Flyers 4, Penguins 2: It’s good to own land

The Flyers are now 13-3-3 in PPG Paints Arena. Mmm.

Well, it has been quite the week, hasn’t it, fellas?

Paul Holmgren has spent the past several days essentially playing a twisted game of duck-duck-goose with the Flyers front office/coaching staff, and while it hasn’t been exactly “fun” to witness, I would say it’s been the most exciting this team has been all season. Chaos! Pandemonium! It’s time to get funky, and what a way to end the week: it’s our slimy pals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, back at it again with whatever it is they do, I don’t pay attention if I can help it.

The Flyers had a strong couple of periods against Ottawa, before they completely blew it in the third, but we were hoping tonight would see them carry over some of that strong play. I get that this is Pittsburgh (arguably good) and not Ottawa (unarguably bad), but I’m trying a new tone in these recaps: it’s called optimism, and it’s the new wave.

Fortunately, we got The Flyers (Good Version) tonight, for the most part. Despite a few defensive flubs, a strong competitive effort from the Flyers ended in a decisive 4-2 win against the Penguins. It may not have always been pretty, but they definitely looked like they had much better energy here, and the scoreboard reflected it all night. This is exactly the type of game we wanted to see from them.

Big ups to Anthony Stolarz for his solid effort tonight. God knows the defense wasn’t always there to bail him out.

It didn’t take long for me to question the way I spent my Saturday night, let me tell you. In fact, it only took about 39 seconds, the exact timestamp that Sidney Crosby scored the first goal of the game on a 2-on-1 with Jake Guentzel. Shayne Gostisbehere couldn’t read the pass, and Anthony Stolarz couldn’t quite get across, and Crosby did what he tends to do best. What an excellent start.

Right from the start, either because they were demoralized by Crosby’s quick goal or because they’re unwilling to have a good start to any game, the Flyers looked a little clunky and slow. They gave up far too many odd-man rushes in this period, not even including the one that led to the goal. Almost immediately following that play, there would be another 2-on-1, this time with Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin that didn’t turn out nearly as disastrous.

Perhaps to save us from a boring first period, or to rile up the team, Wayne Simmonds and Jamie Oleksiak would drop the gloves. My God, what a match-up that is. Simmonds is a beast, but in size he is easily dwarfed by Oleksiak (6’2 and 185 pounds vs. 6’7 and 255 pounds). It’s hard to make Simmonds look silly in a fight, but Oleksiak very nearly managed.

In the end, Simmonds went off to the locker room for repairs (there may have been some blood on the ice) and both players would serve their five for fighting. Well, that was fun.

If the intent was to get blood pumping for the Flyers, it clearly did the trick. A nifty play from *squints* Andrew MacDonald got the puck to Robert Hagg, who sent a stretch pass to Travis Konecny, spurring a breakaway. Once Konecny got going, there wasn’t much you could do to stop him, and yeah, that’s some highlight-reel stuff there, folks. Tie game.

The rest of the period looked pretty open on the ice, with the Flyers cleaning up their act a little bit and looking much better defensively. Despite that, though, they still had trouble making plays, with players like Gostisbehere even looking hesitant to do so in some areas.

Matching unsportsmanlike conduct penalties would be given to Malkin and Dale Weise. Wow, what a bummer of a trade-off. I guess we’ll just have to accept it. The game went to 4-on-4 hockey for the rest of the period, but nothing truly dangerous could be generated either way.

The Flyers in the first simply lacked finish. I know we’re all mourning our dear old friend Ronald (may he rest in peace), but c’mon, look alive here, guys. Let’s set the tone for the rest of our match-ups against these dumb birds. Thank you.

AFTER ONE: 1-1, shots 11-9 Penguins

The first few minutes of the second period were emotionally exhausting to watch. The Flyers struggled deeply defensively, having some serious trouble getting the puck out of their own zone. The Penguins were swarming the net and it didn’t look pretty. Fortunately, the Flyers managed to get out of that unscathed, and started to show nice flashes of offensive energy. The compete level was definitely there, even if they couldn’t quite get it together.

A breakaway for Jake Voracek looked promising, but he was denied by Casey DeSmith twice, once on the initial shot and again on the rebound. It would’ve been cool to see that go in, in my opinion.

