PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins, even without their lifeblood in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, know how to give the Flyers fits.
With Crosby in COVID-19 protocol and Malkin recovering from offseason knee surgery, the Penguins still pulled out a 3-2 win on Kris Letang’s goal in overtime Thursday night. Yes, two Penguins goals came from star players in winger Jake Guentzel and Letang. The other, however, was scored by third-line winger Brock McGinn.
“They’ve found a way to get real solid depth, and even when they’re missing a key element, and that’s been throughout the Crosby and Malkin era,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. “When one’s missing, the other one seems to be taking the slack. And now they’re both missing and the team’s picking up the slack.”
The Flyers never had the lead at any point throughout the night but were kept in the game by goalie Carter Hart, who finished with 33 saves and a .944 save percentage.
“It was just a battle for the full game,” Hart said. “Two good teams, hard-fought game. Bounce doesn’t go our way at the end. That’s hockey.”
Third line persists
Going into their matchup against the Penguins, the Flyers were 5-0-1 when they scored the first goal. When the Flyers conceded the first goal, they were 0-2-0. Much to the Flyers’ chagrin, the Penguins got on the board 16 seconds into the first period. Defenseman Mike Matheson’s shot from the point was tipped in front of the net by McGinn and past the glove of Hart.
The slow start, however, was shaken off as the first period progressed — the Flyers had their opportunities, outshooting the Penguins 17-8 through 20 minutes. The third line of center Scott Laughton and wingers Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk led the offensive charge, finishing the first period with 10 shot attempts. That same line continued to find opportunities throughout the night and finally capitalized in the third frame. Late in the period, a Matheson turnover behind the Penguins’ net resulted in a Laughton goal off an assist from van Riemsdyk and tied the score at 2.
“I thought the first period was one of our better periods of the year, just creating O zone time and time with the puck,” Laughton said. “We continue to get better and continue to talk off the ice and know where our spots are at and try and contribute on the score sheet and give a little bit of secondary scoring.”
During their western Canada road trip, the Flyers were just 1-for-10 on the power play. Vigneault attempted to inject some life into his power-play units at Monday’s practice by moving winger Cam Atkinson and defenseman Ivan Provorov to the first group and van Riemsdyk and defenseman Keith Yandle to the second group. The new-look power play went 0-for-3 against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
The Flyers’ power play would be put to the test against the Penguins, who boast the league’s best penalty kill (94.74%). On the Flyers’ lone power-play opportunity in the first period, the Penguins displayed their strong ability to limit opponents’ opportunities in the offensive zone. The Flyers failed to put a shot on goal and the Penguins cleared the zone four times. However, in the second period, the Flyers went on their second power play and had better results — winger Travis Konecny went backhand to forehand on the doorstep of Jarry and put the puck over and past his blocker to tie the score at 1. Through 60 minutes, the Flyers went 1-for-3 on the power play.
Despite his power-play goal, Konecny acknowledged that he and his teammates had far more opportunities that they could’ve cashed in on, especially at even strength.
“It’s just frustrating when you’re in such a prime spot and you just can’t capitalize on it,” Konecny said. “It happens. They’re obviously good goalies. I had multiple times in the slot there where I probably should’ve put one of those away.”
Let’s get physical
From the beginning of the game, the Flyers found themselves on the receiving end of the Penguins’ wrath. Pittsburgh laid down 12 hits in the first period, which included a Matheson hit on winger Joel Farabee in the Penguins’ defensive zone and a Letang level of Claude Giroux. The Flyers managed only four hits in the first period.
The Flyers ramped up the intensity slightly in the second period and registered eight additional hits, including a Farabee hit on puck-carrying Guentzel that ultimately helped clear the Flyers’ zone. However, the Penguins emerged the more physical team, racking up 12 more hits in the second period and keeping the momentum in their favor. Through 60 minutes, the Penguins edged the Flyers in hits, 39-20.
The Flyers continue their two-game Metropolitan Division road trip when they head to Washington on Saturday to take on the Capitals at 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia).