PHILADELPHIA -- The last time the Flyers and Penguins met, Philadelphia torched Pittsburgh for 30 goals in six games en route to taking the team's first-round playoff series.
Eight months later, back in the building where their season ended, the Penguins limited the Flyers to one goal Saturday and opened their season with a 3-1 victory.
Marc-Andre Fleury, victimized for 26 of those 30 goals last spring, stopped 26 of 27 shots. The win was the 227th of his career, moving him past Tom Barrasso for first place on the team's all-time list.
Tyler Kennedy, James Neal and Chris Kunitz each had a goal, and Paul Martin had a pair of assists to lead the Pens offensively. The Pittsburgh penalty kill, which was abused by Philadelphia last spring, successfully thwarted all five Flyers man-advantage opportunities.
While the Penguins' victory can't erase all the bad memories from last spring's playoff disaster, they certainly can feel good going forward. Especially Fleury, who posted a 4.63 goals-against average and .834 save percentage in that first-round loss.
"It feels great," Fleury said. "Last year was definitely disappointing. To come in today and play a good game, a solid game, from start to finish … it's just a good feeling."
Fleury wasn't tested much early, as the Flyers had just three shots until a late first-period power play that saw them get a quick flurry of three shots. Fleury was up to the challenge then, and carried that play throughout the game, including the final five minutes of regulation, when the Flyers' push to tie the game was aided by a pair of power plays.
"I thought early on he didn't make a lot of saves in the first, but he did have a couple penalty kills where the puck was around and he was real strong," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "And the same thing happened in the third. There was lots of traffic, lots of action at the cage, and he had to stand up big in the net, had to hold his own finding that puck and I thought he was real big in there, real strong."
Brandon Sutter was more succinct in his description of Fleury's game: "He did a great job tonight. He was without a doubt the top guy on the ice."
The Penguins' penalty killers weren't far behind. After allowing the Flyers to score 12 extra-man goals in 23 chances in last year's series, the Pens limited the Flyers to no goals and 11 shots on their five extra-man chances, including the two late in the third.
"I think they certainly were tested," Bylsma said. "You don't like killing off that many in the first period and late in the third period. We expected the same thing out of the Flyers in terms of the sets they use and the things they try to do and we adjusted a little bit what we did against them. We gave them shots, most from different areas where they were dangerous in the past and we battled really hard around the cage with our defense and Flower (Fleury)."
The Flyers were left with a sense of regret over their missed opportunities.
"The power play wasn't bad, we were moving the puck well, but at the end of the day you have to find a way to put it in and we had a lot of chances," Giroux said. "Obviously, we are going to work on it. Last two periods we were good, so we have to make sure we keep playing good."
The Penguins also dominated in faceoffs, winning 35 of 62, with two wins leading directly to goals.
Sutter, making his debut as the Pens' third-line center, beat Giroux on a faceoff in the Philadelphia end late in a man-advantage, with the puck going back to Matt Niskanen. He passed over to defense partner Paul Martin, who fired a shot from the right point that deflected off Kennedy and past Bryzgalov at 4:40 of the first period.
For Sutter, acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in June as part of the Jordan Staal trade, it was an opportunity for him to make a solid early impact with his new team. Playing with Staal's old linemates, Kenney and Matt Cooke, he won eight of 14 faceoffs and had two takeaways in 17:08 of ice time.
"I felt pretty good," Sutter told NHL.com. "A few things I have to work on, changes in the way that I'm used to playing before, habits I've got to break. For the most part I felt pretty good out there. Outside of a couple minor mistakes here and there, I felt our line had a pretty good game."
Minutes later another faceoff win led to the Pens' second goal. Evgeni Malkin beat Sean Couturier on a draw in the left circle and kicked the puck behind him to Neal. He ripped a one-timer from the top of the circle that zipped past Bryzgalov at 7:20 to make it 2-0.
"That's a faceoff play we run a lot on that side," Neal told NHL.com. "Geno [Malkin] did a good job of sticking with it even though he didn't get it to me right off the initial draw. He kind of battled for it a bit and managed to whack it back to me."
Those little elements of the game, like fighting to win faceoffs, often can mean the difference in a game, and over the course of a season, make the difference in winning a division or making the playoffs.
"It's certainly an aspect of what we're trying to do, right from the faceoff and dictate [play]," Bylsma said. "We got the opportunity on the power play and ran a faceoff play and we capitalized on that. … Having a good faceoff play and the details of executing, that is something we benefitted from on both the first goal and the second goal."
The Flyers got a goal back 23 seconds into the second period. Scott Hartnell carried the puck down the left side in the Pittsburgh end and floated a perfect saucer pass through the slot to Giroux on the right post, and he jammed it past Fleury to make it 2-1.
The Flyers continued to push for most of the second period. Their best chance came with 8:30 left, when Giroux made a sensational move around Martin on a rush into the Pittsburgh end, faking and dragging the puck past the Penguins defenseman. He tried to get a shot on net, but the puck bounced across to Hartnell, who couldn't get a clean shot off and Fleury was able to cover the puck.
Then came the two late power plays for Philadelphia, but again Fleury was in full bloom, stopping everything that came his way.
"He was solid," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "[Philadelphia] is not an easy place to play and they have some dangerous players. He did a great job of hanging in there for us and making some great saves. … He was big for us."
Kunitz's empty-net power-play goal with 11.2 seconds left closed the scoring, and sent the Penguins off to New York for Sunday's game at the Rangers (7 p.m., NHLN-US) in a good mood.
The Flyers also get a chance at a quick turnaround, traveling to play the Sabres in Buffalo (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) on Sunday.
"You never want to sit on a loss too long, so we made sure of that with the 12:30 p.m. start," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. "So we’ll be back out, ready to play. We rolled lines pretty good tonight. Nobody really got taxed. I think Simmer [Wayne Simmonds] was maybe our highest-minute forward and that is because he got caught out there a couple times on the power play. Other than that, I think we will be fine."
|PPG - Paul Martin (1) Slapshot - ASST: Matt Niskanen (1), Brandon Sutter (1)|
1 - 0 PIT
|James Neal (1) Snap shot - ASST: Evgeni Malkin (1)|
2 - 0 PIT
|Claude Giroux (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Scott Hartnell (1), Brayden Schenn (1)|
2 - 1 PIT
|PPG - EN - Chris Kunitz (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Paul Martin (1)|
3 - 1 PIT
|Braydon Coburn Interference against Sidney Crosby|
|Dustin Jeffrey Slashing against Claude Giroux|
|Simon Despres Interference against Wayne Simmonds|
|Brandon Sutter Interference against Claude Giroux|
|Nicklas Grossmann Cross checking against Sidney Crosby|
|Deryk Engelland Interference against Wayne Simmonds|
|Evgeni Malkin Hi-sticking against Nicklas Grossmann|
|Claude Giroux Tripping against Kris Letang|