Empty Thoughts: Flyers 4, Penguins 3

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Observations from the Penguins’ 4-3 loss to the Flyers:

You don’t need to be all that steeped in the annals of hockey to know what the Penguins and Flyers rivalry is all about. It’s pretty simple really.

The two base components of most great rivalries – history and geography – each present.

A five-ish hour drive and a lengthy record of run-ins between the two clubs that goes back decades makes this arguably the best rivalry in hockey.

So even if Mark Friedman has all of 13 NHL games on his resume, he has a firm grasp of how this dynamic works.

“Obviously, it’s the battle of Pennsylvania,” Friedman said on Wednesday, a week after the team claimed him off waivers. “It’s nice to be on this side of the rivalry as opposed to the other. A couple of guys (Tuesday) were saying, ‘No friends on the ice.’”

Friedman clearly didn’t improve any friendships he had with his former teammates in this game.

After scoring a rebound goal and offering a very pronounced celebration in front of the visiting bench, he was on the wrong end of a couple of collisions.

One hit, in which he initiated, resulted in him leaving the game with a potential head injury.

At 2:35 of the second period, Friedman tried to step up with a big hit in the neutral zone on Flyers forward Nolan Patrick, who had boarded Friedman in the first period.

As Friedman approached, Patrick braced for the hit, putting his right shoulder into Friedman’s head. Friedman fell to the ice backward and was clearly injured. Play was halted. Athletic trainer Chris Stewart attended to Friedman who needed help from teammates Jared McCann and Marcus Pettersson to leave the ice.

He retreated to the dressing room and did not return. Coach Mike Sullivan did not provide an update on his status after the game.

Before that unfortunate scene, Friedman was showing a lot to like in his short time with the Penguins.

With two points (one goal, one assist) in two games, he has shown comfort in jumping into the rush, a virtual requirement for being a Penguins defensemen. And he’s done while playing the left side as a right-handed shot.

Additionally, he has no compunction about mixing things up despite being a compact 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds.

In some ways, he’s almost like former Penguins forward/forechecker/Happy Gilmour tribute act/etc. Bobby Farnham. But with a lot more skill.

McCann had a fun way of describing what Friedman has offered the Penguins so far.

“A lot of energy,” McCann said. “He’s like a little Energizer Bunny. He’s always going. He’s always willing to stick up for his teammates. He’s been a great add for us.”

Should Friedman be sidelined for any length of time, his absence will buy the Penguins some time to solve a problem on their blue line. With Brian Dumoulin and Juuso Riikola each on the verge of coming off injured reserve, the Penguins will have a ton of defensemen on the roster, particularly left-handed ones.

Friedman, a right-hander, who was drafted in 2014 by the Flyers when current Penguins general manager Ron Hextall ran that franchise, is clearly a favorite of management and isn’t likely to be on the move any time soon.

Other defensemen who were acquired by previous general manager Jim Rutherford could find themselves wearing a different jersey in some fashion simply because there are too many bodies on the blue line and not enough roster spots. And with rules dictating who can and can’t go on the taxi squad (i.e. waivers) the Penguins might simply be forced to trade someone to avoid losing them through waivers for nothing in return.

Regardless, Friedman has shown he has a place with the Penguins in a very brief period of time.

What happened

The first score came at 2:46 of the first period. After Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen’s forecheck in the right corner of the offensive zone forced Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers into a turnover, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang claimed the puck at the right point and shuffled a quick shot towards the cage. As Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin cut across the front of the crease, goaltender Brian Elliott lost track of the puck which beat his blocker on the far side. It was Letang’s fifth goal of the season and was unassisted. Kapanen was shaken up after the play on a hit by a backchecking Patrick. He briefly retreated to the dressing room but returned to the game fairly quickly.

Friedman got in on the act only 36 seconds later. Penguins forward Sidney Crosby led a rush up the left wing with forward Bryan Rust against Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim. From the left circle, Crosby lifted a wrister which Elliott rejected with his glove. As the rebound fluttered over the crease, backchecking Flyers forward Claude Giroux. Following up on the play, Friedman beat Myers to the puck, adjusted his stick and “bunted” it off a hop through Elliott’s five hole. Assists went to Crosby and forward Jake Guentzel.

