Once again, the Penguins have sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 on Wednesday night.
Phil Kessel opened the scoring for the Penguins on their fourth power play of the first period. A strong point-to-point pass from Kris Letang to Sidney Crosby forced Ivan Provorov to defend the blue line. Evgeni Malkin received the puck on the doorstep and he found a crashing Kessel. 1-0.
Pittsburgh managed to maintain consistent zone time during all four chances with the man advantage. Two of those opportunities ended prematurely with infractions by Kessel and Justin Schultz, preventing shorthanded opportunities.
The Flyers struck back early in the second with a strong play on the forecheck by Nolan Patrick. Jakub Voracek delivered a cross-ice pass back to Patrick, finishing the play he created.
Travis Konecny gave the Flyers the lead four minutes later.
It did not take long for the Penguins to retake the lead. Jamie Oleksiak delivered a slapshot from the point that deflected under the pads of Philadelphia goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Minutes later, the Penguins took advantage of the Flyers struggles in transition. A 2-on-1 developed for Pittsburgh. Mrazek made the initial save on Crosby but Conor Sheary buried the rebound and broke his goal scoring drought.
“It feels like an eternity since I last scored my goal,” Sheary said. “I think tonight I had a couple of opportunities where the puck just stopped in the crease and I put those home.”
Sheary tallied his second of the night in the waning seconds of the middle period. 4-2 after 2.
Malkin capped the evening with an empty-net goal and finished another dominant performance over their foes from southeast Pennsylvania.
“We know how intense this rivalry is. It’s tough and everybody gets up for these games.” Crosby said.
The Penguins carry a three-game win streak to Toronto on Saturday night.
• An early injury to Bryan Rust forced the Penguins to shuffle lines. The reunion of “Sid and the Kids” was a success. Sheary played his best game in months and added two goals to his resume. Crosby notched three assists, the third of which was is 1,100th career point in his 850th career game.
Jake Guentzel also contributed on the stat sheet with a pair of helpers. Guentzel had a multitude of chances in the third to light the lamp, but couldn’t finish. Mike Sullivan called the line “dynamic.”
• Sullivan told reporters after the game that Rust is being evaluated for an upper-body injury and Dominik Simon is being evaluated for a lower-body injury.
• Derick Brassard was placed in a penalty killing role, something he has not done much of in his career. The effort was solid and the Penguins became more aggressive on the penalty kill with him on the ice. Brassard was admirable defending the point, however his clears were sometimes rushed and soft. Although it has potential, if Carter Rowney replaces Rust or Simon in the lineup, penalty killing Brassard will be on a hiatus.
• The Penguins went 1 for 4 on the power play and have struggled at times since the beginning of the month. The first unit hasn’t been sharp with passing plays and Malkin is trying to force too many plays to the slot. Pittsburgh needs to simplify the game, and utilize Schultz and Letang’s abilities.
• Philadelphia’s defensive woes were highlighted earlier on Pittsburgh Hockey Now and they continued tonight. The Penguins did not play a particularly great game but still found a way to put up five on the cross-state rival. Five of the last nine goals given up by the Flyers have come on the rush, and depth defensemen are constantly out of position in the defensive zone.
• A great month of February has turned into an awful start to March for the Flyers, 20 goals allowed in their last four games.
• Tonight Sidney Crosby played his 850th game and scored his 1,100th career point.
• Jamie Oleksiak was fantastic this evening. His positioning and puck control were spot on and helped maintain offensive zone time.
• Pittsburgh is first place in the Metropolitan Division and is 5-1 against the division’s second- and third-place teams this season (Washington and Philadelphia).