On a day where the Flyers organization revealed a statue of Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero, the Orange-and-Black turned in a performance worthy of ‘The Fog’. In the first game of a back-to-back stretch against their in-state rivals, the Penguins, Philadelphia turned in their most impressive 60-minute showing of the season throttling Pittsburgh 4-0. At the unveiling of the statue, Penguins GM and son of the only Flyers coach to ever win a Stanley Cup reminisced about Philadelphia’s famed win over the Russians in 1976. Notorious Flyers owner Ed Snider made sure to get a jab in at the architect of his sworn rival.
In speech for his dad, Pgh. GM Ray Shero talled about old #Flyers “beating crap out of the Russians.” “And the Penguins,” Ed Snider cracked.
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) March 15, 2014
Snider’s team backed their owners words, dominating a short-handed Pittsburgh team from the opening seconds of the contest. Feisty fourth line forward Zac Rinaldo drew a penalty after the whistle a little over two minutes into the game, giving the Flyers a power play and a chance to jump out to an early lead. Philadelphia made quick work of the man advantage, as Scott Hartnell took a Claude Giroux pass and rocketed it over Marc-Andre Fleury‘s shoulder, giving the Flyers a 1-0 advantage.
A major factor in the game was going to be how Philadelphia would manage against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play unit. Despite their injuries throughout the lineup, the Penguins top power play unit still included Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. After 60 minutes of play, one could argue that the suffocating play by the Flyers penalty kill was the most impressive aspect of their victory.
After killing off the Penguins first man advantage, Andrew MacDonald took an unnecessary cross check that looked to be the type of penalty that might stir the talented Penguins into the contest. Instead, Philadelphia struck on what was supposed to be an opportunity for their opponents. Sean Couturier chased down Jussi Jokinen behind the net, stole the puck, and fed Matt Read for a one-timer upstairs to increase the lead to 2-0. Read’s 17th, a shorthanded goal, maintained the playoff-level intensity at the Wells Fargo Center.
As impressive as the early scoring in the 1st period was for the Flyers, their crisp play throughout the first half of the 2nd period stifled a lagging Penguins team. Given their huge lead in the division race, Pittsburgh seemed to lose the wind from their sails after being unable to crack the Flyers defense throughout the first portion of the contest. Two more successful penalty kills by the Flyers in the first 12 minutes of the second frame allowed them to maintain their 2-0 lead and build momentum on the other end. After several sustained waves of pressure were turned aside by Fleury, who had his good moments and bad, the Flyers broke through yet again. Luke Schenn rocketed a perfect stretch pass up the seam to a streaking Vincent LeCavalier. LeCavalier held off a defender, who was called for a penalty, and lifted a backhander to the top shelf to balloon the lead to 3-0.
In the final minutes of the period, a time where a Penguins goal could give the Flyers cold feet (something that has happened at times this season) Philadelphia remained the aggressor and essentially put the game away in the closing seconds. A picturesque passing play between Claude Giroux and Couturier ended up with Matt Read knocking in a layup for his second goal of the game and the rout was officially on.
With the lead at 4-0, the only thing that really remained in the balance was whether the Flyers could help Steve Mason collect his fourth shutout of the season. Sure enough, the Flyers played a nip & tuck third period with very little resistance being provided by the Penguins. Neither team would score any further, and the Flyers would complete their first regular season shutout against the Penguins since 2008 (H/T @sBaickerCSN).
The win moved the Flyers back ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for 3rd place in the division. Philadelphia sits just one point behind the 2nd place Rangers, who have played two more games than the Flyers. With a 40-25 shots advantage, the only power play tally of the game, and holding the league’s top-scoring offense scoreless; the Flyers showed an ability to dominate against the class of the NHL. While many have shown concern over the grueling stretch the Flyers close their season with, this team seams to perform well against some of the best teams in the league.
Saturday’s effort was a complete one, with all four lines playing major factors. Giroux notched a pair of assists. Sean Couturier continued to play world-class defense against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins power play to go along with two assists for him. Kimmo Timonen had a pair of assists in addition to a strong game from the back-end. Finally, Braydon Coburn played like a number one defenseman. He drew a penalty on Crosby after negating a breakaway from the Pittsburgh captain. If the Flyers hope to make any noise in the late-season push and playoffs, Coburn’s play will dictate a great deal of their success.
The Flyers do not have much time to enjoy the win. They head to CONSOL Energy Center to play the same Penguins Sunday at 12:30. Given how tight the division race is, the Flyers have to stay focused on collecting as many points as possible. They cannot afford to rest easy on the merits of Saturday’s efforts. One can expect a ramped up Penguins team, who does not like being embarrassed the way they were in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, this Flyers win really showed that, when they remain focused, they can turn in stellar 60-minute efforts against the class of the NHL. Given the gauntlet of their remaining schedule, they now have to show they can replicate that.