Penguins, Flyers finish off break-delayed back-to-back

NHL
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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers will complete an unconventional home-and-home series with a game Friday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

It comes 10 days after the Flyers scored a 3-0 win at home. Both teams then launched into the All-Star break and their bye week.

For the Penguins, that means that regardless of any trips to the beach or mind-clearing activities in their down time, a poor performance and loss to their cross-state rivals has likely had some staying power.

Pittsburgh, which mustered just 19 shots, including none over the final half of the third period, and seemed flat throughout, didn’t want to hear about fatigue.

“We need to be better,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We can make excuses, but we haven’t made excuses all year. We’re not going to start now.”

Crosby added that “we’ll be motivated when we come back. … We’ll use the rest and make sure we’re focused.”

The loss to Philadelphia was the Penguins’ 11th game in 20 days. They were 7-3-1 in that span, but that didn’t make the way they played against the Flyers any more palatable.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan was uncharacteristically critical of his team.

“There was a lack of execution, a lack of attention to detail, no sense of urgency, no cooperative play,” Sullivan said.

“We didn’t chip bodies, finish checks. We didn’t make great decisions with the puck. We didn’t execute when we had it. There’s nothing positive I can draw.”

Sullivan was dissatisfied enough with his forwards in that game that he turned to a combination he almost never uses — he put Crosby and fellow star center Evgeni Malkin together. It’s unlikely that will continue Friday, at least not at the start.

Barring something unforeseen, Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz will return from a lower-body injury he suffered on Dec. 17.

Philadelphia, which sits seven points behind the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, has won two straight games and four of five. The Flyers felt like they struck on a good formula for beating the Penguins in the Jan. 21 win.

“I thought we really frustrated them,” Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott said. If you give them time and space, they can make plays, and we took that away. We just moved our feet. That was the key.

“Our guys did a great job of getting in lanes. If they’re skating around and they don’t see openings, we’re boxing guys out — they like to cross-box a lot in the offensive zone. I thought we had good sticks, good positioning, and we didn’t chase around too much.”

Philadelphia, in that win, also avenged a 7-1 loss to the Penguins Oct. 29.

“We’d like to think we’ve grown since the start of the season,” said James van Riemsdyk, who scored in the Jan. 21 game.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux is looking for his team to bridge the gap that was the break and continue to win in what is traditionally called the second half of the season. That includes doing a better job on the road, where Philadelphia is 10-13-2.

“We had some ups and downs during the first half. Those downs, we have to make sure we don’t get losses in a row, they don’t add up,” Giroux said. “Our road games have to be better.”

–Field Level Media

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