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Game 27Ladies and Gentlemen Would You Please Welcome The Pittsburgh Penguins

Dec 8, 2011, 5:58 PM EDT

Last season, the very first game the Flyers played was against their current top rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They helped to open a new arena in western PA, although not quite the way the home team would have wanted. This year, we've had to wait more than a quarter of the season to see Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot face their former club, which we'll finally get to do tonight.

Last season, the very first
game the Flyers played was against their current top rival, the
Pittsburgh Penguins. They helped to open a new arena in western PA,
although not quite the way the home team would have wanted. This year,
we’ve had to wait more than a quarter of the season to see Jaromir Jagr
and Max Talbot face their former club, which we’ll finally get to do
tonight.

That storyline aside, the Pens and Flyers are also deadlocked at the
top of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings,
separated by just one point. Pittsburgh has played and lost two more
games than Philadelphia, and the teams aren’t alone at the top. There’s a
lot of hockey left to be played, but we get the feeling it’s going to
be tight most if not all of the way through to the spring.

The division races are heating up as the schedule gets more
Atlantic-heavy, which should provide for some great theatre as the
winter months kick in. The players come and go, but the rivalry never
seems to change much. The coming and going seems to be the spark that
will fuel some of this season’s battles, with Jagr and Talbot taking top
billing.

Their stories are quite different, their Pittsburgh tenures
separated by years, but in the eyes of some Pens fans and media members,
the current most important characteristic Jagr and Talbot share isn’t
that they won Cups for Pittsburgh—it’s that they signed with the Flyers
this past summer. [Puck Daddy has more]

Jagr hasn’t played for the Pens since 2001, having stopped in
Washington and New York before heading to Russia for three seasons. When
news broke that he’d be returning to the NHL, it was assumed he play
for either the Pens or the Red Wings, who were rumored to have interest.
But, like a thief in the night, Paul Holmgren worked a deal with former
Flyer and current Jagr agent Petr Svoboda, bringing Jagr to Philly.
Along with the departure of Talbot to none other than the Flyers he once
battled in a memorable playoff series (memorable for the wrong reasons
if you’re from Philly), two playoff heroes had traded in their status as
flightless water fowl for roles with a team known for Flying.

The money, and in Talbot’s case, years, that the Flyers gave these
two prodigals helped soften the blow for many Pittsburgh fans. Some said
Talbot was overrated and Jagr might dazzle here and there, but these
weren’t currently guys you could pin big hopes on. With both playing at
the very least to the potential they were brought here for, I wonder if
the pill’s as easy to swallow today as it was in July.

In truth, it probably is. The Penguins are doing just fine without
them, and there’s still plenty of time for any Jagr and Talbot haters to
be proven right. But all indications are that if healthy, these two
will be key contributors to a versatile and dangerous Flyers team that
will contend for the division some thought would certainly belong to the
Penguins or Rangers once Homer pushed ctrl+alt+delete on last season’s
roster. No one knew what to expect. It’s safe to say that as the puck’s
about to drop between the Penguins and Flyers for the first time this
season, fans on both sides wouldn’t trade their players for their
counterparts in the other sweaters.

Just the way it should be in a great rivalry.

Quick notes:
As you already know, Sidney Crosby won’t play tonight. Hope to the gods
that all is soon well with him and that we’re not seeing the beginning
of concussion symptom recurrence so soon after his return. 

Also, HBO is shooting at tonight’s game, gathering footage for the first episode of 24/7.

Ilya Bryzgalov will get his second start in as many nights, facing
Marc-Andre Fleury. Crosby’s a well known Flyers assassin, and his
bullet’s been dodged for the night, but the Flower’s numbers (20-10 in
33 career appearances) against Philly aren’t anything to shrug off… 

Quite possibly my favorite hockey pump-up song: