Maybe it was the sight of Orange and Black.
Maybe it was the thoughts of losing this game putting them in to last place in the Metro Division.
Maybe it was the return of two of their top defenseman.
Or, maybe, just maybe it was all of the above.
Whatever the case, the Pittsburgh Penguins shook off a first period that saw them get out shot 10-6, overcome the loss of more players to apparent injuries and also find the ability to fill the net in even strength situations.
The result was an easy 5-1 victory over the cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Instead of ending the night trailing the Flyers by one point for the division bottom, the Penguins instead trail the Carolina Hurricanes by one point for the final Wild-card spot in the playoffs heading into their next game Thursday night at home.
Interestingly enough, Tristan Jarry would get the nod in net for this game instead of Matt Murray. Murray has looked off since his return from injury. Jarry would not finish the game however as he took a puck and a stick to the hand/wrist area during the second period. He did pick up the win, however, making 16 of 17 saves before giving way to Murray who made all 11 of his for the night.
Brian Dumoulin would also leave the game after taking a puck to the back of the helmet during the same second period. He would return for a shift or two before leaving for good. Carter Rowney also left the game injured during the first period and did not return.
Mike Sullivan did not have an immediate update after the game, saying they will all three be re-evaluated again today in Pittsburgh.
For as much that can be said about the Penguins struggles as of late, it’s a hard sell to put it all on one player (Murray). Given how well the defense played with the return of Justin Schultz and Kris Letang, it may be wise to hold judgement on it for a few more games.
Phile Kessel would start the scoring at 9:35 of the period as he beat Brian Elliot from the right face-off dot to give the Pens a 1-0 lead. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby would get the helpers on Kessel’s team-leading 17th marker.
The lead would be short-lived, however as Jordan Weal would redirect a Radko Gudas point shot by Jarry and the Flyers quickly tied it at 1-1 just :54 seconds later.
As we settled in for what we thought would be a nail-biter of a final half of the game, the Penguins quickly, and decisively would turn the scales in their favor.
Ryan Reaves would bang home a rebound from in tight in front of Elliot at 11:09, a mere :40 seconds after the Flyers tying goal. His second of the year seemed to spark everyone, and the Pens fed off the energy in short order.
Just another :40 seconds after the Reaves goal, Ian Cole would beat Claude Giroux along the boards in the Pens zone and win a puck battle cleanly. His area pass into the neutral zone would find a streaking Conor Sheary.
Sheary, who missed five minutes of playing time for reasons unknown, would race in on Elliot and beat him to the blocker side to make it 3-1.
The landslide would continue nearly a minute and a half later when Tom Khunhackl took a Riley Sheahan pass from below the goal-line and roofed a shot over Elliot’s glove to make it 4-1.
With Rowney out for most of the night, Riley Sheahan slotted into the line with Reaves and Kuhnhackl and it paid off. Each player amassing two-points a piece as the fourth line did the serious damage for the night. Reaves would finish a fight away from a Gordie Howe hat-trick.
Another player who came up short in that department was Jamie Oleksiak, the big rugged defenseman would scrap with Brandon Manning and easily get the best of the outcome as he towered over the Flyers blue liner five-minutes into the third.
Oleksiak would get a goal later in the third as he would beat Michael Neuvirth on the power play to cap the scoring at 5-1. The big man was rewarded with that time for having an extremely strong game. Since his arrival from Dallas, Oleksiak has looked like the player the stars envisioned when they drafted him. Much like with Justin Schultz, a change of scenery makes all the difference.
jamie oleksiak's first goal as a penguin pic.twitter.com/vzz5062zOG
— ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) January 3, 2018
So now the question remains, will this win be a one-time jolt followed by the too-familiar fizzle? Or is this win truly the start of a slow build towards a return to the top of the division?
A back to back situation at home Thursday with the Canes and on Long Island Friday will be a good start to try to identify.
The four-goal second period outburst was the Penguins highest single-period output of the year. The five-goal total matched their season high as well.
The multi point game for Ryan Reaves was only his second such night of his career.
The loss snapped a two-game losing streak.
Pittsburgh finished 2-for-2 with the man-advantage, Philly was 0-for-4, a perfect special teams night to go along with the even strength outburst.
Join us at Pittsburgh Sports Castle for coverage of the Pens and Carolina on Thursday. Until then, thanks for reading!
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