Flyers Gameday: 4/15/21 @ PIT
GAME 43: FLYERS @ PENGUINS
Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (19-17-6) are in western Pennsylvania on Thursday to play Mike Sullivan's Pittsburgh Penguins (27-13-2). Game time at PPG Paints Arena is 7:00 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on NBCSP.
This is the sixth of eight meetings this season between the teams. The Flyers are 3-2-0 against Pittsburgh to date. The season series will conclude with back-to-back games in Philadelphia on May 3 and 4.
The Flyers opened their abbreviated 2020-21 season with high hopes while Pittsburgh came in fearing that their contention window was nearly closed. Philadelphia's back-to-back home wins over the Penguins to open the regular season, 6-3 and 5-2, fell in line with those prognostications. However, the final scores in both games were deceptive. The Penguins held both a territorial and scoring chance advantage in major portions of both games. It was opportunistic offense by the Flyers, two subpar goalie performances by the Penguins' Tristian Jarry and two overall strong games by Carter Hart that made the difference.
Fast forward to the beginning of March. The Flyers, who had recently been through a COVID-19 outbreak and had been quite inconsistent in their all-around play, nonetheless came into the month with an 11-4-3 record and the highest points percentage in the East Division. The Penguins, 11-8-3 at the time had just been through a change of general managers. Jim Rutherford resigning and former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall taking over.
The two teams convened in Pittsburgh for games on March 2, 4, and 6. It marked the first time in Flyers' franchise regular season history that they ever played three straight games in one city against the same opponent (the last time it happened in the playoffs was in 1985, when the Flyers lost Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on the road in Edmonton).
On March 2, the Penguins prevailed by a 5-2 score despite Sidney Crosby being unavailable due to the start of two-day stint on COVID-19 protocol list.
After a scoreless first period, Joel Farabee gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead. The Penguins then surged for an even strength breakaway and a power play goal by Kasperi Kapanen to take a 2-1 lead and then a goal from point blank range in front by Bryan Rust to make it a 3-1 lead. Farabee briefly got the Flyers back within 3-2 with his second goal of the game (and 10th of the season) but a counterattacking goal by Cody Ceci just 1:08 later restored a two-goal margin for Pittsburgh. Mike Matheson scored on a botched Flyers attempt to get an extra attacker out for a 6-on-5; Hart was skating off for an extra attacker as Travis Konecny turned over the puck and Matheson scored from long distance with Hart too close to the bench to have a prayer of getting back.
On March 4, the Flyers fell into a 3-0 hole within the first four minutes of the game game but then rallied for a 4-3 regulation victory. Claude Giroux led the way. Farabee was unavailable for this game due to the start of his own two-day stint in COVID-19 protocol.
Closely spaced goals by Kris Letang, ex-Flyer Mark Friedman (1st NHL goal, a few days after Pittsburgh claimed him off waivers from the Flyers) and Jared McCann built a quick 3-0 lead. At 11:32 of the first period, Sean Couturier (6th) got one back on the power play.
The Flyers had numerous good chances over the second period but trailed 3-2 entering the third period after Giroux scored a rebound goal with 13:11 remaining in the frame. In the third period, a Giroux shot that went in off Scott Laughton (6th) tied the game at 13:37 and then Giroux finished off the comeback with the game-winner with 2:08 left. Brian Elliott battled hard to make 26 saves on 29 shots to earn the win. Jarry stopped 31 of 35 saves in a losing cause.
On the afternoon of March 6, the teams engaged in a seesaw battle in which the Penguins prevailed, 4-3. A very soft goal that Elliott allowed to Zach Aston-Reese late in the second period, transforming a 3-2 Flyers lead into a 3-3 tie entering the third period, was the turning point of the game.
Konecny, Kevin Hayes (PPG) and Shayne Gostisbehere scored in a losing cause for the Flyers. Evgeni Malkin (PPG), Rust (PPG), Aston-Reese (4th) and McCann (5th) scored for Pittsburgh.
Jarry stopped 19 of 22 shots to earn the win. Elliott took the loss with 23 saves on 27 shots. The Flyers went 1-for-4 on the power play but just 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.
The Flyers followed losing two out of the three games in Pittsburgh with getting swept with three straight regulation losses on home ice against Washington. The club's free-fall through March and a hangover effect in April sunk them all the way down to sixth place in the East. Meanwhile, the two-of-three wins for the Penguins, despite the blown 3-0 lead in the middle game, was a jump off point for Pittsburgh. They've been one of the better teams in the entire NHL, and comfortably hold third place in the East and could tie the New York Islanders for second place with a win tonight if the Islanders lose in Boston.
