(Sports Network) - The Pittsburgh Penguins will play their first official game at Consol Energy Center tonight, as they host the rival Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010-11 season opener for both clubs.
The Penguins had played at Mellon Arena -- the building more familiarly known as the Igloo -- since entering the league for the 1967-68 season, but Pittsburgh's last game in that building was a loss to Montreal in Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference semifinals.
Tonight's matchup pits the winners of the last three Eastern Conference titles against each other. The Pens won the East in back-to-back years (2008-09) and also won the Stanley Cup title in '09. The Flyers claimed the conference title last year before losing to Chicago in six games during the Cup Finals.
Pittsburgh dominated the Flyers in the season series last year, winning five of the six encounters between the clubs. The Pens have won seven of nine and 12 of the last 16 regular-season meetings overall. Philly has also dropped two of three, seven of nine and 12 of its last 15 in Pittsburgh.
"I think it is always exciting to start up again, particularly at home," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told his team's official web site. "With the new building and with it being against Philly, there is no shortage in motivation."
The arena won't be the only thing new in Pittsburgh as four members of the 2009 championship team left the Steel City this offseason. General manager Ray Shero replaced the lost Penguins -- none of whom will be missed more than the superb defenseman Sergei Gonchar -- with new blood in the form of blueliners Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek and forwards Aaron Asham and Mike Comrie.
However, Asham, who played the last two season for the Flyers before signing a one-year deal with Pittsburgh this summer, is questionable for tonight with a shoulder injury.
Perhaps, the roster shakeup is just what the Penguins need in order to regain their championship form. After all, even after a disappointing year from Evgeni Malkin, Crosby and his Russian counterpart are still the best 1-2 center combination in the NHL and third-line pivot Jordan Staal makes Pittsburgh undoubtedly the league's deepest team down the middle.
However, Pittsburgh's depth at center will be tested by a lingering ailment to Staal's foot that will keep him out for at least the first few weeks of the season. Staal is still dealing with a left foot infection that has required multiple surgeries. The initial injury came in a playoff game last spring when Montreal's P.K. Subban stepped on Staal's foot and sliced a tendon. Staal had surgery and returned to play in less than a week, but a post-op infection has necessitated two additional surgeries.
Even after reaching a pair of Stanley Cup Finals and winning one title, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has something to prove this year. Fleury was 37-21-6 during the last year's regular season, but he was also pulled from games more times than any other goalie in the league.
The Flyers will not have at least one of their heroes from last year's playoffs on the ice tonight as goaltender Michael Leighton is expected to be sidelined for the first month of the season with an injured back. Defenseman Chris Pronger (right knee) is also questionable for this evening's test, while forward Ian Laperriere (post-concussion symptoms) is sidelined indefinitely.
With Leighton out, Brian Boucher is expected to get the start in net tonight with rookie Sergei Bobrovsky serving as the backup.
But, the 2009-10 Flyers proved themselves to be one of the most resilient teams in NHL history, overcoming all sorts of obstacles, including numerous injuries, in their shocking run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Flyers only made the playoffs last year because they were able to beat the rival New York Rangers in a shootout on the final day of the regular season. Philly then pulled off a pair of upsets, knocking off division champion New Jersey in Round 1 before doing the unthinkable in the conference semis, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat Boston in seven games. All that was left was a five-game victory over Montreal in a conference finals matchup that had the seventh-seeded Flyers boast home-ice advantage over the No. 8 Canadiens.
Philadelphia and head coach Peter Laviolette, who replaced the fired John Stevens during last season, are now out to prove that what happened last year wasn't a fluke.
"We're ready," Laviolette told the media following a practice earlier this week. "The guys have worked hard. They came here in really good shape and we worked on a lot of things."
The Flyers have several new faces set to make their debut in Orange and Black tonight as defensemen Andrej Meszaros, Sean O'Donnell and Matt Walker joined the club in the offseason along with forward Nikolai Zherdev. However, longtime Philly winger Simon Gagne is no longer with the club, having been dealt to Tampa Bay in the trade for Walker.