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Quick Hit for St. Paddy’s Day

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If you were ever wondering what it might be like to shoot on Tim Thomas or play Mike Richards for a day, check out this article from the Boston Globe.

Not quite on the level of a Brett Leonhardt story, but fun nonetheless.

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NHL Officiating: When the Black and White make a game too grey

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tonight’s Flyers-Capitals game featured the most ridiculous display of officiating ineptitude I have ever witnessed in person.

After such a statement, you could call me a homer. That would be true, if I didn’t believe that the Flyers lost this game because they could not manage to capitalize on a single power play opportunity.

You could say that I’m just blaming the officials for a Flyers’ loss. But please remember that I consistently maintain that you don’t lose because of bad officiating; you win in spite of it.

Or you could say that the four NHL officials botched a series of calls, reducing the integrity of what promised to be a highly entertaining contest.

The Flyers managed to avoid penalties for several hacking and whacking violations throughout the first two periods. The Capitals’ Mike Green should have received a hooking penalty on the Gagne breakaway. Why the referees opted to assess an intereference penalty on Backstrom with less than five minutes remaining is beyond me. That play is ignored 99% of the time in the current NHL.

And that’s all without addressing the bizarre “incidental contact” which disallowed a Capitals goal but failed to elicit a Flyers power play. Without having seen a true replay (I was at the arena, screaming angrily at the refs), I won’t try to analyze the play. For now, however, I can direct you to the official NHL rules on goaltender contact. Allow me to point out that, other than direct intentional contact between a skater and a netminder, referees are given permission to use discretion in meting out judgment. Given the excellent decision-making they displayed throughout the rest of the evening . . .

Sarcasm aside, I was sad to see this game devolve into an officiating debaucle. Both teams played solid hockey tonight, from the beautiful offensive rushes to crisp puck movement to gutsy defensive desperation. I thoroughly enjoyed the game’s pace and intensity, and I wish we could have seen a more fairly managed bout for this last meeting of the regular season. I’m disappointed that I left my game confused by referees rather than amazed by the sheer talent of both teams.

Oh Danny Boy . . .

Friday, March 6, 2009

The pathetic excuse for hockey the Philadelphia Flyers presented against the Calgary Flames during the first period left me contemplating this morning’s blog. Perhaps I would talk about the importance of work ethic. Or I could address whether fans should boo their own team (something I will likely tackle in an upcoming entry).

And then I watched as Danny Briere was absolutely mauled in the corner, midway through the second period. It happened directly in front of our seats, so we had an excellent view of the incident.

At the time, two things about that play struck me. First, Briere skated quite slowly to the bench, especially considering that one of his linemates had recovered the puck at center ice and was waiting for him to clear the zone. I asked my dad, who was with me, if he thought Briere might be injured. His reply was just a groan.

And in Flyer world right now, that essentially implied “Figures he would come back, cost us Metropolit and Vaananen, give us no cap space for the trade deadline, and then decided to be injured.” {sigh}

The second thing was the absence of Flyers retaliation. True, the entire performance was rather soft for a franchise built on the Broad Street Bullies’ shoulders. I would expect some sort of response for aggressively targeting a key Flyer forward, though. The Flames rode Briere all night, and neither his linemates nor the rest of the team seemed ready to send a message of protection. 

That needs to change and fast. Briere will be vital to playoff success for the Flyers; they cannot afford constantly recurring injuries. Opponents know both of these things, and the Bruins and the Flames targeted him as a result. This team needs to step up and defend the diminuitive center.

Maybe the Flyers are feeling sorry for themselves in light of the personnel losses. But no one is offering the Flyers a free two points simply because life on the ice got rougher. The stretch drive is not a good time to melt down.

It’s very hard to feel optimistic about this team right now . . .

Thoughts on trading Upshall for Carcillo

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

From a few conversations and bit of surfing the blogs and boards, I’m sensing that Flyer fans dislike today’s trades.

That’s quite understandable. Scottie Upshall arrived as a bright ball of energy to a struggling club that had given up on the season. He gave the fans new life in a disappointing year. And ever since being benched late last season by John Stevens, the young forward presented highly motivated, speedy, mercurial efforts night in and night out. It’s hard not to miss him.

But there are some legitimate reasons behind Paul Holmgren’s actions today, ones that go deeper than a fan’s emotional attachment to a player.

Deadline deals for the Philadelphia Flyers always revolve around four factors:

1. Injuries
Everyone knows that the healthiest team is the one still standing with the Cup raised high in June. So if you’re entering the final stretch already injured, you’d better have a Plan B.

2. Goaltending
We’re talking about Philly hockey here. Do I really need to explain this one?

3. Money
In the pre-cap world, deadlines belonged to the wealthy, and Ed Snider knew how to finance a strong acquisition. In the cap era, teams spend more time contemplating money management rather than pure expenditure.

4. Grit
The Broad Street Bullies earned that moniker the hard way. And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Mr. Snider intends to keep it.

With the Flyers’ health finally intact, number one can be crossed off the list. As to goaltending, that will take more than a mere blog to analyze. Like I said, we’re talking Philly here.

So it comes down to two things: money and grit. The cap implications of this deal are clear. Upshall makes $1.225 and Carcillo makes about $875,000. This trade shaves $400,000 off the Flyers’ payroll—a seemingly small amount, but enough to allow them to bring up a spare player like Jared Ross or Nate Guenin without dropping Claude Giroux or Darroll Powe. It also gives the Flyers a little extra wiggle room when it comes time to sign a goaltender this summer, or when they need to further trim cap for the 2010-11 season.

