The Pittsburgh Penguins scored three early goals, packed it up, and allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to score four unanswered goals in a 4-3 comeback win Thursday night
This has to be the worst loss of the season. And I’ve said that twice now in the past three games.
Being shutout by the Islanders is one thing. Blowing a three goal lead against the Flyers with 55 minutes of just skating aimlessly around the ice is a whole different story.
Forget about three goals in a minute, that literally means nothing right now. The Penguins scored three goals and decided to head home. Despite holding a 3-1 lead at the first intermission, no one felt like the Pens were the better team on the ice.
Tristan Jarry stood on his head, but the forwards didn’t put in any effort in the defensive zone, the defensemen practiced social distancing and didn’t cover Flyers skaters, and the power play continued to look like random people were pulled off of Fifth Avenue and thrown onto the ice.
How can a power play featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang be so remarkably bad?
It only got worse as the game wore on, too. That’s the worst part. The Penguins saw the path to victory and decided to back off of it. Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott allowed three goals on the game’s first six shots (all from the Penguins), the Pens had him on his heels and they… took their foot off the gas pedal.
For whatever reason, the Penguins parked the bus in front — er, behind the net — and just let the Flyers control the rest of the 55 minutes of the contest. The Flyers were able to score on a first period power by PUTTING PUCKS ON NET.
Another goal in the second period, and very little Penguins’ pressure, and two more goals in the third, and very little Pens’ pressure, led to a remarkably frustrating regulation loss for the Pens.
For a few minutes there in the third period, the Pens seemed like they’d be lucky to reach overtime. Oops, couldn’t even manage to secure a single point after holding a 3-0 lead. Let the Flyers pick up a crucial two points to boost their own divisional lead almost halfway through the season now.
The blown lead hurts enough, but the way it came about was so, so much worse. The Penguins have the pieces in place, they’re not going to change. Yeah, a few pieces might rotate and a trade may be in the works at some point, but that doesn’t matter at that much.
Until this team actually cares, nothing is going to change.
I don’t know if that’s going to require a damn good coach like Sullivan losing his job, I definitely do not want a current assistant taking his spot, but something has got to give. The Penguins look lazy and just apathetic out on the ice.
It’s time to take the Pens for what they are, and that’s a borderline playoff team. They’re not better than the Flyers or the Boston Bruins. They’re more inconsistent than the Washington Capitals and Islanders. Only four teams make the playoff from this division; have the Pens shown any inkling of being a top four team?
Not enough right now.
It would be easier if one or two players were the issue, but it’s deeper than that. You can’t bench a whole team, can you?
First Period – 3-1, Pens
What if I told you that the Pens held a 3-1 lead after the first period and were lucky to be holding a lead? Welcome to the 2021 Penguins season.
That might sound superfluous, but the Flyers rang two posts, scored a power play goal after the Penguins’ penalty kill couldn’t clear the zone and created numerous high-caliber scoring chances on Jarry.
Lucky for the Pens, Jarry came ready to play. Although, that shouldn’t be so surprising anymore.
Letang opened the scoring early in the first period, collecting the puck along the boards — after Kasperi Kapanen took a high hit down around the red line — and fired a puck toward Flyers goalie Brian Elliott. Letang’s shot drifted in on net, deflected off Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim’s glove and past Elliott. 1-0, Pens.
Put pucks on net and good things happen, right? Letang hasn’t had to make phenomenal plays to score recently, just the simple ones.
30 seconds later, Crosby and Bryan Rust busted down the ice on a 2-on-1 off a nice Jake Guneztel feed, and Crosby’s shot bounced off Elliott’s pads, was swatted back to open ice by Flyers captain Claude Giroux and found by Mark Friedman. Friedman shortened the grip on his stick and wristed a shot through Elliott’s five-hole to score the first goal of his NHL career against his former team.
What a man, what a man! 2-0, Pens! Could it get better than that? Yes — briefly.
30 seconds later, Malkin entered the offensive zone on a 3-on-2 with Kapanen and Jared McCann. Malkin fed Kapanen, who fired a beautiful saucer pass across the ice to a streaking McCann. McCann, who was falling to the ice, managed to get his stick on the puck, deflecting it up into the goal from his stomach before crashing into the boards.
A scary play from McCann, who was fine, but an even better goal from the Malkin line. 3-2, Pens. In honor of Geno, the Pens scored all three goals in 71 seconds.
