Penguins New Lineup Changes, Unexpected Physicality Help Pens Defeat Flyers

Photo via ESPN

After a quiet first two matchups against the Flyers, last night was a more classic, old-fashioned Pens-Flyers rivalry game. Anger, blood, and hatred seemed to spring back to life with these two teams. 

In what is likely the biggest win of the season so far, the Pens defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at Wells Fargo Center in Philly. The Penguins now sit a point behind the Flyers, who are in 3rd place in the Metro, with a game in hand. 

It was not a pretty or flashy game by any stretch of the imagination. It was an…effective game, we will say. 

The Penguins lineup last night worked perfectly, which was a bonus. Sully made some changes, including moving forward Drew O’Connor from the right wing to the left wing and up to the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust. Reilly Smith got demoted to the third line to play with Lars Eller. These changes seemed to work great for everyone involved. 

O’Connor assisted Evgeni Malkin’s goal, and his speed seemed to complement Geno and Rust very well. As for Smith, he and Eller seemingly had instant chemistry, and both played well. 

Geno’s line did great at keeping the puck in the offensive zone, and their forechecking and grinding efforts led to a goal by none other than Chad Ruhwedel. 

This big win will likely lead to these lines staying put when the Pens take on the Canucks on Thursday. 

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the win wasn’t pretty. The Pens did not play pretty. It was a gritty, hard-nosed win. The Pens did a great job at limiting their mistakes and odd-man rushes. 

Another good thing to see was the team not having to rely on Sidney Crosby to lead them to victory. Now, yes, it does help when he is good and on the scoresheet, but his lack of presence yesterday was a little weird. Now, he did have six shots, but his line wasn’t generating the chances and offensive we are used to seeing game-in and game-out. 

Another player who failed to record a point was Kris Letang, who has now failed to record a point in two games.

It was not the Pens stars getting the win here, but rather the bottom lines. Yes, Rickard Rakell did get a power-play goal. Yes, Erik Karlsson did score, but the players who made the goal possible were all players who needed to show up, and they did. 

Ryan Graves took the puck away in the defensive zone, Jansen Harkins helped push the rush into the Flyers zone, then chipped the puck in to get it deep. Then, forechecked to re-establish possession. Then he forced a pass to menacing Jeff Carter. Carter had a great game, with a physically and…almost demanding presence. Carter then got the puck back to Harkins, where he missed the net. But, EK65 got the puck and buried it. 

Graves, Harkins, and Carter all had great games. Harkins did take two penalties but was good on the forecheck and physical, causing several turnovers. Carter also played hard and had an assist. As for Graves, it was his best game as a Penguin so far. Graves was physical and was in good position all night. He made simple plays, had an assist, and forced players to the outside. 

The Flyers may have had a lot of shots on net, but not many of them were dangerous at all. The Penguins did very well at being physical and protecting the defensive zone. They showed that they were tough, against a tough Flyers team. 

Yes, the Penguins are becoming a physical and tough team. 

The Penguins did a great job limiting the Flyers rush. They managed to keep pace with a fast Flyers team. Mike Sullivan was happy with the effort. 

One thing that stuck out from the game, and the season in general, was the Flyers’ effective way of having defensemen jump into the rush. For example, during the second period, Sean Walker intercepted a Pierre-Olivier Joseph play in the neutral zone to cause an odd-man rush. Now, the Pens also did that, and did it a bit more. They got the puck deep and made the Flyers defend. The Pens were able to use their transition game effectively and lure the Flyers into five penalties in this game. 

Now, the power play did go 1/6 in this game with 10 shots, which was not good whatsoever. After scoring on their first power play seconds into the game, it was a goose egg on the man advantage for the rest of the game. 

There were also times in this game, more as the game went on, that the refs let ‘em play, and let them have at it as well. There was a big scrum at one point that resulted in no penalties, even though Letang was bleeding, and several penalties from both sides were committed. 

Nonetheless, the Pens got the win, and even though they could’ve destroyed this team, as the Pens looked great, and the Flyers didn’t, the Pens did not. But it still was a great effort. 

One player who deserves recognition in this game is Alex Nedeljkovic. He made 36 saves on 37 shots but seemed a bit more loose at times. Normally, he is steady, but he appeared to scramble during this game. Nevertheless, he got the win, and it will be interesting to see who gets the start on Thursday.

One entire line that had a great game was the third line. Eller looked solid. This line was aggressive on the puck and had some good chances. Smith and Eller looked solid together, and Valtteri Puustinen showcased his speed after not playing against Buffalo.

The Pens are starting to play a lot better each night. They’re getting more bodies in front, and it’s working, as Ruhwedel and Karlsson both scored with screens. They are showing the talent and depth that this team has, as well. They’re starting to outplay teams. It is all coming together. 

Episode 16: Something Happened This Week! Have A Shift, Eh?

Yeah, something very exciting happened this week.How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. Episode 16: Something Happened This Week!
  2. Wagers, Philly Drama, and Rule Changes
  3. Shortest Episode Ever
  4. Episode 10: The Pens are (maybe) doomed
  5. Episode 9: The First Guest!

Nik Shermeto

PT ‘23 | 🇺🇸/🇨🇦 | Penguins writer for Inside The Rink | Thoughts are my own.

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