The one thing about hockey that is different than its colleagues on the sporting landscape is that the line between being a good team and a bad team is incredibly thin.

That’s because when upsets happen in baseball, or football, or basketball, it’s usually the result of the underdog playing above their skill level and successfully executing on the playing surface while the team being upset usually fails to execute at the skill level they are used to performing.

There is an element of that in hockey as well, but the difference in hockey is that sometimes, it’s not skill-based execution that makes the difference, but rather desire and hard-work within the confines of the game.

It’s really the Miracle on Ice theory. The Russians were certainly the more skilled team. And they weren’t awful against the Americans in the 1980 Olympic semifinal. They still scored three goals and still created a lot of chances. The difference was the Americans commitment to their game plan, their system, and their unending desire to beat the best amateur team in the world.

Sometimes wanting it more than your opponent is enough to generate a victory over a team that is, on paper, the better team.

I know it’s weird to say this, but on paper, the Flyers are the better team than the Pittsburgh Penguins – especially a Penguins team without Sidney Crosby, as was the case Tuesday.

But the Penguins were the more desperate team, played with more desire, and although the Flyers outshot them and controlled possession for most of the game (15 minutes of the second period notwithstanding) the Penguins played harder, faster, and forced the Flyers into different mistakes than usual, resulting in a 5-2 Penguins victory, as the two teams played in front of fans for the first time this season in Pittsburgh.

The teams are now tied for fourth place in the East Division with 25 points each, but the Flyers still hold the tiebreaker. Tiebreakers don’t matter right now though, as the two teams will play again Thursday – and Saturday – but whoever wins Thursday will be in front of the other in the standings.

And if you are still scratching your head by my statement earlier that the Flyers are the better team on paper, keep in mind that this was only the fifth regulation win for the Penguins in 21 games this season. And conversely it was only the Flyers’ second regulation loss to a team other than the Boston Bruins, and first since the third game of the season.

As bad as the Flyers penalty kill is, the Penguins are even worse. They were allowing at least one power play goal against in every game this season before shutting out the Flyers Tuesday.

The Penguins’ goalies have been mostly atrocious, too. Tristan Jarry, who got the win Tuesday, and Casey DeSmith have combined to be the fifth-worst tandem in the NHL, allowing 3.19 goals per game.

And considering the Penguins have a decent record overall, now 12-8-1, one would think that they probably are pumping in a lot of goals to make up for their weakness in net. Not so. They are middle of the pack, ranking 16th in the NHL and scoring just 2.95 goals per game.

In short, they are winning with a lot of good fortune.

It didn’t seem like luck was on their side earlier Tuesday though as it was announced that Crosby would miss the game (and likely the next two as well) after being put in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. The Pens even had their morning skate canceled by the league.

All signs pointed to an easy Flyers win, but no one told the Penguins that.

Pittsburgh did a nice job of pressuring the Flyers in the neutral zone, a tactic that caught the Flyers a little by surprise, and resulted in a lot of mistake on the Flyers’ part in the middle of the ice.

When they were able to get into the Pittsburgh zone, the Flyers had some good shifts and a lot of shots.

But getting there was the challenge, it it wasn’t struggles with the breakout, which have felled the Flyers before. Instead, it was mistakes in the neutral zone that sent the Penguins the other way.

1. Defensive struggles

Ivan Provorov (minus-4) and Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-3) did not have a good night. The duo have played very well together for the Flyers since being reunited, but they picked a bad night to have a poor defensive outing.

Provorov rarely looks lost defensively, but he was Tuesday, seemingly out of position on a couple of Penguins goals. Meanwhile, Gostisbehere turned into bad Ghost for one night, both turning the puck over and not giving the quality defensive effort that he had been recently.

It prompted a short benching of Gostisbehere at the start of the third period, with the Flyers on consecutive power plays and coach Alain Vigneault replacing Ghost on the top PP unit. That’s a position he just recently re-earned, with Travis Sanheim and then they even bother to put Ghost on the second PP unit, which usually has two defensemen, letting Provorov handle those duties alone with four forwards.

Ghost did get a few seconds of PP time in both cases at the very end of the power play, when the Flyers changed up a third time, but it certainly wasn’t as part of the top two units.

It shows that even though Ghost has been playing well of late, he still might have a shorter leash with this coaching staff.

And you can understand why Vigneault might have been a little perturbed after this goal:

What you don’t see (because I couldn’t find it… damn you Twitter!) was the pass from Ghost right to Kapanen as if he was his teammate. (Ironically, there was conversation a couple years ago when current Penguins GM Ron Hextall, was GM of the Flyers, of trading Ghost for Kapanen, who was then with Toronto. It never happened. Maybe it should have!)

After the game Ghost even was quite critical of himself:

He’s not wrong. It turned a 1-0 Flyers lead into a 1-1 tie, and then Kapanen, who I remember running around the Flyers locker room as a little kid (damn, I’m old) when his dad Sami Kapanen played for the Flyers, scored his second goal of the game when the Flyers decided to stand around and watch Travis Sanheim try and defend three players by himself in front of the crease.

Before you even hit play, just look at the Flyers setup on the PK. It’s completely wrong. Sanheim already faces a 2-on-1 down low and Kapanen has so much room to sneak in back door. I think Oskar Lindblom has caught himself out of position and Justin Braun is a little too high creating this mess. OK… hit play and see how it goes:

Brutal. Just brutal.

Although not this brutal:

I don’t even want to show the video because it’s bad. The picture says 1,000 words though. How do Provorov and Gostisbehere let these two guys get behind them and set up shop in front of Hart. Only bad things can happen… and trust me, they did. All right. You want to see it? Fine. I warned you:

I don’t even want to get into the fourth Penguin goal because it was kind of tic-tac-toe and the primary assist went to former Flyer Mark Friedman and it will unleash a whole new wave of comments that the Flyers shouldn’t have waived him, and Chuck Fletcher doesn’t know what he’s doing, and frankly, I don’t want to deal with those right now.

But, the final Penguins goal was unintentional comedy – although the Flyers aren’t the ones laughing at it:

Just bad execution all the way around. Travis Konecny has to get that puck in deep to allow for Hart to get off the ice and the extra attacker to come on. It turns into a goal that makes Hart look silly, although it’s not his fault at all.

Just a poor effort by most of the Flyers Tuesday.

2. At least the top line had it’s A game

That’s what Vigneault said after the game. That line keeps on humming. Joel Farabee scored both of the Flyers’ goals and now has 10 this season. Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk stayed hot, each adding an assist. Coots now has a career-best seven-game point streak and has a point in every game he has played to completion this season. Meanwhile, JVR continues to be among the top scorers in the NHL. His 26 points rank seventh in the league.

Here are Farabee’s goals if you want a little positivity to end this post, cause I got nothing else for you from this dud of a game:

What’s just out of this screen shot is Farabee jumping over the sliding defenseman and then landing just in time to catch the pass from Couturier for the goal. It was pretty. Here’s the other goal:

He’s been Johnny on the spot for a while now. And for all those people who hated trading Brayden Schenn a few years back, it’s looking like the rewards are starting to cash in on that deal. If Morgan Frost can recover from his injury and start making an impact next season it could be an even bigger trade win for the Flyers.

While I’ve got nothing else here, I do have more to come in the next 24 hours. Look for an update on fans in the stands for Sunday as well as a story on Zayde Wisdom, Flyers prospect who is taking the Phantoms by storm, even though he isn’t even supposed to be playing in the AHL. I had a great conversation with him and others about his fast start.

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