PITTSBURGH — The Flyers. The Penguins. Outdoors at a Heinz Field. The long-awaited first outdoor game between these two Pennsylvania rivals. The beers were flowing, the chants were rolling, the wind was blowing, the flurries were falling. The night felt unavoidably special even for the most cold-hearted Flyers fans among us.
But a special night can’t do jack shit to change the truth of the 2016-17 Flyers: even when they play well, they just cannot score a goal to save their lives. The coach is a constant head-scratch. Oh, and the goaltending sucks too.
Whether indoors or out, in a hockey rink or in a football stadium, the Philadelphia Flyers are completely incapable of burying their scoring chances right now. It doesn’t matter that they were the better team for nearly all of the first 40 minutes of play. It doesn’t matter that they got more power plays, took more shots, created more chances and controlled the puck for more time.
The problems are all the same. And tonight, it led to a 4-2 loss in the regular season game with the biggest spotlight all year, at perhaps the most important time of the season with regards to whether or not this team sticks together beyond Wednesday’s trade deadline.
It’s not that they didn’t show up. We’ll give them that.
The Flyers opened the first period in full control, dominating possession and zone time and making it show in the shot count. They had more jump, they were taking shots, they were creating chances. But just because this game is outside doesn’t mean that things change. Philadelphia has been plagued for weeks when it comes to actually finishing their chances, and that carried through for much of the game tonight.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh capitalized on their opportunities. Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with a tap-in goal, because Mark Streit decided that of all the yellow guys on the ice, Crosby is definitely the one to leave alone in the goal mouth.
Crosby makes it 1-0 pic.twitter.com/F138I8CHjZ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) February 26, 2017
The Flyers came out in the second period with even more fire, but it still didn’t matter on the scoreboard. Matt Murray stood tall in the Pittsburgh net, the Flyers whiffed on a few prime chances, and Nick Bonino added a power play goal at the 6:44 mark after a weak interference call went against Shayne Gostisbehere.
The game got a bit chippy afterward, as the Flyers — down two goals with their chance to stay together as a team on the line with Wednesday’s trade deadline looming — amped up the energy a bit. Dale Weise went after Chris Kunitz after a whistle, and despite a pair of roughing minors to each, the Flyers really came out with an edge following the scrum.
That’s when Jake Voracek took things into his own hands. I mean, if the team can’t finish chances, I guess Jake felt he’d just have to do it himself. And man, did he ever?
.@jachobe scores the first outdoor goal of his career pic.twitter.com/zwaGG1DNz4— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) February 26, 2017
Suddenly, the Flyers had real life. The teams carried the 2-1 score into the second intermission, and ... well, it didn’t take long for the wind to come out of the sails in the third.
Michal Neuvirth -- who, for some reason, was starting in his ninth game this month (of 10 games total), during which he has a sub-.900 save percentage -- let up an absolute softy to Matt Cullen to give Pittsburgh the 3-1 lead.
It could have been completely deflating, but we’ll give the Flyers a ton of credit: they didn’t go down easily. They kept the pressure up, and while it was evident that they were having trouble moving the puck in transition, they were still able to set up in the offensive zone and generate chances with enough routine. If that’s all it takes to win hockey games, the Flyers would’ve won this one tonight.
The persistence led to two power plays, and Gostisbehere capitalized to pull the lead again down to just a goal.
GHOST CLAPPER FROM THE POINT HOW I MISSED YOU SO— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) February 26, 2017
WE'RE WITHIN ONE BOYS ! pic.twitter.com/se0SDnpL1a
But, well, Neuvirth. What’s one bad, back breaking goal in a third period when you can have two, right? This time it was Chad Ruhwedel, and the lead was 4-2.
The @Penguins lead 4-2 thanks to Ruhwedel! #StadiumSeries https://t.co/Auby570uJ7 pic.twitter.com/4DFBOFyi13— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) February 26, 2017
The blame for this one certainly goes on the continued inability to finish with any sort of consistency, but it also has to go on Dave Hakstol for his continued insistence on starting Michal Neuvirth despite the poor results we’ve seen all month.
It’s frustrating, and for thousands of Flyers fans who spent a ton of money to be here for this long-awaited outdoor game, it’s even more than that. At least the beer is still flowing.