Thursday, December 08, 2011

Flyers fend off fatigue, top Penguins

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor
There were multiple subplots running through this first meeting of six between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins: Jaromir Jagr vs. his old team. Max Talbot vs. his old team. Sidney Crosby out of the lineup for "precautionary measures" and how the sellout crowd could get whipped up into a frenzy without him.

Ultimately, the one issue nobody seemed to think about much reared its ugly head -- how could the Flyers stave off the fatigue of playing on back-to-back nights, including travel, after an emotional comeback victory?

Rolling up to a 3-0 advantage right after the midway point of regulation and holding on for dear life, that's how.

Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell provided the offense and Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves as the Flyers got by the Pens, 3-2, on Thursday night.

The victory extended Philly's win streak to four games, and coupled with Boston's 2-0 home loss to the Florida Panthers, pushed the Orange and Black into first overall in the East with 39 points and a 17-7-3 record.

James Neal and Evgeni Malkin scored for Pittsburgh, which got 27 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury, who stood firm despite his club being held hostage inside its own zone for long stretches throughout the game.

The siege began after rookie defenseman Kevin Marshall took a seat for shooting the puck over glass behind the Penguins bench with 3:42 gone in the first. After Bryzgalov flashed his pad to stop Malkin halfway thru advantage, the Flyers' penalty-killing unit kept possession inside the Pens' zone, ultimately drawing an ovation at the end of the kill that featured three prime scoring chances.

Despite that pressure, it was a fluke which opened the scoring.

Briere skated up the left-wing side and forced a shot from bottom of the left circle towards Fleury. It deflected off one Pittsburgh defender, then caromed off the inside of Brooks Orpik's leg and slid home at far post at 6:38.

It preceded another ovation from the home crowd after the line of Voracek-van Riemsdyk-Talbot kept up more than a minute of pressure in Pens' zone with 9:33 to play in the first. Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma took his allotted 30-second time out after an icing ended the surge.

But the hallmark of the Penguins' futility in the first portion of the game occurred during a 5-on-3 advantage later on. After Steve Sullivan was whistled for hooking with 7:19 left, Hartnell and Claude Giroux took penalties 40 seconds apart to make things interesting.

During that 70-second situation, two Flyers had their sticks broken, creating in essence a 5-on-1 edge which passed without a quality chance from the visitors. Adding to the frustration, Chris Kunitz took a dumb cross-checking penalty as soon as the power play expired.

The Flyers doubled their lead thanks to their first power-play chance of the second, as Voracek drew Fleury out of his crease to the right side before slipping a pass over for Simmonds' easy ds slam-dunk at the left side at 8:43

Andrej Meszaros then displayed flashes of defensemen past, nimbly rolling through the neutral zone and into the Pittsburgh end. He was able to corral the puck as it bounced, faked out Orpik and connected with Hartnell for a slam-dunk at the same spot Simmonds scored his goal, and it was 3-0 with 6:28 left in the second.

All the good will began to evaporate when Zac Rinaldo was sent to the box for interference with just under six minutes to go. It only took eight seconds for Malkin to accept an Arron Asham dish and slip a pass to Neal at the top of the right circle for a shot placed under the crossbar.
Bryzgalov received his wake-up call after 25 seconds elapsed in the third, having to make a quick pad stop on Craig Adams. It started a long, slow slide for his teammates, who began to show the effects of the last 24 hours.

Of course, it was Malkin, in Crosby's absence, who had to carry the load of on-ice leadership and he cashed in at the 8:21 mark. Orpik showed unusually good hands to gather a rebound off the end boards and slip a backhand pass to Malkin who scored from the right side for a one-goal contest.

Pittsburgh finally got its lungs back, and after seeing his own club pinned inside their defensive zone for more than one shift, Peter Laviolette called his own time out with 6:27 remaining.
From there, it was a cat-and-mouse game and the Penguins apeared to need a little more time than was available to finally get over the hump and take total control.

Jagr, who was the constant beneficiary of passes from his teammates, had one last good opportunity to take some personal satisfaction from his old mates, but Fleury flashed the right pad on a quick shot with just under three minutes to play.

Fleury was called to the bench with 1:34 remaining, and incredibly, Jagr was alone on the right wing with the empty net staring him in the face as the clock inched towards 60 seconds to go. He pulled up just before the Pens' blue line and fired, but the shot was air-mailed over the net by inches.

Bryzgalov was called on one final time, making a stick save on Malkin's drive with four seconds left, and was equal to the task.

Notes:
Simmonds registered his first multi-point game of the season, and his first since April 2 with Los Angeles against the Dallas Stars...Prior to Thursday, the Penguins had won seven of the last eight games in Philadelphia...Tonight's three stars were #3 Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros, #2 Malkin and #1 Hartnell...The clubs square off in Pittsburgh on December 29 in the Flyers' tuneup before the Winter Classic...The NHL announced during the third period that Buffalo Sabres forward Ville Leino was suspended one game for an elbow to the head of Flyers forward Matt Read during Wednesday's contest.
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