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Flyers vs. Sharks 10/18/2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Best of the West meets the Least of the East.

Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in an unexpected position – bottom rung in the Eastern Conference. One could view that situation as rather dire. Even the ragtag bunch in Tampa led by their fearless mulleted coach Barry Melrose is ahead of the Orange and Black. 

I try, however, to see the glass as half full. Barry Melrose could still be on ESPN every Thursday. Or having farewell parties.

Seriously, the feeling out there is that Paul Holmgren will not sit tight if the Flyers lose again tonight. I doubt that John Stevens will be fired, given the Flyers great patience with his development as coach so far. But rumor has it that a big-time forward could be moved to a southern team for a big-time defenseman. My guess? Carter for Bouwmeester.

I predict a strong showing by Philadelphia tonight, ending in the boys from Broad Street earning two points in San Jose. How can I make such a bold statement? Mike Richards is the captain of this team, and he clearly understands how to stop the bleeding:

“Everybody is here for a reason; everybody has good things they bring to the team, and we just have to realize what that is and try to work to our capabilities. You don’t want to try to do something else that maybe didn’t get you here.”

First intermission. Flyers 1 – Sharks 0
Briere scores for the Flyers from his wheelhouse on a fabulous feed from Kimmo Timonen. Every Flyers fan should be happy to see him activated, especially so early in a game at even strength. It never ceases to amaze me that defensemen around the league seem not to notice when Briere sneaks to the side of the net. It’s no secret that he’s going to gravitate that direction. I cannot express just how much that irritated me when he was in Buffalo.

The referees in this game are demonstrating my biggest issue with the current state of NHL officials. Two nights ago in Denver, even the slightest hint of a restraining action drew a penalty. Tonight in San Jose I watched one of the Sharks put his entire stick and arm parallel to the ice directly into Mike Knuble’s mid-section, preventing him from skating forward into the puck. Knuble kept his feet moving, but no call was made. How can players know where the lines are if they vary that widely from one night to the next?

While we’re on the subject, Colin Campbell ought to take a look at the hit Rob Blake laid on Mike Richards. Those goal posts may not be cemented to the ice any more, but they are still metal and can cause serious damage – especially when a guy goes into one headfirst. It was a blatant hit from behind, and Blake should count himself lucky the Flyers captain didn’t sustain a serious injury. That doesn’t excuse the refs for missing the call, or Colin Campbell for not suspending Blake tomorrow morning.

Second intermission. Flyers 3 – Sharks 2
Coburn and Carter both put the puck behind Nabokov to maintain the Flyers lead, despite spending the vast majority of the period defending several short-handed bouts.

Niittymaki is playing out of his mind. The Sharks continue to wreak havoc between the circles, and Niitty hangs on, flashing gloves, pads, helmet, and whatever else he has handy to stop them. Now it’s time for the team in front of him to move play down towards his San Jose counterpart.

I know it’s the beginning of the season, and the officials have their own grooves to settle into. However, the performance by Masenhoven and his colleagues is so frustrating. During the first period, nothing was a penalty. Now a barely noticeable stick infraction far away from the play becomes a penalty for Steve Downie late in the second. I’m not contesting that Downie deserved the penalty. But the refs must be clear and consistent with their class from the beginning of a game straight to the end.

The Flyers will start the third period with the man advantage. The game plan should be simple. Score on this power play, then pedal to the metal until the final buzzer. Don’t put yourself into the penalty box. Keep your feet moving. 

End of regulation. Flyers 4 – Sharks 4
Sometimes you just want to strangle Antero Niittymaki. He allows this terrible goal by Pavelski. Coburn and Timonen couldn’t really stop Pavelski without drawing a penalty. Niitty failed to cover, and Pavelski scores  on the rebound. 

And then Niitty responds by stonecold stopping Jonathan Cheechoo late in the third period to prevent the Sharks from taking the leads. Why can’t he play like that all the time?

End of Overtime. Flyers 4 – Sharks 5
Dan Boyle burns the Flyers yet again to win it in overtime.

Tough break for the Flyers. They fought so hard in this game, battled through so many penalty kills, and couldn’t manage to find the break in overtime. I would think the frustration has to be increasing at this point.

Jeff Carter dominated throughout this game, demonstrating how crucial he is to this team. Mike Richards is certainly the leader of men on this team, but Jeff Carter is the size and strength down the center the Flyers will need going forward to be competitive in the NHL. Trading him at this point, even if it is for a defenseman like Jay Bouwmeester, isn’t my favorite solution.

You also have to appreciate the effort Scottie Upshall brought to the ice. He pulled out all the stops. He agitated from the first time he leapt over the boards; he threw his weight around, despite being outsized by the vast majority of the Sharks; and he battled for the puck up to the last moment, never daunted by its tendency to bounce on him at the worst times.

The strength of that performance makes it all the more frustrating to watch Joffrey Lupul glide around out there. He’s not working as hard as his teammates, and it shows.

This is much easier said than done, but the Flyers need to walk away from tonight’s game without being discouraged. They forced one of the best teams in the entire league to an overtime, even with all those odd-man situations. The Flyers even prevented the Sharks from scoring during a two-minute five-on-three. Now the Flyers must carry that defensive desperation into a full 60-minute game. It’s something they haven’t been able to do consistently for the past two years.

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