In game two of the home-and-home series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens picked up right where they left off yesterday, by losing.
Defeated 4-3 Sunday, both weekend outings mirrored Pittsburgh’s first-round ouster against Philadelphia in the postseason a few years back.
After the first period, Pittsburgh was down 3-1. At first glance, it could have been viewed that head coach Dan Bylsma was making a statement, and preparing for battle by inserting Tanner Glass on a line with Sidney Crosby and Joe Vitale while also flanking Malkin.
However, for the first 20-minutes, this proved to mean nothing.
Pittsburgh came out with a couple of hits, but forgot about their duties in the defensive zone, allowing Flyers’ forward Brayden Schenn to score just 2:06 into the game. Just a few minutes later, Flyers’ forward Scott Hartnell caught Craig Adams searching for the puck in his feet, and laid a thunderous check on him. This resulted in Robert Bortuzzo feeling the need to stick up for his teammate, and in turn, taking and interference penalty, sending the Flyers on the powerplay.
At 6:47 of the period, the first star of the game, Wayne Simmonds, made the Pens’ pay for Bortuzzo’s infraction, by redirecting Kimmo Timonen’s shot past Marc-Andre Fleury. At 13:41, with Evgeni Malkin in the box for roughing Flyers’ forward Zac Rinaldo, Philadelphia struck again on the powerplay, giving Simmonds his second tally of the game. Thus, prompting Bylsma to yank Fleury – through no fault of his own.
While the statistics don’t show it with “Flower” allowing three goals on 15 shots, he played very well, bailing the team out on number of occasions. Byslma was hoping to shake things up by putting in backup netminder Jeff Zatkoff, in which he did just that for a certain moment of the first period.
That moment came at 17:33 when Brooks Orpik unleashed a knuckler on Flyers’ netminder Steve Mason for the Pens’ first goal against Philadelphia in just over 77-minutes of play. At the end of one the Pens were again outshot 15-7, and out hit 16-11. Four of those seven shots came at the end of the period, making it seem as though there would be slight hope for the second period.
With Schenn taking a penalty at the end of the first period, Pittsburgh started the second on the powerplay.
While it seemed to energize the Pens a bit, still, nothing came of the Pens’ man-advantage. Puck support in all three zones finally commenced to establish itself for Pittsburgh, and as a direct result, defenseman Matt Niskanen cashed in with a slapshot at the 5:50 mark, making it a one goal game. But, at 12:11, while the Pens were on yet another powerplay – with Deryk Engelland, Taylor Pyatt, Brian Gibbons, Brandon Sutter, and Olli Maatta at the forefront – a turnover by a falling Engelland resulted in yet another shorthanded goal, this time by Flyers’ forward Matt Read. However, that was the lone goal given up by Zatkoff on his relief of Fleury.
More excellent saves by Zatkoff pursued, and some hard working shifts by the third and fourth lines finally resulted in a two-on-one break with Gibbons and forward Jayson Megna.
Gibbons used his speed and patience to force the Flyers’ defender to lay down as an attempt to take away the pass to Megna. The effort failed, and Gibbsons put the biscuit on a platter for Megna who netted his fifth goal of the year for Pittsburgh. While making it a one goal game again, the Pens were once again outshot in the second 9-5, but refused to be out hit, laying down a monstrous 14 hits to the Flyers’ five.
In the third period, the game settled in with the hits at a minimum for both sides, but actually resulting in a period where the shots were tied at 11-11 a piece. Forward Evgeni Malkin lead the way once again, looking like a man on a mission.
Malkin seemed to be doing anything he could to help his team tie the game. Along with Malkin was Megna, who ended up being the games’ third star. Megna drew a penalty in the third, giving the Pens’ number-one ranked powerplay another chance to tie the game. But, again, the faltering Penguin’ powerplay failed to net a goal, going zero-for-four in the game and zero-for-nine on the weekend.
The brighter notes of the third period were that it was the most life the Penguins have had in this two game series. They were backchecking through the middle, picking up their assignments, getting to the blue paint, and engaging with the Flyers. However, their efforts still resulted in a loss, and being outshot 35-23 in the game.
Since the Olympic break, the Penguins powerplay has become a joke at best.
Only clicking 18-percent of the time, and scoring seven tallies on 37 chances. However, the team’s penalty kill is still producing at a high rate (80%) even though they have taken almost as many penalties (31) as they have drawn since the break.
The biggest non-factor this weekend though was the Penguins’ captain, Crosby. While Crosby has 10 points in the nine games he’s played since coming back from the Winter Games, these last two games he’s seemed non-existent.
Today’s game, Crosby only mustered one shot until the last five-minutes of the game, where he had two shots and a third ring of the pipe as a potential game-tying goal. Crosby was also getting out worked in the faceoff circle all weekend, not only losing face-offs, but losing the very important ones, like on the powerplay in key offensive situations where puck possession was a must.
Is Crosby that lost without linemate Chris Kunitz? What happen to the Sid we all know and love that takes over games and will, shoot, skate, or even fight to motivate his team? If it weren’t for Malkin taking hits to make plays, and performing tough in his own end against the Flyers this weekend, even less offense would have been produced.
Which brings me to another question, why hasn’t Bylsma put the “Two Headed Monster” over the boards in these games? A shift of 87 and 71 here-and-there keeps other teams honest and confused, because they can’t defend them both.
If the powerplay and Crosby don’t find the intensity needed to play a full 60-minutes, then it won’t be long until fans’ see the Penguins lead in the standings dwindle.
Hopefully, they can put these tilts in the past, and get back to doing what they do best – winning. We’ll see.
Next game is Tuesday, Mar. 18, against the surging Dallas Stars.
The game can be seen on the ROOT Network, and is set to start at 7 p.m.