By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH — Road games haven’t been kind to the Philadelphia Flyers this season.
But they’ve always felt right at home against their hated cross-state rivals from Pittsburgh.
Sidney Crosby scored his 300th career NHL goal, but Brayden Schenn helped the Flyers rally, netting two of the next four to defeat the sputtering Penguins, 4-1, Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
“For whatever reason, we come in here and we seem to do pretty well,” Brayden Schenn said.
The Flyers, already eliminated from postseason play, won for just the third time in 12 games. They also snapped a pesky nine-game road losing streak, winning away from home for the first time since Feb. 15 at Buffalo.
No coincidence it happened against the rival Penguins in Pittsburgh.
The Flyers won their seventh straight game against the Penguins and fifth consecutive in Pittsburgh. Philadelphia upped its record to 11-1-1 in 13 regular-season games at Consol Energy Center and 13-2-1 in 16 contests since the building opened in 2010.
“They have two of the top players in the world, so anytime you get a chance to face a team like that, it’s a little extra challenge,” Brayden Schenn said. “They’re our rivals. For whatever reason, we get up to play these guys. It’s always fun.”
The Penguins were down one of the top players in the game on Wednesday as former NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin was a late scratch because of an undisclosed injury. Coach Mike Johnston said the team is being cautious with the injury, describing Malkin as day-to-day.
“I don’t expect it to linger,” Johnston said. “I’m saying day-to-day because it might be two-to-three days or maybe four days.”
The Penguins missed a chance to move into sole possession of second place in the crowded Metropolitan Division. They remain tied with the idle New York Islanders with 95 points, just one point ahead of the Washington Capitals, who hold the first wild-card spot.
The Penguins won back-to-back weekend games, but couldn’t sustain the momentum, struggling with just three wins in their last nine games. They also fell to 9-14-4 against Metropolitan Division opponents.
Crosby became the fifth Penguin in franchise history to score his 300th career NHL goal and 26th of the season. Fittingly enough, it came against the rival Flyers, his 80th point of the season, which increased his cushion in the NHL scoring race to three points.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, that was the only highlight as Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots, dropping his sixth straight start against the Flyers.
Brayden Schenn scored his 15th and 16th of the season for Philadelphia, while Vincent Lecavalier netted his eighth and first goal in 27 games. Carlo Colaiacovo also scored for the first time since March of last year. Steve Mason also stopped 24 shots for just his second road win of the season in 20 games.
“I wish we had more games here,” Flyers’ head coach Craig Berube said. “We get excited and we play well against the Penguins. It’s one of those teams that bring out the best in us and we feel pretty comfortable in this building, that’s for sure.”
Malkin was given what was described as a “maintenance day” on Tuesday and didn’t participate in the optional game-day skate. He previously missed six games with a lower-body injury before returning for back-to-back wins this past weekend against Arizona and San Jose, registering two assists in those games. The Penguins lost five of six during that span without the former NHL MVP.
“It’s Evgeni Malkin,” Penguins’ defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “We miss his offense. He’s an explosive player who creates a lot from sometimes nothing. I think any team is going to miss that and we certainly do.”
The Penguins were also missing another defenseman again.
Injuries to Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff have left the Pens down a defenseman, forcing a five-man rotation to log heavy minutes as the team fights for playoff positioning in the final games of the regular season.
Letang was hospitalized after taking a hit from Arizona’s Shane Doan and Saturday and Ehrhoff missed his fourth game on Wednesday with an upper-body injury. Letang, one of the top defensemen in the league, was released Sunday with a concussion, but the Penguins don’t have enough salary cap space to recall another defenseman, pushing the group to play with five blueliners for the second straight game and third time in 12 days.
“Some guys are going to play more minutes than usual, but it’s really not a big deal if we’re playing the game the right way,” Scuderi said. “If we’re in the offensive zone, the toll isn’t as bad, but if you play in your half of the red line most of the night, it can add up.”
Crosby opened the scoring Wednesday with his 300th career NHL goal just 3:29 into the game. The Penguins’ captain crashed the net from the right edge of the crease, knocking a Patric Hornqvist rebound past Mason.
That was all for the Penguins as Lecavalier tied it late in the first period. Fleury stopped the initial try from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, but Lecavalier found the rebound in the slot and fired a wrist shot past the Penguins’ goaltender.
Schenn put the Flyers ahead at 12:43 of the second period, corralling a bouncing puck in the slot off the rush and sending a sharp wrist shot behind Fleury.
He did it again on the power play, giving the Flyers a 3-1 lead just 49 seconds into the third period, re-directing a Jakub Voracek shot-pass from the point behind Fleury from the top of the crease.
The game was far beyond the Penguins’ reach by the time Colaiacovo scored a short-handed goal soon after, making it 4-1.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance to be honest with you,” Crosby said. “I don’t think they did anything different than what we expected. We were bad from start to finish.”
NOTES: Crosby has scored 31 of his 300 career goals against the Flyers…The Penguins have scored 19 goals in 12 games Malkin has missed…Philadelphia avoided going 10 road games without a win for the first time since the 1991-92 season.