The start of Sunday’s Pens-Flyers rematch, an eventual 4-3 Pittsburgh loss, wasn’t just déjà vu from Saturday – it was worse.
Pittsburgh lost that game 4-0 after getting behind early off a Scott Harnell power-play goal just 3:25 in, followed up by a Matt Read shorthanded tally a few minutes later.
The Flyers got off to an even hotter start this afternoon, opening the scoring even earlier (just over two minutes into the game) – the first of three straight first-period goals that gave them a 3-0 lead just 13:41 in. But it wasn’t just the deficit that was disappointing; it was the lack of response from the Penguins – which was the problem Saturday as well.
So coach Dan Bylsma replaced starter Marc-Andre Fleury with Jeff Zatkoff to light a fire under his team, and the move worked. The Pens began began showing signs of life when Brooks Orpik’s knucklepuck from the point skittered past goalie Steve Mason to make it 3-1 with 2:27 left in the period, and from there the Pens made it a game. They continued to battle back throughout the remaining 40-plus minutes, but eventually ended up with the one-goal defeat.
“It's not ideal (to come in cold), but that's my job,” Zatkoff said. “Come in and try to settle things down. I thought the team responded and played really well after that.”
But while the Pens were certainly resilient, captain Sidney Crosby – who hit the post with seconds remaining in regulation – refused to let that be the takeaway from today’s effort. Instead, it was their awful start in what was supposed to be a response game after playing arguably their worst game of the season the day before in Philadelphia.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Crosby said when asked about the comeback. “So I don’t know if that’s asking a lot, the fact that we tried to compete for 60 minutes. We didn’t do a very good job of that in the first. That’s the expectation, to go out there and play well for 60 minutes. So I don’t see any positive in only playing 40. I think that’d be wrong to think that way.”
Replacing Fleury with Zatkoff wasn’t done because Fleury wasn’t playing well. In fact, it was the complete opposite of that. The 3-0 deficit was in no way Fleury’s fault, as he was by far the best player on the ice. If it weren’t for him, the score probably would have been a lot worse. Fleury made a number of tremendous saves under siege as the Flyers completely dominated play.
And Zatkoff was equally sharp in relief. He also produced a bunch of crucial saves to keep his team in this game as they fought to come back.
“Can’t blame them,” Crosby said. “Even with them getting three in the first on ‘Flower’ there, it could have been five. That’s not his fault by any means. He did everything he could. Then ‘Tish’ came in and did a great job too, so that’s not their fault at all.”
FLYERS DOMINATE SPECIAL TEAMS
Looking back at this weekend, special teams was the Pens’ Achilles heel – which is surprising, considering Pittsburgh entered the game with the NHL’s top-ranked power play and penalty kill units.
The Pens took a number of penalties in the first period of today’s game, and the Flyers made them pay – going 2-for-3 with the man-advantage in the first 20 minutes of play. Both goals were scored by Wayne Simmonds, who’s incredibly effective at being the net-front presence.
“The fact that we took some penalties probably hurt us,” Crosby said.
“That’s something we knew coming in, especially early on. We didn’t want to give them momentum.”
Not only did Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play unit fail to score on all eight opportunities they got over the weekend – all of which were crucial considering how these games went – they allowed a shorthanded goal in each matchup, both scored by Read. What hurts even more is today’s goal ended up being the deciding goal in the game.
“(Shorthanded goals) are killers,” Niskanen said. “We have several power plays where we can’t seem to get control, get good setup and not a whole lot is going right. I think we got a little frustrated then they downed the shorty. That hurts. That’s really taking momentum away from your team, you have to correct that.”
The Pens are missing two key players in Chris Kunitz and James Neal, who have 13 and eight power-play goals, respectively. But Crosby said their absences aren’t an excuse for their failures.
“I think we’ve missed guys before throughout the year and found ways, so I don’t think we’re going to use that as an excuse, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think that there are times when your power play is good and doesn’t score, but it’s good. And that’s not the case here. It’s not very good right now.”
MEGNA MAKES IMPACT
With Kunitz out for a second straight game, Jayson Megna – originally called up Friday on an emergency basis – was again inserted into the lineup, and made a huge impact.
He and Brian Gibbons combined to score a huge 2-on-1 goal after Read’s deflating shorthanded tally to get the momentum back on Pittsburgh’s side and get them back in the game.
“It was a great goal. Great pass by ‘Gibby,’” Megna said. “I thought it sparked our team a little bit. I was hoping to get the team to come back. I had another great chance. It was definitely good for my confidence.”
That great chance Megna was referring to came in the third period. He ended up with the puck on his stick in front of the net and tried to lift it over a prone Mason, but couldn’t get enough elevation.
“I guess I had the whole left side open,” Megna said. “I had my back turned to him so I didn't really know. When I turned around I waited for a second and tried to go five-hole. I got it back again and tried to chip it over him. I don't know how the puck stayed out of the net, but I wish we could have gotten that one.”