Pens Ruin Flyers’ Opener, Beat Philly 3-1

Image courtesy of Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers had a strong final 40 minutes, but unfortunately the first 20 cost them, as they lost their first game of the 2013 season 3-1 to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. James Neal had what turned out to be the game-winner just 7:20 into the contest, while Marc-Andre Fleury kept 27 of the 28 shots the Flyers threw at him out of the net. Claude Giroux had the lone goal for the hosts, as Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 24 of the Penguins’ 26 shots in a game they didn’t necessarily lose, but just ran out of time.

“After the first 13, 14 minutes, we seemed to play more of a style we’re looking for,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after the loss. “We had a lot of shots, opportunities, but didn’t capitalize on them.”

The Flyers came out as flat as they possibly could, as the Pens hustled all over the offensive zone to work their way to a 2-0 lead after the first period. While Philly struggled to get the puck out of their own end and lost several battles along the boards, the Penguins racked up 11 shots on Bryzgalov while the Flyers only put six on Fleury.

In addition to their slow start, the Flyers, at times, seemed more eager to pass the puck rather than test Fleury, who struggled in the 2012 playoffs. With five power plays in the game, Philly had 11 shots on the man advantage. That may sound like a decent amount, but when one considers the quality of those shots, as well as how many times a quality shot was turned down for a cross-ice or failed pass, the team really shot themselves in the foot. It’s also a sign the team was focused on passing rather than shooting when they controlled the puck for the majority of the game, but had the same number of shots at the Pens with 27.

“The power play wasn’t bad, we were moving the puck well, but at the end of the day you have to find a way to put it in and we had a lot of chances,” Giroux said. “Obviously, we are going to work on it. Last two periods we were good, so we have to make sure we keep playing good.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, a pair of plays off faceoffs put the squad down by two early. The first came off a faceoff to Bryzgalov’s right, where Brandon Sutter won it back to Matt Niskanen, who moved it across the blue line to Paul Martin. The former New Jersey Devil threw a shot on net that was redirected by Tyler Kennedy. The deflection caused the puck to change path for a second time after it hit Luke Schenn in the slot, which caused the puck to go near post while Bryzgalov slid far post. The tally put the Pens up 1-0 4:40 into the affair.

Less than three minutes later, Neal beat Bryz to extend Pitt’s lead to two. On another faceoff to the right of Bryzgalov, Evgeni Malkin eventually muscled the puck back to Neal, who ripped a wrist shot past the goalie’s left side.

After the Penguins dominated the rest of the opening stanza, Captain Giroux cut the deficit in half very early in the second period. Brayden Schenn hit Scott Hartnell with a pass in the neutral zone, which led to Hartsy carrying the biscuit into the offensive zone. Just inside the blue line, and next to the Flyers’ bench, Hartnell threw a pass cross ice to Giroux, who put a shot under a sprawling Fleury’s left leg pad. With the tally, the game was 2-1 only 23 seconds into the middle period.

Shortly after Giroux’s goal, Philly killed off a Nicklas Grossmann minor, which was a cross-checking call on Sidney Crosby. After the successful kill, the Orange and Black returned to their manhandling of the second period. Unfortunately for the home team, an 11-8 shot advantage and control of the puck throughout the frame didn’t result in the equalizer after 40 minutes.

In the third period, the Flyers still had the upper hand in time on attack and offensive pressure, but it wasn’t quite as big a margin as the second period.

Hartnell nearly hooked up with Giroux again for the game-tying goal, but the officials decided G was offsides on a painfully close call near the half point of the final period. On a pass that crossed multiple lines, Hartnell found his center for what seemed to be a crucial breakaway. However, before Giroux deked Fleury into misery, the play was whistled for an offsides call. The replays showed the call may have been correct, but it was definitely too close to call.

Late in the period, a pair of power-play opportunities resulted in chances for Philly. After Deryk Engelland was sent off for interference at the 14:27 mark of the final period, Malkin entered the sin bin 1:06 after Engelland rejoined his team. The Orange and Black enjoyed their final man advantage for all of 1:24 before Giroux was called for a trip on Kris Letang.

Laviolette pulled Bryzgalov in the final minute, but the Flyers couldn’t create any real chances late, as Chris Kunitz flicked a shot into the empty cage with 12 seconds left to finalize the score at 3-1.

Philadelphia will need to rebound quickly, as they play the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow at the First Niagara Center for a 12:30 meeting. The Flyers were 4-0-0 against the Sabres in 2011-2012.

Notes: This was the first time the Flyers lost their first game of the season since the 2008-2009 season, when they lost 4-3 to the New York Rangers in Philly…Crosby was minus-1 with three shots on net…Jody Shelley, Bruno Gervais, and Tom Sestito were scratched for the Flyers. Joe Vitale, Ben Lovejoy, and Robert Bortuzzo were scratched for the Pens…Scott Laughton had one shot on net, four hits, and one blocked shot in his first NHL game. Three of his four hits came on his first shift…Both Zac Rinaldo and Matt Cooke had a game-high seven hits. Matt Read had six checks…Today marked the first time since Game 6 of the ECQF, against these Pens, where Bryzgalov allowed two goals or less in a game. In his last 12 games, which was today and the entire 2012 playoffs, Bryzgalov has only two games where he has allowed two goals or less…Giroux won five of his 12 faceoffs against Crosby. Philly’s new captain won 13 of 25 faceoffs overall in the loss…Sean Couturier won four of his 11 faceoffs against Malkin. Couturier won 10 of his 23 faceoffs in the defeat…The Flyers were 0-for-5 on the power play for the first time since Game 2 of the ECSF last season against the Devils. The last time they went 0-for-5 on the power play in the regular season was on March 31st, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators.