Everything you need to know about the Flyers' 3-2 triumph over the Pens:
When the Pens and Flyers met Thursday night for the first of six meetings between the clubs, it wasn’t just a battle of Keystone State supremacy. It was also for two big points in the Atlantic Division standings, as the Pens held a slight one-point lead entering the contest.
The Flyers got off to a strong start and built themselves a 3-0 lead. But while the Pens battled hard to dig themselves out from that deficit, Philadelphia held on for the 3-2 victory and the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Pens admittedly got off to a slow start through the first 40 minutes, but didn’t give up – picking up steam and building momentum as the game progressed. They really got to their game in the third, with Evgeni Malkin
scoring a huge goal to get Pittsburgh within one at the 8:21 mark.
The Pens kept the Flyers hemmed in their own zone for much of the period, cycling the puck, winning battles along the boards, staying disciplined and just generally outworking their opponent. But it wouldn’t be enough to get the tying goal, as Philadelphia managed to hold on for the win.
“I think we were strong in the third,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
said, who made 26 saves. “’Geno’ got a big goal to close it up. It was just too bad that we didn’t play that way for the first two and gave them the lead. It was tough to come back after that.”
Added James Neal
, “Obviously we had a good third period, but when you come out flat in the first two and don’t do the things you want to do against a team that played last night, it’s frustrating. It’s something we need to fix.”
Whenever the NHL’s two Pennsylvania teams meet, tempers tend to rise and bad blood flows.
It was no different Thursday through the first two periods, as the clubs combined for 11 power-play opportunities (Pittsburgh with five, Philadelphia with six) through the first 40 minutes of play.
“We just took too many penalties tonight,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
Both teams tightened up in the third, with neither squad seeing time in the box during the final frame. But the first two periods were a different story.
Each club converted one of their chances. Wayne Simmonds buried a back-door opportunity with 11:18 remaining in the period while Neal stuffed one home past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with less than six minutes left in the frame.
The Pens saw a crucial opportunity slip away when they had a 5-on-3 advantage for over a minute late in the first period down 1-0.
To top it off, two of the three Flyers on the ice lost their sticks while the Pens moved the puck around in the offensive zone – but Pittsburgh just couldn’t convert.
“Special teams are so big, you’ve got to score on your opportunities,” Neal said. “Especially when they’re down two men. I know we’ve been putting an emphasis on it the last while. It makes us struggle when we don’t bury the puck in the 5-on-3.”
Neal’s goal was his 15th of the season, good for sixth best (tied) in the NHL.
The tally was also his eighth power-play goal of the season, which moved him into a tie for first in that category with Detroit’s Johan Franzen.
On the play, Malkin meandered into the slot and dished to Neal on the back door, who buried it past Bryzgalov for the score.
Neal has now collected points in 20 of 29 games this season and is tied with Malkin for the Pens scoring lead with 26 points.
Not only did the Pens have to face a tough Flyers team on the road, but they did so undermanned.
The team was already missing three of their top six defensemen in Kris Letang
, Zbynek Michalek
and Deryk Engelland
. But on Wednesday the Pens learned they’d also be without captain Sidney Crosby
, who sat out this game and will miss Saturday’s tilt in Long Island as well for precautionary reasons.
Then the Pens were dealt a blow during the game when it was announced in the third period that rookie defenseman Robert Bortuzzo
had sustained an upper-body injury and his return was questionable.
“Right now, he’s being evaluated and we’ll see where he’s at,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ll maybe know a little bit more (Wednesday).”
The Pens’ remaining five blueliners weren’t fazed, stepping up and shouldering the load. Paul Martin
played nearly half the game (exactly 29 minutes) while Brooks Orpik
logged 25:05 of ice time.
“I think that’s something we’re kind of used to,” Fleury said. “A lot of guys have been getting hurt. We’ve got to keep finding ways to win with whoever’s playing. All together, we have to play as a team and try to get some points.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo