One of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL resumes on Thursday night when the Flyers are in Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, who will be very shorthanded.

This is the first of four meetings this season between the Metropolitan Division clubs. They’ll rematch on December 23 in Pittsburgh before the scene shifts to the Wells Fargo Center on January 6 and April 24. ¬†

Heres’ three storylines:

Shorthanded Penguins

Pittsburgh has dealt with a difficult COVID-19 situation and injuries to many of its top players.

Against the Flyers, the Penguins will be without Sidney Crosby (COVID-19 protocol), Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust (lower body), Brian Dumoulin (COVID-19 protocol), Marcus Pettersson (COVID-19 protocol), and Chad Ruhwedel (COVID-19 protocol).

Crosby and Dumoulin tested positive for COVID on Wednesday. Crosby has played only one game this season after recovering from a wrist injury. Malkin is yet to play. Rust has played only two games and Kris Letang only four.

“Every time we play Pittsburgh, in general, it’s great games, great battles,” Ivan Provorov said Wednesday. “Crosby’s still one of the top guys in the league. I think overall, even without them, they’ve been doing pretty good so far, so it’s going to be a good challenge and a good game.”

Flyers without Ellis again

On this two-game trip, the Flyers will be without top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis (lower body). After Thursday and Saturday in Washington, he’ll have missed seven straight games.

Coming off a 29-save shutout of the Coyotes on Tuesday, Carter Hart will start in net tonight for the Flyers.

First Metro matchup of the year

The Metropolitan Division has the potential to be the deepest in the NHL this season. It won’t be easy to make the playoffs out of the division.

So far, the Metropolitan Division has six teams with positive goal differentials. The Pacific has three, the Atlantic two, and the Central two.

And four of the NHL’s top eight point percentages are Metropolitan Division clubs: the Carolina Hurricanes (1.000), Washington Capitals (.722), New York Rangers (.700) and Flyers (.688).

“It’s early in the season that we just have to worry about ourselves, make sure we put ourselves in a position that halfway through the season we’re in the playoff race or up there in the standings,” Claude Giroux said Monday. “It’s not a secret that there are a lot of good hockey teams in our division, but at the same time, we’re going to play them, so it’s going to be in our control.”

After the Flyers play the Penguins, they head to D.C. to meet the Capitals on Saturday night.

“When you’re talking about divisional games, you’re talking about four-point games,” Vigneault said Wednesday. “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 that plays real hard, real structured. They’re getting a lot offensively from their group and defensively, they’re not spending a lot of time in their end. They’re a good team.”

Projected lineups

Flyers:

Claude Giroux¬†–¬†Sean Couturier¬†–¬†Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee¬†–¬†Derick Brassard¬†–¬†Cam Atkinson
Oskar Lindblom¬†– Scott Laughton –¬†James van Riemsdyk
Nicolas Aube-Kubel –¬†Nate Thompson¬†–¬†Zack MacEwen

Ivan Provorov – Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim¬†–¬†Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle –¬†Nick Seeler

Carter Hart
[Martin Jones]

Penguins:

Jake Guentzel¬†–¬†Jeff Carter¬†–¬†Danton Heinen
Jason Zucker¬†–¬†Evan Rodrigues¬†–¬†Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese¬†–¬†Teddy Blueger¬†–¬†Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor¬†–¬†Brian Boyle¬†–¬†Dominik Simon

Mike Matheson¬†–¬†Kris Letang
Pierre-Olivier Joseph¬†–¬†John Marino
Juuso Riikola¬†–¬†Mark Friedman

Tristan Jarry
[Casey DeSmith]

Essentials

When: 7:00pm ET
Where: PPG Paints Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 93.3 WMMR