Observations from the Penguins' 4-3 win against the Flyers:
First things first, head coach Mike Sullivan did not have an update on left winger Chris Kunitz who left the game with 8:01 left in regulation. He got tangled up with Flyers captain/center Claude Giroux near the Flyers' bench and fell awkwardly on his backside. He limped off the ice and struggled to get down the rampway to the dressing room:
-Kunitz appeared to grab his lower back, perhaps even his tailbone. Center Matt Cullen filled in for him on the top line the rest of the game.
A lot of things happened tonight which don't happen too often these days at Consol Energy Center.
-The fans cheered. They were into the game. And they didn't just cheer for goals or big hits. They booed bad penalties. They lauded their goaltender with "Fleerrr-EEEEE" chants. They jeered the Flyers' goaltender with "Maaaayyyy-sssiinnnn" sing-song chants. They dusted off the classic "Go-Home Fly-ers!" chant. They were into this game. It felt like a game at the Civic Arena in the late part of the last decade.
-Right winger Phil Kessel scored. Twice. And on a power play. The player the Penguins plucked out of Toronto to be a weapon for this team actually looked like a weapon.
-The aforementioned power play looked like a weapon too. The Penguins looked like a threat anytime they had the man advantage.
-Most importantly, the Penguins got a win. A clean win. They held off a furious late charge by the Flyers and didn't allow them to even get a point out of this game. With so many teams jammed up in the Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division, getting "clean" wins without "loser" points affixed to them is so crucial.
-Add in the fact that this win came against their biggest rival and tormentors, the Flyers, and this was, as right winger Patric Hornqvist said, "the biggest win so far this year."
-The Flyers took the game's first lead with a power play goal 10:17 into the contest. Working on a power play, Giroux fed a pass from from above the left circle defenseman to Shane Gostisbehere at center point. Gostisbehere boomed a one-timer which hit a cluster of bodies. As defenseman Kris Letang tried to shove away Flyers right winger Wayne Simmonds above the blue paint, the puck bounced to the left of the crease. Center Brayden Schenn was able to located the rebound and plunk it in behind Fleury on the blocker side for the easy goal.
-They doubled the lead with 4:09 left in the first period. After a bogus hooking call in the offensive zone against defenseman Trevor Daley, the Flyers had a power play. Giroux fed a pass from the left half wall across the ice to right winger Jakub Voracek in the right circle. Voracek deked by a kneeling block attempt from defenseman Ian Cole, moved towards the slot and ripped a wrister by Fleury's blocker.
-The Penguins got on the scoreboard 1:40 into the second period with their own power play goal. Taking a feed at center point, defenseman Olli Maatta dished the puck to defenseman Trevor Daley in the left circle. Daley allowed center Eric Fehr to get in position for a screen to the left of the crease and ripped a wrister through Fehr's “five hole” and by Mason's glove hand on the near side.
-They tied the game, 2-2, at 7:29 of the second thanks to their captain. Kunitz sneaked a pass from the center point to Crosby low in the left circle. Fending off phantom pressure from Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Crosby snapped a laser beam of a wrister by Mason's right shoulder on the near side and just under the cross bar.
-The Penguins took their first lead of the game from an unlikely source: A Kessel power-play goal. Taking a pass down low to the right of the cage. Crosby turned and fed the puck across the crease to Kessel sneaking towards the net from the left circle. With center Ryan White late to defend, Kessel swiped in the puck with a forehand shot past Mason's right leg to make it a 3-2 game.
-The Penguins seemingly scored their fourth goal on another power play 3:33 into the third period when Hornqvist one-timed a wrister from the right circle but the puck hit off the left bar, deflected off the right bar and out. The Penguins celebrated a bit and Mason even sort of reacted as if it was a goal. But an official waved “no” and play continued. A brief video review confirmed the non-goal.
