PHILADELPHIA -- Coming into the 2017-18 season, many figured the Philadelphia Flyers would spend most of their time on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble. Few thought the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins would as well.
Entering the teams' Tuesday night showdown in Philadelphia, just one point separates the Penguins (19-18-3) from the Flyers (16-14-8), and both teams find themselves on the wrong side of the wild-card standings.
Inconsistency is the biggest reason.
The Penguins have lost seven of their last 10 games and are coming off a 4-1 defeat in Detroit on New Year's Eve that followed an uninspiring 2-1 loss in Carolina.
"I think we're trying," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who has 14 goals and 21 assists but is a minus-13, told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. "I don't think anyone's out there not trying. Sometimes you've just gotta simplify things and make sure you don't hurt yourself with mistakes."
The Penguins outshot the Red Wings 38-23 but have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, allowing the fourth-most goals in the NHL (127).
"I think we've got to make sure we keep our heads up and we keep getting more determined and making sure that we try to learn from each experience and move on," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think at this point, that's the only approach we can take."
The Penguins called up winger Dominik Simon and sent down winger Garrett Wilson, defenseman Andrey Pedan and goalie Casey DeSmith.
Letang, who has been out since Dec. 23, or Schultz, who has been out since Dec. 5, could be back to face Philadelphia.
The Flyers, who are kicking off a four-game homestand, are coming off a strong 5-3 win over the NHL-leading Lightning, a Friday result that snapped Tampa Bay's eight-game home winning streak. One night earlier, the Flyers looked sloppy in a 3-2 road loss to the Florida Panthers.
"I think it's something you have to kind of rally around, especially the way we played," Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning told the Philadelphia Inquirer after supplying the game-winner against Tampa Bay. "It was a good building block for us."
Manning recorded a team-high four hits, blocked two shots and had three shots on goal against the Lightning in his first game after missing 10 games with a hand injury.
"That's the way we want and need to play games. We need it to carry over," said Philadelphia goalie Brian Elliott, who is expected to make his 14th consecutive start on Tuesday. "We've been guilty at times of not playing up to our potential against teams that are lower than us in the standings or right around us."
The Flyers have scored first only 16 times in their first 38 games and have led after the first period only seven times. In fact, Philadelphia has held the lead after the first period only once in the past 18 games.
In the only other meeting between the Flyers and Penguins this season, Philadelphia blew a 3-1 lead and dropped a 5-4 overtime decision in Pittsburgh on Nov. 27.