I’m going to deviate slightly from the hockey theme for a moment, but bear with me. I promise there’s a point.
During high school, I held the position of defensive specialist for our volleyball team. For the uninitiated, that means I played in the back row only, usually as a substitution for a front-row hitter whose defensive skills were subpar. The strict substitution rules which govern volleyball rotations dictated that I only played three out of every six rotations – or half the game. The other half, I sat on the bench and cheered my teammates on.
Sitting on the bench, you notice a myriad of things. You observe the formation of plays, the habits of the opposition, and a host of other tiny details inherent in any sport. As a player, it was sometimes painful to see a play develop because you were helpless to effect change from the bench. All you could do was trust your team to succeed while you waited.
That same feeling came back to me last night during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. Granted, I’m not remotely close to being a professional hockey player. Yet from my sofa, even I could see that Danny Briere dipsy-doodling at the Penguins blueline midway through the second period would not end well. And seconds later, the Pens obtained the 3-on-1 resulting in Tyler Kennedy’s first playoff goal.
The fans at the Wachovia Center on Sunday afternoon did their utmost to carry the Flyers. They chanted, applauded, cheered, jeered, stood on their feet, and made just about every other sound imaginable to bring energy into the building. It wasn’t enough because ultimately we just sit on the bench. It’s the players who decide how badly they want the Stanley Cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins announced their intentions last night, loud and clear, before a host of white at the Igloo. It’s time for the Flyers to respond in kind. Their playoff lives depend on it.
According to this morning’s news, the Flyers plan to announce the 2008-09 season team award winners prior to tonight’s home game against the Florida Panthers.
For those unfamiliar with the Flyers’ team awards, there are three: the Bobby Clarke Trophy (team MVP), the Barry Ashbee Trophy (most outstanding defenseman), and the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (most improved). The Clarke and Ashbee Trophies are selected by the sportscasters and sportswriters; the Lindbergh Trophy is voted on by the team. In 2007-08, the award winners were Mike Richards for team MVP, Kimmo Timonen for best defenseman, and Braydon Coburn and Riley Cote were co-recipients of the Lindbergh trophy.
I don’t expect that we’ll see much change in those first two awards for the 2008-09 season. Mike Richards may not be the leading scorer this year, but he is the foundation on which the current Flyers squad is built. He not only plays in all game situations—he excels in all situations. He’s on the ice for the first minute and the last minute of pivotal games. He’s the first forward chosen to defend in 5-on-3 situations, and he’s also the most likely to score shorthanded. Jeff Carter is the flashy choice because of his goal totals, but Richards provides a greater overall value to his team.
Kimmo Timonen is the undisputed heart and soul of the Flyers blueline. His absence during the Flyers’ flu epidemic of 2009 left the team unable to produce points on the power play and unable to keep pucks out of the net in almost any situation. Luca Sbisa referred to him as a father figure in a recent interview, and that is exactly the type of leadership the young Flyers defense corps needs to be successful in the playoffs. I see no reason to aware the Barry Ashbee to anyone else.
That leaves us with the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy for the most improved player, as voted by his teammates. Jeff Carter is the obvious candidate for this award. A broken stick shy of 30 goals in 2007-08, Carter reached the 40-goal plateau this season and is among the league’s top goal scorers as well, behind only scoring phenom Alexander Ovechkin and tied with New Jersey’s Zach Parise.
Most impressive, however, is Carter’s marked improvement in consistency. His prior seasons were marked by spurts of greatness interspersed with lackluster disappearing acts. This year, he’s been a scoring machine centering the Sky line with wingers Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul. Carter’s team-high 11 game-winning goals demonstrate his talent for clutch-scoring. He’s also been strong defensively, using his checking line experience from last season to catapult him towards his full potential. What should scare opponents is the fact that Carter has shown evidence of another gear in his repertoire, and I suspect he will continue to blossom as a power centerman over the next season or two.
A potential dark horse for the Pelle Lindbergh Trophy is Simon Gagne. While his 33 goals are not significant in comparison to his scoring totals during the Forsberg era, Gagne has returned from last year’s concussion with a vengeance. With 12 power play goals (top 16 in the NHL), 4 short-handed goals (top 6 in the NHL), and a plus-23 rating (top 25 in the NHL), Gagne ranks alongside Richards and Carter in importance to overall team success, No one could have predicted with certainty that he would rebound this strongly; similar injuries have ended the careers of other players. His success this season is overshadowed by commentators due to the emergence of Carter and Richards. Perhaps his teammates will choose to acknowledge him with the Lindbergh Trophy.
So now I turn it over to you. Who do you think should win these awards?
The title of this blog, taken from Adam Kimelman’s <a href=http://www.amazon.com/Good-Ugly-Philadelphia-Flyers-Heart-pounding/dp/1600780210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238763721&sr=8-1″ target=”_blank”>book about the Flyers</a>, could easily describe the 2008-09 Flyers’ style of play.
Good: Look at the games against Pittsburgh and New Jersey. The Flyers played disciplined hockey, patiently waiting for opportunities and capitalizing on scoring chances. With Biron at his best in goal and the team solidified in front of him, they appeared to be a true contender in the East.
Bad: Consider their recent meeting at Nassau Colisseum with the Islanders. The young, offensively gifted recruits on Long Islander nearly stole two points from a Flyers team coming off strong victories over better clubs. Only the Islanders’ inexperience in sustaining a lead allowed Philadelphia to overcome their lacksadaisacal play to get a shootout win.
Ugly: Toronto should be a place where NHL players rise to the occasion. It’s the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe. Many Canadian-born players cheered for the Maple Leafs as kids. Some have family and friends in southern Ontario who arrive at the ACC specifically to see them play. Mix that in with the proximity of the playoffs and a chance to catch the New Jersey Devils in the standings, and you should have seen a very motivated Flyers club.