-They did get that fourth goal nearly three minutes later. Left winger Carl Hagelin pushed a puck up the right wing creating a two-on-one with Kessel against Del Zotto. Drawing in Del Zotto a bit, Hagelin sneaked a pass through the slot to Kessel streaking toward the right of the cage and Kessel tapped in the easy goal by Mason's left skate to make it a 4-2 game at the 6:20 mark
-The Flyers pulled within a goal with 3:25 left in play with another power-play score. After defenseman Brian Dumoulin took a delay of game minor for throwing a puck out of play, Voracek dealt a pass to Giroux at the right point. Giroux settled the puck, surveyed the offensive zone and ripped a wrister though a forest of legs and sticks by Fleury's left leg on the far side.
-With Mason pulled late, the Flyers made a late push to tie the game. With less than five seconds left, Giroux lifted a wrister from the right circle which hit a cluster of bodies. As Fleury slid around frantically, the puck bounced to Gostisbehere in the right circle. He fired a last second wrister which didn't find the net thanks to block attempts by Fehr and right winger Bryan Rust.
-To put it mildly, special teams were key. The power play was able to respond directly to the Flyers' power play. As mentioned earlier, it actually looked like a weapon. They generated shots and kind of had the Flyers scrambling to defend at times.
-On the flip side, the penalty kill was sliced to ribbons. That was the one characteristic of this game which looked like a typical Penguins-Flyers game as of late. And it was the typical suspects in Giroux and Voracek doing the damage. The Penguins had some real failing in this area tonight.
-Hagelin's speed really seemed to make a difference tonight with regards to how he meshed with Kessel. It's only his third game into his Penguins' tenure and he's still trying to get comfortable with everything. Imagine where he'll be after 10 games.
-Daley continues to be a big contributor. Where would this team be without him right now? He has three goals in his past four games and four goals in his 17 games with the Penguins. His goal tonight got the Penguins on the scoreboard and also swung the momentum in their favor. He's been such an asset for the Penguins.
-The timing of Kunitz's injury is unfortunate given how well he has played as of late. He looked sharp again tonight. The pass he sent to Crosby on the second goal was pretty slick.
-Discounting his "contributions" to the penalty kill's failures tonight, Fehr had a strong game. His screen on the Daley goal makes you wonder why he doesn't get more play in that area. He saw some key assignments late, including on the Flyers' late push to tie the game. He meant a lot to this team tonight.
-Rust showed off some of that trademark courage by taking a few chances throughout the game. One which stood out in the second period when he took a pass from Cullen and created a little breakaway. Fending off Gostibehere, he lost the puck upon arrival at the net and crashed into the end boards. He limped off the ice, shook off the pain and returned to the game.
-Fleury could have made a save on Voracek's goal but beyond that, he was strong. He came through with some timely saves and appeared to be in command most of the night against a team he has had some troubles with.
-Four goals against never looks good, but Mason was really sharp. Perhaps he could have stopped Crosby's laser-sighted score but beyond that, he was left out to dry.
-We're not sure how the Flyers have had as much success with the defensive core they have. When Radko Gudas is a top-six defenseman, that's bad.
-Gudas was one of the few sources of conflict in this game. He threw some big hits and tried to get a few Penguins off their game but no one was biting.
-The Flyers had a late recall this afternoon when they summoned center Sam Gagner from Lehigh Valley of the AHL. With center Sean Couturier injured, they didn't trust center Jordan Weal to make his Flyers debut against the Penguins and turned to Gagner.
-As mentioned above, Voracek and Giroux dominated the power play. If Allegheny County ever reassesses property on just the right circles at Consol Energy Center, the invoice should be sent to Voracek. He owns that part of the ice in that situation.
-We have to wonder how things would be different if Couturier was available. He usually is so effective against the Penguins.
-Center R.J. Umberger, a native of Plum (No, really!), was limted to 7:25 of ice time on 13 shifts and managed to get off four shots with that limited ice time. The end appears to be near for Umberger. It's tough to see him at this stage of his career. He has meant so much to hockey in this region. But his body just appears to be spent after 11 seasons in the NHL.
-Crosby talked about the energy in the building:
"You can feel it in the building when these [Flyers-Penguins] games are going on. It's intense. It's emotional. It's a great environment. The crowd, you can really feel it. They're into these games. These are the fun ones. They're all fun but these ones are fun to play in and much better to win."
