From Philly with Love. Come Back Anytime, Pittsburgh.

It’s becoming almost laughable in Philadelphia.

Since the start of the 2010-2011 season, the Flyers and Penguins rivalry has written a new chapter. The Flyers are 15-7-0 in the regular season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are 10-2-0 in the Consol Energy Center, and are currently on a six game winning streak against their cross-state rivals.

The Penguins have had the better team in the standings and certainly the better team on paper the past few seasons, so why can’t they crack the Flyers?

Mind Games.

That’s all it really is.

The Penguins have had arguably the better team on paper recently, yet no matter what they do, they can’t crack the Flyers.

Tuesday night’s fight fest at the Wells Fargo Center was the perfect example of why Pittsburgh is creating their own uphill battle when it comes to beating Philadelphia. Think about it.

The Flyers have the worst penalty kill in the NHL. It’s atrocious. The Penguins were handed 9-plus minutes of powerplay time, including a 5 minute major, yet they couldn’t capitalize. The Flyers defense had struggled all season, but they held one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL to just 2 goals.

The Penguins didn’t look like themselves. It’s a common theme, they never do anymore against the Flyers.

Some people would like to try and point out that the Flyers are a dirty team, who feeds off of fighting, and that the Penguins are stooping to the Flyers “level”, but I’d easily say that isn’t the case.

Incase you were wondering, the Penguins lead the NHL in PIM/game, major penalties, and misconducts.

The Penguins were pretty quick to call up the AHL’s penalty minute leader in Bobby Farnham, so to blame all of what happened on the Flyers would be a misconception. And, as we’ve chronicled here before, the Penguins have done their fair share of cheap shotting. That’s despite coaches and players previously calling out the Flyers. The Flyers on the other hand haven’t been too frequent at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety in recent years, aside from Zac Rinaldo. So can you really say the Flyers play at such a low, subpar, dirty level of hockey? Hardly.

Is it possible the Flyers aren’t stooping to the Penguins level of play? I’d say it’s entirely plausible.

If you were to go back and look at the instances of chippy games filled with fighting between these two teams, you’d be surprised to find that none of these games involved the Flyers losing. Go all the way back to 2012. A late regular season game in April, Dan Bylsma sends out an enforcer to rock Danny Briere after the Flyers have the game in the bag. Game 3 in the 2012 playoffs, Sidney Crosby (who I’ll touch on later), single handily caused two brawls and drove his team to go insane. And most recently, last Tuesday, when in a 1-1 game, the Penguins couldn’t seem to keep their cool after a questionable hit by Zac Rinaldo.

The score sheet displayed a 3-2 at the end of the game, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Penguins outshot the Flyers 17-3 in the first period. Zac Rinaldo’s major penalty ended early in the second, and almost instantly after not scoring, it was like a switch was flipped. The Penguins became more concentrated on retaliation rather than winning a hockey game. The Flyers outshot the Penguins 14-9 in the second, and 17-9 in the third. And if you don’t think that’s the case, just look at the 17 penalties in the second period. One of which included Flyers superstar Jakub Voracek fighting.

That isn’t Flyers hockey, it hasn’t been all year. But that is what has happened over the past few seasons when the Penguins have lost their heads against the Flyers. And it’s costing them a lot of games.

Change the coach, change the game plan, do whatever. For some odd reason, ever since the 2010-2011 season (coincidentally the year Claude Giroux rose to stardom), the Penguins have come unglued, and have looked lost against the Flyers.

Regular stats won’t show it and advanced stats won’t show it, but the Flyers as a group have solved the Penguins. It’s as simple as that. The group of core players on the Penguins cannot seem to get past whatever grudge they have built up against the Flyers. It’s mind games, but is the problem more centralized to one player?

The Captains.

Maybe it’s something about an orange sweater that has gotten Sidney Crosby shying away lately, but one thing is certain, Claude Giroux has proven to be the better leader in the rivalry. Since the 2011-2012 season Giroux has posted 24 points against the Penguins, Crosby just 13 against the Flyers. Certainly out of character for a guy who has killed the Flyers most of his career.

Break it down even further and it gets worse for the Penguins’ star center. Over the Flyers current six-game win streak, Crosby has managed just 4 points, while Claude Giroux has put up 11 for the orange and black. The problems don’t stop there.

