There is just something about this rivalry that makes the Flyers play fantastic hockey. If the Flyers make the playoffs this season and catch Pittsburgh in the first round, they are going to the second round. I am comfortable saying that, even in October, even knowing that Pittsburgh is objectively a better team than the Flyers are this year.
It sure is fun playing the Penguins, and the Flyers are now 14-7-0 in since the beginning of 2011-12 against them. And it sure was fun tonight, as the Flyers played a full 60 minute game (yes!) and made the Penguins feel bad in their retro third jerseys. The final score was a glorious 5-3, and the only flawless bit of the evening for Pittsburgh was Chris Kunitz's flawless dive.
Of course, because the Flyers can never make things easy, Marcel Goc scored late in the third period to make this a contest late, but hey, they're a good team. That happens. You can't expect to dominate play completely from start to finish in the NHL, especially when protecting a multi-goal lead in the third.
The Flyers played a solid, complete game -- their best of the season -- and there's not much to complain about. Even after a bit of a slow start (partially caused by Pittsburgh getting the Crosby line out against the Flyers fourth line a few times) they were able to quickly get back in it and take control of the game.
They're also now 10-1-1 at Consol Energy Center during the regular season. What a building.
10 more observations on tonight's game:
- CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT MATT READ GOAL SOME MORE. My heavens.
- Ray Emery was fan-friggin-tastic tonight. He made a number of huge saves, the biggest being a point-blank third period stop on Evgeni Malkin. We're not saying this is a goalie controversy like NBC tried selling after the game, but it's nice to know he can pull out a game like that, and we won't be mad if he starts again on Saturday. He's playing well. Ride the hot hand.
- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's goal was a dang thing of beauty. Pebbles was all over the ice all night, and looked like one of the best Flyers throughout the game, but man ... that goal. You can see it here. Started with a nice zone entry from Nick Schultz, ended with a beautiful finish on a great Sean Couturier pass. It continues to feel more and more like Ron Hextall and his scouts really found somebody with this guy.
- Pittsburgh's third jerseys look great. It's OK to admit it. They still only look half as good as the Flyers current everyday uniforms.
- Pittsburgh-Area Native R.J. Umberger has been completely invisible as a Flyer so far this season, but he made himself seen in a big way tonight. First, he stepped up for Sean Couturier after Simon Despres delivered a borderline hit in the first period. Then, he completely created the Flyers go-ahead goal in the third. He stepped off the bench, realized that Giroux had drawn four (!) defenders as the only guy deep during a line change, and jetted right to the open side of the ice. And I mean ... of course Giroux found him, because that's what Giroux does. All told, a Gordie Howe hat trick for Umberger.
- This game wouldn't have been close -- in a good way -- if the Flyers could've just capitalized on any number of chances from the doorstep. To say Marc-Andre Fleury got lucky a few times would be an understatement. Several posts, several chances that somehow just didn't go. It felt like these chances would come back to bite the Flyers as they dominated the second period but only escaped with a tie score, but thank God they kept up the pressure in the third.
- It feels like every single time the opponent gains the zone, they're guaranteed at least one scoring chance. And the Flyers defense are giving up the blue line like it's candy on Halloween, so that's not really a great combination. This is the truth, win or lose. The Flyers win in spite of it (and, like we mentioned, tonight because of Emery).
- Sean Couturier's night: Goal, two assists, two shots on goal, 56 percent on faceoffs. First star honors. I sense Pittsburgh's death wish for Coots only getting deeper.
- State of the defense: Andrew MacDonald blocked a shot in the final two minutes, and his status is unknown. Then, for the final defensive zone draw in the last minute, Craig Berube sent out a pairing of Nicklas Grossmann and Nick Schultz. That's the best option late in a one-goal game. Yeesh.
- Zac Rinaldo got first line minutes in the first period for some reason, but he delivered on them with a big ole' hit on Sidney Crosby. Even better? When Steve Downie came over to stick up for Crosby, Rinaldo put Downie on the ice too. The bad part? Rinaldo left the game with an upper-body injury.
Comment of the Night
WELCOME TO UMBERGER HOME OF THE UMBERGER, MAY I TAKE A LEAD