-Hornqvist spoke of the win's significance:
"This was obviously the biggest win so far this year. It was so great to come back from down 2-0 after the first [period]. Then our response in the second was great. We came out like a new team. We were flying. We were working. We got pucks to the net and we got rewarded too. That's a great team effort in the second and the third [period]. It feels really good to beat the Flyers obviously."
-Fleury on beating the Flyers:
"It feels like we don't do it enough, or at all... beat them here. It was a good feeling though. Especially, we started not the way we wanted to. And the fact that we showed some character and came back in the game. I thought we dominated the play after that. It's a good feeling to win that game and beat them."
-Daley dismissed the importance of beating a rival:
"We're in a dogfight right now [in the standings]. It's not about a rivalry. A rivalry is great [but] it's about us getting two points. Tonight was big for us."
-Fleury on the ability to come back and win:
“I knew that was a bad start and we again shot ourselves in the foot with our start. We've got to find a way to not wait until they give it to us before we respond. I thought we had a good talk. The coach had a good talk in the room. I thought after that … our power play was very good getting us back in the game. Had some big goals. It was good."
-Sullivan talked about what he said to his players after the first period:
“I just told them I didn't think we played hard enough. I think we didn't have enough guys with a high enough compete level to have success. It was just an honest assessment of what the coaching staff felt. I think to their credit, they responded the right way.”
-Daley talked about what was said during the first intermission:
“We weren't happy with the way we played. Not everybody was playing. We made an adjustment. We heard it from coach and I felt we responded.”
Crosby explained his mindset on his goal:
"Just try to put it there. Usually, that's not open too often. He catches with his right hand. It's not too often that's open. I just tried to put it there. Happy to see it go in. It's tough. Sometimes you just throw it there and it doesn't always go in. It definitely went in that time."
Daley denied any pin-point accuracy on his goal:
"I was just trying to put it to the net. I wish I could tell you I was picking a spot. It wasn't like that. I was just putting it to the net."
-Sullivan talked about the significance of Daley's goal:
"It was a big momentum for us to get be able to score early in that second period. It got us right back in the hockey game. So I think that was a huge goal from a team standpoint. I think the first power play had a lot of great looks. There was movement. They're shooting the puck. They have a net presence. When they play like that, they're hard to defend. They're all instinctive guys out there. They all see the ice really well. They scored a great power play goal as well. Our power play has had opportunities to be the difference for our team. Tonight was another one of those nights."
-Crosby talked about what worked on the power play:
"I think that we just took the opportunities that we had. We had a number of chances. [Hornqvist] had that one which went off both posts. We had some really good looks. We just took what they gave us and didn't try to do too much. Especially, when you're down two and you know they've had a couple of power play goals, it's easy to try to do too much. I thought we were just patient and made the right plays out there."
-Hornqvist on the power play:
"I think we moved the puck really well. Obviously, when you get Sid and [Malkin] on the ice at the same time, good things happen. Good pass by Sid to Phil [on the second power-play goal]. Then our second power-unit got a huge goal, the first goal. Good screen in front. Just took the puck to the net. That's what we did in the second and the third and got rewarded."
Hagelin talked about the penalty kill's struggles:
"They have a really good power play. Let's be honest. But we weren't in sync. There was a few mistakes and that's going to cost you. You got to make sure you're 100 percent every shift, every second."
-Fehr on the penalty kill:
"Sometimes, that's the way it goes in this league. They have some really skilled players out there. Sometimes, it's just making plays but sometimes we've got to make better reads. I thought, myself especially, we could have been better on the penalty kill."
Sullivan on the penalty kill's issues:
"Our penalty kill, you've got to give [Philadelphia] credit. I don't think their numbers are as good as their power play. That power play historically in the league has been one of the top power plays and it's a lot of the same guys with the same look. They executed really well. I thought they had opportunities to apply pressure where we've defined for our group. When we're at our best, we're a high-pressure kill and we pressure with numbers. We had opportunities to do that and we didn't. As a result, they established more zone time. That was part of it. But certainly, there are a few other aspects where I don't think we executed as well."
-Kessel gave credit to his teammates' passes for his goals:
“I just tapped them. I missed a couple like that this year. It was nice to get them to go in the net.”
