Wow, this past week with the start of the MLB 60 game season and the NBA tipping off their exhibition games, sports fans are rejuvenated once again. Just yesterday, another sport returned, the NHL after coming off four plus months of stoppage had a thrilling first exhibition matchup between “The Battle of Pennsylvania,” Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario. At first, the players were out of rhythm, passes were sloppy, skaters off balance and not so hot shots on goal however that quickly changed mid way through the first period as the game became a physical and fast paced contest. The game would head into overtime even at 2 apiece when Travis Konecny hit Scott Laughton who was alone in front, sniped it past Tristan Jarry to give the Flyers a 3-2 win.
To begin the game, it was all Penguins as Bryan Rust and Patrick Marleau took shots down low but it was the 21 year old star, Carter Hart coming up big. Moments later, Sean Couturier made the centering pass to Jakub Voracek but Matt Murray was able to make the stop with the right pad. A few minutes would go by before fans experienced the first ever NHL goal in July, John Marino’s long lead pass to Jake Guentzel set up a cross crease goal by Conor Sheary to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, the Flyers would respond as Ivan Provorov passed it down low to Claude Giroux who found Couturier in front for the one-timer. The Penguins did a good job social distancing themselves from that play. With the first period winding down, Evgeni Malkin made a beautiful pass to his opponent, Kevin Hayes who in turn scored a backhand forehand goal putting the Flyers up 2-1 at the intermission. This one will surely make it into the next Weird NHL YouTube series.
There would not be a goal scored in the second period as both teams continued to deliver huge hits and wear each other down. One exciting moment, the Flyers came up ice 3 on 1 when a lucky bounce connected to Hayes who was alone in front but Marcus Pettersson nagging him from behind was able to break up the shot and the rebound. The Penguins were penalized for having 10 players on the ice at once! How could they not have seen doubles? Midway through the second, the Penguins would pull Murray for Jarry, this was expected as there is still a question mark as to who will start this Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens when the playoffs begin.
After the second intermission, despite there is no goaltending controversy in Philly the Flyers pulled Hart for the reliable veteran, Brian Elliott for the remainder of the game. After a sleepy first quarter of the 3rd, roughly 12 minutes remaining, Malkin had a great chance in front but Elliott denied the Penguins leading point scorer. Now with under 4 minutes to play, the Penguins won the faceoff in the Flyers zone, Jack Johnson's drive was blocked then Elliott stopped Malkin’s shot which led to Jason Zucker scoring on the rebound tying the game at 2. In overtime, the Penguins had their chances but Elliott was unsolvable, Shayne Gostisbehere dumped the puck off to Konecny who hit Laughton in stride who scored blocker side of Jarry to give the Flyers a 3-2 impressive win.
Despite the loss, Murray and Jarry played equally well, Head Coach, Mike Sullivan has a tough decision on which goaltender to start. Should he go with Murray, the two time Stanley Cup winner or Jarry, the hot young All-Star goalie? Perhaps the Flyers will continue to be the hottest team in the NHL who was only a point behind the Washington Capitals for the Metropolitan Division lead a few months back. The Penguins will face the Montreal Canadiens in a best of 5 game series starting on Saturday, August 1st and the Flyers begin their games against the Boston Bruins this Sunday, August 2nd. Both series will be played in Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.