By John Toperzer
— It took all of 13 days and five regular-season games to derail new head coach Mike Johnston’s honeymoon in Pittsburgh with the Penguins. Unsurprisingly, the team from Philadelphia caused the abrupt ending. In the post Mellon Arena era, the Flyers have now defeated the Pens 10 times in 12 games at Consol Energy Center during the regular season (and have also taken two of three in the postseason).
Wednesday night, Philly beat Pittsburgh, 4-3, in a game which early on looked as though it might be a romp for the Pens over their intrastate rivals. The Flyers played a first-period game of rope-a-dope, taking a pounding from Pittsburgh’s power play but not allowing a goal on two man-advantage opportunities.
By the end of 60 minutes, the game had taken an all-too-familiar course, with Philadelphia skating away with yet another victory on Pittsburgh ice.
On the surface, an October loss won’t likely be remembered as much as, say, a playoff loss in the spring. And that’s a good thing. Since Day 1, coach Johnston has stressed that each day and each game is a buildup to the postseason. The Penguins can learn from Wednesday’s disappointing showing.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh squandered a chance to defeat the ultimate “thorn in its side,” a team which had been dismantled 24 hours earlier by Chicago, a team with just one win in its first six games.
Unfortunately for the Pens, they won’t have a chance to erase the bad taste against the Flyers at home until April 1, 2015 (yes, April Fools’ Day).
— Sidney Crosby was held without a point Wednesday for the first time in 2014-15. On the positive side, he turned away from a possible emotional confrontation with Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier – something that probably wouldn’t have happened in past seasons. So at least the captain kept his cool. He also made it through the game uninjured, which is always a good thing. When the Penguins unveiled their third sweaters at the Heinz Field Winter Classic, Crosby suffered his infamous concussion courtesy of David Steckel. Flyers agitator Zac Rinaldo did get one lick in on Crosby, but it was Rinaldo who would be forced to leave Wednesday’s game early.
Crosby leads the Pens with nine points in five games but he has yet to finish any game with a winning record in the faceoff circle. He lost 12 of 20 draws against Philly and is winning just 44.3 percent overall – the lowest mark in his 10 NHL seasons. A cynic might say that it’s possible his wrist isn’t fully healthy.
— Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh’s 2014 first-round draft choice, has scored three goals and six points in his first four games with KalPa Kuopio this fall. While those totals are pretty good, they look even better when one considers Kapanen scored seven goals and 14 points in 47 games for the same team last year. Click here for the link.
— If you thought Evgeni Malkin looked scary in his Dracula outfit for Halloween, then you must’ve been really scared whenever Geno handled the puck in the defensive zone Wednesday.
Angie Carducci @ACarducci captured the essence of the Penguins’ pre-game tribute to all affected by the tragic events in Ottawa. One of the nicest members in Pittsburgh media, Angie’s work for Inside Hockey can be found here.
— The Penguins changed up their lines in the third period, inserting Blake Comeau as a top-six forward on a line with Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin. Comeau has played pretty well in the early going and the team appears set to rely on him for some of its secondary scoring.
— Whether you believe GM Jim Rutherford is telling the truth when he said Marc-Andre Fleury will be his goalie as long as he’s the Pens’ general manager or not, his comments certainly didn’t help the Flower play any better Wednesday. Fleury came out of the net, dropped his stick and looked shaky at times.
— Something to keep in mind for Thursday’s game. In the preseason, coach Johnston noted Detroit’s speed and said the Red Wings were the toughest team to keep up with – and that was with Pavel Datsyuk sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Datsyuk’s back. Click here if you don’t believe me.
— Brandon Sutter finished with a minus-4 rating for the first time in his seven NHL seasons Wednesday. The only other time Sutter had compiled a minus-3 rating with Pittsburgh was last April – against these same Flyers. On the bright side, Sutter won 14 of 19 faceoffs Wednesday. So far, Sutter is the anti-Crosby. Both players have totaled 106 draws, with Sutter winning 57.6 percent and Crosby losing 55.7 percent.
— Coach Johnston said in the preseason he wanted to get Crosby and Malkin more short-handed time than in past seasons. Crosby is averaging 27 seconds while Malkin is averaging one second on the man advantage. In the last three seasons, Crosby has averaged 30 seconds, 41 seconds and seven seconds, respectively. Malkin: one tick, one tick, two ticks.
— I don’t mean to sound like a broken record (do people still remember records?), but the Pens’ lack of toughness in front of their own net will continue to hurt them against physical teams and players like Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds didn’t have a big night Wednesday, but he’s more than capable of doing so in the future. It will be interesting to see how Robert Bortuzzo fares in his return. The Pens will need his size and at least one other blueliner with a similar skill set in the postseason.
Pens-Flyers Audio (Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Penguins)
The Penguin’s have killed off 11 consecutive penalties in their last two games without surrendering a goal.
Nick Spaling’s first-period goal was his first goal and first point since joining the Penguins on June 27 via trade from Nashville. The tally was Spaling’s first since March 11, 2014 at Buffalo as a member of the Nashville Predators. Spaling also had a primary assist on Marcel Goc’s third-period goal. His two points tied a career-high.
Pascal Dupuis tied up the game in the second period by scoring his second goal of the season. He is now one point shy of 400.
Paul Martin recorded an assist on Dupuis’; second-period goal. Martin’s 20 career assists versus the Flyers are tied for the most against any one team in his career (NYI).
Evgeni Malkin’s helper on Dupuis’; goal extended his assist streak to five consecutive games to start the season. He now has 59 points (22G-37A) in 44 career games against the Flyers – the most he has accumulated versus any one team.
Blake Comeau and Christian Ehrhoff picked up assists on Spaling’s first-period goal. Comeau, who led the team in points in the preseason with four (1G-3A), picked up first his regular-season assist with the Penguins.
Center Marcel Goc’s third-period goal was his first as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and first since March 2, 2014 at NYI when he played for Florida.
Forward Steve Downie recorded an assist on Marcel Goc’s third-period tally. The assist was Downie’s first since February 27, 2014 versus San Jose.