After the Pittsburgh Penguins again rang the Philadelphia Flyers’ bell in Game 4, 5-0, advancing to Round 2 seems assured.
The Penguins have scored five or more goals in three of the first four games and Game 4 was the nail in the Flyers coffin. The Penguins rush game was established from start to finish, with speed in all three zones and it ramped the pace to a level the Flyers seem unable to reach, especially without center Sean Couturier.
With the exception of the first period in Game 3, the Flyers were undisciplined in their barn. The Flyer didn’t just take bad penalties, their defensemen pinched in bad situations and Flyers forwards tried to force plays. If a team makes one of those mistakes against the Penguins, the puck is buried. 30 plus minutes of those mistakes? Forget about it.
During Games 3 and 4, the Penguins overpowered the Flyers for five of six periods. The Penguins defensive positioning and gap control bottled the Flyers in the neutral zone and provided a launch pad for the Penguins rush. When the Penguins are able to be aggressive with their transition game, good luck stopping them.
The Kessel Quell
In Game 4, Penguins defensemen were outstanding. Even when the Flyers gained the offensive zone, Penguins defensemen remained aggressive. They managed their gaps, took the body, sealed puck carriers to the outside and forced turnovers. Phil Kessel’s first-period goal, which quelled the Flyers lone offensive push, was the result of good defensive work.
The play began with a good play by Chad Ruhwedel, who took the inside position and Evgeni Malkin defended the slot. Since Malkin took a good defensive position, Ruhwedel was able to engage the puck battle on the boards with his winger, Carl Hagelin. The two trapped Scott Laughton on the near boards.
By the way, Ruhwedel played very well.
Kessel read the play perfectly; he broke to the high slot to take away Laughton’s lone outlet, then the Penguins transition game began. Kessel intercepted Laughton’s pass to the opposite point, then quickly delivered a redirect pass to Malkin. And the Penguins were off, two on two.
To criticize the Flyers wrongdoings on the play would be unfair. The Penguins simply executed the defensive scheme well. Laughton had only two other options: To wrap it behind the net or hold up at the Pittsburgh blue line and enter the zone with better numbers than a two on four.
Success on the rush in Game 4 was a result of solid defensive efforts from the forwards as well. PHN’s Matt Gajtka wrote Game 4 was a chance for the third line of Derick Brassard, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary to pick up the pace. And they most certainly did, including this Conor Sheary breakaway chance.
Look at the picturesque positioning from Derick Brassard at the opening. He had a wide stance at the dot with his stick in the passing lane and shadowed the puck carrier. Rust’s defended the point, but his man, Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim, cheated to the middle. Rust stayed in position, so there were no passing options but to force the play.
If Game 5 is even remotely like Game 4, Philadelphia will be able to focus all of its attention on the Sixers.