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Flyers vs. Penguins: Thursday’s first period in context

It’s been a while since the Penguins have faced such an immediate barrage of shots against.

Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins
Tristan Jarry makes a save against the Flyers on Nov. 4, 2021.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Tristan Jarry began Thursday’s contest by making 17 saves to keep the Flyers off the scoreboard— and that was just in the first period.

The collapse of the Penguins’ defensive structure can only be expected on a team riddled with injury and COVID-related absences, where newbies like P.O. Joseph (skating in his first game of the season) and Juuso Riikola (skating in his second) are getting ice time.

If there’s one thing the Sullivan-era Penguins know how to do, especially in these past two injury-riddled seasons, it’s batten down the hatches when there are gaping holes in the lineup. The infamous Mark Donk Twitter joke used to refer to the unheard-of depth players who would suddenly record career nights because they’d been bumped up to play alongside Sidney Crosby; now, it’s used to reference the new names that crop up on the scoresheet when the Penguins’ superstars are out of the lineup entirely.

In response to the Penguins’ 6-2 season-opening win over the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, which featured neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin, and in which goal scorers included Danton Heinen, Brian Boyle, Dominik Simon, Teddy Blueger and Evan Rodrigues.

Last season, the Penguins averaged 30.0 shots against per game— and although that was only good for a middling No. 15 rank in the NHL, it marked one of the best defensive results of the team’s recent years.

Like this campaign, that 2020-21 season was riddled by injury. And when the Penguins don’t have their star power on deck, their defense does their best to lock down the blue line; they can’t afford to bleed scoring chances against with limited offensive power available.

That means that the Flyers’ 17-shot first period on Nov. 4 is rare for this current iteration of the Penguins.

The last time the Penguins faced this many shots against was also during a battle with the Flyers, last May 3. Pittsburgh has only allowed 15+ first-period shots against in eight out of the past 65 contests. Here’s a look at the toughest first-period battles that the Penguins have faced through the calendar year of 2021.

Penguins’ first periods: The most brutal of 2021

Date Opponent First-period shots against First-period goals against Score
Date Opponent First-period shots against First-period goals against Score
February 16 vs. Capitals 15 0 3-1 loss
February 20 vs. Islanders 16 0 3-2 win
March 15 vs. Bruins 20 1 4-1 win
March 16 vs. Bruins 15 1 2-1 loss
March 25 vs. Sabres 15 0 4-0 win
May 3 at Flyers 20 3 7-2 loss
October 23 vs. Maple Leafs 16 1 7-1 win
November 4 vs. Flyers 17 0 3-2 win

Last season, a cluster of the above high-event first periods came in late February and early March 2021— a time in which the Penguins (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) were dealing with a sudden storm of injuries. During that stretch, the Penguins’ structure wavered as players like Evgeni Malkin, Teddy Blueger, Brian Dumoulin, Evan Rodrigues and Mark Jankowski all missed time.

It’s inevitable that the Penguins will sometimes face a barrage of early chances, especially with key players missing and COVID-19 protocols demanding new pairings and linemates each night.

In that case, the team can only say “thank you” to Tristan Jarry and come out ready to fight in the next frame.