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Preview: Thrashers @ Flyers 3/18/2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Before the trade deadline, a friend of mine asked why any team would still be interested in Peter Forsberg given his history of injuries and will-he-or-won’t-he drama.  In response I pointed to the 2006 playoff series between Philadelphia and Buffalo.  The Sabres won the first two games and entered the Wachovia looking to sweep the series.  And the probably would have if Forsberg wasn’t wearing the Orange and Black.  He single-handedly won games with his creative, physical, miraculous, clutch performances:

The 2007-2008 Flyers have demonstrated every component they need to win in the course of this season – talent, team chemistry, physicality, depth.  Everything, that is, except one: Clutch performances when all the chips are down.

Keith Jones always points out on the Versus broadcasts that the Flyers are the only team with six players with 20+ goals for the season.  That indicates depth, but it also shows that there are no scoring stars here.  Mike Richards may have been able to carry this team through the middle of the season, and he will certainly bring his best game down the stretch.  Danny Briere isn’t a replacement for Forsberg’s points.  Lupul, Hartnell, Prospal, Carter, Knuble – they’re not Lecavalier, Ovechkin, or Kovalchuk.  Everyone needs to come ready for battle.

The fourth liners need to be solid as well, not taking harmful penalties at key points in the game.  Some have criticized Scottie Upshall for yapping without being willing drop the gloves.  Getting under the opposition’s skin is great, especially if you can force them into taking a penalty without ending up in the box yourself.  Upshall’s yapping isn’t the problem; it’s that he ends up in the box and doesn’t bring anyone with him.  And usually, it’s for things like diving or hooking.  Needless penalties.  If he can’t get the other guy to do something rash, then he needs to shut up before it hurts his team.

As for the blueline, well, it can’t be a sieve tonight.  Jason Smith may be a bit of turnstile.  However, take one look at the 2006 Edmonton playoff run, and you’ll see he’s the best clutch d-man the Flyers have.  Kimmo Timonen isn’t dominant physically, so as the play gets rougher, any mistake in positioning will be magnified and probably become an opposition goal.  We saw that in Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh.  Coburn, Jones, Kukkonen, Parent: young guys who need to be solid at the very least. 

And Jaroslav Modry better get his butt in gear or these will be the last 9 games he plays in the NHL.  He was  +2 on that defensive juggernaut in Los Angeles.  You would think a player would be motivated by coming from a last place team to one in the playoff hunt.  Yet Modry has presented shoddy, weak defense in nearly every game he’s been dressed for Philadelphia.  I don’t care if his shoulder is injured.  He’s an experienced veteran who knows that with the playoffs looming if it’s not falling off, broken, or bleeding profusely, you will play and play well.

The proof is also in the pudding for the goaltenders.  Martin Biron wanted to be the #1 guy.  That’s why he stayed in Philly.  He’s shown that he can stand on his head and pull out wins.  But if he can’t do that when it counts with the postseason in the balance, he will be relegated once more to second string.  Antero Niittymaki has the same challenge.  He’s done it on the international level; he’s young enough to still have a shot at #1.  But the window is closing.  Back ups have stolen the job late in seasons – think Cam Ward in Carolina.  Either way, someone needs to decide that he is the guy and prove it on the ice.

Coaching.  John Stevens might bear some responsibility for this club’s position.  Dressing Boulerice against the Sabres?  Sitting Cote and Downie – the only healthy guys willing to drop the gloves – on the back end of a physical home-and-home against Toronto?  Benching the solidly performing Kukkonen in favor of the resident bum Modry?   His NHL career depends on what happens down the stretch.  And shuffling locker room stalls isn’t going to be enough.

The result of this game determines whether or not the Flyers make the playoffs.  It doesn’t get more clutch than that.

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