PITTSBURGH (AP)—Sidney Crosby couldn’t make a stronger argument that he belongs on Team Canada. Still, no matter how well the star teenager is playing, his Pittsburgh Penguins still aren’t ready to consistently beat a good team like the Philadelphia Flyers.
Crosby scored twice 44 seconds apart early in the third period in his first game since being left off Canada’s Olympic team, but Mike Knuble and Peter Forsberg scored two late goals to rally Philadelphia past Pittsburgh 5-4 Friday after the Flyers blew a three-goal lead.
Forsberg scored twice and Simon Gagne got his 25th goal—and fifth in four games against Pittsburgh—and an assist as the Flyers avoided their second loss of the season to Pittsburgh a night after holding on for a 4-3 win over Ottawa. They led 4-0 in that game.
The 18-year-old Crosby, a somewhat surprising Olympics omission despite his age and relative lack of international experience, insisted he wasn’t sending a message to Canada—including Ken Hitchcock, the Flyers coach and a Canada assistant.
Instead, he said, the Penguins were desperate to get out of a slump that has seen them drop 11 of 12 and go 0-3 under new coach Michel Therrien. Therrien used a six-day schedule break to try to install a new system that emphasizes tight defense.
“Honestly, it wasn’t on my mind,” Crosby said of an Olympic snub that has created considerable debate in Canada. “We’re trying to improve and you’re seeing a focus in everyone right now, we have good energy and we’re all battling.”
But a team that has lost 26 of 34 needs better goaltending and defense to beat a team that has won 21 of 34, even when Philadelphia is squandering advantages.
“We’ve got a two-game trend going with building big leads and letting them slide away, but we’ve been able to step up to the plate when we’re down,” Knuble said.
Hitchcock said his team relaxed after being up 3-0, and said, “One of the things we’ve got to do better is develop the attitude when we’ve got people down we’ve got to keep putting the hammer to them.”
Until Forsberg and Knuble’s goals, it looked like Crosby might beat the Flyers almost single-handedly for the second time in five weeks. He gave the Penguins one of their few wins by defeating the Flyers 3-2 on Nov. 16 with a breakaway goal in overtime.
The Penguins were down 3-0 before coming back to lead 4-3 on Crosby’s two goals and an assist. But Marc-Andre Fleury, who settled down after allowing several soft goals early, let in two more 1:10 apart to decide it.
After Forsberg beat him from above the right circle with a shot that appeared to hit off Fleury’s shoulder and trickle between his pads at 15:27 to tie it, Knuble won it at 16:37 with a wrist shot from the edge of the right circle off Mike Richards’ setup.
Asked if Fleury should have stopped Forsberg’s tying goal, Therrien said, “It was a good shot. We let the guy walk in. There is no reason to let a guy walk in like this.”
Before that, the Flyers built their lead an unlikely way—by thriving on long shots from defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who hadn’t scored all season. After Gagne scored on a power play just over five minutes in, Seidenberg was initially credited with a goal on a knuckleball of a shot from between the left circle and the blue line. The goal was later credited to Forsberg on a tip-in.
Perhaps convinced he could score from long distance, Seidenberg made it 3-0 early in the second with a similar shot from the right point that Fleury somehow couldn’t play.
Then it was the Crosby show, as he started Pittsburgh’s comeback with a one-handed pass in traffic from behind the net to Tomas Surovy at the right edge of the crease midway through the second to cut the Flyers’ lead to 3-1.
With the Penguins down 3-2 early in the third—they are 0-16-5 when trailing after two periods—Crosby tied it by taking Ziggy Palffy’s pass a stride inside the blue line, then faking a slap shot before dangling the puck on his stick and beating goalie Antero Niittymaki with a shot under the crossbar at 1:43 of the third.
His second goal less than a minute later wasn’t quite as showy, but was nearly as good, a backhander from the slot that, like his first goal, came with defenseman Kim Johnsson—a Swedish Olympian—hanging on his shoulder.
The Flyers won their first game of a franchise-record, 11-game road trip. … The Flyers were 2-of-11 on the power play. The Penguins have been short-handed 25 times in their first three games under Therrien, allowing seven power-play goals. … The Flyers led in shots 14-6 after the first and had a two-night advantage of 33-17 in the opening period. … Philadelphia is 8-3-2 on the road; the Penguins are 4-9-4 at home.