Undermanned Penguins shut out by Flyers

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 3:48 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Dan Bylsma says injuries are not an excuse.

They are a reality, though.

After a 4-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center, the Penguins' most consistently public faces — Bylsma, the coach, Sidney Crosby, the captain, and Brooks Orpik, the longest-tenured player — said events that transpired on Saturday were not because of injuries.

“It's something we've been dealing with all year and we've found ways,” Crosby said. “So we have to look at that and understand that's something we've got to continue to do.

“Now is definitely not the time to make excuses. We didn't all year, and we're definitely not going to start now.”

Bylsma and Orpik echoed Crosby's defiant tone and mostly matched his words, but there was evidence that pointed to how a league-worst injury run impacted this loss.

The Flyers' first goal, scored by winger Scott Hartnell on a power play, came with defenseman Simon Despres serving a minor penalty for jabbing his stick near the face of reputable antagonist center Zac Rinaldo. The game was two minutes and 34 seconds old when Despres took what Bylsma described as an undisciplined penalty. The Penguins never gained momentum from that point.

Despres — often in Bylsma's dog house over the past two seasons, specifically because of perceived suspect decision making — is only in the NHL because of an injury to Paul Martin.

Martin is out — at least until the end of the regular season, and perhaps into Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs — with a broken right hand that required surgery. He was injured at the Winter Olympics.

His absence has forced the Penguins to play again without their two top puck-moving, minutes-eating defensemen. Kris Letang (stroke) has missed the past 13 games, and though skating on his own, is not expected to play again this season.

Bylsma conceded earlier this past week that his Penguins no longer generate offense with puck possession. Forward Craig Adams agreed and added that has proven the case all season.

Both Bylsma and Adams insisted this development has nothing to do with the injuries to Letang and Martin.

However, in 19 games with Letang and Martin in the lineup, the Penguins have posted a plus-101 shot differential. For the season they are only at plus-90.

The Penguins directed 25 of their 44 shot attempts on net against the Flyers, who sent through 40 of their 71 attempts.

Crosby and fellow former scoring champion/MVP center Evgeni Malkin finished with three combined shots on only seven attempts.

Of course, neither player could rely on his trusted marksman, as the Penguins were without left winger Chris Kunitz — fifth as of Saturday in NHL goal scoring with 31 — and James Neal, sixth overall at 1.14 points-per-game.

Crosby opened against the Flyers with Taylor Pyatt as his left winger. Pyatt came to the Penguins via waivers from the New York Rangers, who are 19th in overall scoring.

To Malkin's right was Jayson Megna, who played his 25th game.

Megna has scored four goals. Neal, in a span of two games, had that many in the final days of December.

Kunitz (lower body) is day-to-day. Neal (concussion) is out indefinitely.

Pascal Dupuis, the top-line right-wing regular with Crosby and Kunitz the past three seasons, is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee.

After this loss, the Penguins (44-18-4, 92 points) are second in the Eastern Conference, but they lead the NHL with 405 man-games lost to injury.

Some perspective: During the 2010-11 season, for which neither Crosby nor Malkin was available for about the final three months, the Penguins still managed only 348 man-games lost.

They are on pace to pass the 500 plateau, which no NHL team has done in three years.

“Everyone's in the same boat there,” Orpik said. “We've had some bad luck with injuries. That's not something you can worry about. We've plugged (holes) all year long, and the young guys have done a pretty good job of it.”

Good is not good enough for a franchise that could enter the playoffs with its two pillars, Crosby and Malkin, healthy for the first time since 2009. That year, those centers finished the postseason first and second in scoring, and the Penguins won the Cup.

That Penguins team was pretty healthy, though.

The Flyers, who they beat in Round 1 of the 2009 postseason, are again lurking as a potential opening-round opponent.

With this victory, the Flyers are 1-2-0 against the Penguins in the five-game series. They already have won at Consol Energy Center, and many of their regulars — including captain Claude Giroux and Hartnell — played a big role in the Flyers' upending of the Penguins in Round 1 of the 2012 postseason.

Giroux set up Hartnell's power-play goal that opened scoring Saturday. He finished with two assists and nine attempted shots.

Two goals from winger Matt Read, including a shorthanded one within about five minutes of Hartnell's marker, and center Vincent Lecavalier's goal were far too much for the Penguins to overcome in this loss.

Goalie Steve Mason made 11 fewer saves than Penguins counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury, who kept the score respectable until late in the second period.

Bylsma did not identify his goalie for the Sunday rematch against Philadelphia, but he also did not rule out Fleury playing.

Heck, Fleury is one of the few players that Bylsma has been able to count on being always available this season. His regular backup, Thomas Vokoun, has yet to play because of surgery to repair blood clots.

Not that the Penguins wanted to talk about injuries or anything.

“It's not any excuse,” Bylsma said. “We've had this situation before with our lineup. We have capable guys going in, guys who have done well for us before. We have to find ways to be able to win and be effective in those roles regardless of who's going in there.

“We weren't able to do that (Saturday).”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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