The Flyers salvage a point but leave one on the table against the depleted Penguins
In Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss in Pittsburgh, the Flyers failed to take advantage of a Penguins team missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
PITTSBURGH — The Flyers’ B Team — they again were missing key players Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes — dropped a 3-2 overtime decision Thursday night to what amounted to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ C Team.
Give the C Team an “A” for its scrappiness.
COVID-19 and injuries left the Penguins without star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, valuable winger Bryan Rust, and defensemen Brian Dumoulin (top pairing), Chad Ruhwedel, and Marcus Pettersson.
The Penguins were also missing their COVID-stricken coach, Mike Sullivan.
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The Penguins deserve credit. They were more physical than the Flyers, got terrific goaltending from Tristan Jarry (36 saves), and received an inspired effort from defenseman Kris Letang, who scored the game-winner and played nearly 29 minutes after missing the previous four games because he had contracted the coronavirus.
“Despite what we’re going through, we won’t go away easy,” said Penguins assistant Todd Reirden, who served as the acting head coach.
The Penguins, who had a 39-20 domination in hits, and the Flyers could battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. So this November game might look more important in late April.
Pittsburgh won it on Letang’s wraparound with 3 minutes, 6 seconds left in overtime.
“That’s the way things are going for our team — it’s not easy,” Reirden said of having to wait for Toronto to review the play before ruling the puck had indeed crossed the goal line, thus ending the Penguins’ three-game losing streak.
The Flyers also deserve some credit. Down 2-1, they kept pressuring and took advantage of a Penguins turnover, leading to Scott Laughton’s tying goal with 2:52 remaining in regulation.
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Laughton’s line, with wingers James van Riemsdyk and the snake-bitten Oskar Lindblom (0 goals so far), has been buzzing lately and could have easily had three goals in the game. Lindblom was robbed by Jarry in the opening period, and the goalie turned aside van Riemsdyk on a second-period breakaway.
“I keep believing that if they keep playing the way they are, they’re going to get rewarded,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Vigneault said he “loved the way we played. … We got some good looks offensively.”
Well, the chances were there. But not the finishing touch. The Flyers need to find it because they will play high-scoring Washington and Alex Ovechkin on Saturday.
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“I feel at times, it was a little chaotic, and maybe we started playing more of their style,” Travis Konecny said after scoring an artistic power-play goal and taking a game-high six shots. “Trading opportunities. They feed off that. They have a lot of fast guys who like playing off the rush. But I feel at times we played our game, and in those times, we dominated.”
Glass half empty: The Flyers scored just six goals, excluding an empty-netter, in their last four games.
Glass half full: The Flyers (5-2-2) have done well to get points in seven of nine games — all without second-line center Hayes, who is recovering from abdominal surgery and may be ready to return against Toronto on Wednesday, though Vigneault said the team will be cautious with the decision.
They played their last six games without Ellis, a top-pairing defenseman whose spot has been ably taken by veteran Justin Braun.
Laughton, who had goals in each of his last two games, and Hart looked at Thursday’s overtime loss as a point secured, not a missed opportunity against a more-depleted team.
“I mean, to come from behind and get a point out of it — down 2-1 with a couple minutes left — it was a great goal by Laughts,” goalie Carter Hart said. “Nice snipe from the slot. Just a battle for the full game. Two good teams. Hard-fought game. Bounce doesn’t go our way at the end. That’s hockey.”
“I think it’s a good point anytime you can pick it up after being down a goal with a couple minutes left,” Laughton agreed. “You always want to get the extra one, [but] I thought Hartsy played a pretty outstanding game and gave us a chance to win. He’s really dialed in now.”
Laughton thinks the Flyers have put themselves in a good spot, especially with Hayes and (hopefully) Ellis returning soon.
“I think we’ve been good,” he said. “I think we’re building. We have a lot of new faces and obviously we’re missing some pretty big parts with Ellie and Hayesy. He’s a huge part of our group who we haven’t had. So I think guys have stepped up in different roles. We have a huge game in Washington, and we need to go get two.”
And need to finish more of their scoring chances.