By Kevin Fortier (@ksfortier)
The Flyers return home this afternoon at 3:00 tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-1 in their first round Stanley Cup playoff matchup. The Flyers won game 2, splitting the road games to start the series, after being badly outplayed in nearly every aspect of game 1.
They have the chance to take control of the series if they can continue their physical play and not get undisciplined giving the NHL’s top power play unit chances to score with the man advantage.
The Flyers will also have to play under control and not turn the puck over in their own end. They need to avoid allowing the Penguins easy scoring opportunities especially early on. Elliott will have to control rebounds and be on top of his game as Pittsburgh will surely fire the puck on net at every opportunity to test the shaky netminder.
In the 2 regular season games at home against Pittsburgh the Flyers were outscored 10-3. Overall, the Flyers were 22-13-6 at home this season. Pittsburgh went 3-6 on the power play in those 2 games while the Flyers were 0-9.
Game 2 was the first time this season the Flyers stopped the Penguins from scoring at least 5 goals in a game. They can not get into a shooting, run and gun style of game with the Penguins. The Flyers need to control the tempo and not allow Pittsburgh’s high fired offense to dictate the pace of the game.
Neither team is expected to make any roster changes for today’s matchup.
In the first game, Pittsburgh jumped out to an early start and never let up. Flyers goalie Brian Elliott was unable to control rebounds or stop the puck from going in the net. He gave up 5 goals on 19 shots.
Elliott was replaced in the 2nd period by Petr Mrazek who played well the rest of the way. He surrendered two goals stopping 12 of 14 shots. He had no chance to stop either puck that got by him.
Pittsburgh used their speed and attacking style to keep the Flyers on their heels the whole game. They caused numerous turnovers in the Flyers end several of which ended up in the back of the Flyers net.
The Penguins had 33 shots on goal for the game to 23 for the Flyers. The Penguins were also able to clog the lanes blocking 24 shot attempts by the Flyers.
The Flyers top line of Giroux, Couturier and Raffl were badly outplayed ending the game with only 3 shots on goal and a combined -11. Meanwhile, Crosby scored a hat trick, Guentzel had a 4 point game and Rust chipped in a goal as well.
Pittsburgh’s top line had 8 points and was +14.
One of the Flyers keys to victory for the series is to be disciplined and stay out of the penalty box. Pittsburgh had the number 1 power play in the regular season while the Flyers finished with the 29th worse penalty kill.
If the Flyers have any hope of pulling out an upset they need to limit the man advantage opportunities for Pittsburgh.
The Flyers took 4 minor penalties for the game, but managed to only surrender 1 goal while down a man. They played a more aggressive, attack style of penalty kill and used their speed more successfully than in the regular season overall.
The Flyers also had 4 power play opportunities for the game. However, Pittsburgh completely shut down the Flyers power play not allowing a single shot on goal while on the penalty kill.
The only area the Flyers outplayed the Penguins was in the faceoff circle winning 52% of the draws.
Overall, the game was exactly as lopsided as the score indicated.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux was asked about the game in the locker room.
““It’s one of the worst games I’ve been a part of,” Claude Giroux said. “We’ve got to play better and play with a little bit more attitude. We’ve got a day here to think about it. We’re going to get out of this together, win the next game and go back home 1-1.””
Coach Hakstol indicated in the post game wrap up that he was inclined to go with Elliott for game 2 which caught many off guard. Elliott had missed nearly two months after core muscle surgery and did not appear to be 100% since returning.
To the dismay of many Flyers fans, and surprise of some beat writers, Coach Hakstol in fact changed nothing about his roster going into game two. He kept the lines exactly as they were in game 1 and went with Elliott in net.
The first shift of the game was a disaster as the Flyers turned the puck over in their end for an extended offensive zone shift for the Penguins. Elliott looked a little shaky giving up a juicy rebound early and the Penguins hit 2 posts early in the 1st period. One was called offside, but had they scored and challenged the call it could have gone either way.
Elliott also barely got across to use his toe to keep Hornqvist from scoring on the short side.
The Flyers got an early gift of a call draw by Provorov giving them the first power play of the game. Shayne Gostisbehere scored from the point to make it 1-0.
The Flyers had another lucky bounce in the 2nd when a shot by Couturier close in bounced off Murray’s leg and off Letang into the net to make it 2-0 Flyers.
Elliott made a huge, turning point save, on a breakaway by Crosby that could have cut the Flyers lead in half and could have been the spark that the Penguins needed to turnaround the trajectory of the game.
Elliott redeemed himself saving 34 of 35 shots by the Pens.
Nolan Patrick fell awkwardly into the boards and went to the locker room briefly in the 2nd. Travis Konecny took a needless penalty that could have made it 2-1, but the Flyers shut down Pittsburgh’s power play to keep it 2-0 to end the period.
About 90 seconds into the 3rd, Simmonds got the puck up the boards to Konecny who blew past Chad Ruhwedel up the right side and scored his first playoff goal to make it 3-0.
The Flyers got another power play as the Penguins started to rattle and became undisciplined. Hornqvist tackled Patrick in the corner giving him several shots to the head. Patrick made him pay scoring his first playoff goal putting the Flyers up 4-0.
Philly ended the game going 2 for 3 on the power play and 4 for 4 on the penalty kill winning the special teams battle for the game.
Hakstol had been shortening his bench reducing the ice time for mostly the younger Flyers players. This really became apparent in the 3rd. Oskar Lindblom saw his ice time drop off significantly in the final period as did Travis Sanheim.
The only Flyers forwards to have fewer than 18 shifts were Lindblom, Konecny and Read. They saw 10:13, 9:16 & 11:31 minutes of ice time for the game respectively.
Pittsburgh would get one back, but MacDonald scored an empty netter to seal the victory giving the Flyers the win 5-1.
Philly shut down the high powered Penguins power play keeping them off the scoresheet in 4 opportunities for the game.
Pittsburgh flipped the faceoff edge in game 2 winning 52% of the draws.
The Flyers did a better job of getting short through the Penguins in game 2. The Penguins had 20 fewer blocked shot attempts for the game than in game 1. Game 2 continued the physical play. Each game had a combined hit count of over 60. There have been 128 hits so far through 2 games.
Game 2 was much closer than the final score indicated.
Photo credit: Steven Falk Philly Inquirer