No worries. Here’s why.
It couldn’t last. There needed to be a regulation loss under Dan Bylsma, and while many who walked out of the arena today would likely have preferred it was against someone else, it wasn’t. Given the history and loathing between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, one would have expected much more energy in the building. The atmosphere was surreal, and the puck always seemed to be just a few inches out of reach; it wasn’t clicking. It was the antithesis of the Kings game.
Speaking from direct experience as one who was in attendance this afternoon, the fans even had an off day. It was as if the early game kept them from that all-important second cup of coffee to make everything right with the world. There were many moments when it was pretty quiet all the way around and others where it was downright cranky. Even when prompted by the usual “make noise!” admonishments from the jumbotron, the noise meter didn’t break much of a sweat.
It wasn’t that Philly’s 5-on-5 game was that spectacular, but they had three ingredients that neutralized the Pens while jacking up their frustration level:
- Solid goaltending. Biron was in the zone and he was in a miserly mood as he absorbed shot after shot with almost no chance for a crumb of a rebound.
- Discipline. They knew how to instigate when the refs weren’t looking–OK, maybe the refs were looking sometimes but not seeing (the boos as they came onto the ice to start the third period raised the noise meter), and the Flyers waited until the Pens visibly retaliated, drawing a whopping eight penalties.
- Cloaking the blue line on the penalty kill. It was the hockey version of a basketball half-court press with three Flyers draping their defensive blue line while one guy cruised just ahead of them enough to agitate the puck carrier, rendering the Pens to powerless play.
To the Penguins’ credit, they did have a couple of bright spots on which to hang their helmets:
- Marc-Andre Fleury’s play was solid even in the midst of bodies seemingly always crowding him in front of the net obscuring his view. He managed to deflect several straight line sniper shots across his bow on a zero degree line, often from deep off the right circle. At times it looked as if the Flyers were trying to slice through his cervical spine with the puck.
- The Staal line was the most consistent of the four offensive lines today. Staal, Cooke, and Kennedy combined for 8 of the Pens’ 28 shots on net compared to a mystifying 0 (yes, that’s zero) shots on net by Malkin and Crosby combined. The third line also seemed to have the best luck of at least starting to cycle in the Flyers’ end on a few occasions. Cooke and Staal also worked well together on their PK shifts, again looking to break free and work more in the Flyers’ real estate. Finally, Staal led the team in face-off percentage today winning 60% of his duels followed by Crosby at 54%.
The weakest link remains the power play, and the fans let the team know it today. Too often it looked like the PP of old–pass, pass, pass, pass, and pass some more. Too many passes at too slow a speed. Passing is fine, but the point of passing is that it moves faster than the guy on skates so that he cannot cover his zone properly, thereby opening up shooting lanes. Not so today, and the Flyers made the Pens pay for it. Too many chances at shots were given over in favor of at least one more pass. In that respect, it is no wonder that Biron had a good day–he had all day.
It’s better that the Pens rankle a bit over today’s loss against that bitter rival, though. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they will see these guys again soon. The regulation loss is checked off the list, and now they can reset and prepare to begin another win streak.