Flyers swept by in-state rival Penguins, 4-2

Flyers' Morgan Frost denied by Casey DeSmith
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith (1) stretches to block a shot during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A night after the Buffalo Sabres snapped the hottest run the Philadelphia Flyers had in 2022-2023, they took the show on the road to the PPG Paints Arena.

Unfortunately, the Flyers couldn’t salvage some of that energy on the road against their in-state rivals. The Pittsburgh Penguins completed the sweep, 4-2.

Philadelphia didn’t quit. They just weren’t the better team. Battling the Sabres and Penguins in a back-to-back showed the distance between the Flyers and the teams competing for an NHL postseason berth.

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

Casey DeSmith committed highway robbery on more than one occasion in this duel. The Philadelphia Flyers had scoring chances throughout. DeSmith started with a save on Wade Allison, then a save on a one-timer from Morgan Frost during a four-on-four situation. Sam Ersson also flashed a pad on Bryan Rust.

A little after the halfway point of the first period, Rickard Rakell broke through on the scoreboard. His shot sailed high over the net, deflected off the glass, bounced hard enough to hit Ersson in the back, and deflected across the goal line; 1-0. Such puck luck is heartbreaking. Then, Rakell did it again on the powerplay. Travis Sanheim served for slashing, and Evgeni Malkin earned his second assist on a slap pass to Rakell, scoring a high-quality chance from the hash marks; 2-0.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how you’re supposed to expect that one; it hit the stands like that. Shit happens, tough bounce.”

Sam Ersson; 4/2/2023

Before the end of the first period, Travis Konecny nearly cut the deficit in half, but DeSmith gloved the puck before it crossed the goal line; an example of highway robbery from DeSmith.

The Pittsburgh Penguins continued to apply pressure in the second period. Malkin had a scoring chance on an odd-man rush, but Ersson made the save. Owen Tippett tried his hand after Noah Cates won a puck battle at the crease, but DeSmith made another big save. Not long after, Kevin Hayes felt the same frustration DeSmith made Flyers forwards feel throughout the tilt. Ersson began to frustrate some Penguins forwards, starting the downward trend for Malkin.

Before Malkin completely self-destructed, Pittsburgh did extend the lead. Sidney Crosby walked Rust with speed into Ersson with a perfect lead pass. Rust finished with a backhand, 3-0.

Ersson finished the second period strong. He kept Mikael Granlund out of the goal column and prevented Rakell from earning a hat trick. Before both teams went into the second intermission, Brendan Lemieux took a quality shot on goal, but DeSmith didn’t allow a rebound.

Out of the locker room, DeSmith battled off Konecny on the crease. Philadelphia never had a shortage of shots or chances. Finally, they were able to spoil the DeSmith shutout bid. Tony DeAngelo centered the puck to Nicolas Deslauriers as he crashed the net for a scoring play, 3-1.

Preserving an opportunity to get back into the game, Ersson denied Crosby on a rush. Then, DeSmith stole more saves. Konecny nearly scored, but the iron bailed out DeSmith. Immediately after, DeSmith made a stick save on Tippett.

John Tortorella pulled Ersson with over two and a half minutes left in the third period. The plan worked as Frost and Joel Farabee cycled the puck to Konecny below the hash marks, 3-2.

Staying with the man advantage with Ersson pulled, perhaps lightning strikes twice for the Flyers? It didn’t. Ryan Poehling scored the empty-net goal to secure a victory for the Penguins, 4-2.

Penalty Kill (-)

On the road, the Philadelphia Flyers’ penalty kill ranks 30th in the NHL.

In many ways, taking penalties was one of the more frustrating aspects of the loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Scoring chances were there for the Flyers, and you have to credit the performance from DeSmith between the pipes. Bad puck luck contributed to the first goal by Rakell, but the second goal came at the fault of Philadelphia and a lack of discipline.

“The penalty kill is a sore spot for us. It stops [the] momentum. That’s the frustrating part. Our game was beginning to go. We not only take a penalty but then we get scored on, or we can’t get the puck out, and it just knocks us down as far as momentum.”

John Tortorella; 4/2/2023

Tortorella said he felt DeSmith was the difference, despite being down 3-0. Combine that with the Flyers’ penalty kill, and he’s spot-on with his assessment.

Travis Konecny (+)

He scored his second goal in as many games since his return to the Philadelphia Flyers lineup. Tortorella explained the impact Konecny has in the lineup following a better performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins:

“He gives us a whole different dynamic. He creates so much for us. There needs to be some patience in his game, too. You got to be really careful when you’re talking about a personality like him. You don’t want to knock him down too much as far as patience because you got to allow him to be himself, that’s why he’s such a good player.”

John Tortorella; 4/2/2023

Konecny had two penalties but more than a few scoring chances. His game wasn’t clean, but his impact in the lineup is undeniable. If one shot went a couple of inches more to the right, he likely scores two goals instead of pinging the post.

With another goal before the end of the season, Konecny will reach thirty in a season for the first time in his NHL career.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)