By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a searing river hate. A gothic hate that percolates between the Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It continues to manifest itself in not-so-subtle ways like when Sidney Crosby lowered his right shoulder and stuck it into Claude Giroux’s chest in the opening seconds of the Flyers’ season opener.
Within the first eight minutes, the reviled Penguins were up 2-0. Within the first 15, Pittsburgh had outshot the Flyers 11-3—with only one of the Flyers’ shots coming at even strength. After Pittsburgh outlasted the Flyers, 3-1, Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, many of the same fans that trumpeted their return after the 119-day work-stoppage were grumbling about the Flyers still mired in lockout mode.
Or at least their powerplay was.
The Flyers’ powerplay was an anemic 0-for-5 and a big reason why the Penguins took a 1-0 lead in the hatematch.
“The powerplay wasn’t bad, we were moving the puck well, but at the end of the day, you have to find a way to put it in, and we obviously had a lot of chances,” Giroux said. “We put that first period behind us. It’s a weird season with no training camp or anything. You have to play hard, but at the same time, you have to find a way to stay focused. The second and third periods were a lot better than the first period. We chances, but in the end, we had to find a way to put it in the net. I think it was more about less hesitation in what we were doing in the second period.”
Tyler Kennedy gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 4:40 into the game, deflecting a shot on the powerplay by Ilya Bryzgalov. Less than three minutes later, James Neal scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in making it 2-0 Pittsburgh, flicking a wrist shot home.
The Flyers, meanwhile, appeared more content on hitting than playing hockey in the first period. The Flyers were the more physical team, but Pittsburgh beat them everywhere else, getting to loose pucks sooner, outskating the Flyers up the ice, moving the puck fluidly. The Flyers were disjointed on offense, not able to sustain anything cohesive.
It took a mere :23 into the second period to change that, when Scott Hartnell perfectly timed a pass to a charging Giroux, who slid the puck under the right pad of Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
From there, the teams went at each other at a furious, playoff pace.
“After the first 13, 14 minutes, we seemed to play more of the style that we were looking for,” Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette said. “We controlled the play at times; lots of shots, lots of opportunities to put the puck in the net and we weren’t able to capitalize on them. There seemed to be a little bit of rush out there. Our passing was a touch off. We had a lot of passes that seemed to go on the skates in breakouts and neutral zone movement, but that will come with time. There’s definitely room for improvement.”
The Flyers had their chances to tie the game. With 14:50 left in the game, Kimmo Timonen’s shot went just wide of Fleury.
Another great opportunity came with 5:33 left, when an interference call on Deryk Engelland gave the Flyers a power play. Wayne Simmons had a chance a few inches away, and Fleury was there. Then Fleury snuffed out a pair of blistering shots from both Giroux and Hartnell. With 3:16 left, Matt Read had another chance, but again, Fleury was there to make the save.
Evgeni Malkin was whistled for high sticking with just over two minutes to play and the Flyers still couldn’t get anything by Fleury, who had 27 saves.
Bryzgalov was solid, steering away 26 shots. During the first period, with Pittsburgh swirling around the Flyers’ net like sharks sniffing blood, he kept the Flyers in the game. The Flyers trailed after the initial period 2-0, but it could have been far worse if not for a number of impressive Bryzgalov saves.
Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz ended the suspense when he drove home an empty-net goal with :12 left, sealing it for the Penguins.