Flyers beat Penguins, put damper on potential momentum
The Pittsburgh Penguins have suffered blow after blow — many of them self-inflicted — as they’ve been kicked to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings in the first two months of the season.
Saturday night’s gut shot might have been the most painful of all.
Dale Weise scored a tie-breaking short-handed goal in the first minute of the third period, leading the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-2 victory over the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
After putting together a modest five-game points streak, the Penguins have lost two in a row, waking up the echoes of a brutal stretch that saw them lose nine of 10 earlier in the season.
Making matters worse, the loss came at the hands of a Flyers team that had lost six of its previous seven, fired general manager Ron Hextall on Monday and was playing a goalie, Anthony Stolarz, with six NHL starts to his credit.
Coach Mike Sullivan, defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Casey DeSmith said the loss wasn’t a major setback to the improvements the team had made over the past two weeks, but it sure looked like one.
It looked like the kind of loss that would make a team wonder what it’s going to take to get its spiraling season back on track.
“I think we beat ourself tonight, and that’s unfortunate,” Sullivan said. “Certainly, from my standpoint, it’s discouraging because I felt like we made such great strides. We have high expectations of our group. We’re all responsible, our coaching staff included.”
On the short-handed goal, the Flyers retrieved the puck behind the net and made two quick passes, Andrew MacDonald to Scott Laughton on the half-wall and Laughton to Weise streaking through the middle of the ice, to take their first lead of the game.
It was the league-leading sixth short-handed goal the Penguins allowed this season.
“We don’t have a conscience defensively when we’re on the ice on the power play,” Sullivan said. “It’s just simply inexcusable. We’ve talked about it and talked about it and talked about it. It just can’t happen. It’s hard to win when your power play gives up a goal like that in a game like this.”
It was also the third breakaway the Penguins allowed in the game.
The first tied the score 1-1 in the first period.
MacDonald made a breakout pass from the goal line, finding Robert Hagg in the middle of the Flyers defensive zone. Hagg quickly fed Travis Konecny, who had slipped behind Letang. He took off on a breakaway up the right wing and beat DeSmith with a shot inside the far post.
“I’m a big part of those mistakes,” Letang said. “That can’t happen. They had a lot of breakaways and guys slipping behind us. A big part is my fault.”
The second Flyers breakaway came after Brian Dumoulin and Tanner Pearson misfired on a pass in the neutral zone. DeSmith made a pair of remarkable stops, turning back Jakub Voracek’s initial offering and rebound with his right pad.
“We can’t give up three breakaways and think we’re going to win games consistently,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins had two leads in the game. Riley Sheahan gave them a 2-1 edge in the second period. Sidney Crosby finished off a two-on-one with Jake Guentzel to make it 1-0 in the first minute of the game.
The Crosby-to-Guentzel connection was a flashback to the damage the pair did to the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The rest of the game didn’t remind the Penguins of playoff glory at all.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.