Flyers
Despite the return of Travis Konecny, the Flyers were just a step behind the Penguins, suffering their second regulation loss to a non-Boston team this season. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Come on, Mark, I asked so nicely not to burn the Flyers.

Flyers
This is from last Wednesday’s FFR of the Flyers 4-3 win over the Rangers, by the way.

The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 5-2, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, ending their three-game winning streak. Despite an overall good showing at 5-on-5, some ugly breakdowns and poor special teams burned them in their first game against fans all season.

That’s right, the Penguins had about 2,800 fans in attendance thanks to new Pennsylvania restrictions raising indoor sports attendance to 15% capacity. Yes, this means the Flyers will have fans coming back to — there’s more on that below. Even in defeat, it’s been refreshing to see buildings all over the NHL slowly welcome fans back. After all, they’re what make this sport so special, especially huge rivalry games like this.

The Flyers took the first two meetings of the season with Pittsburgh by a combined 11-5 margin, and this one looked winnable. Sidney Crosby was a late scratch as a result of joining the NHL’s COVID list, and the Penguins are also without other key players like Jason Zucker and Brian Dumoulin. Philadelphia began the contest strong, drawing a pair of early penalties. The early pressure was nice, and it helped the Flyers outshot the Penguins 14-5 in the first 20 minutes. But it never felt like Philly really dominated or held a firm grip at any point, opening the door later on.

The scoreless first gave way to two early goals in the second. Capitalizing off turnovers was the name of the game. First, Sean Couturier and Joel Farabee worked a gorgeous give-and-go off the ice following a neutral zone turnover by Teddy Blueger. But just 67 seconds later, Kasperi Kapanen cut off a D-to-D pass by Shayne Gostisbehere, then beat Carter Hart on the ensuing breakaway with a slick fake slapshot.

Just like that, Farabee’s spark was snuffed, and unfortunately, the wheels started to fall off the Flyers shortly thereafter. The Flyers survived a late first period penalty by Giroux, but didn’t get so lucky when Raffl was called for a cross-check. Philly was brutally treated to a vintage Penguins power-play, as the league’s 26th best PP put on a pretty passing display that Kapanen slammed home to give Pittsburgh the lead. Yes, it was dynamite puck-movement, but the Flyers net-front coverage, an issue all season, let them down big time.

Less than two minutes later, that lightning struck twice. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere were unable to box out in front of Hart, allowing Bryan Rust to deflect one shot and bury the rebound. The Flyers started pushing afterward but were unable to get one back before the buzzer. Tristan Jarry, who was pulled in his last start against the Flyers, looked rock-solid as the game headed into the second intermission.

To their credit, the Flyers didn’t quit on the game. After a sloppy start feat. two poor power-plays to start the third, the Flyers found their legs. The passes kept getting crisper, the cycles kept getting longer. Philly just needed a bounce or two to get back in it. Sure enough, Tristan Jarry turned the puck over behind his net, and after a couple of swings and misses at a bouncing puck, Joel Farabee connected with rubber and twine, cutting the lead in half with his 10th of the year.

It really seemed like the Flyers would be able to make a strong, competitive push in the waning minutes and maybe even find the tying goal. Yet the Penguins once again struck less than 70 seconds later. The Flyers got a little too aggressive going up the ice, resulting in a Penguins 4-on-2. And it was executed perfectly by Letang, Crosby, and Malkin Jared McCann, Mark Friedman, and Cody Ceci. Yes, the Flyers gave up a tic-tac-goal to Cody Ceci. Please consider retirement.

Cap it off with a weird empty netter scored by Mike Matheson as Hart was skating off the extra attacker and you have a disappointing night. There’s no doubt this was an avoidable defeat, the first one the Flyers have suffered to a team not named the Bruins in 2021. A competent power-play or a lack of mental lapses not previously seen since before the Flyers COVID outbreak gets you at least one point, probably two. Considering how short-handed the Penguins are and how well the Flyers were playing, it’s a bit frustrating to drop this one to say the least.

