

Forwards

James van Riemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
Tyler Pitlick-Connor Bunnaman-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun

Goalies

Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

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