Fight night in Philly? Penguins bruiser Jamie Oleksiak isn’t expecting that

March 24, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – When the Penguins face the Flyers on Wednesday night, they will be making their first trip to the Wells Fargo Center since they dealt away heavyweight Ryan Reaves at the NHL trade deadline.

In the past, that might have been a big problem for the Penguins.

For decades, the Flyers preyed on opponents who didn’t have the artillery to match them shot for shot in a knock-down, drag-out war.

It’s different now.

The Flyers have played 32 home games this season at the Wells Fargo Center. Gloves have been dropped nine times, and three of those bouts were in the same Jan. 4 game against the New York Islanders.

In the last two months, frothing Philadelphia fans have had the pleasure of watching only one fight, a Feb. 20 encounter between Brandon Manning and Montreal’s Nicolas Deslauriers.

The game has changed and the Flyers have changed with it.

When Reaves was traded away, 6-foot-7 defenseman Jamie Oleksiak became the player on the Penguins roster with the most pugilistic experience.

Before Wednesday night’s game, Oleksiak said he is expecting an intense tone befitting of the long-time rivalry, but he isn’t preparing for a fight any more than he would before any other game.

“It’s not something I really focus on, but if anything happens, I like to think I can hold my own,” Oleksiak said. “We’re just trying to get wins here. I want to do whatever I can to help us get a win. I don’t think I really need to prove anything in terms of fighting anybody out there. I’m just trying to do my job.”

Unlike Reaves, who had the skills and personality to fight for the sheer sport and spectacle of it if he chose to, Oleksiak picks more traditional spots.

Take his last three fights for example.

Last week in Boston, he fought 6-9 Zdeno Chara because the temperature of the game was rising and the Penguins were down by a couple of goals and needed a spark.

On Feb. 24, he fought Nick Bjugstad because the Florida forward objected to a hard hit Oleksiak delivered to teammate Mark Matheson.

On Jan. 14, he fought Rangers defenseman Brandon Smith to avenge a hard hit on Reaves.

“I like to think most guys will step up when certain things happen,” Oleksiak said. “We saw Geno and Sid going at it earlier with Columbus. I think guys are pretty good finding their spots, when to and when not to, setting the tempo. Being a bigger guy, it’s something I can use to my advantage. It’s there when I need it.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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