This loss kind of leaves the Flyers in limbo as they begin a pivotal stretch; two more in Pittsburgh, then a home game in Washington. If the Flyers had won tonight, they would’ve been fully on the way to cementing themselves above this second tier in the East. Boston is almost certainly making the playoffs. The other three spots are probably going to some combination of the Penguins, Flyers, Islanders, and Capitals. It’s like a high-stakes game of musical chairs. Winning tonight would’ve put the Flyers that much closer to securing a seat. Instead, they’re still circling with everybody else.

To be clear, this isn’t a disastrous setback or anything insanely drastic, at least not at the moment. Thanks to a dominant third period driven at least partially by score effects, the Flyers won the shot attempts and expected goals battle at 5-on-5. They put up 37+ shots on goal for the fourth straight game. Carter Hart made some ten-bell saves and was much better than the numbers indicate. All hope is far from lost. But tonight is a tough reminder that progress is rarely linear, especially in the NHL’s parity party.

A new set of Vendetta’s NHL power rankings should be out in the next few days. In the meantime, take a look back to see how things have changed over the past month.

Lindies

Good news everyone — fans are coming back to the Wells Fargo Center! Relaxed restrictions mean about 3,100 fans will attend the Flyers’ next home game, a 7 PM Sunday start time vs. Washington. Season-ticket holders will be given priority based on seniority. Fans can also sign up for “Back to Broad Street” for random opportunities to buy single-game tickets when they’re available.

Sidney Crosby wasn’t the only Penguin to miss this game due to COVID – assistant coach Todd Reirden also wasn’t available. Hopefully, it’s just a contact tracing issue and not a positive test.

Really tough night for Shayne Gostisbehere, and it’s not just the two aforementioned mistakes on Rust and Kapanen’s first goal. He made some poor decisions with the puck and was taken off PP1 in the 3rd in favor of Travis Sanheim. To borrow a term AV used heavily last year, Ghost has enough money in the bank to work through this. But he took out a big loan tonight.

This was the Flyers first loss in a game with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux playing; they were 5-0-0 when both played coming into tonight.

Travis Konecny returned to the lineup tonight after coming off the NHL’s COVID list Sunday. TK took Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s spot, which was a bit surprising since I thought NAK had a great weekend. Konecny started the game on line four with Michael Raffl and Connor Bunnaman, but finished in the top six, taking Nolan Patrick’s spot next to Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes.

Kapanen’s PPG broke a string of nine straight penalties killed by the Flyers. Philadelphia’s PK was a major strength for the last year, ranking top 10 in net PK (basically PK%, but also factoring in shorties). But it’s near the bottom of the league this year. Sloppy net-front coverage was a big reason they usually struggled in the late 2010s, and it has plagued them lately.

The Battle of Pennsylvania is one of hockey’s most serious rivalries, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun sometimes. Offseason training partners Tristan Jarry and Carter Hart have a bet that whoever wins the most head-to-head matchups this season will get to drive a Lamborghini for one week. I’m dead serious. Jarry won the battle tonight, but Hart still leads the war 2-1.

In his first game as a Penguin, Mark Friedman looked pretty solid. Not a world beater, obviously, but he definitely played well. Was it really worth waiving him to potentially get Nate Prosser into some games? Time will tell, but the early returns aren’t great.

James van Riemsdyk’s assist on Farabee’s second goal extends his point streak to five games.

On this day in 1993, Mario Lemieux returned from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, scoring a goal and an assist against the Flyers. Philadelphia fans, a notoriously tough bunch, welcomed Lemieux back with a standing ovation. Only fitting that the Penguins returned the favor for Oskar Lindblom during an early TV timeout. Some things truly are bigger than hockey, and I can’t wait for Oskar and Nolan to get to play in front of Flyers fans Sunday.

3 Stars

3rd: Joel Farabee – 2 Goals (9, 10), 4 Shots, 5 Hits

2nd: Tristan Jarry – .952 SV% (40 Saves/42 Shots) on 3.2 xGA

1st: Kasperi Kapanen – 2 Goals (4, 5), 5 Shots

Next

3/4, 7 PM – PHI @ PIT

Follow Us on Twitter!

Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick