PHILADELPHIA – Sidney Crosby promised he’d try and lead slumping Pittsburgh with words as much by his actions. Usually, though, the way Sid the Kid delivers with the puck helps the Penguins more than a pep talk.
Against another sellout crowd in Philadelphia that bellowed nothing but derogatory words toward the Pittsburgh captain, Crosby and the Penguins showed a flicker of hope their season can still be salvaged.
Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal each scored goals, and Crosby had a pair of assists that sparked the sputtering Penguins to a needed 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.
“It’s been a long time that we’ve played such a solid game,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “We were solid when we had the puck, we were solid when we didn’t have the puck, and we got a commitment from everyone.”
The Penguins won for only the second time in nine games and scored four straight goals to put an emphatic end to Philadelphia’s eight-game home winning streak. They also got goals from Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke, and Marc-Andre Fleury nicely rebounded from a first-period blunder to stop 27 shots.
“That was the exact game that they needed,” Flyers forward Mike Knuble said.
Pittsburgh played the first two periods more like the team that beat the Flyers in last year’s Eastern Conference finals than the one that came in stuck in an alarming slump that left them outside a playoff spot.
“I think for us, there’s a lot of expectations on our team, because of the players we have on it and because of the year we had last year,” Crosby said. “It’s not easy when you go through difficult times, but we can make sure that we do our best to improve what happens in the future.”
The Flyers skated to the top of the Atlantic Division on the strength of their longest home winning streak since 2005. The Flyers hadn’t lost at home in regulation this season since Nov. 8, and they jumped on the Penguins with an early goal.
The Penguins, though, sorely needed this win against their division rivals to stop their slide down the standings. This win helps for now, but they’ll need to string together a few more like this one before Pittsburgh can say it’s ready to think about a repeat of its stirring Stanley Cup run.
Perhaps the Penguins can take some inspiration from last year’s Flyers, who overcame a 10-game winless streak to reach the East finals.
Fleury was touched for a goal in the first period when he strayed behind the net on a shot against the end boards by Simon Gagne. The puck knocked off an out-of-position Fleury, back in front of the net and a sliding Knuble punched in the goal in what was essentially an empty-netter.
What could have been the miscue that cost the Penguins, turned out to be a pretty meaningless goal.
“Nobody thought, ‘oh no, not again,”‘ Fleury said. “Everybody kept going, kept working hard and the whole game was great.”
Kennedy wiped out the deficit with a backhand to end the period tied at 1.
“We’ve been having a tough time recently,” Crosby said. “With that (Knuble) bounce, we could have hung our heads and felt sorry for ourselves, but we did a good job of staying with it.”
Thanks to Crosby, of course.
Crosby gave the Penguins the boost they needed with a pair of sweet assists that gave them the lead for good. He swiped the puck away from Mike Richards along the boards – in a battle of blossoming team captains – and fed it to Malkin, who fired from the slot and rang the crossbar to beat Martin Biron on the stick side. It was Malkin’s second goal in the past 12 games.
“It’s a puck I have to get out,” Richards said. “They’re very opportunistic.”
Staal, who recently became the youngest player to appear in 200 NHL games, made it 3-1 with his 14th goal.
Then Crosby – who said this week he’s learning to become a better vocal leader – delivered again for the Penguins with 25.8 seconds left in the second. He went for the wraparound, dumped it in front of the crease and Cooke slipped behind defenceman Kimmo Timonen to score his fifth goal for a 4-1 lead.
“We didn’t want to give them any life,” Therrien said
Joffrey Lupul added his 14th goal for the Flyers in the third. The Flyers were knocked out of first place in the Atlantic with their loss and the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Islanders.
Notes: Fleury played in his 200th career game and became only the fourth goalie in team history to reach that mark. … Crosby’s first assist gave him 350 in his career. … Malkin is three away from the 100-goal milestone. … Crosby has four goals in the past 21 games. … Gagne is tied with Pelle Eklund for 14th on the Flyers career points with 452 points.