The Flyers' 6-1 loss in Washington on Tuesday represented the seventh time this season that Philadelphia has lost a game by five or more goals this season (the nadir being the 9-0 whipping they received from the New York Rangers last month). This dubious feat has taken place over just 42 games; barely more than half a typical regular season.
Tuesday's game may not have the worst final score of the season for the Flyers but it was right near the bottom in terms of lacking professional effort and competitiveness on both sides of the puck. The Flyers took an 0-for-3 on the penalty kill. They gave Washington free reign to attack in their zone, especially during a four-goal, 18-shot first period. Elliott struggled with his positioning and movement (but, unlike far too many of his teammates, at least battled for pucks). There was no Flyers' forecheck to speak of, at least until the final seven minutes of a long-decided game. In the second period, Philly responded to a 4-1 deficit entering the period by getting held to a meager six shots; of which only two came from high-percentage areas.
Bad penalties, including another one by the penalty-prone Nicolas Aube-Kubel also came to roost in Tuesday's debacle. The Flyers had been playing a lot better on the PK during April, but the PK once again crashed and burned. Regardless of the manpower situation, Philly did a lot of puck watching and unstructured chasing as the Capitals moved the puck at will. At the other end of the ice, the Capitals enjoyed easy breakouts and clearing passes all night.
The lone Flyers' highlights of the night: a Couturier deflection goal that briefly tied the score at 1-1 in the first period and a nice save by Elliott on Anthony Mantha in the third period (denying the Caps forward his second goal and third point of his debut with his new team).
It is likely there will be lineup changes for the Flyers in tonight's game in Pittsburgh; possibly including Wade Allison making his NHL debut. The team had a day off on Wednesday and will hold a morning skate at PPG Paints Arena. Lineup projections will be adjusted after Vigneault's media availability.
The Penguins, who have won eight of their last 10 games, bring a three-game winning streak into this tilt. Veteran superstar Evgeni Malkin (lower body injury) is out of the lineup and will likely be unavailable until the tail end of the regular season.
Hextall, who was with Jeff Carter both in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, acquired the now 36-year-old veteran from the Kings on April 11 for a conditional third-round pick in the 2022 Draft and a conditional fourth- round pick in the 2023 Draft. He had eight goals and 19 points in 40 games for the Kings this season, and will make his Penguins' debut against the Flyers.
Friedman has been on IR with a suspected concussion ever since the March 4 game in which he scored his first NHL goal. In that game, Friedman (who had ongoing physical battles with Nolan Patrick and other now-former teammates) attempted to throw a check on Patrick. Instead, Patrick braced and lowered his shoulder. Friedman went down hard on the clean hit, got up woozy, and had to be helped off the ice.
Kapanen, the son of retired Flyers fan favorite Sami Kapanen, is on injured reserve with a lower body injury. The update yesterday was that he could return in 10 days to two weeks.
25 James van Riemsdyk- 14 Sean Couturier - 11 Travis Konecny
28 Claude Giroux - 13 Kevin Hayes - 93 Jakub Voracek
21 Scott Laughton - 58 Tanner Laczynski - 86 Joel Farabee
23 Oskar Lindblom - 19 Nolan Patrick - 57 Wade Allison
9 Ivan Provorov - 61 Justin Braun
6 Travis Sanheim - 5 Phil Myers
8 Robert Hägg - 53 Shayne Gostisbehere
79 Carter Hart
[37 Brian Elliott]
PP1: Giroux, Patrick, Farabee, Voracek, Provorov.
PP2: Hayes, Couturier, JVR, Konecny, Gostisbehere.
Scratches: 5 Phil Myers (healthy), 62 Nicolas Aube-Kubel (healthy).
Injured reserve: 48 Morgan Frost (shoulder surgery).
COVID-19 protocol: None.
59 Jake Guentzel - 89 Sidney Crosby - 17 Bryan Rust
16 Jason Zucker - 77 Jeff Carter - 19 Jared McCann
46 Zach Aston-Reese - 53 Teddy Blueger - 9 Evan Rodrigues
67 Radim Zohorna - 14 Mark Jankowski - 7 Colton Sceviour
8 Brian Dumoulin - 58 Kris Letang
28 Marcus Pettersson - 6 John Marino
5 Mike Matheson - 4 Cody Ceci
35 Tristan Jarry
[1 Casey DeSmith]
PP1: Rust, Crosby, McCann, Guentzel, Letang
PP2: Rodrigues, Zucker, Zohorna, Matheson, Marino
Scratches: 2 Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), 50 Juuso Riikola (healthy).
Injured Reserve: 11 Frederick Geaudreau (lower body), 13 Brandon Tanev (upper body), 42 Kasperi Kapanen (lower body), 52 Mark Friedman (upper body), 71 Evgeni Malkin (lower body).
COVID-19 protocol: None.