Matt Cooke scored two goals and assisted on another and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 of 31 shots, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins in what turned out to be yet another Saturday afternoon matinee nightmare at the Wells Fargo Center for the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-4. Pittsburgh moved into a tie for fourth place with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, as the two each now have 71 points in an identical 58 games played.
In what is becoming commonplace, just about every Flyer mistake ended up in their own net, and they did not get the goaltending required to compete in a playoff-type game.
The Penguins opened the scoring early in the contest, taking full advantage of defenseman Andrej Meszaros falling down at center ice that led to an odd-man rush for Pittsburgh. Cooke broke in on the left side and Philadelphia starter Ilya Bryzgalov with a wrister for his 10th of the season at 3:17.
The Flyers were able to strike back late in the opening frame, when a former-Penguin hit twice from basically the same area. Jaromir Jagr beat Fleury with two shots from the right side within an 18 second-span. The first came at even strength on the rush, when he pulled up and appeared ready to pass, but instead fired a wrist shot that beat the Pens' goaltender top shelf. The second came on a power play from a tighter angle, when it looked as though the winger didn't have much to shoot at.
It was a positive for Jagr and the Flyers, as the right wing had scored just one goal in his last 16 games.
Perhaps the biggest point in the game came late in the second period with Philly leading, 2-1, in a series of Pittsburgh penalties and Flyers' turnovers that squarely turned the momentum of the game around in the visitor's favor.
Just 16 seconds after Pascal Dupuis was sent to the penalty box for tripping Danny Briere, the Pens intercepted an errant pass by Claude Giroux and Jordan Staal sent a shot that fluttered past Bryzgalov for a shorthanded goal.
"We had a five on three, a good chance to score a goal, and then, I don't know," pondered Giroux after the game. "Personally, I did some bad passes and, I mean, five-on-three should be automatic and in the net, so we know we have to be better."
Brooks Orpik was whistled for hooking Giroux 17 seconds later, giving the Flyers a two-man advantage. But it was the Penguins who would strike, as Cooke outskated a tired Kimmo Timonen after the puck hopped over the defender's stick at the point, and flipped the puck past Bryzgalov on a partial breakaway with just one second remaining on the two-man power play.
"The puck took a fortunate bounce," said Cooke. "The five-on-three, they only had one guy back and (Timonen) had been out there for a while. I figured I could try it and fortunately it went in because I was pretty tired at the end of it."
"The key play, I think we still had a lead 2-1 and we had a power play, and the same power play they scored two short-handed goals and it changed the momentum," said Jagr. "That's tough. Should have a lead 3-1 at least."
Head coach Peter Laviolette pulled his netminder and replaced him with Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Flyers were able to knot the game on a fluke goal late in the middle frame. Rookie Eric Wellwood was forechecking tightly on Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland, and the defenseman lost an edge and the puck as he skated in front of his own goal. Wellwood alertly poked the puck past Fleury with 1:19 left in the middle frame, sending the teams to the locker tied at 3-3 at the second intermission.
"Not at all, it happened so quickly that I didn't know it went in until I started to curl back to get back on the forecheck," said Wellwood when asked if he thought his shot had crossed the goal line.
The home team would have seemed to have the momentum back after picking up the late goal in the second, but it did not work out that way. After Bobrovsky had the opportunity to cover the puck but instead fumbled it away, Timonen whipped a backhanded pass out of the corner that banked off of the Flyers' goaltender and into the slot area. Bobrovsky was able to stop Cooke's shot, but Dustin Jeffrey picked up the loose rebound and deposited it into the net to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead just 37 seconds into the third period.
"I wasn't happy with the first shift, it seemed like we were - they come hard with the two-man forecheck and we turned the puck over a couple times," said Laviolette. "We had a chance to slow it down and eat it, we didn't, and spit it back out."
With Philadelphia still reeling after the turn in fortunes, things got even worse. Pascal Dupuis sent a shot from an impossible angle behind the goal line to Bobrovsky's right that banked off of the netminder's pad and into the cage at the 2:09 mark to give the Pens a two-goal lead at 5-3.
Pittsburgh's leading goal-scorer, James Neal, put the game away midway through the stanza. After Marc-Andre Bourdon pinched in at the right point, the defenseman missed the puck and led to an odd-man Penguins' rush. Bobrovsky made the initial stop on Neal, but the All-Star winger was able to hit the top shelf on his own rebound for his 30th goal of the season and a seemingly insurmountable 6-3 lead with just 10:58 left in regulation.
Wayne Simmonds would close out the scoring. taking a James van Riemsdyk pass in front of Fleury and beating him for his 21st goal of the year with 19 ticks remaining on the clock to set the final score. The 23-year-old Simmonds now has eight goals in the nine February Flyers' contests, and trails Giroux by a single tally for second in team goal-scoring.
It was another on the down side in a line of inconsistent starts for Bryzgalov, who takes issue that many Philly fans are blaming him for the team's up-and-down performances.
"You know, I think it's an easy life when you can blame one guy," he said after the game. "'it's a bad goalie, it's the goalie's mistake.' It's easy to find a scapegoat. You point to one guy and say we're always losing because we have a bad goalie, but I think it's the wrong philosophy. I know I was frustrated in my game today and I know I have to be better and I will continue to work on this, but...I will try to find peace in my soul to play in this city."
The goaltending position through the years has shown a propensity for having some colorful characters, and Bryz is one of the best examples in recent times.
"I think it's the right philosophy," he said of his search for peace. "It's nice to hear from your teammates that they have faith and you have their support. But, like I said before, it's easy when you can point to one guy and say ‘we lose because of the goalie' or someone else. Yeah, it's a team game and everybody is on the ice."
It was van Riemsdyk's first game back after missing the past 15 due to a concussion, and he was just glad to be back.
"It was good to get back out there," he said. "You don't forget how fun it is but you miss it a lot. Although it wasn't the result we wanted it was fun to be out there with the guys again hopefully I can build off this."
When it came to the question of trade rumors:
"You know, it's funny when people question your character who've never even met you before," van Riemsdyk said. "One thing I pride myself on is being a hard-working guy who has high character and when people say that about you, you can only really just laugh about it and just let it roll off you because I know what I'm all about and that's not one of the things I'm about. I'm not selfish. If that (a trade) has to happen, whatever, it's part of the game. I'm just focused on what's going on now and that's helping the Flyers win games."
On the subject of the Flyers' goaltenders struggles:
"You know what, I think those guys need to kind of keep quiet up there. I know they pay their money to see the team, but you win as a team and you lose as a team. You can't ever pinpoint it on one guy and we know those guys are working hard back there so we're going to have to support them a little bit better and figure it out. It's not just one guy, it's all twenty of us that have to turn this thing around."
Taking a Flyer: Wellwood became the eighth Flyers rookie to score a goal this season.....The Flyers continued a horrible trend, as they dropped to 4-10-1 in afternoon games this season, and they have allowed five or more goals in seven of those games.....newly-acquired defenseman Nicklas Grossman recorded eight hits and three blocked shots in his Flyers debut. He now has 103 blocked shots on the season, which is a new career high for him.....Today was the seventh time the Flyers have allowed six or more goals in a game, and the fifth time doing so on home ice.....With Evgeni Malkin and Giroux each picking up an assist today, Malkin stays two points ahead of Giroux in the NHL scoring race (70-68). Giroux did manage to tie Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks for the most assists in the League with 46.....The club's goaltending woes continued, as Bryzgalov stopped just 10 of the 13 shots he faced, and Bobrovsky made 14 saves on 17 Pittsburgh shots.