Tonight was the third time in an eight-game Metropolitan Division stretch that the Philadelphia Flyers (12-10-2) needed an extra frame to find a winner. They’re 2-0-1 during those overtime or shootout finishes, bringing their divisional run to a 3-3-1 record before the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-10-2) visit the Wells Fargo Center on Monday.
Nothing about the game was pretty. Adding another notch in the win column is what matters, and this victory resembles the first time the Flyers successfully came back to defeat an opponent this season. John Tortorella said his team has a ton to clean up but credited the performance:
“We win the game because we got balls. We do. We do stupid stuff; we don’t make plays sometimes, lose sight of certain momentums in the game, [there’s] a number of things we have to work on and try to get consistent at, but one thing we do have is balls.”John Tortorella; 12/2/2023
Here’s how it all happened at the PPG Paints Arena:
Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins
One of the most critical aspects of the victory for Philadelphia was their performance on special teams. Almost immediately, they were put to the test on the penalty kill. Morgan Frost served a minor for high-sticking, but stellar work by Cam York and Sam Ersson kept the Penguins out of the back of the net.
Generally speaking, York is buzzing on special teams. He had a secondary assist on a powerplay goal by Frost on Thursday versus the New Jersey Devils before his work tonight on the penalty kill.
Neither Tristan Jarry nor Ersson were under pressure in the first period. Rasmus Ristolainen flipped a puck, which landed short, to Jarry, which caused a moment of chaos, fighting for possession on the forecheck. The opening period could be best described as a ‘low event’ frame.
Scott Laughton began to stir in the second period. Similarly to York in the previous stanza, Laughton found his place on the penalty kill. Ironically, York served a minor for interference, and Laughton disrupted the Pittsburgh powerplay early. After York was free, Radim Zohorna served for roughing, and Laughton didn’t look as sharp on the powerplay. Then, Drew O’Connor served for high-sticking, but Cam Atkinson couldn’t convert a good look at Jarry.
Kris Letang broke the ice. He put a weak shot on goal that deflected off of Travis Sanheim, 1-0, with 5:29 remaining in the second period. It would be the first of a couple of lucky bounces the Penguins were blessed with, using the traffic near the crease to their advantage.
Owen Tippett broke away from the pack after Tyson Foerster created offense from defense. He intercepted a centering pass by Erik Karlsson and sent Tippett on his way to Jarry, 1-1, with 3:13 remaining in the second period. Earlier, he had his first breakaway chance on Jarry, but Jarry successfully made the save. This time, Tippett put the Flyers on the board.
Philadelphia began with a 1:16 powerplay in the third period after Bryan Rust served for roughing. Rust notched a secondary assist on his next shift when a shot by Karlsson deflected off of Jake Guentzel, 2-1, with 18:10 remaining in regulation. Rust banked a pass to Karlsson, who turned and shot, luckily banking the fortunate bounce off Guentzel.
Nicolas Deslauriers served a minor penalty for boarding. It seemed this was when the game would turn ugly, but Nick Seeler and Laughton bore down. Seeler made blocked shots, and it turned into shorthanded magic. Recovering the puck on defense, Seeler banked a pass ahead of Laughton for a short breakaway, 2-2, with 12:59 remaining in regulation. The Flyers’ penalty kill finished 5/5, including this equalizer, tying them for the NHL lead in shorthanded goals.
“Laughty [Laughton] has struggled up until the past two or three games, here. I think he just decided he’s going to make a difference in his game and try to find a way to help us, and he’s done that.”John Tortorella; 12/2/2023
Karlsson served the final penalty of regulation play, and it proved costly. Booked for interference, his absence on the ice allowed Foerster to sink a powerplay goal on Jarry, 3-2, to lead with 6:08 remaining in regulation. Foerster, who was positioned net-front on the powerplay until recently, changed roles with Sean Couturier because Tortorella felt he needed to be developed in a role that better accentuates his strengths with a man advantage. Between Tortorella and Rocky Thompson, the decision paid off. Philadelphia finished 1/4 on the powerplay.
“Tyson [Foerster] has just gone about it. He scores the shootout goal, gets a couple of tips, [and] now he scores on the powerplay. [I’m] hoping that he just keeps on going. The strength in his game was missing; the goal scoring, but he’s done everything else. That’s why he stayed in the lineup through his drought of not scoring because he’s done everything else strong; probably one of the heaviest sticks on our team, and has won more battles than probably any player in that locker room.”John Tortorella; 12/2/2023
Guentzel reappeared in the final minute of regulation, cleaning up a deflection by Rust on an initial shot by Evgeni Malkin, 3-3, with :20 remaining. Jarry was pulled, and Pittsburgh went on a six-on-five advantage. We were headed to overtime.
Foerster led Tippett to begin the scoring for the Flyers in the second period and had a chance to end the game all the same, but Malkin played very attacking, stubborn defense to prevent a shot on goal. Ersson made some long-reaching pad saves to keep the Penguins out of the win column, too. This tilt was an exciting opening to the ‘Battle of Pennsylvania’ series.
“[He’s] very confident. You can see he [Ersson] just, each start that’s come his way, it’s more like what we saw last year. I always talk about his mindset; I think he’s very confident, he’s got the right swagger. [He] started off slow, but each game that he’s played, he played better. In the past two shootouts, he looks that good.”John Tortorella; 12/2/2023
Couturier scored the lone goal in the shootout, back skating to open a wider shooting angle on Jarry before securing the game-winner in the skills competition, 4-3.
Next, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will write the second chapter of the ‘Battle of Pennsylvania’ on Monday. The puck drops at 7pm live from the Wells Fargo Center.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)