When the Pittsburgh Penguins arrived in Philadelphia, they were the ones flying high on a 12-game win streak. Captain Sidney Crosby realized what was at stake, but assured Sam Kasan of the official Pens website that the team would be taking a practical approach – well, as practical as the long-standing rivalry between the two Pennsylvania cities would allow.
“You’ve got to find a way to win every game. I think that every game against Philadelphia is always intense, and I think there’s always a little something extra, especially with where the two teams are right now. If it was possible to add anything to it, it would be now. So certainly, I think both teams have it out for one another and if you said that we marked this on the calendar, obviously it’s the case for them as well,” he said.
If anyone would be able to knock the Penguins out of the air, it would be the Flyers. Although the “Broad Street Bullies” are widely known for their tough, physical style of play and habitual fighting, they are even more of a threat when they keep their gloves on. Now with a record of 20-7-5, they are sitting in the number one spot for the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference, and the league overall, having knocked the Pens down to second place in their 3-2 victory.
Evgeni Malkin, who sat out the last four games due to a knee injury, returned tonight and played on Crosby’s wing in the absence of Chris Kunitz.
“It was a little tough to come back,” he told the press in the locker room. “The team won twelve games before and I was a little nervous before the game. I’ll try to play better and help my team.”
Although he feels down about his performance, Malkin looked great on the ice, scoring two power play goals.
What cost the Penguins this game is clear. Out of the 12 penalties handed out, they took seven. While their penalty kill is strong, it could not withstand the constant offensive pressure applied by the Flyers, and Scott Hartnell scored the game-winning goal on a power play. Penalties do not have to change the score to have a negative affect on a team.
“We spent a lot of energy killing penalties against dangerous guys; also it took our team away from trying to get to the offensive zone and mount any kind of pressure and any kind of shot traffic at the goaltender, so it took away from us in the third period,” Head Coach Dan Bylsma told reporters after the game.
The Flyers played a smart game and kept their defense tight, thwarting any decent scoring chances the Pens managed to generate.
For the Pens’ fans, root canal might be preferable to watching a win streak end at the hands of bitter rivals. Even worse is the fact that they didn’t pummel their way to the win as many might have expected. They simply played a better game.
“In the first period in particular, Philadelphia dictated the pace and the play, especially the first ten, twelve minutes of the game,” Bylsma said.
They held onto that control by applying pressure at both ends and maintaining a physical presence without going overboard. Frequent penalties against Pittsburgh allowed them to develop an unstoppable momentum.
The team might have taken this loss a little harder than others, but Crosby insists that it’s no worse than any other.
“You never like losing. Just because we won twelve doesn’t change the feeling and it never will. You go out there and work hard. You have an objective in mind, to win the game. When you don’t it’s not a good feeling,” he said.
The Penguins, however, will be ready for action again tomorrow when they take on the New York Rangers. Tomorrow night also marks the debut of “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic” at 10 p.m. on HBO.