Conor Sheary busts slump, carries Penguins over Flyers
PHILADELPHIA — For more than a month, Conor Sheary was swinging at fastballs in his eyes and breaking balls in the dirt.
On Wednesday night, he finally found his sweet spot.
Sheary scored a pair of second-period goals, snapping a 15-game drought and leading an opportunistic Penguins side to a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
Winners of three in a row, the Penguins leapfrogged the Washington Capitals back into first place in the Metropolitan Division, leaving the third-place Flyers three points in arrears.
“It is a relief, but I definitely want to make sure I keep going,” Sheary said. “I don’t want to go through another one of what I just went through.”
Before his pair of goals, Sheary hadn’t scored since Jan. 20 in San Jose. As the quality of his play dipped, he fell down the lineup card to the fourth line. The next logical stop was the press box as a healthy scratch.
Because of injuries to Bryan Rust and Dominik Simon early in the game, coach Mike Sullivan had no choice but to shuffle his line combinations.
He tried Sheary with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, and the line that had so much success late last season was magic once again.
“Essentially what I said to him was nothing lasts forever,” Sullivan said of his conversations with Sheary during his goal drought. “Hall of Fame hitters in baseball go through slumps. They don’t forget how to hit. That’s just the nature of pro sports.”
Trailing 1-0, the Flyers came out for the start of the second period with a vengeance.
They sliced through the neutral zone with ease and aggressively kept the puck in the offensive zone, often leaving tired Penguins defenders on the ice for long shifts.
They scored twice to take a 2-1 lead. Rookie Nolan Patrick pick-pocketed Derick Brassard to set up a Jakub Voracek goal, and Travis Konecny jammed a puck over goalie Tristan Jarry’s pad at the left post.
They had all the momentum in the world, but there was one factor they couldn’t account for: Crosby hates losing to the Flyers.
He was on the ice for three goals in the last 11 minutes of the period, assisting on two of them, running his career point total to 1,100 and tipping the scales dramatically in favor of the Western half of the state.
“That’s Sid,” defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. “He’s just a competitive guy. We did a good job of rallying around him. It was a good test for us, and we really stepped up there.”
Oleksiak scored the first goal of the flurry, shooting from the left point through a four-man tangle of bodies at the front of the cage to make it 2-2.
Sheary gave the Penguins the lead about five minutes later. Oleksiak sprung Crosby and Sheary for a two-on-one with a quick outlet pass. Crosby shot from the right wing, and Sheary cleaned up the rebound.
Sheary made it 4-2 with 39.3 seconds left in the period. At the end of a strong offensive-zone shift, Guentzel’s shot from the high slot was deflected to Sheary at the bottom of the right faceoff circle for a shot and a goal as he fell to the ice.
“I’ve been watching a lot of video with our coaches and a lot of it has been stay in front of the net,” Sheary said. “Stop in front of the net, get to those dirty areas. That’s where I score a lot of my goals.”
After the game, Sullivan said Rust was being evaluated for an upper-body injury suffered when he was boarded by defenseman Robert Hagg in the first period. Simon suffered a lower-body injury in the second.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.