Instead, the players in orange and black performed as though they’d rather be doing anything but playing hockey. I cannot point to a single area in which the Flyers produced even decent numbers against the Leafs. I turned the game off after the second period in disgust.
Frankly speaking, I’m worried about a first-round exit in the playoffs. If these guys are tired, ready to go home, unable to muster the fire required to win a Stanley Cup, then I’d prefer they quit now. Stop answering questions about the Phillies parade by talking about seeing the Flyers on Broad Street in the near future. Stop repeating the standard, tired adages about buckling down and keeping it simple. Stop playing so poorly that we all have to spend our time talking about the JVR signing to avoid having to deal with how bad you look right now.
Execute it on the ice, or go home. Because I would rather see call-ups working hard to prove themselves than a bunch of talented but lackluster NHLers taking a late-season nosedive.
Tim Panaccio is reporting that the Flyers have signed Swedish goaltending prospect Joacim Eriksson. If that’s true, it’s a fantastic move for the Flyers. They have great organization depth at forward and some solid prospects on defense, but goaltending is a gigantic black hole.
Postgame. I called this a statement game this morning, and Martin Biron and his fellow Philadelphia Flyers delivered a firm response this afternoon. Staying out of the box, taking advantage of the power plays given them, and maintaining a confident structure under the duress of the talented Penguins’ onslaught, the Flyers showed their capabilities today. They are prepared to play smart, disciplined, and opportunistic hockey.
Biron handily won the goaltending duel with Marc-Andre Fleury. He squelched rebounds and did an excellent job managing the puck outside his own crease. I was particularly worried when Biron came out to execute a poke check, flashing back to the last game between these two opponents. But he quietly and cleanly handled the puck to avert harm. What a contrast to Fleury, who allowed two goals on the first ten shots he saw.
Particularly impressive was the effort from all six defensemen. The broadcast team commented on the use of Andrew Alberts and Randy Jones against the Malkin line early in the game, noting that Alberts isn’t known as a particularly effective shutdown D. Perhaps that should be remedied. Based on some statistics assembled by James Mirtle, Alberts pulls numbers similar to Marc Staal, Robyn Regehr and Kevin Bieksa. You don’t have to be a Nik Lidstrom to contribute positively to your team.
All in all, it was a great win for the Flyers. They now solidly hold fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 3 games in hand on Pittsburgh and sit 3 points ahead of sixth-place Carolina. Not a bad position to be in when facing the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night.
Preview. We hockey bloggers liberally toss out terms like “must-win” and “statement game” at this point in the season, but few games truly reflect the meaning of those words like today’s contest between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The two teams are currently tied in the Eastern Conference standings, holding the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. It is doubtful either team will catch the division-leading New Jersey Devils, and barring a disastrous collapse at the end of the season, it is unlikely either team will be caught by the cluster below them. The table is set for a Pennsylvania first-round match up.
Which means whoever wins today’s game will take one step closer to home ice advantage for the first round – and just imagine what a game 7 between the Flyers and Pens would look like in either city.
Here’s the test for Philadelphia. With a win – regardless of in regulation or overtime – the Flyers control their own destiny. They would prevent the Pens from gaining any ground in the standings while still having games in hand on Pittsburgh. It’s not a guarantee of finishing fouth, but it would definitely help nudge us towards a game 7 at the Wachovia Center instead of the Igloo.
I will be on the Big Hair Hockey show at 11 AM to discuss this afternoon’s game with a fellow blogger from <a href=http://chicshockey.com/ target=”_blank”>ChicsHockey.com</a>. You can listen to the show at <a href=http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Hockey-Chics target=”_blank>www.blogtalkradio.com</a>. You can also call-in and join the conversation at (347) 324-3009.
LET’S GO FLYERS!!
In his Breakaways portion of yesterday’s Red Wings-Flyers wrap up, Sam Carchidi pointed out that both Scottie Upshall and Daniel Carcillo have contributed 3 points to their respective teams since the trade deadline and are equal in plus/minus. Sounds like an okay deal for the Flyers, right? Swapping players, taking less salary back, and getting the same amount of production?
Carchidi’s thought missed two additional key statistical factors to consider when weighing the trade value of role players – time-on-ice and time in the box.
In Phoenix, Upshall is playing top six forward minutes, typically playing 17-18 minutes and seeing time on the power play. Three points in seven games is adequate, especially on a struggling team like the Coyotes.
Carcillo, on the other hand, managed to put up his three points as a third-liner with only 10 mintues a night and no special teams time. True, it might just be a reflection of the Flyers’ depth at forward. But it’s good sign that Carcillo is finding ways to adapt his game into Stevens’ system. That trade looking any better now, Flyers fans?
It shouldn’t. What the most penalized team in the NHL this season needed least at the trade deadline was another player who would take costly penalties at crucial moments in the game. And unfortunately, that’s just what they got.
Upshall has only two penalties during his time as a Coyote, one of which was taken late in the third period of Buffalo’s 5-1 rout of visiting Phoenix. I wouldn’t call that particularly harmful in the grand scheme of things.
In addition to his three assists in the Orange and Black, Carcillo has racked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, three roughing minors, a fighting major, and a game misconduct. One of those roughing minors was taken Tuesday night in Detroit; his actions cost the Flyers a rare power play opportunity against one of the least penalized teams in the league.
If we only learned one thing from last year’s playoff series between Philadelphia and Washington, it was that maturity makes a difference in the critical moments of the battle for the Stanley Cup. The Flyers had enough veterans who understood the necessary sacrifices and self-discipline. That alone sustained them against a red-hot Capitals squad with youthful exuberance and a hell of a lot of talent.
Carcillo would do well to take note. Preferably before we hit April.