-Sullivan had a heart-to-heart with Kessel:
"I spoke with Phil yesterday I think it was just about getting himself into the areas of the ice where he has opportunities to shoot the puck and I thought he did a much better job of that tonight. He was inside the dots a lot. I think that line is starting to learn [Hagelin's] tendencies with his speed and the use of his speed and how he can open up ice for those guys. I think that had something to do with it as well. But I thought Phil did a great job as far as making himself available and presenting himself to the puck so he had opportunities to shoot in the good ice and I think that's a big reason why he had the opportunities he had."
-Hagelin went through the mechanics of how he set up Kessel:
"The [defenseman] there was kind of faking that he was going to come at me. I was waiting for him to put his stick down so maybe I would have to throw a [saucer pass] but he never did. [Kessel] took the perfect route and I just fed him back door."
-Hagelin talked about the science of drawing in a defenseman on a two-on-one:
"You have to slow down just a little bit. You can't keep going just full speed. So I slowed down a little bit and kind of fake-shot it. But my mind was on making a pass."
-Fleury had a funny response when asked about the frantic finish to the game:
“Ohhhhh.... ohhhh.... Exciting. I don't know. Giroux had a lot of time. He was coming towards me and there's people everywhere. The puck bounced and it went on my far side. I was already down on the shot of Giroux and I don't know. Just tried to fall there and two of our guys dove in front of their their guy. That's what we needed to finish it off. ... I was hoping. It wasn't the best position to be in. I had strong help from my teammates there."
-Fehr felt the building had a different vibe tonight:
"We want thevfans to feed off stuff. We want the fans to be into it. I thought the fans did a great job. I think that's the loudest we've heard them this year. We really fed off them. ... I noticed it today. I noticed it especially in the second period. The guys really fed of it today."
-There's still work to do in Fehr's eyes:
"We're playing much better hockey right now and that's the important thing for us. We still haven't been able to put full games together, full 60 minutes. I feel like that's few and far between for us right now. We're showing really good spurts of hockey and we're playing when we need to. We've had some good comebacks. We're never down, we're never out and that's showing good character."
-Flyers coach Dave Hakstol on the second period:
"We gave up three straight goals in that second period, starting with the first power-play goal they scored early that got them going and got some momentum going."
-Hakstol thought something other than special teams was key:
"Special teams were a big part of it, no question. Ultimately, we need to be a little bit better five-on-five tonight. I thought that was the difference."
-The Penguins dominated shots, 45-32.
-Kessel led the game with six shots.
-Kunitz and left winger Conor Sheary were the only Penguins skaters who failed to get a shot on net.
-Gagner, Umberger, Giroux, right wingers Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read each led the Flyers with four shots.
-Letang led the game with 26:54 of ice time.
-Giroux led the Flyers with 24:26 of ice time.
-The Penguins had a 40-35 advantage in faceoffs (53 percent).
-Cullen was 13 for 26 (81 percent).
-Giroux was 19 for 29 (66 percent).
-Del Zotto led the game with four blocked shots.
-Defenseman Ben Lovejoy led the Penguins with three blocked shots.
-The Penguins snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Flyers.
-This was only the third win for the Penguins in 14 games in Consol Energy Center against the Flyers.
-Crosby (317) surpassed right winger Jean Pronovost (316) for third place on the franchise's career goal-scoring list.
-Kessel scored his first power-play goal since a 3-1 home loss to the Sharks, Nov. 25.
-Hagelin has two assists in three games with the Penguins thus far.
-Umberger has gone 48 games without a goal.
-The Penguins had an announced sellout crowd of 18,652. It was their 400th consecutive sellout including playoffs. The streak dates back to the 2006-07 season.
-As suspicious as we are with the legitimacy some of these numbers, the fact that they have even one sellout let alone 400 of them is nothing insignificant. Having gone to our fair share of games at the Civic Arena and getting into the building for $20 with an expired student ID in order to watch the Mike Eastwood-era Penguins, this franchise has risen from some truly dark times.
-Penguins historian Bob Grove summed it up well:
-For a Penguins-Flyers game, this was pretty tame. There were a few instances of shoving but nothing really extended. The management of each team has eliminated some of the players who would typically provide that element.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)