By Mark Madden
Beaver County Times
March 19, 2012
Philadelphia Flyers' Scott Hartnell (19) scores the game-wining goal past Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury (29) and Sidney Crosby with 0.9 seconds left in overtime of yesterday's game in Philadelphia. (AP)
The Penguins ran roughshod over Boston, the New York Rangers and New Jersey by identical 5-2 scores. An opposing coach analyzing video of those games will feel like an army general watching an alien invasion. Options are very limited and mostly ineffective.
In other words: Dead meat.
But Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss at Philadelphia provides a reminder that the Penguins can still beat themselves.
The Penguins were victimized by a hot goalie and a hot shooter, two staples of springtime heartbreak. Ilya Bryzgalov made 38 saves and Scott Hartnell scored twice to give the Flyers the extra point.
The Penguins also got hurt by laissez-faire refereeing that caught them retaliating, not the Flyers infracting. They had better get used to that. NHL referees have put their whistles away. For keeps, I bet.
But the Penguins mostly committed hockey hara-kiri. They lost their cool at inopportune times. Ultimately, it cost them.
Zbynek Michalek got a penalty for slashing Philadelphia's Claude Giroux while he was on the bench. Giroux's a wonderful player. But he's no threat on the bench. The Flyers used that power play to score just 31 seconds into the third period, cutting Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1.
Evgeni Malkin took a hooking penalty behind Philadelphia's goal line just two minutes later. The Flyers have many wonderful players. But none is a threat 200 feet away. The momentum stayed with the Flyers and they tied the score 18 seconds after Malkin's penalty expired.
Malkin took an unnecessary elbowing infraction before regulation time expired, putting an exclamation point on a not-too-bright third period. The Flyers didn't capitalize. But, after being outshot 27-10 over two periods, they had seized the game's ebb and flow and were worthy winners by the time Hartnell netted in overtime's final second.
Malkin was targeted by the Flyers, often after the whistle. He had better get used to that. It's part and parcel of being an MVP candidate.
Malkin scored a marvelous goal. He has scored in every game since Sidney Crosby's return. Malkin seems disinterested in taking a back seat. Good.
But Malkin needs to channel his emotion better than he did Sunday. The same could be said of his teammates. You want to stick up for yourselves, but the Penguins engaged too often. That suited the Flyers just fine.
The loss is no big deal. Not yet. In a race where the distance between the top seed and the fifth seed is just three points, though, it's easy to imagine Sunday's result impacting the Penguins negatively.
But the Penguins had just won 11 straight. Sooner or later, you lose. I'm sure the dressing room empathizes, though, when I ask, "Why to them?"
The Penguins were indomitable at Manhattan and Newark. Carved two good teams into edible individual servings. Crosby's return makes the Penguins impossible to check. Every winger is a potential goal-scorer.
That includes Matt Cooke. Playing mostly with Crosby, Cooke had two goals against the Rangers and two more against the Devils to tie his career high of 16. Cooke is one of hockey's feel-good stories, though you might not read it at NHL.com. He has minimized his evil side, in the process proving that he's a pretty good hockey player.
If Cooke reaches 20 goals, maybe NHL dean of discipline Brendan Shanahan should grant Cooke a mulligan on a head shot. One more, for old times' sake.
The Penguins are dangerous. Crosby looks great, but isn't near what he can be. If they protect his head, and use theirs, greatness is possible.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)