PHILADELPHIA — As soon as warmups began, the familiar boos for Sidney Crosby reverberated through the arena.
Flyers fans had long perfected that chorus against Philadelphia’s top antagonist.
The sound grew louder after the final horn — this time directed at the home team, the one buried in last place in the NHL.
Crosby, Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz scored goals, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Thursday night.
The Penguins were the latest team to stomp the cellar-dwelling Flyers. Off to their worst start after eight games, the Flyers are 1-7 and mired in last place, with only a miserable two points. Consider, the Flyers have had more head coaches (two) than wins (one) this season.
“We’ve got to start believing in each other, believing in ourselves, and going out and play hockey like we can,” coach Craig Berube said.
Clearly, the coaching switch from Peter Laviolette, fired after an 0-3 start, to Berube isn’t working.
Evgeni Malkin added an empty-net goal in the final seconds, and Marc-Andre Fleury made an early lead stand with 24 saves.
Fleury is 6-0 and has more wins than all but one team in the East.
“He looks strong the whole season. He looked strong in the game,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
All the Penguins looked strong against the Flyers. The Penguins outplayed them from the opening faceoff, and nearly doubled the Flyers in shots through two periods. Crosby, who has 29 career goals against the Flyers, has a career-best, seven-game point streak to start the season.
Unlike their cross-state rivals, the Penguins (6-1) are riding high atop the East.
“It’s nice to get rewarded early on, and to build some confidence and momentum,” Crosby said.
Wayne Simmonds had the lone goal for the Flyers, who have yet to score more than two in a game this season.
The Penguins grabbed control for good in the second period, taking shot after point-blank shot at Steve Mason. At one point, the Penguins camped out in the Philadelphia zone and held a 20-8 shots advantage. Sprawled on the ice, Mason made two straight fantastic saves against Matt Kiskanen and Deryk Engelland.
Again, the Flyers couldn’t generate offense. Matt Read made a sweet steal at the blue line and took off on a breakaway but then whiffed from the circle. He slammed his stick against the boards on his shift change.
The Flyers later failed on three attempts to clear the puck, and Jokinen pounced, scoring his fourth goal of the season for the 1-0 lead. Jokinen scored on Pittsburgh’s 22nd shot.
The punchless Flyers didn’t attempt their first shot of the second until 10ﾽ minutes in.
“When you’re only scoring one goal a game, it’s tough to win hockey games,” Mason said.
Kunitz punched in a rebound with 7:45 left for a 2-0 lead.
Yet, as badly as they were outplayed, the Flyers hung tight. Simmonds screened Fleury and redirected Claude Giroux’s shot with 2 seconds left to make it 2-1 and end Philadelphia’s 0 for 18 power-play skid.
Giroux has had a miserable season and hasn’t scored a goal. As captain, Giroux has taken the public stand that the Flyers can still turn around the season.
“Tonight is going to be a game to bring the fans back on our side and show them we’re a good team and can win games,” he said after the morning skate.
So much for that.
“Obviously, that’s how I felt,” Giroux said. “I think if we would have won that game, it would have been a big turning point. But it didn’t happen.”
Crosby’s tip-in with 2:32 left for his sixth goal of the season sealed the win.
Giroux hooked Malkin only 1:01 into the game, and the Flyers were whistled for two penalties in the opening 6 minutes. Simmonds misfired on an open net, and Jakub Voracek got cute on an open look and failed on a backhander when he could have flicked in the puck.
The Penguins won 12 of 20 faceoffs in the first, and dominated the rest of the way.
About the only reason for Flyers fans to cheer came in the second intermission when the public address announcer said an assist had been taken away from Crosby. He entered with an NHL-high 12 points (five goals, seven assists). Crosby, though, got the point back.
“You really just focus on your work ethic and making sure you’re committed to doing what you need to do every night,” Crosby said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way, especially early on. But we found a way to win games for different reasons.”