Spying on the Saboteur: Flyers vs Penguins, Part Two

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The Philadelphia Flyers opened their 2020-2021 season with a 6-3 win versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. We preview their second matchup tonight.

Both teams played each other closely in the first two periods of Wednesday night’s season opener. The Pittsburgh Penguins mostly possessed the puck in the offensive zone through two periods, while the Philadelphia Flyers took a more opportunistic approach. Finally, in the third period, the Flyers exploded for three more goals. Alain Vigneault continues to dominate Tristan Jarry. Will Mike Sullivan make a goaltending change tonight?

In the 6-3 victory, Joel Farabee put on a clinic. Totaling four points on Wednesday, he showed how to create space to provide scoring chances. Philadelphia thrived off of Farabee’s awareness on the powerplay and during even-strength hockey. His chemistry with Erik Gustafsson was a bonus to the superb work his line continued to display. With Kevin Hayes, the Flyers’ second line could be the most dangerous on the team.

Concerning the defense, Gustafsson showed his value. Chuck Fletcher had his critics when he signed Gustafsson during the 2020 offseason. If he can replicate his performance from opening night, Philadelphia has a legitimate powerplay unit. Robert Hagg had a quiet night on the stat sheet but finished as a plus-two. These two will have to tighten the defensive front tonight, slowing down players like Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Forwards

Surprisingly, the Penguins third line accounted for 66% of their scoring on Wednesday. For the first goal, Jankowski crept in front of the crease while Justin Braun chased Jared McCann behind the net. McCann gained a step on Braun before sending a cross-slot pass, allowing Jankowski to finish. Jake Voracek moved off of Jankowski behind the net, allowing him to be unattended on the crease.

When Tanev scored, Jankowski was the recipient of a turnover by Gustafsson. After an errant pass from McCann to Cody Ceci, Gustafsson tried clearing the puck out of the neutral zone. He whiffed on the puck, which created a rush by Pittsburgh. Jankowski brought the puck into their offensive zone, finding Tanev across the ice to score on a wrist shot.

Two goals by the Penguins followed blown clears by the Flyers. Before Gustafsson, Carter Hart had a folly of his own. His clear was knocked down immediately by Sidney Crosby, who tapped the puck into an empty net. These lapses in execution allowed Pittsburgh to stay in the game for 45 minutes. If at all, the Penguins showed they do have a bottom-six that is better than advertised.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Defensemen

Overwhelming depth from Philadelphia made Pittsburgh’s defensemen seem pedestrian. If you are a Penguins defenseman on the penalty-kill, you weren’t having a good time. Defensemen contesting against the Flyers’ first and second lines would feel the same. The best defenseman from Wednesday night wearing Black and Yellow was Cody Ceci.

That claim doesn’t hold a lot of weight, however. Michael Raffl and his fourth line mates found a way to score the game-winning goal. Ceci finished with an even plus-minus rating. In a game where the opposing team scores six goals, you’ll take an even rating in that statistic.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Goaltender

After surrendering six goals, it is tough to imagine Sullivan calling upon Jarry to make a back-to-back start. If not him, who is the other option? Backing up is Casey DeSmith.

DeSmith is winless against Philadelphia or any team coached by Vigneault. Similar to Jarry, DeSmith has an issue with allowing a few goals per game. Through his career against Vigneault, or the Flyers franchise, DeSmith allowed four goals per game. We are talking about two goaltenders that Philadelphia has their number. Sullivan could be better off giving Jarry another start after giving up six goals.

Flyers’ Keys To Victory

Winning hockey in every facet of the game contributed to Wednesday’s victory. The Flyers powerplay was hitting early, the penalty-kill was nearly perfect, and just about every forward was involved in the scoring. Another collaborative effort tonight should give Philadelphia another win.

Scoring the first goal is crucial. The Flyers bounced back effectively, shutting down Pittsburgh’s highly touted top-six. That has to remain constant. As long as the first two lines remain contained, Philadelphia’s chance at victory drastically improves.

The Penguins did outshoot the Flyers on Wednesday. Before the wheels fell off for Pittsburgh in the third period, they played well enough to compete for a win. As long as Philadelphia continues to pepper Jarry or DeSmith with shots, the goals will come.

Prediction

Following an offensive explosion, a repeat performance usually doesn’t follow. The Flyers likely won’t score six goals tonight, but the momentum should carry. The Penguins will recalibrate their mistakes from Wednesday night, so I expect them to come out hot. I’m taking Philadelphia, 3-2, to sweep Pittsburgh in the first homestand at the Wells Fargo Center.

Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre

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