Flyers vs. Capitals: Them’s Fightin’ Words
“What goes around, comes around – and it will.” – Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals head coach
That was Coach Boudreau’s response to a question about John Stevens’ decision to place some of the Flyers’ skilled players on the ice during the final minutes of Saturday’s 7-1 matinee victory.
Interesting words, particularly since Boudreau is well-known for instituting a extremely offensive system in Washington. His ruling philosophy is that the best defense is a high-octane defense. His teams, whether in the AHL or the NHL, bring energy and determination every night. They take risks to create scoring chances. They usually allow a couple goals per game – something that would give Lou Lamiorello multiple heart attacks and strokes simultaneously if he ran this squad.
And as the saying goes: Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Why should the Philadelphia Flyers take the foot off the gas at any point during the game? Why, in a league where teams are so evenly match, would any coach allow his players to lay back for a series of shifts? Particularly against a Washington club that can swing momentum in an instant if they get the slightest opportunity.
Just over a year ago, the Flyers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-2 at the Wachovia Center, thanks in part to hat tricks from both RJ Umberger and Joffrey Lupul. (Here are the recaps from NHL.com, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Flyers’ website, all included in the hopes of being unbiased.) Michel Therrien complained that Stevens put the top power play unit out during the last 10 minutes of the game, to which Mike Knuble responded that the NHL isn’t little league baseball. This is a professional sport; teams play to win.
Did the Flyers try to embarrass the Capitals? No. They replaced Andreas Nodl (who was reassigned to the Phantoms) with Josh Gratton, a player hardly known for his scoring prowess. Consummate defensive defenseman Lasse Kukkonen filled in for the scratched Glen Metropolit. These are not moves that suggest Paul Holmgren was stacking his team with skill in preparation for this meeting with the Caps.
Moreover, the Flyers routinely carry three scoring lines – a team trait that I know for a fact Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals, and their fans are very familiar with. Was Stevens supposed to play only the fourth line for the last five minutes of the game? And didn’t Stevens keep Simon Gagne, arguably the Flyers’ best defensive forward given that he’s tied with Evgeni Malkin for second in the league in plus/minus, on the bench for the last half of the third period?
Bruce Boudreau was trying to fire up his guys for their next meeting with the Flyers, slated for January 6th at the Verizon Center. I can appreciate that. But please don’t act like what John Stevens did was some violation of the hockey code or some sleazy, cheap roster management. Stevens made good smart coaching decisions.
Ironically, I suspect Boudreau would have made the same from his side of the bench, with or without the dramatic threats.