That leaves us with grit. Regardless of what my fellow blogger might contend over at Broad Street Hockey, the line of Upshall-Giroux-Briere was not particularly successful. While they had speed and the ability to move the puck well, that trio lacked the size and strength to be effective against the strong checking power of the Bruins. None of them could create any havoc in front of the net, a key component Stevens likes to have on every line. And so it was that Stevens shook up his lines by the second period.

Carcillo delivers a greater physical presence to the Flyers’ bottom six. That’s an understatement, really, considering that the kid led the entire league in penalty minutes during the 2007-08 season. His 324 PIMs outdid number 2 Jared Boll by nearly 100 minutes. No wonder Homer predicts he’ll be a fan favorite. 🙂

I grasp the intellectual reasoning behind this trade, but I won’t say I’m a huge fan. I genuinely enjoy Scottie Upshall, both for his high energy style of play and his consistent work ethic this year. Once again he’s departing a playoff-bound group for another rebuilding team that likely won’t achieve a playoff berth, the disappointment of which I can only imagine.

I recall an episode of FlyerBuzz TV in which Upshall talked passionately about his belief that the current team had the type of bond that championship teams have. Yes, I know all players say that. But from the look on his face, you could tell this wasn’t just another careless and rehearsed statement for an interview. Hopefully Upshall will find another such situation in Phoenix.

And hopefully the chemistry he believed in was not permanent disrupted today in Philadelphia.

UPDATE: Comcast SportsNet posted John Boruk’s airport interview with Upshall. It’s a sad day for the fans, too, Scottie.

Flyers: The Comeback Kids

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just when you start to count the Flyers out of a game, they can surprise you with a second gear. The Carolina Hurricanes could tell you about at the Wachovia Center. Or the Washington Capitals could add a few words on the difficulty of maintaining a lead over the Flyers at the Verizon Center.

And based on last night’s performance, the Boston Bruins should be added to the list of teams who are painfully aware of the Flyers’ counterattack.

We say so often that hockey is a game of mistakes, that success depends on “getting back to the basics.” Claude Julien’s Bruins take that mantra to heart. They play a simple system – solid defense, clean passing, and an aggressive forecheck. Once they take control of a game, they rarely surrender it. Moreover, the Bruins know how to utilize their home ice; the Bs had only lost four games at the TD Banknorth Garden prior to last night’s tilt.

It seemed unlikely that the Flyers, struggling to find a rhythm with all the injury and flu casualties, could overcome even a one-goal deficit against the East’s best team in their own barn. But that’s where the counterattack began.

Scottie Upshall intercepted a Marc Savard pass, coverting that turnover into a perfect shot to beat Manny Fernandez and tie the game. Capitalizing on that one Bruin error shifted the momentum into the Flyers’ hands.

The Flyers were able to maintain team composure —even while facing a deficit—to wait for that mistake to happen. Upshall and his teammates had the presence of mind to act swiftly in response to the error (Knuble was driving towards the net from the opposite wing, drawing Chara’s attention and giving Upshall the option to shoot or pass).  That’s the stuff that makes a playoff caliber team.

Brodeur: Ever the Flyers Buzzkill

Monday, March 2, 2009

Watching the Flyers during yesterday’s tilt at the Rock, it struck me that the game was practically a replay of every Flyers-Devils game I watched during the mid- to late-90s. Swap a few players out for Daneyko, Stevens, Niedermayer, LeClair, Lindros, and Dejardins, and you’d have yourself an Atlantic Division classic.

Just as in the old days, the Devils scored first and shut it down. Just as in the old days, Brodeur made himself as impenetrable as ever. Just as in the old days, an extremely talented Flyers offense couldn’t discovered a chink in the armor.

[Sigh]

Martin Brodeur earned yet another milestone against the Orange and Black. He achieved his 100th career shutout with his victory over the Flyers on Sunday.

Two seasons ago, Brodeur broke Bernie Parent’s record for victories within a single season. What team was he playing? The Flyers. In the Wachovia Center. I was at the building that night, and I remember watching fans slowly depart from the stadium with facial expressions blending disgust, resignation, and disappointment. It was bad enough that the Flyers had the worst season in franchise history; did we really have to watch Brodeur rub his sheer awesomeness and extended domination of the crease in our faces?

Would it be wrong to hope that Lou Lamouriello keels over, ending the Devils strangle-hold over the Flyers?

Flyers vs. Capitals 2/24/2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In case you didn’t have a chance to watch the Flyers comeback for a huge win over the Capitals at the Verizon Center, Bill Clement put together a great overview of the game. Or you could just check out the highlights. Either way, this was one of the best games I’ve seen all season long.

When the Capitals took a 2-0 lead over the Flyers, I thought for sure this game was over. Those Washington fans figured out how to Rock the Red during last year’s playoffs; they are now a raucous bunch that feed their team with pure energy. Couple that with the shark-like offensive pounce the Capitals possess, and visiting teams can struggle to produce goals in the best of situations. Down two goals without your best defenseman is not even close to the best of situations.

What impressed me was that the Flyers never gave up. They pushed forward, in never-say-die fashion, from the first minute to the last. Every line and defense pairing contributed goals and grit. Every line and defense pairing worked together to force the formidable Washington attack out of the middle. And when the lines and pairs weren’t enough, Antero Niittymaki held the pipes.

A character win for the Flyers tonight, and a huge two points. Next up: the LA Kings.