The go-ahead goal for Pittsburgh wouldn’t take long to surface. Riley Sheahan, a man I know nothing about and will make no effort to learn about, netted one on the short side at 5:49. That one was all on the defense. While occasionally looking passable, the Flyers blue line looked straight awful in many places, egregious plays all around. The Crosby goal could easily be put on Ivan Provorov’s shoulders; the Sheahan goal likely fell somewhere on Gostisbehere.

(I don’t know what kind of blood sacrifice I need to make to the old gods to fix Provorov and Gostisbehere. I’m still drained from all that I had to do to give Claude Giroux his career season last year, but I’m willing to expend myself again. I will lay down my life for these sweet, all-of-a-sudden-mediocre boys.)

Ah, right, back to the game.

Good old pals Voracek and Giroux, after spending a lot of time apart on the ice, showed that absence makes the heart grow fonder and came together for the tie goal at 6:52. An excellent feed from Voracek met Giroux’s one-timer, and man, that was so pretty I could cry. What a goddamn classic.

Konecny would continue to make his mark on the game (and wow, I mean, the dude is living for this) by drawing a roughing penalty on Dominik Simon at 10:42. The Flyers would go on the first power play in what felt like forever (about 8 periods). Cue the fanfare!

Obviously, the cool thing about not getting any power plays was that you didn’t have to watch the Flyers be bad at them. You could almost forget what the second unit looked like. Almost. Unfortunately, we had to watch this one. Ah, man. What a stinker.

That failed power play essentially set the tone for the rest of the period, which was fairly underwhelming for the Flyers. Most notably, Anthony Stolarz came up with a few nice saves. He’d been solid all night. Damn, it’s cool to have a netminder that looks competent out there, right?

Just after the horn blew to signal the end of the period, a nice little scrum started to form...

AFTER TWO: 2-2, shots 22-18 Penguins

... and it turns out Radko Gudas would not come out of that one alive. His trip to the penalty box would send the Penguins on their first power play of the night. I didn’t really see what he did, but it’s Gudas, and with him it really could be anything.

The much-maligned penalty kill went right to work. Except, for once, it didn’t look so bad, and then, against all odds, an incredible and improbable thing happened: Dale Weise scored a shorthanded goal on the breakaway. I mean, what the hell? Have the Flyers ever been this fun to watch this season? Oh, and that’s three assists for Andrew “Three Assists” MacDonald tonight.

Stolarz continued to look sharp in net, and it was largely due to his efforts that the Penguins did not score on that power play. Doesn’t that feel nice to say? Hey, I’m having fun.

A tripping call on Kris Letang (drawn by, you probably guessed it, Konecny) at 6:34 put the Flyers back on the man advantage. Once again, the power play looked pretty bad. The Flyers gave up a shorthanded opportunity of their own, forcing Stolarz to come up big. I’d say it’s fairly uncommon to have to compliment your goalie on his efforts when you’re the one with the power play, but hey, what do I know, never played the game, etc.

Not long after that “power play” ended, Letang would once again be called for tripping at 9:04, this time on Simmonds. It feels good and righteous to see Letang suffer, so I was enjoying this immensely.

Another godawful power play? Yeah, buddy. Give me some more of that mediocrity. Did they score? Of course they didn’t, but the will-they-won’t-they tension was delicious.

The remaining ten minutes or so was some serious high-octane stuff. For the most part, the Penguins controlled play; the Flyers struggled massively with controlling the puck and had a difficult time clearing their zone. The one difference maker was, once again, Stolarz, who looked fairly composed and stoic in net. I don’t have anything negative to say about his game tonight.

A sprawling save by Stolarz saw him getting quite literally trampled by Phil Kessel, which, weirdly enough, didn’t get called for goaltender interference. I’d be more frustrated about that if it weren’t for the fact that, frankly, the Flyers got a lot of stuff called their way tonight, and we’re mostly just lucky we didn’t get a make-up call against us.

With a minute and a half left to go, the Penguins pulled DeSmith. A few minor dramatics ensued, but in the end, Voracek would score the empty net goal that sealed the fate of the game. The Flyers would improve to 13-3-3 at PPG Paints Arena. That feels right, fair, and true.

AFTER THREE: 4-2 Flyers, shots 32-26 Penguins