It became a 3-0 game at the 3:57 mark. Gaining the offensive zone at center point, Malkin fed a forehand pass to the right circle for Kapanen. Reading the play, Kapanen then slid a forehand pass to the left of the crease where McCann was able to tap in his fourth goal of the season despite slipping and crashing into the end boards violently. McCann took a moment to regroup but eventually made his way to the bench and remained in the game. Kapanen and Malkin had assists.

The Flyers called a timeout to stifle the Penguins’ momentum and the tactic appeared to work.

They got on the scoreboard at 11:32 of the first period with a power-play goal. Taking a pass in the left circle of the offensive zone, Flyers forward Sean Couturier was granted quite a bit of time and space to operate with by the Penguins’ penalty killers and simply whacked a slapper past a screen set by Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk that beat goaltender Tristan Jarry’s glove on the far side for his sixth goal. Forwards Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek collected assists.

A defensive breakdown by the Penguins led to Philadelphia’s goal. Controlling a puck on the left wall of the offensive zone, Flyers forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel zipped a pass to the front of the crease for unguarded forward Oskar Lindblom. With Penguins defenseman John Marino and Pettersson caught out of position, Lindblom had a forehand shot denied on an acrobatic right skate save by Jarry. On the ensuing rebound, Giroux lifted a forehand shot over a prone Jarry for his second goal. Assists went to Lindblom and Aube-Kubel.

Another miscue by the Penguins in their own zone led to another Flyers goal. Jarry left the crease to play a dump-in behind his own cage and tried to play it to Matheson in the left corner but put too much on his pass attempt. Lindblom corralled the puck in the corner, turned to his left and whipped a quick forehand pass to the slot for Giroux who lifted a wrister over a sliding block attempt by Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese. Flyers forward Scott Laughton was darting from the left of the crease and had the puck glance off his left thigh then clang off of Jarry’s blocker before finding twine for Laughton’s sixth goal. Giroux and Lindblom netted assists.

The Flyers took their first lead late at 17:52 of the third. Off the right wall of the offensive zone, Lindblom flicked a little wrister towards the cage. Matheson blocked the puck with his chest but could not get a stick on the rebound as Aube-Kubel claimed it first and dished a small pass from the right of the crease through the blue paint for Giroux who tapped in an easy goal with his forehand. Aube-Kubel and Lindblom had assists.

Statistically speaking

• The Flyers led in shots, 35-29.

• Crosby led the game with five shots.

• Couturier, Giroux and Voracek each led the Flyers with four shots.

• Letang led the game with 26:10 of ice time on 28 shifts.

• Defenseman Ivan Provorov led the Flyers with 26:54 of ice time on 31 shifts.

• Faceoffs were even, 26-26 (50 %).

• Couturier was 14 for 22 (64 %).

• Crosby was 13 for 24 (54 %).

• Provorov led the game with three blocked shots.

• None of the Penguins had more than one blocked shot.

Randomly speaking

• In a season full of unappetizing defeats, this one might have been the most inedible. The Penguins had complete control of this game against an opponent that was reeling with some fairly late lineup changes due to the covid-19 protocol (see below). This should have been one of their easiest wins of the season. Instead, they found a variety of ways to clusterbumble this one away.

• The most notable way they fouled this up was with the defense, specifically, the defensemen. Granted, Friedman’s absence scrambled the pairings a bit but that should not have been too big of an issue to overcome. Regardless, when the puck was low near the crease, a lot of them just seemed to lean over and stab at the puck while the Flyers did their damage near the crease.

For a lot of people, “play near the net” means who wins the physical battles. In this game, it was who could handle the puck near the cage. In this sense, the Flyers dominated this one.

• Matheson was particularly guilty in that regard. For all the potential he has offensively, he just looks lost at times when he doesn’t have the puck in a defensive sense.

• The Penguins’ power play hurt them quite a bit in this one a swell. Roughly a minute after the Flyers called a timeout, the Penguins had the game’s first power play and were in position to make it a four-goal game. So naturally, they failed to get a shot on net.

Granted, the Penguins played so bad they could have given up a four-goal lead, but a fourth goal in that specific situation would have been a big boost for the home team.

• The Penguins’ much-celebrated third line of Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev was very inert. Not awful by any means. But it was just … there. It was one of the least effective games that trio has offered much of the season.

• It should be noted Blueger did get three shots on net after going three games without a shot.