Everyone in Philadelphia certainly remembers the playoff series in 2012. It was goal filled, fight filled, and dirty-hit filled. But this was also the tale of two very different captains.

Claude Giroux’s Flyers went down early in each of the first three games of the series, yet fought back to win them all of those games.

What did the Penguins do? Crosby came out after the Flyers went up 3-1 in game 3 and proceeded to take slashes at Ilya Bryzgalov post-whistle, go after Kimmo Timonen, and when everything seemed to have settled down, he knocked Jakub Voracek’s stick away like something you would see in a mite hockey game.

I won’t even bring up the third period brawl.

That’s not the Sidney Crosby anyone knew of. Sure, he has had his fair share of embellishments, among other things, but this is something no one has seen out of the Stanley Cup winner.

This wasn’t leading, this wasn’t frustration, this was running around and not controlling emotions against a bitter rival in an absolutely crucial game. After the game? No mention of the team, just a captain who sat in the locker room talking about how “HE doesn’t like ’em.”

It ushered in a new era of this rivalry, one not where the Penguins are losing because of lack of talent, but one where they would start losing to Philadelphia because they would rather send a message with chippy play, rather than on the score sheet. And in 2012, Sidney Crosby sent that type of message to his team. It still echoes in every game which they play the Flyers today.

But what did Giroux do in the 2012 series? Came out and continued to play his game. Even after the Flyers lost two games, he came out in the first minute of a pivotal game six, leveled Crosby, then sniped Fleury. That is what a captain does.

Crosby’s first period antics in game 3 set the tone for the Penguins. The Flyers were leading 3-1 at the time, it was only the first period, and it was certainly still anybody’s game, but Crosby was quick to give up on that in the pursuit of personal gains. Even Flyers radio analyst, Chris Therien weighed in with his two cents.

Aside from the outrage directed towards the dirty hits the Penguins delivered during the course of the game, Flyer fans were laughing. This is supposed to be one of the best captains in the game? That’s what a leader is supposed to do? When his team is down in the game, 2-0 in a series, and 3-1 in a game? Certainly not. It was comical.

What does this have to do with the two captains head to head? And how is it preventing the Penguins from beating the Flyers?

As I said before, Sidney Crosby was historically a Flyer killer. Early on in his career, he’d snuff out boos with goals. Now? He’s proved to

NHL Player Comparisons
Claude Giroux came out on top in 2012. (Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

everyone wearing a Flyers jersey that if you hit him, and get in his head, that his game suffers mightily.

If he does things akin to the 2012 playoff series (and he has repeated that, just see the slew-foot and spear against New York in last years playoffs), and leaves his teammates to defend for his actions, then the Penguins will continue to be dominated by the Flyers. They’ll keep focusing on sending messages rather than just winning the game at hand.

We’re not referring to skill when it comes to comparing Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux. It is a matter of how each player leads their team. When the Flyers and Penguins meet, Claude Giroux takes the game by the horns. He channels his frustration and anger directly to the score sheet and leads by example. That is what a captain does. Look to the black and gold, and Crosby does the exact opposite. That’s why Giroux has nearly double the points Crosby does in the rivalry the past few seasons. Pre-2010, the Flyers never dominated the Penguins (atleast in the Crosby era), in fact, in 2009-10, the Flyers were just 1-4-1 against the Pens, and in 2006-07, the Flyers were 0-6-0 against their cross-state rivals. Those were the days when Crosby let his scoring do the talking. That’s the Crosby that captained the Penguins to a Stanley Cup.

Those days are disappearing  for the Penguins. Like it or not, Sidney Crosby is a different player now then he was five years ago. There’s a dark element to his game that emerged in 2012, and has hindered the Penguins’ chances of beating Philadelphia. It’s even becoming evident outside of when he plays Philadelphia. From cbc.ca during their series last year against the Rangers:

“The more Crosby fights back, the more the Rangers will attack him. And why not? His focus is not on helping his team win, it is on getting even.”

This is exactly what the Flyers have done the past few seasons. However, it’s becoming a common theme, and more teams are starting to realize it. If the Penguins want to find their game against the Flyers again, then their captain needs to step up and start playing the way he used to against the Flyers. Until then, Flyer fans will be enjoying these satisfying wins against a bitter rival. And in the midst of a disappointing season that is something we could use in Philadelphia.