Flyers
The Flyers just couldn’t stay with Brandon Tanev and the Penguins, who took the lead for good just past the halfway mark of the 3rd period. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Oh, so that’s what it’s like to give up a lead late in a period and lose a nail-bitter 4-3 to your biggest rival. It’s about as bitter as Thursday’s comeback was sweet. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 4-3, in their third of three straight games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers only gained two out of six possible points in the Steel City and are tied with the Pens for the last playoff spot in the East (though the Flyers do have two games in hand).

As is the case with most games at the end of the “mini series” populating the 2021 NHL schedule, this was a chippy contest. It doesn’t take much to spark hate in the Battle of Pennsylvania, and three consecutive matchups is certainly more than enough. With Philadelphia’s Phil Myers missing the game with an upper-body injury suffered Thursday, the Flyers hoped to get revenge for their teammate in more ways than one. Nate Prosser stepped in to play his second game as a Flyer in his absence.

The Flyers played a solid first period at 5-on-5, generating just over 67% of the expected goals. They also scored 100% of the period’s actual goals at 5-on-5 when Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny were gift-wrapped a 2-on-0. For the second straight game, a Flyer I thought would score coming into the game did just that, with TK breaking a nine-game goalless drought four minutes into the contest.

Yet the Flyers actually found themselves trailing heading into first intermission. Why? Simple: their special teams were a mess. Two early power-plays resulted in one shot on goal and a general lack of momentum. Two penalty kills in the period were burned thanks to poor net-front coverage, an issue that’s plague the league’s 4th worst PK. A wrap-around by Evgeni Malkin and wide-open one-timer by Bryan Rust both lit the lamp, giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

However, the Flyers began the second period on the power-play and finally showed signs of life. After some decent puck movement and a couple of semi-dangerous looks lead to nothing, it looked like time would run out on them again. But with four ticks left in the man advantage, Kevin Hayes fired the exact same type of shot Sean Couturier did to start the Flyers’ scoring on Thursday. Nolan Patrick set the same perfect screen as JVR did on that goal, and the result was the same.

The Penguins were able to flip the script at 5-on-5, largely dominating the second. But they weren’t perfect at even strength. With JVR and Kris Letang in the box after a scrum, the Flyers struck at 4-on-4. For the first time in too long, a vintage Ghost Bomb (TM) beat Tristan Jarry through a great screen by Voracek.

But before intermission came, the Penguins dropped a dagger. A simple bobble on a routine, two-foot behind the net pass by Prosser to Sanheim let to disaster. Zach-Aston Reese beat Elliott from almost no angle, a shot Elliott would do anything to have back. It took a Bryan Rust fan on an A+ chance moments later just for the Flyers to limp to intermission even.

With a chance to take back-to-back games over the Penguins and finally gain some separation in the playoff picture, the Flyers just weren’t up to the task in the third. Three icings in three minutes didn’t exactly set a great tone for the period. They didn’t play terribly, and nearly scored on a couple of occasions. If Travis Konecny connects on a wide-open deflection chance or Patrick’s two-on-one bid sneaks through Jarry’s 5-hole, the tone of this article and may this season shifts.

But instead, it was the Penguins who found a way to win this time around. Just like on Jared McCann’s goal last night, the Penguins struck on a 3-on-2 caused by lack of forward support. Brandon Tanev drove wide on Justin Braun, and though Elliott made the save, McCann potted the rebound before Kevin Hayes could get back.

Whereas the Flyers showed plenty of signs they weren’t done after falling behind 3-0 Thursday, today’s team lacked that jump down the stretch. There were a couple of decent cycles, but overall the Penguins looked like the more energized team. It showed in Philly’s inability to get Brian Elliott off for the extra attacker for good until the last minute. The Flyers never even registered a 6-on-5 shot as the Pens held on to take game three of three.

Looking back on it, this was a series of missed opportunities for the Flyers. Yes, their comeback two nights was ago incredible, but today’s loss deflates most of its momentum. The Flyers had a chance to win game one with Sidney Crosby on the COVID list last-minute. Instead, they went 0-for-6 on the power-play and couldn’t mount a comeback. Today, they coughed up two separate leads, and the PK went just 1-for-3. Don’t get me wrong, the Penguins definitely deserve credit for earning two victories. But it feels like the Flyers could’ve done just a little bit more.

