I may have defended John Stevens as a developing NHL coach yesterday. The term “developing” practically guarantees mistakes will be made in the process. And the game against the Rangers was chock full of personnel pitfalls from the net outwards.
Goaltending: I can understand why Stevens selected Niittymaki for the start. Biron hasn’t performed well in back-to-back starts this season, and the team will need a healthy Biron down the stretch and into the playoffs.
However, Niittymaki allowed two soft goals in the first period, and this is neither a league nor a time in the season where such mistakes can occur. Henrik Lundqvist made similar errors in the Rangers end, and Tom Renney had the sense to pull his netminder to begin the second. Stevens should have done the same.
Defense: Jaroslave Modry was acquired from the LA Kings because the Philadelphia Flyers needed a stronger defense corps, particularly with veteran Derian Hatcher out of the lineup. Modry is a veteran, and I can see why the Flyers’ staff see value in having him on the ice. The 36-year-old defenseman left the game against Buffalo last Monday with a “sprained rotator cuff.” According to the Canadian Press, Modry’s injury is actually a torn labrum in the shoulder.
What I fail to comprehend is why Stevens felt compelled to play Modry against the Rangers. Lasse Kukkonen, who has mysteriously been in Stevens’ doghouse all year long, was a +1 against the Islanders with 2 hits and 6 blocked shots. Modry had not played well in his first game as a Flyer, got injured in his second, and was a -3 versus the Rangers. Perhaps it’s time for Kukkonen to get a shot as a regular instead of as the 7th D-man.
Offense: When Jesse Boulerice took his stick to the face of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, I thought I had seen the last of this goon. Then, when he logged only 1:54 minutes of ice time and a stupid fight in his first game back in the NHL a week ago, I definitely believed he was done. Apparently I was wrong.
Yesterday Stevens gave Boulerice a spot on the bench, scratching rookie forward Steve Downie. Granted, the Rangers were dressing tough guy Colton Orr. Granted, Steve Downie is no angel himself. But Downie provides excellent puck protection and a goal scorer’s touch to the depleted Flyers lineup; Boulerice simply offers his goonish abilities. There are other men on this team capable of fighting Colton Orr – namely Riley Cote, who held his own against Orr in the last meeting of these two teams. This is the time to play the youth, give experience to the bench. Not the time to give space to goons.