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Thursday, October 23, 2014

RECAP: Penguins fall to Flyers on Rivalry Night

After an impressive win against the unbeaten (at the time) New York Islanders that saw the beleaguered Penguins' penalty kill go a perfect 7-7, including killing off a 5-3 power play, the hated Philadelphia Flyers traveled the length of I-76 West for the first of five meetings.  The cross-state rivals, however, were playing their second game in as many nights having been bushwhacked 4-0 by the Chicago Blackhawks the night before.

Crosby in the Penguins' new 3rd jerseys
Sidney Crosby looking good in
Pittsburgh gold.
Donning the new 3rd jerseys for the first time this season, everything was lined up for the Penguins to exorcise some demons against the Flyers.  Philadelphia came into the contest having beaten the Penguins in their previous 4 meetings, and 9 out of the last 11 at Consol Energy Center.  Sporting the league's best power play, playing a team that had gotten shelled the night before, and coming off of three days of rest should have been a recipe for success for Pittsburgh.  Should have been.

A nationally televised game in both the United States and Canada, the night began with Jeff Jimerson singing the Canadian national anthem following the tragic events at the Canada War Memorial and halls of the Parliament in the city of Ottawa.  The game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs was postponed as the country mourns the loss of a 24 year old Canadian soldier that was murdered in cold blood.  As a tribute, the Canadian national anthem was sang before the Star Spangled Banner, despite no Canadian teams playing.  It was an appropriate tribute to our neighbors to the North during a sorrowful day for Canada.

HuffPost shares Penguins' gesture to Ottawa

Once the game began, it was all Pittsburgh and it appeared that an offensive clinic was going to be on display.  Facing sustained pressure from the opening face off, Phildelphia made the first mistake when Chris VandeVelde hooked Sidney Crosby a mere 1:43 into the game giving the potent Pittsburgh power play the first opportunity with the man advantage.  While the Penguins would not score on the power play, they carried the momentum and scored the first goal of the game 7 seconds after the power play ended at the 3:50 mark.  

Spaling scores his first as a Penguin
Nick Spaling sends a wrist shot past Ray Emery
Spaling and his teammates celebrate his game-opening goal
Nick Spaling celebrates his first goal of the season
and as a Penguin

Despite maintaining impressive puck possession numbers, Philadelphia would score the next two goals.  The first one was scored by Mark Streit at 9:20 on a slapper that deflected off of Evegeni Malkin and found its way past Marc-Andre Fleury.  All 5 Penguins on the ice were down low near the puck when a centering feed was deflected by Olli Maatta right to Streit who then fired the puck back toward the net.  Malkin attempted to get in the way of the puck, but instead caused the puck to change direction making the score 1-1.

Right place, right time
Right place, right time

The Flyers would take the lead at 13:18 of the 1st period when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored his first NHL goal.  The Flyers, after having killed off the second Penguins' power play, scored on a 3-1 rush when Sean Couturier fed a pass past Patric Hornqvist to the streaking Bellemare beating Fleury on the redirect.  This marked the second time this season that a French born player has scored a goal against the Penguins.

Bellemarre scores his first career NHL game
We get it, you're French (which Pierre McGuire
painfully reminded us of at the end of the game)

The 1st period would end with the Flyers up 2-1 having been out shot 11-7 by the Penguins and also outplayed as shown in the puck possession chart below.

Flyers fans knew what needed to change
Oh don't worry, it will.

The second period, despite Pascal Dupuis scoring to tie the game, saw the Flyers begin to take control of the game.

Dupuis with his first goal since being stretchered off the ice
Pascal Dupuis celebrates after scoring his first goal since
being carted off of the ice against Dallas

"I thought we tried to make some dangerous plays in the neutral zone," said Head Coach Mike Johnston. "They turned over the puck and counterpunched against us. I really thought in the second period, that's when the momentum turned in their favor. Also, I thought when we entered the offensive zone, we maybe tried to make the extra pass before we took a shot and our shot total started to go down."  Johnston wasn't wrong.

Puck possession swung wildly in favor of the Flyers
This puck possession chart shows that the Flyers
gained momentum in the second period

Other highlights (or lowlights) of the second period saw the obligatory Simon Despres penalty when he interfered with Sean Couturier.  Pittsburgh native R.J. Umberger took exception and picked a fight with Despres, something that Umberger appeared to immediately regret doing.  Umberger also received an instigating minor offsetting the Despres interference minor.  Overall, it was another below average game for Despres and with Bortuzzo set to return from injury soon, Despres' days in the starting lineup may be numbered.  

Another bad penalty taken by the Penguins was from Chris Kunitz and his epic fail of a dive when he was hooked around the hands by Nick Schultz.  Check your inbox Mr. Kunitz, there's probably a warning letter from the league waiting for you.  The penalty for hooking was called on Schultz and the embellishment from Kunitz denied the Penguins a power play opportunity at a time in the game when they sorely needed to regain some momentum.

Philadelphia maintained their strangle hold on the game during the third period resulting in a goal scored by R.J. Umberger at the 6:50 mark and then another by Matt Read two minutes later to make the score 4-2.  The Umberger goal is the third goal allowed by Fleury in three games in which he has gotten beaten on the blocker side when moving to his right, dating back to the Tyler Seguin game winner for Dallas.  All three goals have looked remarkably similar in that a cross-ice pass finds the open man waiting in front of the net.  

The Flyers would then clamp down on neutral ice preventing the Penguins from entering the zone cleanly until Steve Downie would start a play by keeping the puck in the offensive zone.  After Nick Spaling and Marcel Goc traded a couple of passes back and forth, Goc was able to tap the puck in past a sprawling Ray Emery to cut the deficit to 4-3 at 17:03.  The Goc goal, along with the Spaling goal in the first period, marked only the second and third goals scored this season by a bottom six forward.  The Penguins have yet to have a defenseman score a goal this season.  Sean Couturier would add an empty netter to make the final a disappointing 5-3 in favor of the Flyers.

A couple of notes from the game:
  1. The Penguins failed to score a power play goal for the first time this season.
  2. The top line of Crosby-Kunitz-Hornqvist failed to register a point for the first time this season.
  3. The Penguins have now killed off 11 consecutive penalties without allowing a goal.
  4. Nick Spaling and Marcel Goc both scored their first goals as members of the Penguins.
  5. Pascal Dupuis' second period goal was his 399th career point.
  6. Less than 50% (9-19) of the goals scored by the Penguins this season have come 5 on 5.  Three of them were from this game.

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