If that really is the case, it could mean trouble. The Flyers don’t have consecutive days off at all in March. They play again in just over 24 hours. The jolt of playing in front of fans for the first time in nearly a year should help, but they probably can’t carry the team to victory all on their own. Usually, March is the time in an NHL season where teams make their biggest push. The Flyers were well on their way to doing that last year before COVID cut the regular season short. Though the delayed end of this regular season makes March less crucial than normally, Philadelphia needs to not just find their A-game, but maintain it.

To be clear, it’s not like that’s an impossible task. After all, the Flyers last five games were probably their best of the year from a process standpoint. Today’s game was a bit of dip, but no one is going to play perfect hockey every single night. While the Flyers may not have taken full advantage of this opportunity, there are plenty more of them coming fast and furious at them. Time to take advantage.

Lindies

Great to see TK get off the schneid, especially after he hit the crossbar twice Thursday. The goal snaps a 9-game drought for Konecny, who now has scored 9 of his 12 points in 2021 against the Penguins.

I talked about how brutal the PK has been earlier, and unfortunately, the power-play hasn’t exactly been stellar lately. The Flyers are just 2 for their last 21 on the man advantage and seem to be changing their units around every other game or so lately. Not having Giroux on the top unit is particularly baffling. They went a respectable 1-4 today, but definitely didn’t reach their ceiling over the course of this series.

In Philly’s defense, the Penguins have been really tough to beat at home. Pittsburgh’s 9-2-0 record at PPG Paints Arena is the 6th best home mark in the league.

After recording four points in this series and looking dynamite more often than not, I think we can safely put the “Evgeni Malkin is in decline” story away for a while. Maybe it’s just the Flyers getting his attention like always, but Malkin seems to be turning a corner after a rough start to the year.

Speaking of Penguins getting better after rough starts, Tristan Jarry also had a very good series after being shelled in Philly to start the year. Jarry had a solid .915 save percentage in February and a solid .909 mark in this series (which I think underrates his play) after a clunker .859 in January. At the beginning of the year, I predicted that Pittsburgh’s goalie situation would end up fine. Right now, it seems like I’m unfortunately correct.

Pittsburgh forward Sam Lafferty celebrated his 26th birthday with the win today.

Though the loss today stings, the Flyers 12-5-3 record through 20 games was their best mark since 2005-06 (also 12-5-3). That team finished with 101 points (45-26-11); this year’s club is currently on pace for about 105.

One area where the Flyers have to be at is maintaining their early leads. Philadelphia is only 8-3-2 (.692 points percentage). when scoring first. Last year, they were 28-7-4 (.769 points percentage). That gap may not seem huge, but it adds up over time.

Congrats to Jake Voracek for recording his 500th NHL assist on Gostisbehere’s goal! Even in defeat, it’s still an incredible accomplishment.

This was a bit of a tough showing for Ivan Provorov. He overpassed an A+ scoring chance in the first minute. Then he took a penalty. And then he fanned on a shot with a wide-open net. All within the first ten minutes or so of the game. I also thought he was going to score today, and though he wasn’t far off, it was frustrating to see a couple of rare bobbles from the Flyers’ #1 defenseman. Especially considering I thought his last 4-5 games have been his best of the season.

Michael Raffl played just 6:16 today and didn’t play at all during the third. He was on the bench, but the Flyers broadcast said they saw him standing near the tunnel, which could mean a potential injury. With Phil Myers listed as day-to-day, it would be tough for the Flyers to lose another body. Expect Connor Bunnaman to return to the lineup if Raffl can’t go tomorrow.

The last time the Flyers had fans in attendance was March 10, 2020. Little did the 19,689 fans in attendance know the world would change only a day or so later. While tomorrow won’t be the same it was 361 days ago, it’s certainly a nice step forward. Welcome back, Flyers fans. Let’s get ready to see something special.

3 Stars

3rd: Scott Laughton – 2 Assists (6, 7), 3 Hits

2nd: Brandon Tanev – 2 Assists (3, 4), 5 Hits

1st: Evgeni Malkin – Goal (5), Assist (11)

Next

PHI – 3/7, 7 PM vs. WSH (13-6-4, L1)

PIT – 3/7, 7:30 PM vs. NYR (9-9-3, W3)

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