Physical play becoming a hit in Pittsburgh
Three years ago a winger named Petr Sykora signed with the Penguins because he wanted to play on a team with a trio of skilled centers in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Forward Mike Rupp found a different reason to join the Penguins this past summer.
"It was a team that was kind of annoying to play against," Rupp said of the Penguins, whom he joined over the offseason after facing them for years as a member of the Atlantic Division-rival New Jersey Devils.
"Annoying is, like, when you're playing the game, you're trying to accomplish an objective and you've got a guy skating from across the ice to hit you. That is going to put a kink in your plans."
The Penguins (23-10-1, 47 points) can put a kink in the plans of their most bitter rival tonight by beating the Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center.
Beating might be the key word for Round 3 of the Commonwealth Cold War. The Flyers (15-16-1, 31 points) have won only three of 14 games and just two of seven since hiring Peter Laviolette to replace former coach John Stevens on Dec. 4 — and most Penguins expect tonight to resemble an NHL backyard brawl.
That expectation is not without justification. These clubs combined for three fights in a span of 16 seconds before six minutes had expired in a Penguins' home win on Tuesday night.
Since they entered the league together in 1967, the Penguins and Flyers have refused to play nice, and with consecutive playoff meetings the last two springs the nastiness of this rivalry has hit new heights.
Or depths; depending on how fans view Flyers winger Scott Hartnell allegedly biting the finger of Penguins defenseman Kris Letang in October or former Philadelphia winger Ben Eager accosting the Penguins' last coach, Michel Therrien, during Therrien's postgame meeting with the media two years ago.
Many Penguins believe the Flyers have one agenda in these showdowns.
"No team is going to push us around and intimidate us, and that's something they always try to do," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "I don't know if it's successful against some teams, but we're not going to back down — and it's a style we can play as well."
Rupp said the Penguins "played tough" under Therrien; but in coach Dan Bylsma's first full season they have proven capable of "winning any kind of hockey games."
"We'll go up-and-down the ice with teams if they want," he said, "but we'll get physical and play dirty hockey, and we're completely comfortable in those games, too."
Known for the top-shelf skill, especially in past scoring champions Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins began Wednesday as perhaps a surprising NHL leader with 974 hits. They rated fifth with 524 blocked shots, and their 14.4 penalty minutes per game were ninth most in the league.
Four Penguins rated among the league's top 21 hitters — the most of any club.
"Ours is more of a team toughness than an actual physical toughness," winger Chris Kunitz said. "It's been a gradual thing that's developed, but it's because we have guys that like each other and want to stick up for on another."
They especially want to do that against the Flyers, whom Eaton agreed appear easily frustrated when the Penguins have embraced answering the bell.
Counting eight wins in 11 playoff games the Penguins are 27-15-1 against the Flyers over the past five seasons, including 10-9-1 at Philadelphia, where they had previously won only 21 times (including the postseason).
Crosby believes the Flyers have inadvertently helped harden the Penguins.
"You get your feet wet pretty quickly, especially with a young group," he said. "It becomes a little more normal — even if you see a game like (Tuesday). You learn to get up for those games, what to expect, and that is good in preparing for anything."
Ranked first among NHL teams in hits and fifth in blocked shots as of Wednesday, the Penguins are trying to join rare company from this decade:
TEAM, SEASON: SHOTS RANK/HITS RANK
Canadiens, 2008-09: 5/3
Canadiens, 2007-08: 2/1
Rangers, 2006-07: 5/1
Islanders, 2003-04: 3/3
Avalanche, 2003-04: 5/5
Avalanche, 2002-03: 2⁄5
Avalanche, 2001-02: 1⁄2
Kings, 2000-01: 2/4
Note: All teams qualified for Stanley Cup playoffs. Only the 2002-03 Avalanche won at least two playoff rounds. No team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins GM Rutherford: Malkin’s play belies fact he missed training camp
- Penguins notebook: After slow start, penalty kill on upswing
- Penguins’ defenseman Maatta confident of full recovery
- Penguins assistant coach Tocchet wants Letang to shoot more on power play
- Penguins’ Crosby OK with Neal comments about trade
- Starkey: Hockey hypocrites, unite
- Predators winger Neal caught ‘blindsided’ by trade from Penguins
- Penguins overcome early deficit with scoring onslaught, beat Devils, 8-3
- Penguins notebook: Jagr still an impact player in 23rd season
- Penguins assistant coach Tocchet marvels at Maatta’s demeanor