It’s less than a three-hour drive from Buffalo to Pittsburgh but when it came to the difference between the Flyers’ play in the two cities, the span looked like light-years.
The Flyers spent the weekend denying the Sabres a single goal in identical 3-0 wins. It appeared Philadelphia had some momentum for the start of this oddball three-game roadstand in the Steel City.
But recurring sloppy puck management in the neutral zone, a blackout on the power play and an inability to keep Penguin forwards from getting quality shots on net all added up to a 5-2 loss on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The Flyers’ three-game winning streak went by the boards as Pittsburgh moved into a virtual tie for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division.
Perhaps of most importance, there are still two more games to be played in Pittsburgh and the Flyers know they need to get a few points or risk falling significantly behind the Penguins in the standings.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and his partner, Ivan Provorov, experienced particularly tough nights.
Gostisbehere, who was a minus-3, set up Pittsburgh’s first goal by turning the puck over to Kasperi Kapanen (son of former Flyer forward Sami Kapanen) for a breakaway goal at 3:39 of the second period to tie the score at 1-1.
Provorov was even worse at minus-4.
Both “Ghost’’ and Provorov calmly watched as Bryan Rust banged home a rebound in front of the Flyers’ net to make it 3-1 at 10:45.
Only a pair of goals by Joel Farabee kept the Flyers in it. The second goal was Farabee’s team-leading 10th of the season. All 10 have been scored at equal strength.
“I thought mentally we were there,’’ Farabee said. “I think the execution was a bit off all over the ice. In all three zones we had plays to make and tonight they just didn’t go for us.’’
Although the Flyers recorded a season-high 42 shots, their net play left a lot to be desired.
“I think our problem was through the neutral zone,’’ coach Alain Vigneault pointed out. “We made a couple plays through the neutral zone that cost us coming back.
“They (Penguins) played hard tonight. A couple plays we needed to be better at. We weren’t.’’
Goaltender Carter Hart was under siege for much of the final two periods. If not for a save on a Kapanen breakaway and a couple other quality chances, this one could have been a lot worse.
>First game with fans appreciated
The game was attended by about 2,800 fans, the vast majority pulling for Pittsburgh but the Flyers actually welcomed the human element and “real’’ noise.
“There was a lot more energy in the building,’’ Gostisbehere said. “It was good to have them back. Good to see them again.’’
Vigneault could feel the energy from the stands.
“It was the first time in a long time we heard actual real fan noise,’’ he said. “It was good to see them. We’re looking forward to hearing from our fans (back in Philadelphia).’’
>Why is power play still struggling?
The Flyers’ have had only two games with multiple power-play goals since Jan. 26. What’s the problem?
“We had our chances on the power play,’’ Gostisbehere said. “We had a lot of shots. There are a lot of bounces in hockey. It could have gone the other way. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way tonight.’’
Added Vigneault: “The power play could have made a difference for us tonight, there’s no doubt. We had some looks. I like the looks we’re getting, I think we’re working the right way. At the end of the day, if you do the right things, you’re going to get results.’’
The Flyers went 0-for-5 on the power play in this game.
>Couturier line continues sizzling play
Farabee received an assist from Sean Couturier on one of his goals, running Couturier’s point streak to a career-high seven games. James van Riemsdyk also chipped in. This line is one of the hottest in the NHL right now.
“ ‘Coots’ and ‘Riemer’ bring it every night,’’ Farabee said. “It’s pretty easy for me to play with them. I think we’re figuring it out where each of us are at all times. Things are clicking.
“I think we could have been a little better in the ‘D’ zone tonight. We were getting a little greedy. Myself included.’’
>New dad Konecny returns from COVID and plays well
Travis Konecny, who just became a father, returned from a three-week COVID pause and held his own. Vigneault even used him on the power play.
Konecny probably needs a little more time to get in peak condition.
“It wasn’t as bad as I expected’’ he reported. “Definitely felt a little bit out of it. I think it’s going to come back just with games.’’
He said his symptoms from COVID got his attention.
“It’s no joke,’’ he said. “It’s a serious virus. So I mean, it hits some harder than others. I got it pretty good. It’s just a matter of time of getting back into things.’’