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Penguins 6, Flyers 2: Lehigh Valley’s best can’t put a stop to a streaking Pittsburgh team

Finally back home, the Flyers drop their fourth in a row.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Personally, I always look forward to games against the Penguins on the schedule. My reasoning is that, even though they’ve generally been a better team than the Flyers for the entirety of Sidney Crosby’s career, anything can happen in these games. You’d think that the Flyers being in the midst of a second-consecutive miserable season and the Penguins having won each of their last nine would scare me off, but I still went into this game thinking there was an opportunity for things to get wacky, and like a 50/50 chance that wackiness was in our favor. The first part of that turned out to be a little true, but the second part not so much. This Flyers-Penguins matchup basically went how we all thought it was going to go, and then some.

The Penguins lit up Carter Hart to the tune of six goals—four at even strength, one on the power play, and a shorty—while the very short-benched Flyers generated less than 20 all strengths shots on net, scoring on two of them. As lost as the Flyers have looked for the majority of this season, we got a glimpse of what they’d look like if the armchair general managers got their way and shipped out Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Travis Sanheim. This peek into that alternate universe—courtesy of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols—was not pretty. The Penguins stormed into South Philly and there was never a moment over the course of the 60 minutes where it didn’t feel like they were going to waltz out with their tenth win in a row.

The Flyers will be back at it on Saturday, hosting the team that handed them their first loss of this current four game losing streak, the San Jose Sharks. Fortunately, though, it’ll coincide with the Eagles-Cowboys game, so we’ll all collectively have something else to flip over to when our hearts just can’t take the beating any more.

First period:

Despite an early power play for the Flyers, the first period scoring opened with a Penguins goal from Bryan Rust, who put away a goal-line angle shot off a pass from Kris Letang. Things only got worse from there.

A covered puck dug loose from Tristan Jarry by Scott Laughton was jammed home post-whistle, leading to some vintage Flyers-Penguins action in front of the net and penalties for both aforementioned players — slashing on Jarry and roughing on Laughton. Rust would score again on the ensuing 4-on-4, giving him 10 points in his last three games. Both rookie defensemen were both on the ice for the Flyers for the goal, with Cam York caught low next to Hart and Egor Zamula tangled up with a Penguin next to a slow-moving loose puck that was eventually picked up by Rust and fired past Hart.

The period’s final goal was briefly reviewed, having gone into Carter Hart’s glove before the glove went into the net, before Toronto gave the goal to Jake Geuntzel to very little pushback from the Flyers (players, coaches, and fans alike).

The Flyers finished the period with 8 shots on net during 5-on-5 to the Penguins’ 10.

Second period:

A quarter of the way through the middle stanza, the recently-returned Derick Brassard drew an interference penalty on one of those guys that the Penguins front office randomly generated named Kasper Björkqvist. The result was a power play with enough bad plays from Joel Farabee—a whiffed one-timer and a blown pass at the blue line—that he basically just stopped playing, hung his head off the ice, and walked down the tunnel to smash his stick into at least four pieces. He would return to the ice a few minutes later with a new stick (I assume) and create an odd man rush with Cam Atkinson that Atkinson would put past Jarry for the Flyers’ first goal of the game and his 14th of the season.

The Flyers once again had a two-shot deficit at 5-on-5 in the period, putting 6 on net to the Penguins’ 8.

Third period:

The third period was relatively uneventful until a Kasperi Kapanen pass sprung Evan Rodrigues into the Flyers’ zone behind both defenders and pulled out one of Claude Giroux’s go-to shootout dekes to slide the puck past Hart’s split. Just a few minutes later, a Farabee-Atkinson failed odd man rush ended up going fast the other way and another Penguin tallied a multi-goal game, as Jake Guentzel caught Rasmus Ristolainen flat-footed and roofed a puck past Hart for the Penguins’ fifth of the game, essentially putting a stop to the hockey game with all but the formality of the final nine minutes.

The Penguins would pile on, though, as 37-year-old Brian Boyle picked a corner on Hart on a Flyers’ power play.

Oskar Lindblom would cut the lead to four barely a minute later. Lindblom’s fourth of the season was the final word on the night, as the score would remain the same, ending at 6-2 Penguins.

Stray observations:

  • Congratulations to Jakub Voráček on his 1,000th career NHL game played. Voráček, who spent 727 of those games in orange and black, became the 361st NHL player to reach the millennium mark in a Blue Jackets 3-1 loss to the Devils tonight. Those 727 games and the 604 points he scored in them put Jake in the franchise’s top 10 for both categories, though it’s likely Sean Couturier, currently sitting at 721 games and signed through 2030, will pass him there.
  • I didn’t mind the presentation on the season’s first ESPN+ exclusive game, at least when compared with the regular NBC Sports Philadelphia presentation. I generally like Linda Cohn. I found Mark Messier pretty stiff and lacking in much beyond some boilerplate analysis. I’ve historically enjoyed John Buccigross, mostly because he’s an ESPN guy but he’s always clearly been a hockey guy, so it kind of felt like he was one of us, fighting on our side of the please-like-my-sport battle behind enemy lines. He’s a little much as a play-by-play guy, but I found it a nice change of pace. Ray Ferraro was either pretty forgettable, or I just forgot. Emily Kaplan is cool, though.
  • One of the things they’ve always said about Zamula was that he needed to add some weight. Well, he’s 21 now and he still looks stick-thin out there.
  • The Flyers and Mike Yeo had what felt like a few opportunities to throw a challenge flag—particularly on whether or not Rodrigues was onsides on his breakaway goal—but they did not. At that point in the game, making it a three-goal deficit rather than a two, I figured it was as good a time as any to start grasping at straws and hoping for a break, but I guess the Flyers’ video people got a good look at it and decided against it. It was tough to tell from home as the ESPN+ broadcast didn’t really show it again once play resumed.

Stray stats:

  • Cam York has stepped right into Ivan Provorov’s role, playing the top pair and getting prime special teams minutes: he led the team with 17:16 at 5-on-5 and 22:21 at all strengths. York looked pretty solid out there, completing some nice stretch passes and was not on the ice for any of the Penguins’ 5-on-5 goals.
  • The Flyers are now 3-4-2 without Claude Giroux since he was named captain before the 2013-14 lockout-shortened season. This includes two games last season Giroux missed due to COVID-19, the two this season, and then just five games total across the other seven seasons.
  • The Penguins are now 18-0-1 when leading after two periods, the most wins in the NHL in that category. The Flyers, meanwhile, are 1-14-3 when trailing after two.
  • The third period was the only one tonight where neither team was held scoreless, thanks to Oskar Lindblom’s garbage time goal, meaning that every goal but his was scored on the same net.