Arguably one of the most built-up games of the year thus far, the Flyers shut down rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in a gripping 3-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center. The Penguins, on a 12-game winning streak coming into the game, are now 1 point behind the Flyers, who are now sitting at first place in the NHL.
The Flyers didn’t play a perfect game, but they dominated the Penguins physically and, for lack of a better word, qualitatively from the drop of the puck and through the majority of the game.
Coach Peter Laviolette spoke confidently about the team’s performance in the post-game press conference. “We talk about trying to get to the top spot, trying to be the best in the league, and tonight was one of those opportunities where we could do it ourselves. We didn’t have to get help from anybody else.”
The first goal for the orange and black started with Pens goaltender Marc Andre Fleury dropping his stick while trying to play the puck behind the net. Giroux attacked the loose puck, skated into the slot and fed the puck back to Scott Hartnell. Giroux skated back to the net while Hartnell wristed it on goal. Giroux collected the rebound for his 15th of the season.
Amazingly, penalties weren’t called for either team until the second period, but they didn’t fare well for the Flyers. Penguin superstar Evgeni Malkin tied the game at 8:23 with a powerplay wrister over goaltender Brian Boucher. Repeat offender Danny Briere had been in the box for hooking. The Flyers would have three powerplays of their own, but failed to convert.
I have to agree with Laviolette on his take of the overall game. “I really liked the way we started. We came out with a purpose. I thought there was a stretch there, maybe for, I don’t know, six or seven minutes to start the second period that I didn’t think we were at our best. They ended up scoring a goal, tying it up, but I thought after that, we got right back into it. I liked the way we played the rest of the game.”
With enforcer Jody Shelley sitting out for a two game suspension, the Flyers moved Darroll Powe to the fourth line with Blair Betts and Dan Carcillo. Nikolay Zherdev skated with James Van Riemsdyk and Jeff Carter. That line looked like a liability defensively early on in the game, but Zherdev took the lead again with a beautiful walk-in shot at 12:28 of the second period. I had been ready to dog him at the beginning of his shift, as he was hovering out of the Flyers zone while the puck was in deep, but the extra space allowed him to get a step on the Penguins defense. THIS is why you don’t trade Nikolay Zherdev. For all of his faults, he will score you goals, plain and simple.
A high-sticking penalty on defenseman Matt Carle, following matching penalties for Penguin Max Talbot and, once again, Danny Briere, gave the Penguins a 4-on-3 powerplay early in the third that they were able to capitalize on. Malkin scored his second of the night with a shot from the slot that just scraped underneath Boucher’s five-hole.
The powerplay continued to struggle as the Flyers went 0 for 5 on the night before Malkin barreled into Betts at 9:06 into the third period. With the pressure on, the Flyers were much quicker with their puck cycling. Eventually defenseman Chris Pronger had an open lane and fired one on the net that deflected off of Hartnell and over the shoulder of Fleury.
Powe took a goaltending interference penalty at the 17:34 mark of the third, trying to get in on goal but unable to slow down as he raced into Fleury. Boucher spoke of the play, “Yeah, we take a penalty there, on a 2-on-1 break. It would have been nice to have buried one there, make it 4-2, but instead, we take a penalty for drama points and make it a nail biter for the fans, but it was a great kill at the end. The guys did a great job, sacrificing their body to block shots and getting the puck out so [it was] a great effort by everyone.”
Laviolette didn’t waste too much time on the win before putting things into perspective: “[The win] puts you where you want to be, but you get to enjoy it for about three minutes and then move on. Start thinking ahead about Montreal.”
The Flyers travel to Montreal to contend with Le Canadiens at the Bell Centre tomorrow night. Montreal currently sits first in the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference with 38 points (compared to the Flyers’ 45 points).