As the carnage mounted, the Flyers gave up a shorthanded goal, and a power-play goal, and another goal that was scored just as a Pittsburgh power play elapsed. Their penalty-killers blew several clears and again lived down to their last-in-the-league status. Their own power play finally found the net once in the third period, much too little, much too late.
"Again, our power play, we gave them a goal early in the game," said anguished captain Eric Desjardins, who was a horrendous minus-4 with no shots on net. "There's no excuses for that. It's a privilege to be on [the power play]. You just have to do the job. [Opponents] get breakaways, two-on-ones."
Flyers coach Craig Ramsay, who watched his team lose one-on-one special-teams battles after two days of practice drills on that very skill, said of the special-teams goals: "Those are killers. . .You don't kill penalties, you don't win. . .It all comes down to special teams. We just can't let that go."
The loss also was a significant step backward for goalie Brian Boucher, who had gained poise over the past few weeks as the defense in front of him improved. Boucher was strafed last night, four goals on 24 shots before he was pulled with 6:40 left in the second. Even if Boucher wasn't exactly to blame for the loss, he did nothing to bail out his teammates.
In explaining the Rene Corbet shortside goal that sent him to the bench, Boucher brought up the problem that caused him much trouble earlier in the season - trying to do too much, anticipating instead of reacting.
He will get another chance to gain perspective from the bench tonight, with Ramsay planning to start Roman Cechmanek against visiting Edmonton.
"I'm not very happy, obviously. I'm frustrated right now," Boucher said. "The [Corbet] goal wasn't very good. I was cheating there, trying to play two plays at once. That's my fault.
"I stayed deep because I was playing safe in case of a pass. I paid the price for it. I paid the price and I've been paying the freaking price. The Penguins have so many guys with skill. . . A couple goals go in, you start trying to stop everything, you start playing passes that aren't there. This is what we've talked about that we don't want to do when things get bad, and I did it. . .I have to trust that [the defense] will have the pass and I'll have the shot."
Though it was hard to remember by the end of the evening, the Flyers had some jump in the opening minutes, and they seemed to have taken a 1-0 lead 4:07 into the game. Pens goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin couldn't cover a rebound. As Aubin fumbled with the puck, Flyers winger Paul Ranheim jammed it into the net.
But off to the side, referee Lance Roberts was waving his arms. Roberts had lost sight of the puck and blown his whistle - even though on television replays, it seemed to be sitting free and clear until Ranheim netted it, and Roberts was positioned on the same side as the play. Also, his whistle clearly sounded after the goal light came on.
"It wasn't an early whistle; the whistle came when the puck was in the back of the net," said Ramsay, whose team desperately needs to play with the lead. "I certainly think things would have been different, it was a big goal for us and it was the kind of start you want to get."
Ranheim's evening got worse when Pens defenseman Darius Kasparaitis skated about 40 feet to drive his raised forearms into Ranheim's face, near the Pens' bench, with 9:45 left in the first. This touched off a scrum, out of which Roberts and partner Tom Kowal evened up the penalties.
The Penguins scored off the ensuing faceoff, Alexei Kovalev driving past Simon Gagne and backhanding a Jiri Slegr rebound over Boucher with 9:35 left in the first.
The Flyers then resourcefully turned their first power play of the evening from a disappointment into a crisis. A failure to win a battle along the wall and a pinch by Desjardins and Dan McGillis rewarded Kovalev with a shorthanded breakaway he netted with 3:36 left in the first. Kovalev was set up nicely by Kasparaitis.
The Flyers now have allowed an NHL-high six shorthanded goals, and are one short of their total for last season.
Todd "Fridge" Fedoruk briefly got the Flyers back in it with his first NHL goal and point, leaning all 236 pounds into a blast from the left wing, but McGillis and Chris Therien immediately destroyed the momentum with back-to-back penalties.
Therien was in the box for crosschecking when Kovalev sent hats raining to the ice with a left point drive off Boucher's arm and in, 9:48 remaining in the second.
The game quickly got out of hand. Corbet drove Boucher to the bench in favor of Cechmanek, who looked very ordinary in being unable to freeze the puck during a flurry that ended with a Milan Kraft goal, scored with 2:10 left in the second.
The Flyers made it 5-2 when Gagne netted a power-play rebound, ending the team's 0-for-22 power-play drought, 6:16 into the third.
"I don't have any answers," said Keith Primeau, one of the heroes of the vastly different, 3-0 home win over Buffalo in the Flyers' most recent previous outing. "The first 10 minutes, we played solid. Then we came unglued."
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