It wasn’t as if Sidney Crosby was around to light things up for the Penguins the first couple weeks of the season anyway.
Offseason wrist surgery had limited the Pittsburgh superstar to just one game and he was a minus-three in that contest.
So it’s safe to say the Flyers didn’t really raise too many eyebrows on Wednesday when they learned Crosby has tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t be available for Thursday night’s marquee game against the Flyers in the Steel City.
The Flyers were gearing up for their first two games against Metropolitan Division foes – Pittsburgh and Washington on Saturday night – this season and, of course, the glamour surrounding these two events centered on Crosby and another elite talent, the Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin.
Now half of that equation has been removed.
After Wednesday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J., both captain Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov insisted the Penguins are still a dangerous bunch without Crosby.
The news had just broken while the Flyers were still on the ice, so there wasn’t a lot of time to gather thoughts.
“Everytime we play Pittsburgh it’s a great battle,’’ Provorov said. “Crosby is still one of the top guys in the league. But without him they’ve been doing pretty good so far. So it’s going to be a good challenge, a good game.’’
Crosby has averaged more than a point per game against the Flyers over his career.
“He’s a great player,’’ Giroux acknowledged. “He brings a lot to his team.’’
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault indicated the Flyers won’t be letting their guard down.
“We’re like any other team in the league,’’ he said. “We have a lineup that’s available, the other team has a lineup that’s available, you go on the ice and you play to your best.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins are taking this setback in stride.
“I’m sure he (Crosby) is discouraged. He worked extremely hard to get to this point, and we were all so excited about getting him back in the fold,” Sullivan told the media. “This puts another roadblock in front of it. But we’ll control what we can, and we’re hopeful that Sid will return soon.”
It might take away some of the energy from the ongoing “Battle of Pennsylvania’’ but the Penguins always will be the Flyers’ No. 1 rival regardless of the circumstances.
“Of all the rivalries, it’s one of the top for sure,’’ Giroux said. “Every team in the division is fun to play but Pittsburgh has a different feel to it.’’
These two games should show the Flyers a little bit about where they stand in the Metro. Over the last six years, the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup twice and the Capitals once.
“Those games are always huge, when you know those teams at the end are going to be right there with you,’’ Giroux said. “Early on in the season those points are big. Two big games on the road, it’s going to be a good test for us.’’
Vigneault will get to see where his team stacks up.
“When you’re talking about divisional games, you’re talking about four-point games,’’ the coach said. “They’re extremely important, we understand that. I’ve watched Pittsburgh play quite a few times this year. Even though they’ve been missing some key players at different times, they’re a team which plays real hard, very structured and they’re getting a lot from their group offensively.’’
Added Provorov: “Anytime you can win within your division, sometimes those points almost count as four because you get two and the other team doesn’t. When you play in your division, those points mean a lot.’’
>Ellis not traveling
Defenseman Ryan Ellis will not make the two-game trip. The Flyers continue to insist he’s making progress from a lower-body injury (hip/groin) but days are turning into weeks.
“He’s progressing but he’s not there yet,’’ Vigneault said. “Hopefully he can join the group when we get back.’’
>New job for Hayes
Even though Kevin Hayes (abdominal surgery) is still about a week away from a possible return, Vigneault is taking him on the trip just so he has someone to shoot at his goalies during the morning skate sessions on the road.
“We don’t have any spares,’’ Vigneault said with a chuckle. “I need one tomorrow so he’ll be my shooter.’’
The Flyers are hoping to have Hayes up to full speed by the time he returns. Vigneault, mindful this is Hayes’ second surgery on the same injury, wants to be extra cautious.
“We want to make sure physically and condition-wise he’s up to par,’’ Vigneault said. “He hasn’t had the luxury of a training camp so I’m not sure (of a return date). Our conditioning and medical people are on it.’’
Hayes also can add a lot to the penalty kill.
“Kevin plays a lot of situations,’’ Giroux noted. “When you have a guy like Kevin coming back in the lineup, whenever that is, it’s going to give us a boost.’’
Carter Hart, coming off his third career shutout in a 3-0 win over Arizona, will start against the Penguins. . .Vigneault liked what he saw of his revamped power play. “Especially the first unit,’’ he said. “Other than finish, they had good puck movement, good puck recovery. You want your power play to give you momentum.’’