The Penguins' fiercest rival
By Stu Hackel
Tonight's the night to have some sort of video recorder at your disposal. The NHL gets ready for its close-up on the HBO 24/7 series featuring the Capitals and Penguins, but those two teams are playing important games earlier in the evening: The Caps, trying to halt their six-game slide, host the Ducks while the Penguins, hosting the Rangers, look to bounce back from Tuesday night's loss to the Flyers, the new league leader, who travel to Montreal to take on the Canadiens. In fact, tonight's 11-game schedule is filled with compelling matchups and a few of them (Sharks-Predators, Avalanche-Blackhawks, Blue Jackets-Canucks) will still be going when "The Road To The Winter Classic" airs, so HBO may have to wait for a quieter moment.
While almost everyone was watching the Penguins rattle off their 12-game winning streak, the Flyers went on a run of 8-1-3 in their last 12. Philly's special teams are nothing to get excited about, but the Flyers are excellent when playing 5-on-5, probably the best in the league. They've scored 73 goals at 5-on-5 so far, the second-best mark in the league after Colorado's 76. And they've allowed only 34, tied for third-best in the league, so in their 32 games, they've outscored their opponents by 42 goals at full strength. Imagine how good the Flyers would be with a top flight goaltender, something they haven't been able to find since Ron Hextall's early years.
Getting back to the HBO series, one of the storylines is the rivalry aspect -- the animosity between the two clubs and the personal competition between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The two clubs do have a history of fierce playoff encounters, but the Penguins most fierce rival is really the Flyers. And the Caps-Flyers rivalry has also been a nasty one. As for the Sid vs. Ovie thing, isn't it just a bit strange that the NHL -- which tries to portray these two as hockey's biggest archenemies -- has finagled a joint appearance for them on The Price is Right TV show next week (with Jeremy Roenick added, no doubt for his valuable commentary) to help promote the Winter Classic? Ted Lindsay and Maurice Richard would not approve. Animosity just isn't what it used to be.