Penguins moving in wrong direction

Loss to bitter rival is sixth in past seven games for Penguins

The Philadelphia Flyers don't own this town anymore.

They don't swagger into Mellon Arena the way they did for so many years, score a half-dozen or so goals, win a few fights and then take a couple of points back across the state with them.

But for at least one evening, the current Penguins got a bit of a feel for what it was like back in the days when those Flyers teams treated their predecessors the way a dog treats a fire hydrant.

Minus those one-sided fights, anyway.

Philadelphia beat them, 7-4, last night, going in front early and staying there for the rest of the game en route to winning for just the third time in its past 14 regular-season visits to Mellon Arena.

  • Game: Penguins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto.
  • TV: FSN Pittsburgh.

Oh, this one wasn't as lopsided as so many were a quarter-century or so ago, but there never was any serious doubt about the outcome, either. Never mind that the prevailing sentiment among the Penguins seemed to be that they were done in as much by ill fortune as anything.

"We carried the play most of the game," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said. "It just seemed that every real [scoring] opportunity they got, they were able to capitalize."

Perhaps because so many of those opportunities involved odd-man rushes and uncontested shots.

"We did make mistakes, and some of that is focus and attention to detail," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Presumably, that was discussed during a players-only meeting in the weight room after the game ended.

Losing to a bitter rival like the Flyers presumably stings more than most defeats, and the Penguins have had plenty to compare it to lately.

This loss was their sixth in seven games, and seventh in nine.

"There are many areas where we need to improve," defenseman Kris Letang said.

The Penguins are moving the wrong way in the Eastern Conference standings and, unless they pull out of it soon, might find that their path will intersect with that of the Flyers, who are 6-1-1 in their past eight.

"We've got things going in the right direction," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said.

Although the Penguins actually had an edge in several statistical categories, including shots (39-31), faceoffs (34-24) and hits (36-31), the Flyers were dominant on special teams, and that was a decisive variable.

The Penguins were 0 for 3 on the power play; Philadelphia scored on both of its chances with the man-advantage, and nearly got a short-handed goal from Simon Gagne late in the second period.

"When you're minus-2 on special teams, it's going to be tough to win," Eaton said.

Each team had an 18-second power play early in the first period. The Penguins did nothing with theirs, but Philadelphia had been back at full strength for only eight seconds when Jeff Carter beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a turning shot from above the left hash at 6:39.

Just 31 seconds later, Flyers rookie James van Riemsdyk got a feed from Arron Asham along the right-wing boards and moved down the slot alone before backhanding a shot between Fleury's legs.

Philadelphia's surge ended abruptly at 8:25, when Sidney Crosby slapped a Kris Letang rebound past Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton for his 25th of the season. Brooks Orpik got the second assist.

After Matt Carle restored the Flyers' two-goal lead with another man-advantage goal at 16:51, as he beat Fleury on the stick side from the top of the right circle, Matt Cooke countered for the Penguins 55.3 seconds before the intermission, snapping a shot by Leighton from above the right hash for his eighth.

The Flyers drove Fleury from the game at 1:42 of the second, when Chris Pronger beat him through traffic from the right point to put Philadelphia in front, 4-2.

Fleury allowed four goals on 15 shots before giving way to Brent Johnson, who was beaten by the first shot he faced -- a van Riemsdyk backhander at 2:56 -- for what proved to be the winner.

Crosby revived the crowd, and his team, with his second of the game at 10:32, when his centering pass from behind the goal line ricocheted off Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and Leighton before ending up in the net. Luca Caputi got an assist, his first in the NHL.

The Penguins subsequently failed to capitalize on a couple of power plays, and Carter snuffed any comeback hopes they were nurturing at 9:26 of the third, when he whipped a shot past Johnson from inside the left circle.

Mike Rupp got his 11th from above the right hash at 12:08, but Mike Richards of Philadelphia hit an empty net at 19:28 to close out the scoring.

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published January 8, 2010 5:00 AM


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