Mar 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Lee Stempniak (22) carries the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Flyers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins Get Well-Timed Lesson During Lost Weekend

Leave it to the Flyers to inspire a reaction in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After Philadelphia forced the issue for roughly the first 75 minutes of this weekend’s all-Keystone State home-and-home, the Pens finally committed to playing at the Flyers’ level.

The results from that point on were encouraging, as Pittsburgh outscored Philly 3-1 and came within a couple inches of forcing overtime on a pair of occasions. After the game, the positive trend continued as coach Dan Bylsma announced that Kris Letang and Beau Bennett have both been cleared to practice.

But as much as health is critically important to the Penguins’ postseason chances, the pair of losses to the Flyers made it abundantly clear that Bylsma’s boys had been a little lacking in external motivation.

Feeling some March malaise is natural when you have an insurmountable lead in the division – now 15 points with 15 games to play – and are far removed from the competition for the final few spots in the Eastern Conference playoff field.

That cushion is terrific for a team struggling with injuries like the Penguins. As players return to health, Bylsma and his staff can shuffle forward lines and defense pairings without needing to find the perfect match right away. That’s a luxury that shouldn’t be discounted.

At the same time, though, eating caviar in the penthouse can dull a team’s competitive edge, a reality that was quite obvious as the Flyers scored seven straight goals to start the weekend showdown.

Yes, the Penguins were without top-line wingers James Neal and Chris Kunitz, in addition to Letang and Paul Martin on the blueline, but those absences can’t totally explain how dominant the Flyers were in the first four periods of the back-to-back.

Related: Neal and Kunitz join Letang and Bennett at Monday practice

Despite the Pens’ pushback in the final two frames of the weekend, they still continue to trend steadily downward in puck possession after a scintillating start to the season. Some extra energy isn’t going to restore their autumnal heights, but it will assist in matching the work rate of desperate teams in the coming weeks.

Pittsburgh should hope its humbling losses to the Flyers impart lasting lessons, because two matchups with fringe playoff teams lurk this week. Dallas (eighth in West) pays a visit to Consol Energy Center on Tuesday, then the Pens make a Thursday trip to Detroit (10th in East).

Looking further down the line, the Penguins have four weeks to get their game where it needs to be. As they just discovered, they have some catching up to do in that department.

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