21 December 2009

Flyers Forget to Show Up, Panthers Cruise to Decisive 4-1 Victory

Just when it seemed like the Flyers were taking steps in the right direction, Monday night’s spanking by the Florida Panthers reminded fans that the Flyers are Jesse Owens strides away from success.
In a game that resembled Tuesday’s 6-1 beating at the freshly-manicured hands of Sidney Crosby and company, the Flyers failed to do just about anything right tonight. And since generalizations of incompetence are about as constructive as a John Stevens timeout, I took notes throughout tonight’s game that outline exactly where the Flyers went wrong. (Bear with the length, it was an ugly game.)

·         Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? Oh Peco powerplay, how bittersweet your name has become. When a team is struggling, the easiest way to get back on track is generating a successful powerplay. Step one? Work hard to earn the advantage. Done, we got eight chances tonight. Step two? Don’t take penalties—they nullify your chances and give the opponent a chance to gain momentum and win games. Although tonight represented a relapse in that department (Florida also had eight powerplays), the Flyers have been more disciplined of late (the Rangers only had two powerplay chances on Saturday).
Tonight’s powerplay notes:
o   The Flyers went 0-8 on the powerplay, including three separate chances in the first period.
o   The Panthers tallied a powerplay goal in every period, the first coming 30 seconds into the man-advantage, and the last of which came just 11 seconds into a Panthers powerplay.
·         I noticed the next few things while the Flyers were even-strength and on the powerplay:
o   Please, if you have the puck, just throw it at the net. Numerous times I caught different players waiting to thread a perfect pass on an odd-man rush rather than just putting the puck on net and hoping for a rebound opportunity or a lucky bounce. What happened instead? More often than not, we didn’t even get the pass off, and if we did, it was blocked because we waited too long to get rid of the puck. When you’re on a slump and can’t score goals, you need to go back to basics. There are no two options when you have the puck; you get it to the net. For God’s sake, even Coburn realized it when he scored the Flyers only goal on a soft wrister through traffic. Shoot. the. Puck. End of story.
o   Sloppy play all over the ice, especially in the defensive zone. Lackadaisical passes are costing the Flyers over and over again—See Panthers’ first goal for an example. Bottom line, every pass has to be tape-to-tape. Errant passes on the breakout cause players to have to drift back, out of position, allowing the opposing forecheck to cause turnovers and prevent any breakout whatsoever.
o   Finally, clear the zone. Boucher got caught making a pretty play while the Flyers were shorthanded, playing a puck behind the net to a defenseman right next to him, when he had time to settle the puck and clear the zone himself. For all the masochists who watched the Rangers game, you may or may not have erased from your memory the awful failed clear by Claude Giroux that led to the Rangers first goal.
·         There was no denying the fact that tonight’s game was going to feature some bloodshed following Mike Richard’s controversial hit on Panther David Booth in the teams first meeting this season. Ultimately, there were some things that really stood out to me during tonight’s game in the physical department:
o   Richie engaged Florida captain Brian McCabe in an early fight, ending with McCabe face-first on the ice. It was difficult to see if Richie caught him on the chin or if the Panthers’ captain slipped, but the fight was only a prelude to the rest of the game’s fireworks.
o   Stephen Weiss was flying up center ice when Mike Richards caught him with his head down and dropped a shoulder into the Panthers forward. The check was very different than the Booth hit because in Booth’s case, it was impossible for him to see Richie coming from his weak side. On the other hand, it was completely Weiss’s responsibility to have his head up while carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Important to note: Richie had a choice to take out Weiss or avoid controversy and backcheck. In my opinion, he made the right decision to hit Weiss because that’s the right hockey play, regardless of what happened in the past. It was nice to see Richie stay physical despite the Booth incident earlier in the year.
o   As much as Peter Laviolette commands discipline, I would bet that he had no problem with Ian Laperriere picking up three majors and a game misconduct. Lappy came to the aid of captain Richards after the Weiss hit, and laid a huge hit halfway through the third, picking up a very flat Flyers team for a few minutes. What’s important here is Lappy showed heart and a desire to win, more than I can say for a fair number of Flyers tonight.
·         My last issue is a hairy one—Scott Hartnell. Regardless of how he played last season, he is not performing like the top-six forward we need him to be. The fact is that if he’s not doing his job, he needs a wake-up call. And fast. I’ve been calling for Hartnell to be a healthy scratch for several games now, and if Laviolette’s not willing to bench him, the coach at least needs to drop Afro-Thunder to the third or fourth line to cut his playing time. Players tend to respond to this treatment, and if Scotty doesn’t, then we have bigger problems.
Now, for the easy part of covering Flyers hockey—recapping the things we did right lately!
·         Laviolette has really been able to change several aspects to the Flyers system since taking over for John Stevens. The main thing I’ve noticed is an increase in the dump-and-chase strategy for gaining the offensive zone. Under Stevens the Flyers tended to try to carry the puck into the zone every rush, regardless of its ineffectiveness. Regardless of what we do once we’re actually in the zone, the fact that we get the puck deep in the first place is an improvement. Next step: forechecking better than the mites-on-ice intermission show.
After this week’s games, it’s becoming clear that the Flyers are further from success than we thought after a big win in Boston last week. For those who haven’t checked the NHL standings lately, the Flyers are currently second-to-last in the entire league, behind even Marty Biron’s New York Islanders. Yes, we have less points than the Islanders, officially making the season a failure up to this point.
Advice: Don’t drink all of your alcohol on New Year’s Eve, you’re gonna need a fair bit to get through the Winter Classic the next day.

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