The Penguins’ power play during the regular season was borderline lethal. It is impressive that, for a franchise that has won five Stanley Cups and once employed guys such as Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, this season’s club set the team record for power play efficiency.
Pittsburgh hit on more than 26 percent of its chances. The league average is about 20.
The Flyers are down, 2-1, in this Eastern Conference series on merit. Put on as many dog masks as you want, but give the Penguins seven power plays, totaling 11:23, and they will carve you up as they did the Flyers on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We were careless,” Jake Voracek said afterward. “We’ve got to stay out of the box.”
The emphatic 5-1 win regained the home-ice advantage for Pittsburgh and continued a noticeable trend. The Penguins’ won twice in Philadelphia during the regular season — by scores of 5-1 and 5-2.
Pittsburgh already was up, 1-0, when Derrick Brassard scored the Penguins’ first power-play goal in the second period after Matt Read’s broken stick made the 5-on-4 feel more like a 5-on-3. Read did his best to defend, but he looked like a guy searching for a contact lens in the dark.
Evgeni Malkin tallied the next one after Voracek’s hooking penalty created a 4-on-3 Penguins advantage following coincidental minors.
It was back to 4-on-4 when Brian Dumoulin scored five seconds later. Yeah, five seconds. Fastest two goals ever against the Flyers; regular season or playoffs. Crosby won the faceoff after the Malkin goal and the Penguins’ speed created an instant odd-man rush. Bang.
“It was a nice play by him,” Claude Giroux said glumly. The Flyers’ captain was a very un-Giroux-like 4-for-12 on faceoffs.
If giving Pittsburgh power plays is mortal sin No. 1, giving them open ice with 4-on-4s is a close second.
“We just can’t get beat off a neutral-zone draw like that and have a guy [Dumoulin] walking down Main Street,” said goaltender Brian Elliott, who probably should have made that save. “It’s just another thing that I don’t think we were ready for right off the draw there.”
There was plenty of blame to go around. Giroux committed a slash on Crosby by whacking the stick out of his hands during a puck battle. Voracek hooked Conor Sheary and, later, was called for high-sticking Jamie Oleksiak. There was a Scott Laughton high-stick and tripping minors assessed to Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas.
Add it all up and it’s easy to see how Crosby can post four points (goal, three assists) while barely breaking a sweat. Sorry, Flyers fans, but it’s time for a new chant. “Crosby sucks” isn’t working.
The Flyers can point to their performance in Game 2 when they responded from a 7-0 loss with a 5-1 win. The series resumes on Wednesday. Another sloppy performance and it could be the last hockey game at the Wells Fargo Center for months.
“They’ve had the top power play in the league all season, so obviously a big key is for us to stay out of the box and to minimize those chances,” said defenseman Andrew MacDonald. “The more you give them, the harder it’s going to be for us. That’s certainly something that we can control … our sticks and the penalties that we take. That’s definitely something we’re going to have to do.”