Pittsburgh Penguins pick up two points over Flyers in Keystone State drubbing

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images /

Unlikely heroes dotted the scoresheet as the Pittsburgh Penguins throttled the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 at home.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers have one of the best rivalries in the NHL. Both teams entered Tuesday, Jan. 2 seventh and eighth in the standings in the Metropolitan Division, but this had all the makings of a good Battle for Pennsylvania early.

A scoreless first period ended with the Penguins outshooting the Flyers 10-6. Advanced stats were also in the Flyers favor, as their Corsi outnumbered the Penguins 18-12 in all situations. Pittsburgh turned on the jets in the second period, potting four goals to cruise to the victory.

Variety of contributions for Pittsburgh

You’ll be forgiven for looking looking twice at the box score tonight. It opened with the usual suspects, but quickly got weird. Phil Kessel opened scoring in the second period, with a power play goal (even less shockingly, assists were credited to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin).

Kessel has always had a nose for the net, but this year his touch on the Penguins power play – as a scorer and playmaker – has reached new heights.

Philadelphia struck back quickly, with Jordan Weal scoring his fourth goal of the year to tie the game. Then things got out of hand for the visitors. Ryan Reaves – he of 40 penalty minutes on the season – scored a true tough guy goal, muscling his way to the front of the net for his second of the season to make the game 2-1. This is a man better known for imitating the goal horn than actually scoring.

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Just 40 seconds later, Conor Sheary followed that up with a classic breakaway goal. That’s the kind of speed, skill, and separation you expect from a young player who had 53 points in 61 games last season. Then you realize he was on pace for 30 points and 80 games entering tonight and realize nothing makes sense. The man spells his name with one ‘r’ for crying out loud.

But wait, there’s more: Tom Kunhackl tacked on another goal less than two minutes later, and the Penguins entered the second intermission up 4-1.

Jamie Oleksiak, who was acquired in a December attempt to revamp the bottom of Pittsburgh’s roster, scored his first goal with Pittsburgh after an ill-advised third-period fight. It left him one apple short of a Gordie Howe hat trick, but the game mercifully ended 5-1 as Philadelphia held off any other goals.

What does it mean?

The two points are big for a Penguins team fighting for their playoff lives. The Metropolitan Division and East at large are tight enough that they sit just one point out of the playoffs, but too many teams in the vicinity have games in hand. For all the talk of their tough early schedule, they have three back-to-backs this month. Bottom line: this is not a team that can afford to drop points.

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Philadelphia is still in a tough spot. Their aging forward core and young defensemen make for an awkward potential rebuild. Meanwhile they aren’t far out of the playoff race themselves, although they’re mired in last in the division.