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Preview: Even at home, shorthanded Flyers big underdogs against Penguins

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Philadelphia Flyers game vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Philadelphia Flyers, depleted because of COVID-19 and injuries, will host the NHL’s hottest team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, on Thursday.

The Penguins (19-8-5) have won nine straight, while the Flyers (13-14-6) have lost three in a row.

Philly, coming off a 1-2-1 West Coast trip, will use a lineup that looks more like one for a preseason game. Their four centers are Scott Laughton, Morgan Frost, Kevin Hayes, and Patrick Brown.

The defense has just three of its usual regulars: Justin Braun, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle.

“Obviously it’s out of our control to a degree,” winger James van Riemsdyk said of the game still scheduled to be played as of noon. “You just have to hope that everyone making these decisions, that it’s relatively fair across the board.”

Storylines

Can the Flyers rally behind a roster that includes several players recalled from the AHL’s Phantoms? One of those players is defenseman Egor Zamula, 21, who will be making his season debut with the Flyers and will be playing in his third NHL game.

“The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity,” Flyers coach Mike Yeo said after Thursday’s morning skate.

The Flyers didn’t play that well on their West Coast trip, and now they have more players out of their lineup.

The Flyers on the COVID list: Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Jackson Cates, and Nick Seeler.

The injured: Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, and Nate Thompson.

Pittsburgh will try to extend its winning streak to 10, which would be the longest in the NHL this season. The Penguins’ nine-gamer matches Carolina’s from Oct. 14 to Nov. 3.

In Pittsburgh’s latest win, Bryan Rust had three points, while Sidney Crosby, Evan Rodrigues, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel each had two points.

In his career against the Flyers, Crosby has 115 points (49 goals, 66 assists) against the Flyers.

Enough said.

Projected Philadelphia Flyers lines

Here are the Flyers’ projected lines:

Line 1: Laughton centering Joel Farabee and Cam Atkinson.

Line 2: Frost centering Derick Brassard, who comes off the injured list, and James van Riemsdyk.

Line 3: Hayes centering  Connor Bunnaman and Max Willman.

Line 4: Brown centering Oskar Lindblom and Zack MacEwen.

Defense: Cam York and Braun;  Zamula and Ristolainen; and Yandle and Kevin Connauton.

Goalie:  Carter Hart.

Numbers Dept.

The Flyers (27th, 2.61 goals per game) are near the bottom of the league in goals scored per game and lag far behind the Penguins (11th, 3.22).  Defensively, the Pens are fifth in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.50), while the Flyers are 21st (3.24).

Who’s hot

Farabee has three goals over the last five games for the Flyers.

Rodrigues has six goals and nine points over his last five games for Pittsburgh.

Projected goalie matchup­­­

Hart (7-9-4), who has a 2.76 GAA and .917 save percentage, is expected to face Tristan Jarry (16-5-4, 1.89, .934), one of his workout partners in the summer.

How to watch

Hulu and ESPN+ at 7 p.m.

Money line (FanDuel)

Flyers: plus-198.

Penguins: minus-245.

Prediction

Penguins 5, Flyers 3.

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