A happy return for the Penguins - Sidney Crosby is off the COVID protocol list and back in the lineup after missing one game. Mark Jankowski is also back after missing a handful with injury. Colton Sceviour and Josh Currie are bounced from the playing lineup as a result. Defense and goalie is the same as the win against the Flyers on Tuesday for the rematch.
The Pens have had several slow starts this season, but tonight would not be one of them. Pittsburgh strikes three times in the first 3:57 of the game in a stunning early hot streak.
First, it’s the suddenly red hot Kris Letang who scores his fifth goal of the season from range, possibly off a deflection from a Flyer defender.
Then Mark Friedman gets his first career NHL goal against his old team when he finds himself unmarked right in the slot and recovers a rebound and shoots it past Brian Elliott to make the score 2-0.
Friedman's first NHL goal against his former team?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 5, 2021
Yeah, we love to see that. pic.twitter.com/4jXOlSqXdG
Jared McCann caps off the fast start with an amazing but awkward goal where he stabs in a pass from Kasperi Kapanen, breaking his stick in the process while falling and then bonking his head right off the end boards at fairly high speed. Looked scary but he shook it off — it doesn’t hurt THAT much when the puck ends up in the net. 3-0.
McCann you believe this goal? pic.twitter.com/RefrcCP8ND— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 5, 2021
The Flyers take a timeout to regroup, but they don’t get much more time before Nolan Patrick dangerously boards Friedman to send the Pens to the game’s first power play. Nothing comes from it.
Philly gets their act together and settles into the game, they get two power plays and score on one of them when Sean Couturier winds up and steps into a slap shot to the top corner to make it 3-1.
Shots in the first are 11 a piece at the intermission. But the real story is the Pens’ 6-2 high danger scoring chance advantage at 5v5, and cashing in on a couple of them gives them a 3-1 lead.
Early on, Friedman goes for a hit on Patrick (perhaps to avenge the earlier boarding) and gets the worse of the collision looking visibly woozy as he leaves the game for a second and permanent time.
Going down to 5 defensemen hurts the Pens rhythm and structure as the Flyers keep chipping away. John Marino loses coverage on the front of the net and that presents a big problem. Jarry does well to stop Oskar Lindbolm from point blank but there’s nothing he can do when the rebound goes to an equally wide open Claude Giroux who scores his second goal of the second from the doorstep. 3-2 Pens.
Thankfully for the Pens, there is no more goals this period. Shots in the second are 14-11 PHI.
The Pens get a golden chance for some insurance when the Flyers take an offensive zone penalty but the power play can’t capitalize.
The Flyers tie the game after some miscommunication between Jarry and the defense. They lose possession of the puck and Giroux rips a shot that would have been going wide, if not for Scott Laughton cutting near the net. The puck bounces off Laughton’s pants and in and it’s a new game a 3-3.
And with 2:08 the Flyers complete the comeback. The puck hits Mike Matheson in front of the net and he can’t handle it and gets muscled around. Then John Marino gets out-leveraged in front of the net by Giroux who taps in the pass to make it 4-3.
And somehow, someway, the Pens lose a game in regulation after going up 3-0 early.
- A bittersweet game for Friedman. He scores his first career NHL goal (and now has two points in two games with the Pens, matching the two points in 11 career NHL games with Philly) and has looked perfectly good in his very brief start to his Pittsburgh career. Then he goes in for a hit, just gets some bad luck to come out of the collision banged up. Hopefully it’s better than it looked, because it looked like it could be a potential head injury.
- The Pens’ speed was on display in the early flurry. Kapanen and McCann as new Malkin wingers looked great and were playing like a line that knew what each other were doing. That kind of speed for a Malkin line is intriguing.
- Every game Michael Raffl seems noticeable, and usually for nefarious reasons. The player perhaps most remembered in Pittsburgh for being the dude Malkin swung his stick at after being sucker punched in the back of the head, Raffl usually seems to throw one cheapshot per game. This time it was on Kapanen in the sequence of this first goal.
- The Pens now have 9 goals from defensemen in the last seven games. A lot of that is Letang heating up, but offense is coming from active defensemen stepping up and stepping into offensive chances left and right. When Friedman is scoring from in tight this game, or Cody Ceci doing similar last game, that is when the Pens are really clicking under their system.
- Crosby set the tone coming back from his COVID isolation for a few days by getting a scoring chance 15 seconds into the game on a sneaky little forehand wraparound attempt. Right off the bat it was clear the captain hadn’t missed a beat.
- Tough night for John Marino, who was on ice for all 4 goals against, and looking pretty bad in the process for a pair of them. His pair with Matheson just doesn’t look like it’s working, Marino is picking up the slack for when Matheson makes miscues or gets into trouble in his own end, which tends to happen pretty frequently. Brian Dumoulin can’t come back quick enough to steady the top-4.
Tough one for the Pens to swallow. Up 3-0 at home, even early, should be a win. And the Pens watched it melt away as the night went on, trying to sit too early on a lead that wasn’t secure. But, all things considered, one more crack at the apple on Saturday to take two of three from the Flyers and keep it moving.