PITTSBURGH — All the Flyers needed was a little cross-state hatred.
Playing their bitter rival the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season, the Flyers bounced back from miserable back-to-back losses to the Maple Leafs and Senators by winning, 4-2, Saturday night.
Did Wayne Simmonds give the Flyers some much-needed juice and how did Anthony Stolarz perform in his first NHL win in nearly two years?
Here are my observations from PPG Paints Arena:
• The defensive pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere was a train wreck for much of the first two periods. Provorov got caught too deep in the Penguins' zone, which led to Sidney Crosby’s easy 2-on-1 goal. Provorov was a turnover machine with the puck and just had no poise in the defensive zone.
Gostisbehere wasn’t much better and his poor neutral-zone pass started the Pens' second goal. "Ghost" was caught on his heels as Riley Sheahen wheeled around him for the 2-1 goal.
For coach Dave Hakstol, I think he has no choice but to break up Gostisbehere and Provorov. They weren’t effective earlier this season, and they’re not working together that well now. In the first 35 minutes of this game, there was sloppiness among the entire Flyers' blue line as it carelessly turned the puck over.
• The Flyers needed a solid effort out of Anthony Stolarz, especially after the early goal, to help the team restore some confidence. This game could have gone off the rails early (like we saw in Buffalo and Toronto), but credit Stolarz for making some big first-period saves as the Flyers yielded some 2-on-1 chances.
With his 6-6 frame, Stolarz appears to have tailored his style by focusing on taking away the bottom portion of the net. The Pens looked as if they were trying to beat Stolarz low.
• I think the chippy play worked to the Flyers' advantage, which they desperately needed. Travis Konecny was mixing it up with Evgeni Malkin. Malkin and Dale Weise went off with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. There were a couple of exchanges in front of the benches. After a completely lifeless effort in Toronto a week ago, having that edge and competitive spirit in a rivalry game was precisely what the Flyers needed.
• Part of the Flyers overcoming the Penguins' goal on the opening shift was Simmonds' decision to drop the gloves with Jamie Oleksiak, giving up five inches and 70 pounds in the exchange. It took a lot of bravery for Simmonds to give up that much size, but he landed a few solid rights and helped spark his teammates in the process (see story).
• Any time a Flyer gets the best of Sidney Crosby, it’s worth noting. Defenseman Radko Gudas took Crosby to the ice twice on the same shift. You can bet Crosby will have an eye on who’s approaching as he retrieves pucks along the board or in the corners.
Sidney Crosby, meet Radko Gudas 👊 pic.twitter.com/CXDWb075cN— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 2, 2018
• Weise has shown impeccable timing for rare goal-scoring this season. It was Weise who tied the game late in the third period Nov. 8 against Arizona, and against the Penguins, he took a feed from Andrew MacDonald (who had three assists) and broke free racing past Kris Letang to beat Casey DeSmith five-hole for a shorthanded goal, giving the Flyers their first lead of the game.
Shorthanded? Not a problem.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 2, 2018
Weise scores the first shorthanded goal of the season to put the Flyers up 3-2 in the third! pic.twitter.com/dK7Ne0NaF3
• I thought Malkin could have himself a game with Sean Couturier locked up on Crosby, but credit the Flyers' second and third lines for taking Malkin completely out of the game. The only time I noticed him is when he went to the box along with Weise late in the first period.
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