• Things got shuffled around as the game went on, but the Penguins opened with another look on the fourth line with Sam Lafferty, Mark Jankowski and Anthony Angello. Angello was probably the most notable of that trio as he finished with six hits.

It’s nice to be engaged physically, especially for a team under the watch of Hextall and new president of hockey operations Brian Burke. But a high volume of hits is a good indication that you don’t have the puck that much.

• Jankowski returned to the lineup after missing three games due to an undisclosed injury. It would be a stretch to say his impact was notable.

• Crosby returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game due to the NHL’s covid-19 protocol. Despite being off the ice for three days, he certainly had some jump.

• Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden also returned to the bench after being absent for Tuesday’s game for the same reason.

• The Flyers were thrown for a loop before the game when top-six forward Joel Farabee was placed in the NHL’s covid-19 protocol. That forced them to shuffle all four of their lines and kind of play with a scrambled lineup. That was obvious given how the first five minutes of the game went but they clearly showed some moxie in how they rebounded under less than ideal circumstances without one of their more potent producers.

• Fairly or unfairly, Lindblom, a cancer survivor, will always be a good story first when his name is brought up. That said, he’s a lot more than just someone who fought and won the good fight. He’s a pretty darn good hockey player as well. The Swede had three assists in this game, including two secondary assists that weren’t just awarded to him because he happened to touch the puck before the guy who recorded the primary assist did.

Lindblom could be a top-six winger on the vast majority of teams in the NHL.

• It would be a stretch to say Elliott had a great game, especially given how the contest opened, but he came up with a huge save at 10:13 of the third period when he robbed Malkin of a wrister in tight. Shortly after that, the Flyers tied the game.

• Before their “interaction” in the second period, Patrick rattled Friedman earlier in the game at 4:50 of the first period by boarding him during a puck battle in the Penguins’ offensvie zone. Friedman limped off the ice to the dressing room for a few shifts while Friedman was given a minor penalty.

• The Flyers utilized a “Peter Laviolette Timeout” following the Penguins’ third goal and that seemed to be a critical juncture in how this game unfolded.

If you recall in that bonkers 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Penguins and Flyers, the Flyers fell behind in Games 1 and 2 by a handful of goals so Laviolette, then the Flyers’ head coach, called timeouts to stymie the Penguins’ momentum. And each time, his team came back to win.

Ever since then, this author has referred to that type of stoppage as a “Peter Laviolette Timeout.”

Historically speaking

• Friedman became the 540th player to score a goal for the Penguins.

• Friedman also became the 200th player to score his first career goal as a member of the Penguins.

Publicly speaking

• Crosby was pretty ticked off about the night in general:

“I think when you have a great start like that, it’s something that’s got to fuel you to keep bringing the same game that you’re playing. Unfortunately, they pushed back and we didn’t.”

• Ditto Letang:

“We sat around. We didn’t keep pressing. We came out pretty aggressive, got rewarded. But let our foot off the gas for the rest of the game, thinking we could get away with it. But in this league, there’s too much talent and skill. A three-goal lead, especially early in the game, is not safe.”

• Sullivan seems to be confounded as to why his team has troubles stringing together good games consistently:

“If I had an answer for you, I could probably fix it. It’s frustrating from the coaches’ standpoint because I know we’re capable of more consistent play. But we haven’t found it yet. Some nights, when we play the game hard and we play committed, we play the right way and we work together, we’re a competitive hockey team. Then for whatever reason, other nights, we get away from it. And tonight was one of those nights. We had a great start. We accomplished what we set out to do there. But we’ve got to play a full 60-minute game.”

• Letang did not want to blame the power-play opportunity following the Flyers’ timeout for how this game unfolded:

“Yes, it would have been great to get a goal on that power play. It would have made it 4-0. But there was 50-some minutes that we didn’t play to the level of that we can play. The power play is the power play. Sometimes it converts, sometimes it doesn’t. But we have to make sure we create and we get momentum. I don’t think that one was a good example.”

• Flyers coach Alain Vigneault on having to shuffle his lines after Farabee was placed in the protocol:

“I’m not going to tell you what my lines were originally this morning. Came here and suddenly we find out Joel is on the covid protocol (list). There’s not one line I had drawn up last night coming to this morning that was the same. It is what it is. You adjust, adapt. It’s finding ways to win and that’s what we did tonight.”

Visually speaking

Game summary.

Event summary.

• Highlights:

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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Penguins/NHL | Sports

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