PHILADELPHIA – Somewhere between Friday night’s encouraging 5-3 win at NHL-leading Tampa and Tuesday night’s tussle with Pittsburgh, the Flyers lost the formula.
And then some.
After grinding down the Lightning and handing them just their third regulation-time loss of the season, the Flyers did a complete about-face against the Penguins.
They gave up three goals in a stretch of two minutes and 17 seconds in the second period and that paved the way to a 5-1 loss at the Wells Fargo Center.
With a chance to dig themselves out of the Metro Division basement, it figures the Flyers would have to do it against a familiar rival in a similar position.
They just didn’t expect it to be the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion
But that was the featured attraction as the Flyers (40 points going in) and Penguins (41) squared off.
The competition lasted all of about hour.
Then the Penguins started to look like their elite selves with that second-period eruption.
Philadelphia, which started goaltender Brian Elliott for a 14th straight game, was still in it when Jordan Weal tied the score at 1-1 at 10:29 of the second.
That was fool’s gold, however.
The Penguins came roaring back, getting goals from Ryan Reaves at 11:09 (weak coverage by Shayne Gostisbehere), Conor Sheary at 11:49 (on a breakaway with Andrew MacDonald in futile pursuit) and Tom Kuhnhackel at 13:26.
For the third period, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol pulled a weary Elliott in favor of Michal Neuvirth, who hadn’t played since Nov. 28 against the San Jose Sharks.
“First period we played solid,’’ Claude Giroux commented. “We played solid, we played fast, we made some good plays. In the second and third, that wasn’t the case.’’
In addition, the Flyers’ 29th-ranked penalty kill wasn’t much help either, giving up a goal to Phil Kessel in the first period and another to Jamie Oleksiak, although by then the outcome had long been decided.
Why couldn’t the Flyers duplicate their effort against the high-powered Lightning?
“Disappointing on a night like tonight,’’ said Elliott. “You want to be at your best. I wasn’t and I don’t think anybody can say they were either.’’
Recently, the Flyers have bounced back from clunkers. They responded from a lethargic loss at Buffalo to take Columbus to a shootout, then followed up another stinker at Florida with the Tampa effort.
The Islanders hit town on Thursday and they’ve already beaten the Flyers twice (both post-regulation decisions).
Any cause for optimism?
“I mean we can’t have off nights like this,’’ Elliott said. “It didn’t seem like we had it tonight for whatever reason. But, we do have to bounce back. We have three games (including Toronto Saturday and Buffalo Sunday) before another break (the Flyers’ bye-week). We need ‘em.’’
The Flyers are just 1-1-4 against the Metro Division and while that’s a small sample, it’s still cause for concern. Every one of these Metro games is a true four-pointer and with a lot of games still to play against the Rangers, Devils, Blue Jackets and Capitals, it’s not going to get any easier.
“We know there are big points for grabs,’’ Couturier said. “Especially tonight, you’re two or three points behind them with games in hand. It’s a good chance to kind of make a statement, get back in the standings. We lost that chance but at the same there’s still a lot of hockey left.’’
Short shots: Ivan Provorov took a hard shot off his foot in the third period and briefly left the game in a great deal of discomfort. He later returned to action but apparently underwent some testing after the game.