The Pittsburgh Penguins role players were the stars, Tuesday night. Ryan Reaves, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Riley Sheahan each had two points. The Penguins avoided the Metro Division basement and in the process breathed life into their season by beating the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night, 5-1.
Phil Kessel‘s power-play goal midway through the second period began a scoring frenzy. Kessel took advantage of Flyers goalie Brian Elliot’s indecision. Elliott hesitated between going down into the butterfly and staying upright. Instead, Elliott gave Kessel (17) an unmissable five-hole. 1-0.
Less than one minute later, the Flyers tied the game. After Letang won a physical battle with Flyers winger Jordan Weal in the crease, Weal drifted to the slot. Weal (4) deflected Radko Gudas‘ shot past Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry. 1-1.
The Penguins dominated the next 2:20.
Riley Sheahan, who adopted the Penguins fourth line wingers Kuhnahck and Reaves because of a second period injury to center Carter Rowney, made good use of his new linemates. Just 40 seconds after the Flyers tied the game, Sheahan drove the puck to the Flyers net.
The Flyers defense couldn’t move Reaves (2), and he picked up Sheahan’s garbage. 2-1.
Another 40 seconds later, Ian Cole won a puck battle along the wall in the Penguins zone. Cole just poked the puck towards center ice. Penguins winger Conor Sheary out-raced everyone to grab the puck for a breakaway chance. Sheary (11) neatly wristed it past Elliott, stick side. 3-1.
The Penguins waited for another 90 seconds before scoring again. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov deflected Sheahan’s centering pass for Kuhnhackl, but Kuhnahckl battled for the puck and won. Kuhnahckl quickly snapped the loose puck over Elliott’s glove hand. 4-1.
Later in the third period, Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (2) scored his first goal as a Penguin. A power-play goal. 5-1.
Oleksiak also made Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning regret asking for a fight, early in the third period. The 6′-7″ Oleksiak landed a few right hands before linesman ended the festivities.
In addition to multi-point nights from Sheahan, Reaves, and Kuhnhackl, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel also had two points.
It was also a significant two points for the Penguins, to reverse an otherwise bleak stretch in which they lost three of the last four games.
–-Riley Sheahan. Sheahan was active in the second period. After the Penguins shuffled the lines to account for the injury to Rowney–the fourth line wingers effectively became part-time third line wingers with Sheahan. The new linemates clicked.
Necessity is the mother of invention. I’ve said Sheahan is a fourth line type center, Tuesday night he proved it well. He added an offensive spark. Perhaps the Penguins found something.
–If Jake Guentzel isn’t scoring–what does he bring? He doesn’t bring Sheary’s speed or tenacity. And Sprong may soon provide the snipe. Guentzel is one of the players the Penguins desperately need to begin playing better.
–I addressed Sidney Crosby‘s struggles on the podcast. Listen here (spoiler: part mental, part linemate roles. See above)
–Perhaps a few games off helped Kris Letang. He was downright mean in front of his net.
–That’s how it’s supposed to work. Crosby neutralized Couturier and Giroux. Or did they neutralize Crosby? And the Penguins role players chipped in.
So few times this season have the Penguins received enough contribution from the role players. A goal led to two. Then three goals. The Flyers lost their footing as the Penguins surged.
Puck battles. Forecheck. Puck Pressure. The bottom-6 chipped and chased. Then they hit the Flyers defensemen. Statistically, it was not a great game, but the Penguins finally showed layers to their game which had gone dormant; critical and core layers.
–It was just one game, but another effort like that will beget a healthy run.