Flyers complete weekend sweep of Penguins with another win at Consol
The Penguins explained that Sunday's loss to the Flyers was an execution problem and that Saturday's was an effort problem.
Maybe the Flyers are the problem.
Philadelphia ambushed the Penguins in the first period Sunday at Consol Energy Center and held on for a 4-3 victory that pushed the Flyers' record at the Penguins' new building to 10-2-1.
The Penguins maintain a 15-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, but they probably won't feel so relaxed if the Flyers are their opponent in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Such a scenario remains possible.
“They're good,” right wing Craig Adams said. “And we need to find a way to be better against them.”
The Penguins played among their worst periods during Sunday's opening 20 minutes, a carryover from Saturday's shutout loss.
A similar formula paid off for the Flyers.
Forwards Scott Hartnell and Zac Rinaldo baited center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo into taking retaliatory penalties. Wayne Simmonds scored twice on the power play to help give Philadelphia an early 3-0 lead.
“They're just so talented,” Penguins forward Joe Vitale said. “But we'll figure it out.”
There was no shortage of troubling occurrences for the Penguins on Sunday:
• They allowed a short-handed goal for a second straight game.
• They were badly outplayed in front of Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period, which prompted coach Dan Bylsma to replace Fleury with backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff.
• Malkin and Sidney Crosby were held without a point for a second straight game.
• Crosby twice left the ice during power plays earlier than the others on the top unit, a rare occurrence for him.
“This is going to be a great experience for us,” Vitale said.
With high-profile-players — James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Beau Bennett — out of the lineup, adversity for the Penguins has arrived with a vengeance. Sunday's game had some players saying adversity before the postseason can be positive.
“Our last two Marches have been too easy,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Yeah, we were winning, but we weren't playing our best. We were making a lot of mistakes. So if we handle this, it's going to be good for us. Something like we're going through right now makes you have to work. I don't know if you can say that about our last two Marches.”
The Penguins carried play in the final two periods, particularly in five-on-five situations. Crosby was denied by Flyers goalie Steve Mason on a rush with 30 seconds left and struck the post on a deflection with 1 second left.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton callups Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons helped the Penguins control play in the second and third periods.
“Today was better,” Niskanen said. “We weren't prepared on Saturday. That game got away from us. Today we had some mistakes, and it cost us. But we didn't fall part. We battled back. Losing stinks. But it was good that we didn't fall apart. To not blow up like we have in the past is a good thing.”
Another loss to their biggest rival, in fact, seemed to motivate the Penguins.
“We've missed guys throughout the year,” Crosby said. “And we always found a way.”