Holding a 6-0 lead on shots, 3-0 lead on the scoreboard, the Pens fell back and let the Flyers control the rest of the period.
The Penguins picked up a power play chance after Flyers forward Nolan Patrick boarded Friedman with a rather nasty hit, but the Pens were unable to capitalize. When the Flyers were awarded their first chance, they had no such troubles.
Jarry absolutely robbed Flyers forward Travis Konecny with a brilliant stacked pads save, but the Penguins could not clear the puck and Sean Couturier sniped a puck past a screened Jarry to make it a 3-1 game.
It’s a shame the Penguins couldn’t clear the puck after Jarry robbed Konecny’s shot because it would have been a Top 10 play on a lot of platforms otherwise.
Another Penguins penalty gave the Flyers a quick second power play, and Jarry was once again strong in net, but the penalty killers actually cleared a few pucks to help him out this time.
It may have been a 3-1 lead after one, but the Penguins must’ve felt like the 2016 Golden State Warriors out there. (I wrote that after the first period, swear).
Second Period – 3-2, Pens
The Penguins evened the shots back up with a strong finish to the first, but through the first half of the second period, the Flyers continued their offensive barrage.
Jarry was left out to dry, stopping chance after chance as the Penguins sat back in the defensive zone and let the Flyers forwards buzz. With almost no sustained offensive zone time early through the second period, the Flyers practically lived in the Pens’ defensive zone.
The Flyers finally cashed in on a complete defensive breakdown from the John Marino-Marcus Pettersson pairing. It was like Marino and Pettersson bet each other they could lose their man worse than the other. Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom found himself alone in front of the net off a pass from the boards and fired a puck off Jarry’s pads, which bounced conveniently to Giroux, who like Lindblom, was alone in front of the net. Giroux slotted the puck past Jarry to make it a 3-2 game.
The Penguins could not generate any consistent pressure until late in the period, with the Malkin line peppering Elliott with a few solid chances, but the Flyers netminder kept the puck from crossing the goal line.
With the last few minutes of the period coming from the Flyers’ defensive zone, one might have thought the aggressive play from the Pens was going to continue. Well…
Third Period – 4-3, Flyers
The Flyers jumped out to a fast start in the third period like almost every other point over the first 40 minutes, minus those four minutes of Pennguins’ goals, but the Pens were awarded a power play early in the period and a chance to increase the lead back to two goals. A goal would have been a statement from the stagnant Pens forwards.
With two shots on goal, the Penguins had two more than their first power play, but they were unable to actually challenge Elliott.
Two shots on goal against Elliott and no actual chances on the second play of a potentially clutch power play. That’s pathetic, embarrassing and an underrated reason why the Pens weren’t able to capitalize on a 3-0 lead.
After Malkin and Guentzel were robbed on two solid chances midway through the period, the Flyers actually converted on a chance.
Jarry played a puck from behind the net up the boards, Matheson was unable to contain the puck and the puck found its way out to Giroux in the slot. Giroux ripped a shot in toward Jarry, which appeared to be going wide, but it bounced off teammate Scott Laughton and in behind Jarry. 3-3 now.
Did Jarry misplay a puck? I don’t think so. Could he have communicated with Matheson better? Probably. Did the Penguins play defense on the ensuing play? No.
Sitting back in the defensive zone through 50 minutes wasn’t working for the Penguins, and it became abundantly clear that they would need to actually leave the zone for a bit. Well, I guess not abundantly clear to the Pens.
The Penguins lost a puck battle below the net with time slipping away, and a puck bounced off Matheson in front of the net. Matheson couldn’t clear the puck or pick up Flyers forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel in front of the net, and he backhanded a pass to Giroux, who easily gained position on Marino in front of the net and directed the puck past a helpless Jarry for the game-winning goal.
The Penguins pulled Jarry soon after but were unable to generate a scoring chance in the ensuing empty net rush.
Wow. What an embarrassment. The thought process must’ve shifted from a shutout win to a regulation win to forcing overtime to lose in regulation.
With one more game against the Flyers in this three game series, a win would go a long, long way in determining where the Penguins are before playing a quick game against the New York Rangers the next day.
The Penguins are at a pivotal point in the season. Let’s see if they can turn things around.
Was the Penguins’ loss to the Flyers the most frustrating of the season for you? Let me know in the comments below!