Yesterday afternoon’s game in Philadelphia was about as dramatic as they come. Games against the Flyers usually come with drama given the rivalry, but this was the most blood pumping game the Pens and Flyers have played against one another in a long time. This is what the game on December 29th was supposed to feel like. James van Riemsdyke, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr were all present and at full health. This had me a bit nervous but turns out it didn’t matter. It was an absolute nightmare regarding officiating, and not just on the Pens but on the Flyers as well.
It started in the first period with a terrible call against Wayne Simmonds for goalie interference and continued to slide downhill from there, the game becoming a jumbled mess of made up and missed calls across the board. The penalty was called immediately after a goal by Jaromir Jagr. Then, a lame holding call on Jordan Staal off of the next face off resulted in a power play goal by JJ (since Craig Adams was also in the box for interference). Another horrid moment was Deryk Engelland in an unusual moment for him this season, handing a first career goal to Eric Wellwood. You cannot blame Marc Andre Fleury for allowing this goal.
The thing the Pens did well though from here on out was to stick to their game, regardless of the disgusting display of officiating. I was a little stunned to see that the Flyers were playing Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes today, given that Sergei Bobrovsky has such a fantastic records against the Pens. After the Pens third goal, an absolutely gorgeous short handed 5-on-3 goal by Matt Cooke (his second of the game). Kimmo Timonen handed this goal to Cookie a lot more than Bryz did.
Cooke is essential to our special teams and today was a prime example of why. In addition, Matt Cooke going into the game had 11 career goals against the Flyers, which he elevated to 13. This is the highest amount of goals he has against any team in the league. After Cooke’s goal that brought the game to 3-2, Bryz was pulled and replaced with Bobs. Didn’t matter. Today, the Pens had the Flyers number. The lethargic, chaotic mess that they were during the two December contests were long forgotten.
This was an absolute team win and imperative to the Pens season. The Pens have come away with a great deal of wins against mediocre teams in the East and and most of the Western Conference teams, but the top teams in the East, well the wins have not come as easily, but they are arriving now. In the past month, the Pens have finally defeated the teams they need to beat in order to make a good run at the cup: The Rangers, the Bruins and the Flyers.
The Flyers still don’t have a reliable goalie to get them through the playoffs and despite the rumors that they are trying to make a play for Evgeni Nabokov, the Flyers won’t find a goalie to solve their problems in free agency or with a trade. They need to draft a top rated goalie in the first round of the draft this summer. They traded draft picks for Tampa’s defenseman Pavel Kubina following yesterday’s game, which will help the Flyers a little in filling that gap where Chris Pronger was. Overall in yesterday’s game though, their defense was just as weak as their goaltending.
There is also a lot of talk about Rick Nash going to the Flyers. I hope he can play goal, because Nash won’t solve their problems with Bryz and Bobs.
Also, resulting from yesterday afternoon’s game was a fine of $2,500 on Jordan Staal for boarding Braydon Coburn in the second period. He served a 2 min minor on the play and you could tell he knew immediately what a mistake it was to shove Coburn when he was in a vulnerable position. Staal isn’t a repeat offender, which is probably why Brendan Shanahan assessed a fine rather than a suspension. I am actually not really that happy about this. Staal knew as the play was occurring that he had made a grave mistake in judgement.
The other matter that upsets me is that Coburn went to the bench and not down the runway. Why was he not immediately assessed for a head injury when he was visibly shaken on the bench?
Other notable points to the game were James Neal’s 30 goal of the season, a career high and induction into the 30 goal club. This morning it was announced that Neal has signed a 6 year contract extension with the Penguins.
Additionally, this was Fleury’s 30th win of the season and he played a spectacular game. I heard a lot of whining after the game about Fleury allowing 4 goals. One was on a 5-on-3 and look at the goals that Jagr had scored. They were fantastic goals, they weren’t soft. They were legitimate goals by one of the most elite goal scorers in the history of the sport. The goal by Wellwood can be attributed to a poor move by Engelland and the goal by Wayne Simmonds was with less than 20 seconds left in regulation. That goal didn’t even matter. There was no way they were coming back at that point.
Pens play in a few hours in Buffalo. Let’s Go Pens!