The Flyers failed to build off one of their most impressive wins of the season and missed a chance to climb in the standings Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Blame their sloppy play and a multitude of defensive breakdowns as they lost to their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-1.
On a night when the crowd’s loudest roar might have come when Eagles coach Doug Pederson was shown on the scoreboard watching from a suite, Pittsburgh scored three second-period goals in a 2-minute, 17-second span to pull away from a 1-1 tie and salvage one win on its three-game road trip.
“It’s frustrating, especially with the magnitude of the game and where we are in the standings,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said of the team’s flat performance. “We had a really great opportunity to gain some ground with some games in hand. Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted, or even the effort for that matter.”
The Flyers (16-15-8) were coming off a 5-3 victory at best-in-the-NHL Tampa on Friday, but the momentum didn’t carry over and they missed a chance to slip past the Penguins (20-18-3) in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins have been one of the NHL’s worst five-on-five teams this season, getting outscored by a stunning 91-53 margin entering Tuesday. But they scored three even-strength goals in the second period – two by fourth-line wingers — to turn a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 lead.
“They won the battles and were stronger on pucks when they needed it,” center Sean Couturier said.
“You want to be at your best, and I wasn’t and I don’t think anybody can say they were, either,” said losing goalie Brian Elliott, who made his 14th straight start and allowed four goals on 14 shots before being replaced by Michal Neuvirth at the start of the third period. “We can’t have off nights like this. It didn’t seem like we had it tonight, for whatever reason.”
The Flyers failed to clear fourth-line right winger Ryan Reaves from in front of the net and he made it 2-1 with 8:51 left in the second. Just 40 seconds later, Conor Sheary scored on a breakaway after rookie defenseman Robert Hagg was caught too far down in the offensive zone, giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.
With 6:34 remaining in the second, fourth-line left winger Tom Kuhnhackl won a battle with Ivan Provorov in the high slot and put a shot between the defenseman’s legs and past Elliott to put the Penguins ahead, 4-1.
In the third period, Provorov injured his left leg blocking a shot just before defenseman Jamie Oleksiak made it 5-1 by scoring a power-play goal with about six minutes left. Provorov returned a couple of minutes later. He was limping after the game.
The Penguins, who benefited greatly from having injured defensemen Kris Letang and Justin Schultz back in the lineup, took a 1-0 lead on Phil Kessel’s power-play goal — a bad-angle blast from deep in the right circle — with 10:25 left in the second.
Just 54 seconds later, Jordan Weal answered as he deflected Radko Gudas’ drive past backup goalie Tristan Jarry for his first goal in 10 games, briefly knotting the score at 1-all. ( Later, Jarry apparently was injured making a save on Michael Raffl and he was replaced by Matt Murray with 5:26 left in the second.)
Neither team had many quality chances in a scoreless first period, one in which Raffl made a pass behind Jake Voracek to flub a two-on-one chance.
“I thought we had a good start, and then they got a few chances and they capitalized on them,” Couturier said. “The next thing you know, you’re chasing the game and forcing things.”
The Penguins coasted to their first regulation victory in their last seven games. They are just 8-12-2 on the road.
Pittsburgh has won both games against the Flyers this season. On Nov. 27, the host Penguins overcame 3-1 and 4-3 deficits and registered a 5-4 overtime victory.
This one wasn’t nearly as competitive, which is why E-A-G-L-E-S chants (and some directed at Sidney Crosby) echoed around the building late in the game.
“We know we can play better,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re a better team than that.”
Their record — and their inconsistent play — say otherwise.