The Metropolitan Division jockeying for top billing continued tonight, as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Flyers 5-2 from the Wells Fargo Center.
The two teams entered tonight’s contests separated by just a single point in the standings, as the Flyers had a chance to jump the Penguins and tie the Washington Capitals with 81 points each. But the best laid plans often go awry, as the Penguins were looking to take sole possession of first place in the division on the ice of their in-state rivals.
The Penguins entered the night as the league’s top power play offense, despite scoring just once in their last ten opportunities, and looked to take advantage of the Flyers’ porous penalty kill, which ranked as the third worst in the NHL. Pittsburgh found themselves with the man advantage four times in the first period, but failed to score on the first three chances. The Flyers’ defense did an excellent job of taking passing lanes away and stepping up to block shots.
But, you can only keep an attack such as the Penguins’ down for so long, and 49 seconds after Oskar Lindblom drew a two-minute minor for high sticking, Phil Kessel found the back of the net to open the scoring late in the first period. The goal was Kessel’s 28th of the season.
It didn’t take the Flyers long to respond, as just 2:07 into the second period, Jakub Vorachek shuffled what appeared to be a pass in the direction of Nolan Patrick. The pass missed it;s intended target, but found the stick of Derick Brassard instead, trickling past goaltender Tristan Jarry for Vorachek’s 15th goal of the season.
The change out of a Vorachek assist to a goal actually hinders the 28-year-old by keeping him tied with Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler for first in assists in the NHL with 57 each.
The Flyers would take their first, and only, lead of the contest just over three minutes later when a scramble in front of the net led to Sean Couturier and Brian Dumoulin crashing to the ice as Jarry sprawled around his crease to find the puck. The net minder was unable to climb to the pipe quickly enough, as Travis Konecny flipped one over his outstretched pad to make it 2-1. The goal was Konecny’s 18th of the season.
It was, however, the last goal the Flyers would net tonight, as the Penguins lit the lamp three times in a matter of ten minutes to end the second period, erasing a one goal deficit and taking a two goal lead into the second period intermission. 9:24 into the second period, Jamie Oleksiak would put a questionable goal past Flyers’ goalie Petr Mrazek for his fourth in 2018. Dave Hakstol would call for the review, but the goal was upheld, and the score remained tied at two. Just about five minutes later, and less than one minute removed from killing off a Flyers’ power play, the Penguins recaptured the lead, as Petr Mrazek was unable to secure a loose rebound in front of the net, and Conor Sheary knocked it home for his 13th goal of the season. Sheary was at it again late in the second, as he beat Mrazek low glove side off a pristine pass from Jake Guentzel.
With 20 minutes of play remaining, the Flyers looked to mount a comeback, but one never came to fruition in the third period. Evgeni Malkin netted the only goal of the period, an empty net goal, with 1:41 remaining in the third, for his 38th of the season, icing the victory for the Penguins. The final tally was Malkin’s 38th of the seaosn, tying him with Patrick Laine of the Winnipeg Jets for second in the league.
The Flyers outshot the Penguins in the final two periods, but were unable to remain within striking distance after the three consecutive second period goals. http://gty.im/926732942 zek allowed four goals on 27 shots. Jarry stopped 26 of the 28 Flyers shots he saw. Sidney Crosby notched three assists in the contest, breaking the 1100 point total for his career.
Penguins’ winger Bryan Rust left the game midway through the first period after being dealt a crushing blow along the end boards by Robert Hagg. The hit was clean, and likely in a bit of retaliation, as on the possession prior, Travis Konecny caught a stick to the face without drawing a call. Rust was slow to get up and off the ice, and did not return after getting back to the bench.
The loss drops the Flyers 34-22-11, 79 points, on the season. They now sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Capitals, three behind the Penguins. They do still have a game in hand on Pittsburgh. The victory for the Penguins improves them to 39-25-4, 82 points, and give Pittsburgh an outright lead of the Metro. They’ll be back on the ice March 10, when they travel to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs.
The Flyers will have a quick turnaround, as they’ll have to jump on the team plane tonight and fly to Boston to get ready for their matchup with the Bruins tomorrow night. You can hear that game at 8 p.m. on 93.3 WMMR.