Saturday, January 19, 2013

Penguins spoil Flyers' 2013 homecoming

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

So much for hype and expectations.

The first game of the lockout-shortened 2013 season passed on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, and the Pittsburgh Penguins seized early momentum with a pair of first-period goals en route to a 3-1 decision over the Flyers in front of a record crowd announced at 19,994.

Tyler Kennedy and James Neal picked up the crucial scores for the Penguins, who played their eighth consecutive game against their Eastern Pennsylvania foes including a six-game first-round playoff loss back in April. Chris Kunitz added a late insurance tally and Paul Martin added a pair of assists to back a 26-save effort from Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury added a bit of history to the proceedings, earning his 227th career win and surpassing Tom Barrasso for first on the franchise's all-time victory list.

"It’s flattering," Fleury said. "I think it shows I’ve played with a lot of good teammates and good players. Tom Barrasso was a guy I always looked up to. To pass him is an honor for me."

Claude Giroux celebrated his first game as team captain with the hosts' lone tally. Ilya Bryzgalov acquitted himself well in defeat, allowing only two goals on 26 shots.

"After the first 13, 14 minutes I think we started to find ourselves," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "I was more concerned with the way we played, the syle. We weren't getting many shots to the net. We seemed to be rushed out there, our passing wasn't crisp, wasn't on the mark, and we had a little bit of trouble skating."

The sides continued to battle each other into the final period despite obvious fatigue setting in, but the Pens appeared to be gaining the footing lost in the second and maintained their one-goal margin. In a sequence just after the midway point of the third, Pens defenseman Matt Niskanen hit the outside of one post, then Martin's point blast stuck inside Bryzgalov's equipment for a pregnant moment before trickling out beside him.

Philly was awarded a prime chance to even things when Deryk Engelland was called for interference with 5:33 left in regulation, but Craig Adams swept out one stuffer in the crease and another connection just missed wide to the long side from the right circle.

The hosts got a break again on Evgeni Malkin's high-sticking call with 2:27 left. Bryzgalov went to the bench to make it 6-on-4, and Wayne Simmonds' redirection slid along the goal line from right to left. That good feeling was negated on a very questionable tripping penalty to Giroux as 62 seconds showed, mere minutes after the closest of all close calls at the blue line prevented the captain from being sprung on a clean breakaway.

"It was a tough call. The referees did a good job out there for the most part," offered Laviolette.

Bryz was pulled once more as the Flyers went up ice, but to no avail as Kunitz iced it on an empty-netter with 14 seconds to go.

There's not much time to focus on what went wrong, as another national broadcast looms on Sunday afternoon, this one a 12:30 start, in Buffalo.

"If you don't take the points, you might find yourself in the bottom of the standings," the Flyers' starter offered about the quick turnaround.

Although the Flyers had the distinct advantage of a vocal home crowd urging them on, the Penguins got the first break of the game, when Braydon Coburn went off for interference against Sidney Crosby less than three minutes in. They got the second break during the advantage, when a passing deflection by Kennedy of a Martin point shot sailed home at 4:40. Further reviews indicated that the disc may have found the stick of Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn instead.

It was 2-0 for the visitors when Neal pumped one home from the left circle after Malkin won a draw with 7:20 played, and a crowd which was eerily quiet during a Flyers power-play in between the scores turned deathly silent.

It ranged from worried to critical to downright ugly during three power-play chances which only produced scoring opportunities on the latter.

Giroux provided a badly-needed wake-up call when he rolled up the right-wing side and slid a cross-ice feed by Scott Hartnell just under Fleury's pad at the right post just 23 seconds into the second period. It was a timing play which left the captain nearly offsides as he burst through the zone, and allowed for a bit of luck as Kunitz attempted to kick the puck away before it reached Giroux, but missed.

"'G' was fantastic out there," Laviolette offered about Giroux's first action as the designated leader.

His teammates began to pick up the pace and buzzed Fleury throughout the stanza, coming within a couple timely crease clears from knotting the score. Despite an 11-8 shot advantage, it was still a one-goal margin for the visitors after 40 minutes of play.

Notes: Saturday's game marked the seventh time the Flyers opened up an NHL season against the Penguins, and fell to 3-3-1 in those contests...Philly also dropped to 9-5-3 in openers at the Wells Fargo Center and 26-13-6 all-time in season-opening games...Jakub Voracek led the hosts with six shots on goal, and Zac Rinaldo was tops in total hits with seven in just 8:54 of ice time...Matt Cooke paced the Penguins with seven hits and Neal led the victors with seven shots on net...Philly failed on five power-play chances and 9:25 of man-advantage time...Pittsburgh scored twice in three opportunities...The Flyers also began the lockout-shortened 1995 campaign with a 3-1 loss on home ice, but to the Quebec Nordiques at the Spectrum on January 20 of that year...The Orange and Black welcomed back Ruslan Fedotenko after a 664-game absence, second-longest in franchise history behind Vinny Prospal, who went 715 games between stints from 1998 to 2008.

No comments: