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Well, it’s the same old song . . .

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The writer’s strike may have ended, but the Flyers are still playing from the same script.

After a painfully slow first period where Philadelphia spent long stretches in their own zone, they scored twice in the second for a one goal lead.  But they couldn’t manage to supply a cushion in the third, allowing Boston to tie it up with less than a minute left in regulation.  Boston won in overtime.

This team reminds me of an Oreo cookie – the only good part is in the middle.  And teams that can neither begin nor finish strong will not succeed in the playoffs.

That said, the fourth line deserves the credit for keeping the Flyers in this game during the first.  Not only did Cote deliver a great performance in his fight with Shawn “the other one” Thorton.  Thoresen and Upshall combined with Mike Richards, just returning from an injury, to put in an energetic shift immediately after the fight.  Significance?  It was the first shift the Flyers actually spent in the opposition’s zone for any meaningful length of time.  Additionally, Riley Cote put together a strong offensive shift late in the first: winning a puck battle along the boards, making a drop pass to Scottie Upshall and putting up a screen in front of Tim Thomas.  It all led to a scoring chance, and when the fourth line can give you scoring opportunities, it’s a good afternoon.

Jason Smith showed why he is an asset for the playoffs.  Many critics have accurately pointed out that Smith looks like a turnstile against fast teams and is not the most gifted player when handling the puck.  However, Smith delivered huge hits at key times, narrowly prevented a Boston goal on a shot that sneaked through Biron’s pads, and was extremely effective in the corners.  He will be an important cog if this team makes the off-season – particularly if Derian Hatcher stays out.

Two things to watch over the next few games.

1.  Will Jeff Carter continue his hot streak?  Traditionally, Carter has been streaky; many young players are.  He tends to alternate between 15-20 game droughts and 10-15 game point-per-game production.  He’s at about the 10 game mark and played extremely well today, even though he didn’t register a goal.  However, could missing on the breakaway in overtime – a play that resulted in Aaron Ward’s game winner – throw Carter off his game?  Will he be strong as Mike Richards gets himself back into the swing of things? 

2.  Will the Flyers come out swinging in the 3 games over the next week?  If there was a single game of the year to be ready for, this was it.  A win over Boston would have greatly solidified the Flyers’ playoff bid.  Moreover, emotions ran high this entire season between the teams because of the controversial hits.  I know that the Penguins and national TV await tomorrow, but today was the game to worry about.  They didn’t, and they lost.  Can they recover, take the next games seriously, and play a full 60 minutes over a span of games?

If Carter is effective and the Flyers come prepared to compete, expect to see wins.  Otherwise, I’m looking forward to the draft.

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