Sunday, March 16, 2014

Simmonds, Mason star as Flyers sweep home-and-home from Penguins

Pittsburgh, PA --  The  Penguins  may  be  missing  four regulars,  but  they're still  leading the Metropolitan  Division by a healthy margin.

Nonetheless,  Philadelphia nipped  Pittsburgh by  a  4-3 margin  to sweep  the home-and-home  set  which  concluded  on Sunday  afternoon  at  CONSOL  Energy Center.

Wayne  Simmonds pumped  home a pair of first-period power-play goals and added an assist for the Flyers, who chased Marc-Andre Fleury with three goals in the game's first 14 minutes.

Brayden  Schenn tallied  at  even  strength, Matt  Read  added a  short-handed marker and Claude Giroux contributed a pair of assists in his 400th NHL game. Steve Mason came up with 20 saves to earn his 28th win of the season.

"We did a lot of good things this weekend. Today we did a better job of playing 60 minutes although we had a couple of mistakes," Giroux said."We can't be satisfied with where we are right now. The teams we're playing are the best in the league so we have to be ready to go."

Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Jayson Megna scored for the Penguins, who were outscored  by an  8-3 count over the weekend thanks to missing defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, along with forwards Chris Kunitz and James Neal.

Jeff  Zatkoff  took the  loss, after  allowing Read's goal  on 20 shots faced. Fleury had surrendered three scores on 15 shots before departing.

“It's not ideal (to come in cold), but that's my job,” Zatkoff admitted. “Come in and try to settle things down. I thought the team responded and played really well after that.”

Sidney  Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both held without a single point in both contests, which included Saturday's 4-0 road setback. The Pens also finished 0-for-9 on the power play, but came out with a negative-two goal differential after giving up two short-handed scores.

"We'll keep working. We'll keep trying to do the right things," Niskanen said. "Focus on details and our work ethic and keep plugging away here."

Mason  did  his part to  keep his club  in front by a  goal. He made two quick saves  on  Megna while seated  with almost 4 1/2  minutes played in the third, then  flashed his  right pad to stun  a Malkin right-wing blast with just over eight minutes gone.

Zatkoff   came  to  the  bench  for  an  extra  skater  as  1:24  remained  in regulation, and a twist of fate kept the Penguins in the contest.

Read  was  on the  forecheck and  stripped Crosby inside  the hosts' zone, but fired  high and wide to the empty net, and Crosby came flying up the left wing in transition but Mason was equal to the shot.

Crosby  was given one last try to the net in the final seconds after the near-side  official  failed to  catch Malkin  offside, but  the host captain's poke from a cross-ice dish hit the right post.

"That's all I gave him," Mason quipped of Crosby's last chance. "The post is part of my equipment."

Schenn  opened the  scoring  just  after the  two-minute  mark  of the  first, following  up  a Simmonds miss  and sliding the puck  between the legs of Pens defenseman Rob Bortuzzo and over the line from atop the crease.

Simmonds  doubled Philly's  edge by  deflecting  a Kimmo  Timonen point  drive between  Fleury's pads  at 6:47, and though  the visitors failed to click on a subsequent power play, they capitalized on the next one.

Simmonds  was allowed  to follow up his  own rebound from the left side of the crease just before the midway point of a Taylor Pyatt high-sticking minor, and it was 3-0 at 13:41.

Zatkoff was summoned from the bench, and the hosts finally responded with 2:27 left  in  the period as Jussi  Jokinen's screen allowed a bouncing Orpik point drive to sail home.

Niskanen  powered a shot  through Mason from the right point and the Pens were back  to  3-2 at 5:50  of the  second. That momentum  was reversed on the next Pittsburgh power play, as Read ripped one by Zatkoff from the left wing to cap a 2-on-1 for a 4-2 game at 12:11.

The  hosts were  unfazed, and Brian Gibbons  fed Megna in front with 3:41 left and it was a one-goal contest once more.

"You gotta be prepared to do what you need to do on any given shift no matter who you play with," Megna said of the line changing due to injuries and call ups.

Notes: The  Flyers  recorded  their  first home-and-home  series  sweep  against  the Penguins  since Jan. 21-23, 2006 (2-1, 4-2) ... Philadelphia improved to 8-2-0 during  the  regular season in the  Pens' new arena ... Pittsburgh has dropped three  of  four this  season against  their cross-state  rivals, with one more
meeting  scheduled for  April 12 in the Steel City ... Referee Mike Hasenfratz left the game in the second intermission and did not return due to concussion-like symptoms ... Simmonds leads Philly with 12 power-play goals, and recorded his  second contest this year with a pair on the advantage (12/28 in Edmonton) ... Read has scored four of the Flyers' eight short-handed goals in 2013-14.
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