|The new Philadelphia Flyers practice facility opens on April 12th|
The Flyers had won the two previous contests, 5-3 on October 22nd in what was a miserable Pittsburgh effort, and 3-2 (in OT) back on January 20th.
Philadelphia had won 10 of the 12 meetings at the Consol Energy Center, with the Flyers power-play was converting at an Asgardian (see: other worldly) rate of 32%.
|Pictured: Flyers' PP at CEC|
The Penguins would play the game without the services of Kris Letang (concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (concussion), and Evgeni Malkin, who was a late scratch after what was deemed a routine "maintenance day" absence during practice on Tuesday and again this morning. Philadelphia would play without Wayne Simmonds and Andrew Macdonald, both out for the rest of the year with injuries.
The Penguins would once again tempt the fates by starting only 5 defensemen, and only 19 players overall (playing a man down throughout because of their salary cap situation).
With the Flyers' tee times already scheduled for April 12th (Philadelphia was eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week), the main points of contention were pride and the Art Ross Trophy for the league's top scorer.
Sidney Crosby entered the night leading the NHL with 79 points, 3 ahead of Flyer forwards Jakub Voracek (76) and two full hands worth ahead of Claude "Buttocks" Giroux (69).
First Period Action:
The Penguins acknowledged their Consol Energy Center struggles against the Flyers early, serving up a Jelly of the Month turnover onto the blade of Michael Raffl, but Raffl could only muster a week backhander along the ice.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who was tapped to start in net for the Penguins, stopped the early chance with nominal effort.
Pittsburgh would then generate the game's first primo scoring chance, when Crosby's backhanded saucer feed barely missed a streaking Daniel Winnik in the slot.
Crosby would make up for the near-miss on his next shift, converting an Ian Cole rebound past Philly netminder Steve Mason into an open net, beating Sean "ROMGZ HE LOCKS CROSBY AND MALKIN DOWN" Couturier in the process.
The goal was the Penguin captain's 300th regular season goal, and gave Crosby 80 points on the season, thus extending his overall points lead to 3 over John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin.
Even before Crosby opened scoring, the game lacked the general feistiness of the Pens/Flyers tilts of yesteryear, which can partially be attributed to the Flyers' season being effectively over and the injury ravaged rosters of both squads.
|Ian Cole in the offensive zone.|
Zac Rinaldo, Philadelphia's answer to Steve Downie, took the evening's first penalty, going off for tripping offensive juggernaut Ian Cole (his third point in the Penguins' past four games).
Defensively, the Flyers stacked three players at their blue line to try and force the Penguins to dump/chip behind them, and the tactic worked, with neither power-play unit being able to generate more than a single shot attempt.
Claude Giroux had a great scoring chance at around the 12:15 mark, but his drifting shot from the slot went wide...which is a good thing, given that Fleury was caught moving in the wrong direction in his attempt to follow play behind his net.
Moments after Vincent Lecavalier missed a short-side backhander, Nick Spaling was called for cross-checking Chris VandeVelde. VandeVelde somehow avoided a penalty for having a name that makes me think of Velveeta (the cheesy cover band of Pittsburgh/PSU fame, not the actual cheesy cheese).
The Flyers power-play thus went to work, sporting the NHL's 3rd best attack with the man-advantage. Philadelphia was able to work in a few shots from the point, but overall, the Penguins' penalty killers were more than up to the task.
Following the successful penalty kill, Vinny Lecavalier went to work and tied the game at one in a manner reminiscent of Crosby's tally: Lecavalier won an offensive zone draw, drove the net, and deposited a rebound while the man supposed to be marking him (Spaling in this case) whiffed.
The period would end with the score tied 1-1. The Penguins carried play for the first half of the stanza, but the Flyers would bounce back in a big way, outshooting the Penguins 15-7 over the course of the full twenty minutes.
Second Period Action:
Chris Kunitz, recently off of the goal scoring schnide, opened the second period by creating his own scoring chance via a pass to himself up the ice, but his weak wrister was discarded by Mason.
Not long after, Nick Schultz was whistled off for slashing Daniel Winnik's wrist, putting Pittsburgh's power-play back on the ice.
The Pens won the offensive zone faceoff, which is key because Pittsburgh didn't have to worry about a successful zone entry against the Philadelphia trap.
Pittsburgh controlled play down by Mason for well over a minute, but only managed a single shot on net as the collapsing Flyers defenders successfully kept the Penguins' puck carriers on the periphery.
The second unit would also win the offensive zone faceoff, but also struggled to create much offensively.
Following a Flyers 3-on-2 chance (shut down by a Fleury save on Schenn), Brandon Sutter showed off his own golf game by chipping a puck into the seats for an automatic delay of game penalty.
Once again, the penalty killers held dominion and kept the Philly man-advantage at bay.
The Flyers' transition game seems reminiscent of Dan Bylsma, with Claude Giroux continually cycling through the middle of the ice to generate speed through the neutral zone.
|Downie's penalty was both Charmin soft AND full of crap|
During one such rush, Steve Downie was handed two minutes of penalty time for possibly the softest "roughing" penalty in NHL history.
The Flyers initiated tremendous pressure during the ensuing power-play, but the Penguins (Rob Scuderi in particular) were outstanding in negating the cross-ice lanes the Flyers desperately wanted to pass through.
Claude "Buttocks" Giroux also refused to pull the trigger despite having an open window. Giroux adjusted his shooting angle multiple times, but Fleury kept square and didn't cede any opportunity for the Philadelphia captain to score.
The crowd got pumped when Chris Kunitz's hit on Nick Schultz jarred a pane of plexiglass loose. The glass then flopped onto the ice in one piece, drawing wild cheers from the fans in attendance.
Oddly, the pane of glass seemed to rejuvenate the Penguins, and following an altercation with Claude Giroux, a tripped Crosby nearly created an Ovechkin-ian scoring chance.
With the displeased fans' boos cascading down, a trailing Brayden Schenn found a loose puck in the slot and fired a wrist shot that completely eluded Marc-Andre Fleury and gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
The lack of defensive marking was...let me put it this way: as a Penguins fan, I do hope that David Perron and Rob Scuderi enjoyed their excellent view of the Schenn scoring, because they certainly had front row seats.
The Flyers then went on the power-play...again...following a mind-numbingly stupid penalty by the aforementioned Perron, this time for going out of his way to interfere with the Flyers through the neutral zone.
And so the Flyers put their historically REALLY FREAKING GOOD power-play back on the ice. Claude Giroux helped the Penguins' cause by missing on a wide open net to keep Philly from gaining a 3-1 lead.
|Pictured: Brayden Schenn diving for a penalty call|
The Penguins' penalty absurdity continued when Steve Downie took another minor for...well, Downie apparently fouled Superman, since that's what Brayden Schenn looked like as he DOVE to earn yet another Flyers' power-play.
Don't get me wrong: Greg Louganis himself would have scored Schenn's Bobby Orr-esque flop as an 8. Or 4. Truth be told, I have no idea how diving is scored, nor do I care.
The Penguins had yet another injury scare as time expired as a rising/deflected Flyers slapshot hit Paul Martin in the side of the head, damaging his helmet and shaking up the Pittsburgh blue-liner.
In any case, at the end of two periods, the Flyers were dominating the shot totals 23-15, the power-play chances 5-2, and the scoreboard 2-1.
Third Period Action:
Paul Martin started the third period on the bench, and Downie started the stanza in the penalty box, still serving two minutes for General Zod-ing Brayden Schenn.
Voracek would inch closer to Crosby in the scoring race when Voracek's shot went off of Superman (Schenn's) stick and in behind Fleury to put the Flyers up 3-1.
I like Steve Downie. I like that he's crazy and that he's on our team (and not playing for someone else), and I like that he can play top six minutes and contribute offensively. I do NOT like the fact that he's the hockey equivalent of Medusa and merely staring at an opposing skater earns him penalty minutes.
Anyway, back to action...Chris Kunitz slashed Zac Rinaldo in the back of the knee, but Rinaldo picked up two minutes for being Zac Rinaldo (no, really), and the two teams lined up to skate 4-on-4 for two minutes.
|Headshot of Carlo Colaiacovo. Or Marlon Brando. Or BOTH?!|
Naturally, the Flyers would make the score 4-1 when a guy that sounds like a cousin in "The Godfather," Carlo Colaiacovo, beat Fleury following yet another scramble in front of the Pens' net.
With about seven minutes left in the third, NBCSports' Pierre Mcguire helpfully informed viewers that the referees were, in fact, telling Downie to stop talking, indicating that yes, the Pens undeniably were fighting both the Flyers and the officials.
The final eight minutes of the game were as painful as the Tim Burton "Planet of the Apes" remake.
For the Penguins, Crosby kept even with Voracek in points, and the team emerged relatively unscathed injury-wise. Otherwise, the outmanned and outgunned Penguins put forth a miserable effort in what was a convincing Flyers 4-1 win.
Moving forward, Pittsburgh needs to get healthy, and needs to send out a lot of fruit baskets to mend their relationship with league officials.