The Philadelphia Flyers retooled their defense after being eliminated in the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second straight year.
That doesn’t mean they can’t outscore an opponent similar to the caliber of the defending Stanley Cup champions in a high-scoring shootout on occasion.
The Flyers will try to start a season with four wins for the first time since 1995-96 on Thursday night when they host the Penguins in the Atlantic Division rivals’ first matchup since Pittsburgh won in six games in the opening round of last season’s playoffs.
That was the impetus for Philadelphia (3-0-0) to add goaltender Ray Emery and former MVP Chris Pronger to bolster its defense. Emery, who played last season with Russian club Atlant Moscow after a rocky five-year career with Ottawa, allowed one goal in two wins to start his Flyers career.
It was a different story Tuesday against Washington as Mike Richards had a hat trick in a wild second period and Daniel Briere scored in overtime of a 6-5 victory.
“We don’t want to get involved in a track meet with the Pittsburghs and the Washingtons of the world,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “I think we’re built just a little bit differently, but we do have an exciting offensive team and I think you saw that.”
Matt Carle assisted on all three of Richards’ goals, and set a Flyers record for assists by a defenseman in a period with four.
“It’s not the ideal way to win, but every once in a while you have to find a way to win these games,” said Richards, who had his second career hat trick.
Pittsburgh (2-1-0) should be very familiar with Emery. He’s 4-1-2 with a 2.76 goals-against average in his career against the Penguins, and helped Ottawa eliminate them in five games in the 2007 Eastern Conference quarterfinals by posting 2.01 GAA.
Emery will have to try to help stop defending scoring champion Evgeni Malkin, who had four goals and five assists in last season’s playoff series and captain Sidney Crosby, who had four goals and four assists.
Malkin and Crosby were held in check Wednesday in a 3-0 home loss to Phoenix as Pittsburgh failed in a bid for its first 3-0 start since 1995.
“We weren’t able to get a whole lot going. There’s no real excuse for it, we weren’t good at all, but we’ve got to move on,” said Crosby, whose 20 regular-season goals against the Flyers are the most he’s had against any opponent.
Malkin has also enjoyed his greatest success against Philadelphia with 13 goals and 18 assists in 21 games.
Backup goaltender Brent Johnson made 22 saves in his Pittsburgh debut. Marc-Andre Fleury – 4-2-0 with a 2.39 GAA in the playoffs against Philadelphia during last season’s Cup run – likely will be in goal as the Penguins start a four-game trip.
The Flyers could be making lineup changes with center Blair Betts out at least a month due to a dislocated right shoulder. Rookie left wing James van Riemsdyk had his “bell rung” and his status is uncertain.