PHILADELPHIA – It might not have been your typical Battle of Pennsylvania but at least the Flyers, led by some of their youngsters like Noah Cates (two goals) and Morgan Frost, can say they put a wound in the Penguins’ playoff plans.
With the Pittsburgh boys embroiled in a heated competition for the third and final seeded position in the Metropolitan Division, the Flyers came out on Sunday and played party poopers, defeating their cross-state rivals, 4-1, at the Wells Fargo Center.
Of course, the Flyers have been out of playoff contention seemingly forever but they could take some satisfaction from inflicting some damage on the Steel City crew.
Pittsburgh entered this match clinging to the third seed but with Boston and Washington in close pursuit. The Flyers acted as spoilers and had to feel good about that.
Goaltender Martin Jones recorded the win for the Flyers. Sidney Crosby scored with 3:33 to play to spoil Jones’ shutout bid.
Interim head coach Mike Yeo confirmed the Flyers might have been a little more motivated than usual to win this game.
“I knew this was going to be a tough game,’’ Yeo said. “They’re obviously meaningful points for them. They’re a very deep team. They present a challenge all the way through their lineup and I thought we responded very well.’’
Cates has registered six goals in just 13 games, so the jump from college to pro hasn’t been a difficult transition. He’s developing a knack for deflecting point shots into the net, a la James van Riemsdyk.
“It’s hard to do but you can’t do it if you aren’t there,’’ Yeo said. “It requires some unbelievable hand-eye coordination. If you want to score goals it (in close) is a good place to be. I watched him play in high school, the Olympics. I had a good feeling he was going to be a responsible player.’’
Frost gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 15:11 of the first period when he poked in the rebound of an Owen Tippett shot past goalie Louis Domingue.
The line of Frost, Tippett and Cates generated a number of scoring chances in the first 20 minutes. And they carried that momentum through the game.
“I think we did a good job leading up to it,’’ Frost said during the first intermission. “We had about four or five whacks at it. It kind of dribbled out to me and I had a wide-open net.’’
Frost said his confidence has improved of late.
“Better,’’ he said. “I’ve kind of been struggling in that department this year. It’s nice to contribute and hopefully I can keep building on it.’’
Frost also played a role in the Flyers’ second goal at 6:49 of the middle period. The center lunged to get a puck back to Keith Yandle at the point. His blast was tipped into the net by Cates.
Cates, who produced his second goal in the third period, seems to be fitting well with this line.
“It’s nice playing with these great players,’’ he said. “I just try to play my game and be simple. Luckily I’ve been rewarded a couple of times.’’
Added Frost about the new third line: “We’re all kind of in the same boat and we want to help each other. We all want what’s best for each other. I enjoy playing with them and hopefully we can keep moving forward.’’
Travis Konecy scored into an empty net with 2:34 to play to account for the final margin.
>JVR may earn distinction
Due to all the injuries and COVID this season, it turns out van Riemsdyk is the only Flyer who has a chance to play in all 82 games this season.
Yandle (989) and Ivan Provorov (403) both had long ironman streaks ended this season, as did Claude Giroux due to his trade to Florida last month.
“That’s pretty impressive,’’ Yeo acknowledged during his pre-game press briefing. “You look at a guy like (Kevin) Connauton (recently injured). You have so many guys out of the lineup and quite often things start to snowball at some point. So here’s a guy like Connauton who plays 13 minutes a game and now he’s playing 22. He gets worn down and that’s when guys get hurt. To be able to play in all the games (like JVR), that’s pretty impressive.’’
The Flyers return to action Monday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks. Goaltender Felix Sandstrom is expected to make that start for the Flyers.