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A Flyer Fan’s Reaction to the Encounter with the Leafs

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Washington Capitals have been on a roller coaster lately.  They dominate some games in unstoppable fashion, then have a weekend where they squander leads with undisciplined play and panicked mistakes.  I mentioned in my predictions yesterday that it’s really a question of youth: they have the talent to be among the best teams in the league, but they haven’t had steady veteran leadership in which to ground that talent. 

That shows when they play Boston, a team that might lack pure talent but has core players with tons of experience like Chara or Murray or Savard.  True, Pittsburgh is loaded with youth.  They also have an all-star caliber veteran in Sergei Gonchar, and they’ve now had a year to learn from Gary Roberts.

So what relevance does that have for the Flyers?  Calling this team inconsistent surpasses understatement.  From winning streaks to losing streaks, from great periods to bad.  When clicking on all cylinders, this group can demolish any team in the league; when they decide to spectate instead of play, this group can be demolished by any team in the league.  It all comes back to youth.

Of the Flyers top 9 forwards, only four have more than 3 years NHL experience – Danny Briere (9), Mike Knuble (10), Scott Hartnell (6).  (I’m not counting Gagne, who’s been out of the lineup for the majority of the season.)  Our most seasoned fowards are really 4 liners who mostly contribute defensively and are no longer core guys like Jim Dowd and Sami Kapanen.  So up front, the Flyers are incredibly dependent upon youth.

On the blue line there is one bluechip defensman (Timonen), two warriors nearing the end of the road (Hatcher, Smith), one potential puck-mover who’s learning on the fly (Coburn), and three young guys still developing (Jones, Kukkonen, Parent).  It’s quite a discombobulated group.  But it makes sense – the vets are here to patch things over until the youth grow into a more cohesive, experienced group.

In addition to being young, it’s a fairly new team.  Last year’s squad was blown up – as it should have been.  Holmgren kept a handful of the front line: solid vet Sami Kapanen, franchise player Simon Gagne, and youth in Richards, Carter, and Umberger.  On the blue line, only Jones and Hatcher made the cut.  Niitymaki stayed in net.  Everyone else was acquired at the deadline (Coburn, Upshall, Parent, Biron, Kukkonen) or over the summer (Timonen, Hartnell, Briere, Lupul, Smith).

The two games against the Maple Leafs were frustrating because we know this team can do better.  The first game they relied too heavily on Martin Biron and failed to play solidly with a big lead in the third period.  The second game they didn’t wake up until Toronto scored its first goal, tied the game up a couple times, and stood around with the time instead of aggressively pursuing the puck.  Playoff destiny is in their own hands, and allowing 4 points to slip away does not make anyone comfortable going into a stretch dominated by tough-to-beat divisional opponents like New Jersey, the Rangers, and Pittsburgh.

We’ve witnessed flashes of this team’s brilliance.  As Scottie Upshall mentioned in a recent episode of FlyerBuzz TV, at times there’s a sense that this team could very well bring a championship to Broad Street.  Unfortunately, it may take more time for the youth to solidify into a tested group that knows how to hold a lead and how to fight back from a deficit, one that can sustain the level of play that not only wins a period or a game but a best-of-7 series.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. khandor permalink
    Thursday, March 13, 2008 10:20 am

    Nice job, overall, assessing the Flyers’ current circumstances.

    Think they’ll be able to hold onto the 8th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference?

  2. The Frozen Fan permalink
    Thursday, March 13, 2008 3:38 pm

    I think the Flyers will make the playoffs. In my opinion, what we’re witnessing is more growing pains than a meltdown. Smith wears the C, but Hatcher and Richards are the heart of this team. With Hatcher back and Richards returning, I expect to see better performance overall.

    If they miss the playoffs, don’t be surprised if there are changes made behind the bench.

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