PHILADELPHIA – When Sidney Crosby and the Penguins hit town looking for their 10th straight win, you better have your A-game ready.
It’s up for debate whether the Flyers had their A-game spirit on Thursday night but they didn’t have a lot of their A-game players due to COVID and injuries.
The result was predictable: Penguins 6, Flyers 2. Pittsburgh now has won 10 consecutive games while the Flyers dropped their fourth straight (0-3-1) to put a little tarnish on their recent seven-game (5-0-2) point streak.
Due to COVID, the Flyers were without Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim, while Sean Couturier remains injured.
Subs like rookie defensemen Egor Zamula and Cam York, plus forward Connor Bunnaman (the Flyers even had fourth-liner Max Willman playing on the second line) just weren’t enough to break the Penguins’ streak. The Flyers’ record fell to 13-15-6.
Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo wasn’t buying any excuses.
In fact, he sort of called out his team, saying it might have looked at the lineup card and didn’t believe it could win this game.
Yeo also implied that better not be the Flyers’ attitude toward the rest of this season, because the first sign of “give up’’ could spell disaster.
Besides, the Flyers haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire when they do have a complete lineup. They have given up the first goal of the game 17 times in 34 games this season and won a grand total of two of those encounters.
“In all honesty, we were missing some guys,’’ Yeo acknowledged. “So how do you compensate for that? You up your compete level. You dig in harder to your team game. You have to show more resilience, heart. I thought we had an OK start and the next thing you know they score a goal and after that – whether we didn’t believe we could win – we were not good enough.’’
This form of criticism is about as harsh as it gets. Maybe it will be a wakeup call that things came a little too easy during that seven-game streak.
“We can talk about Xs and Os and everything else,’’ Yeo said. “But it’s just about how hard you fight. We can look at where we are in the season and we can just sort of accept our fate the rest of the way and say it’s just not our year. Bad luck, this and that. You can do the same thing in a game or you can fight. You can determine your own fate, regardless of what the circumstances are. You can go down swinging but I don’t think we did that tonight.’’
It didn’t take long for Pittsburgh to assert its will on the shorthanded Flyers in a three-goal first period. Of particular note, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang assisted on all three goals, two of them by Bryan Rust.
Goal number one came during a Pittsburgh power play. Letang spotted Rust open at the bottom of the left circle and goaltender Carter Hart had no chance to cover at the near post for the shot at 12:21.
Rust struck again at 14:55. With the teams skating four aside, Rust was open in the slot to convert a feed from Evan Rodrigues.
Finally, the Penguins capped the outburst at 16:16. Hart managed to get his glove on Jake Guentzel’s short shot but the goalie’s momentum carried the puck across the goal line.
Although the Flyers played better in the second period, the damage was done.
Cam Atkinson did his best to explain the current level of frustration.
“I don’t think we did a good job in front of Hart,’’ Atkinson said. “We kind of left him out to dry the entire night. We have to find a way to not only help him but help ourselves. Guys have to look in the mirror a little bit and find a way to dig deeper. Get a little more fight in our game.’’
Added Scott Laughton: “Nine or 10 guys out, six guys in protocol, it’s a tough league to win that way. It’s a tough league to chase (a game). We’ve been doing that quite a bit. It sucks right now.’’
Atkinson finally broke through for the Flyers at 8:10 of the second period. Joel Farabee teed it up for his linemate and Atkinson blasted home a shot from just outside the hash marks past Tristan Jarry for his 14th goal of the season.
In the third period, Rodriques scored at 8:50 and Guentzel notched his second at 10:30, both on break-ins. To add insult, at 11:51 Brian Boyle scored shorthanded. That was countered by Oskar Lindblom’s goal on the same power play with seven minutes to play.
“You want to come out with a good start,’’ Farabee said. “They’re a hot team right now. When you have this many guys out, it’s not easy. I think we have to come out with a little more jump. Not sit back.’’
Yeo had to scramble to put new lines together.
Derick Brassard, playing his first game since Dec. 8, skated on a line with Morgan Frost and James van Riemsdyk. Laughton centered a top line with Farabee and Atkinson. Kevin Hayes centered Bunnaman and Willman and Patrick Brown played pivot for Lindblom and Zack MacEwen.
On defense, Zamula was paired with Rasmus Ristolainen; York skated with Justin Braun and veteran Keith Yandle worked with Kevin Connauton.
The Flyers return to action on Saturday when they play host to the San Jose Sharks. . .Letang, a Flyer nemesis for the better part of a decade, now has nine goals/44 points with a plus-30 in 58 career games vs. Philly. . .Hayes received a 10-minute misconduct penalty at 11:51 of the third period.