PITTSBURGH — The biggest story coming into this Friday night match up against the Pittsburgh Penguins was Coach Peter Laviolette’s decision to scratch forward Nikolay Zherdev and play Dan Carcillo. A last second decision, it seemed to foreshadow the kind of game that played out during the opening minutes.
With two fights and 32 total penalty minutes in the first five minutes alone, bad blood was brewing early. Mike Richards dropped the gloves and squared off against Matt Cooke a mere six seconds in. Going at each other for some comments the Flyers captain made to the media following their 5-1 thrashing in Philadelphia, Cooke and Richards seemed hellbent on destruction – with Richards catching a few, but continuing to pound Cooke as he fell to the ice.
A flurry of minor penalties both ways immediately following an opening pair of scraps kept either team from establishing any sort of rhythm, with little offense to be had in the first ten minutes or so. As each team settled into the game, it seemed the Penguins were the dominant force, outshooting the Flyers 10-4 and netting the period’s only goal as Kris Letang tipped home a smooth setup from Evgeni Malkin.
The second period was a different story, however, as the Flyers’ physical lineup established an overwhelming forecheck that kept the Penguins hemmed in their own end.
When asked how the bumpy start affected his team’s play, Claude Giroux noted the effect of the constant interruptions:
“We got a couple power plays, but it was about 15 seconds each time,” Giroux said. “It’s hard to get in your rhythm. You’re not playing with your lines either, you’re always playing PK or PP.”
“But the second and third period, we started playing our game: playing deep, working hard, and winning battles.”
The scoring opened up when Mike Richards found himself on a near-breakaway only to end up losing the puck to the stick of a diving Kris Letang. He kept the play alive, though, and centered the puck to Claude Giroux, who finished it off with a backhand shot past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Flyers pressure continued, with the fourth line of Betts, Shelley, and Carcillo maintaining control of the puck in the offensive end, leaving the scrambling Penguins players struggling to catch up. Carcillo found his first goal of the season as he tipped a Matt Carle shot through the legs of Fleury to give the Flyers a 2-1 edge.
Refusing to let up with their hard and fast play entering into the third period, the Flyers pulled away as Giroux found a loose puck in front during a power play scramble and roofed it over the sprawling Fleury.
Pittsburgh turned it up in the closing minutes and narrowed the gap on a blast from Tyler Kennedy that made it 3-2 with 45 seconds remaining. The Flyers tightened up defensively, however, and kept them from finishing the comeback.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Claude Giroux: Certainly a rising star on this team and in the league as a whole, Giroux has the hands, the shot, the vision, and the big-game poise to make himself a deadly threat in any situation on any night. His two goals on the were the deciding factor in the Flyers’ win, as he now leads the team in goals and points. Coming into the season without a shorthanded goal for his career, he also finds himself at the top of the league in that category, notching three on the season.
Mike Richards: Sending a message early, Richards’ fight with Cooke was the kind of thing a captain is called to do. He made his comments off the ice, and backed them up on the ice. After setting the tone early, he continued to drive his team with the kind of tough, energetic hockey we’ve come to expect from this young leader.
Dan Carcillo: While he was among the bottom in playing time, with just over five minutes of ice time, Carcillo made the most of his time with several hits and a goal – his first of the season. After the struggles he’s gone through to consistently crack this deep lineup the Flyers’ have, Carcillo needs nights like these to prove his worth.
Laviolette confirmed that his decision to bring in Carcillo over the offensively skilled – but defensively weak – Nikolay Zherdev, was based on the tough, physical game he saw coming against these cross-state rivals.
“I expected it to be a physical game, yes. I wanted to get Danny back in there because we are the road in Pittsburgh and they’ve got some rough players in their lineup. Danny brings a physical element: body checking, forechecking are the way he plays the game.”
Andreas Nodl: Finally getting come consistent play under his belt, playing in back to back wins. His presence on the first line, alongside two other physical players in Mike Richards and James van Riemsdyk is helping shape his style: strong on the puck, hard checking and fast moving, and reliable in the defensive end. He also says that his long-awaited offense is coming along as he starts to build chemistry.
Penalty Kill: With Giroux’s league-leading 3 shorthanded goals, the penalty-killing duo of Mike Richards and Claude Giroux is becoming as much as offensive threat as the power play they step onto the ice to face. Laviolette spoke after the game on their success:
“It’s a different mentality when Richie and [Giroux] are out there. They don’t cheat, they kill the penalty first, but when there’s a crack or there’s an opportunity, those two look for it and they seem to know where the each other is going to be. And that makes them dangerous”