Unlike baseball, there is no such thing as a "perfect game" in hockey. That said, Craig Berube's Flyers played about as perfect a hockey game as you could Saturday afternoon. They shut out the Penguins, 4-0, at Wells Fargo Center.
They played a 60-minute game of puck pressure, keeping the Penguins to the outside, so Steve Mason could earn a relatively easy 25-save shutout -- his fourth of the season.
They even managed to negate Sidney Crosby. Saturday marked the first time in 46 regular-season games with Crosby in the lineup the Pens failed to score a goal.
“For 60 minutes, it was good, and I liked the way we played in the third period,” Berube said. “We were composed with the pucks, did the right things, got it in deep. Liked our start to the game, a big power play goal to get us going.”
Pittsburgh was without five starters, including Chis Kunitz, James Neal, Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis. Even so, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said he felt his team could have played far better.
The Flyers got a power-play goal from Scott Hartnell against the league's No. 1 penalty kill and a shorthanded goal from Matt Read against the league’s No. 1 power play.
They did that in the game’s first eight minutes for a 2-0 lead and never looked back.
“Very impressive against a really strong hockey club regardless of the players they’re missing,” Mason said. “It’s a much-needed two points.”
The victory began the “Deadly Dozen” stretch of 12 games against teams all higher in the standings than the Flyers that will determine whether Berube’s club makes the playoffs.
“We know how big it is and we talked about it [Friday] during video,” Vinny Lecavalier, who scored his 15th goal, said. “How big these next 17 games are. It’s just so tight. Every year, it gets tighter and tighter.”
The Flyers' strong start to the game -- aggressive on the forecheck, aggressive on the puck, pushing the Pens to the outside -- resulted in a relaxing game for Mason, who has had some rough stretches of late.
“It’s a very calming thing knowing guys are going on all cylinders,” Mason said. “Going into this hockey game, we needed the two points more than they did and our guys earned it.
“From my standpoint, everything was very controlled from the breakout to our backchecking and zone play. Everything felt under control the whole game.”
The Flyers jumped on Pens' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with two goals on their first seven shots. Neither goal was at even strength.
“We were looking for a game like that a long time again and make sure everyone follows the game plan and plays 60 minutes,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said.
As predicted, special teams were critical: Pittsburgh was 0 for 5 on the power play while the Flyers were 1 for 4.
“They were better than us, I mean all over the ice,” Crosby said. “Special teams, they were more aggressive throughout the game, winning battles and things like that. Just no excuse for that, we’ve got to make sure we bounce back tomorrow.”
The Flyers and Penguins meet Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Crosby was shut down by Sean Couturier, who also set up two goals for Read, while Giroux went head-to-head against Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh had no answer for Couturier's smothering defense on Crosby, which set the tone for the entire game.
“I like his positioning on [Crosby] and taking away his speed,” Berube said. “He’s got a good stick. With Sid, he is so powerful and fast and quick and if you get on the wrong side of him and [are] not positionally-sound, he’ll make you look stupid. Couturier is a very good positional player with a very good stick.”
Crosby was a minus-3 while Couturier was a plus-3 -- mirror opposites.
“Pittsburgh is always a huge game and it’s always tight,” Couturier said. “Not a lot of space out there. Every first shift is huge when playing against the Penguins. Whoever [I faced], I was going to be excited.”
Now, the Flyers have to do it again in less than 24 hours.
“We have to put this behind us right away,” Giroux said. “They’re going back home and they want some revenge. They’re a good team and there’s a reason they are in first place. ... We need to make sure we’re ready.”
- Tim Panaccio, CSN Philly