PHILADELPHIA — The energy in the building was intense. The chants and the vociferous passion from the Philadelphia Flyers fans began in warmups. It continued until the Penguins power play lit the lamp twice within four minutes in the second period. The Flyers faithful realized the same thing the Penguins already knew.
The Penguins were in control.
Behind special performances by Matt Murray and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins regained the lead in the series with a 5-1 win. Again, special teams and goaltending were the stories.
Fans slumped in their seats, just as players also took a breath later in the second period.
The first period was a challenge for both teams to contain their energy. Fueled by the rowdy atmosphere, both sides battled sloppiness. Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz was left uncovered for a great chance one minute into the game. Just 15 seconds later, the Penguins suffered a breakdown and Flyers center Nolan Patrick treated Olli Maatta like a pylon for a short breakaway.
Both goalies made big save in the opening couple minutes. Murray continued making big saves. Flyers netminder Brian Elliott failed to do so.
Head coach Mike Sullivan shuffled the lines. Patric Hornqvist earned a permanent promotion to Crosby’s line, and it worked perfectly. Hornqvist added the grit and solid play down low, which made Crosby even more effective.
Phil Kessel flipped up to Evgeni Malkin‘s line with Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust played with Derick Brassard and Conor Sheary.
PK Strategy Change
In the biggest tactical adjustment of the game, the Penguins shifted to a diamond (1-2-1) instead of the traditional box (2-2) on the penalty kill. The Penguins’ point coverage was intentionally soft to create traffic in the slot and cut off the cross-ice pass. It worked to perfection. Shayne Gostisbehere looked off open shots because he didn’t see a lane.
The Penguins were able to use a single defenseman to guard the pair of Flyers at the front of the net because there was not a clear path for Claude Giroux to get the puck to the net, where Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds were left to wait.
The Penguins power play didn’t look sharp until they cracked the Flyers wall. The Penguins had just one shot on their first chance and the second one didn’t start well, either. But … more on that below:
Penguins Power Play: B+
Score three goals and a unit should get an ‘A.’ However, the Penguins power play engaged in a battle of wills (or wits?) with the Flyers PK.
The Flyers PK continued their aggressive blueline stand and stuffed the Penguins on the first power play. The Penguins second power play began the same way until Kessel attacked them with speed and was able to stickhandle around them to the right-wing wall.
Once the Penguins were able to establish their setup, the power play clicked like a Swiss watch. However, they wasted precious time trying to get set up.
Battle of wits? Never mess with a Sicilian when death is on the line! (Sorry, movie quote. If you get it, give us an RT)
Matt Murray: A++
Murray was every bit as impenetrable as he was in consecutive shutouts to end last year’s Stanley Cup quest. When the building was rocking, and the Penguins were shaking, Murray was ruthlessly steady.
His glove save on Patrick’s breakaway, his poke check on Travis Konecny and his otherwise tight butterfly kept the puck out of the net. Elliott swung Game 2. Murray swung Game 3.
It was a brilliant performance.
Sidney Crosby: A
If you watched the game, little explanation is needed. If you didn’t watch the game, little explanation is possible.
Crosby lost the advanced statistics battle with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, but it was Crosby’s line which applied offensive pressure and worked the puck low. Hornqvist is having a stellar series and he was noticeably working the dirty zones in Game 3.
Crosby’s early goal was clutch. His three assists were vital.
Penguins Defense: B
The Penguins defenders were under siege. Perhaps on a second viewing, more gaffes would come to light. Otherwise, the crew held on.
Kris Letang was shaky in the early portion, but settled down when he simplified his game and played more conservatively. Letang played 25 minutes and didn’t yield a goal. That’s an acceptable result.
Chad Ruhwedel was also steady after the opening few minutes. Ruhwedel has earned a sweater more than receiving one by default.
Jamie Oleksiak played only 9:42. PHN will dig more into that situation.
Zach Aston-Reese: C-
After his sharpest game, he turned in a rookie performance in Game 3. Grade on the curve but Aston-Reese was turned around.
He picked the worst time to play his worst game. Carter Rowney is almost ready to return. Mike Sullivan told reporters before the game, Aston-Reese had “made an impression” on them. Aston-Reese even earned third line minutes in Game 2.
However, he probably gave back that goodwill. Will be interesting to see who gets the sweater in Game 4.