NHL Hockey

Rivals Penguins, Flyers open season Wednesday

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar/File)

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, bitter rivals for decades, will come together Wednesday for a common cause: the start of the 2020-21 season.

Finally.

The cross-state clubs were selected to play in the first game of the delayed opening to the NHL season, with an early evening faceoff at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The league's calendar, like so many things, was thrown askew by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unconventional start time of 5:30 p.m. ET was set so the game could be part of a national tripleheader television event, and it also features not only longtime rivals but also teams looking to prove they are bona fide contenders for the Stanley Cup.

"We are not in this to win one (playoff) series; we are in this to win the Stanley Cup," second-year Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said of a club that hasn't won the league title since 1975 and lost in the second round of the postseason this past summer.

The Flyers over the years have struggled to find consistent top-level play in net but believe they have found a franchise goaltender in Carter Hart.

That could be part of the reason for a swagger entering the season.

"I think we have a strong group, and I think we still have something to prove," Philadelphia veteran Michael Raffl said. "This year we want to go big -- make the playoffs and make a good push for (the Stanley Cup)."

Two points of inspiration for the Flyers are the return of forwards Oskar Lindblom, who played in 30 regular-season games last season while battling cancer, and Nolan Patrick, who missed last season because of a migraine issue.

A season condensed to 56 games from the normal 82, with all games played within revamped divisions, puts more weight on every matchup.

Pittsburgh won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and '17 but has won just one playoff series since and got upset by Montreal in the qualifying round this past summer.

In response, the Penguins overhauled some things, including trading goaltender Matt Murray to Ottawa and handing the top goalie chores to Tristan Jarry.

But Pittsburgh still is built around a core of veterans, topped by centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, all over 30 but still considered by team management to be among the league's elite.

Other offseason moves and perhaps increased roles for a couple younger players aim to restore the Penguins to an identity they had -- namely speed -- when they won those two most recent Cups.

"You can see in our scrimmages we're really stepping up the speed and picking up the pace," Pittsburgh defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. "Our speed is going to be a big factor this year."

Passion also could be a factor.

"We knew going into this that it's a very short camp. It was going to be virtually impossible to get to every aspect of our game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We feel comfortable that we've established the foundation of how we're trying to play, and then we'll build on that foundation each and every day.

"I think guys are excited to compete. We've been awaiting this time for a long period of time."

The Penguins will remain in Philadelphia for a rematch Friday, a schedule quirk that will be common across the NHL this season to decrease travel.

--Field Level Media

Updated January 13, 2021

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