Hockey Healing

Any time I watch this video, I stand on the edge of tears, and I just think, why?

Two suicides. One lethal accident. Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. A plane crash that killed 44 people, including a hockey team full of good people, and wonderful former NHL players, just two weeks ago.

To be honest, I was happy to see hockey back tonight, but sad at the same time. So many good people were lost this summer. If life were perfect,they should continue to be playing the game they love. The worst part on top of hearing about their tragic deaths was the stories that emerged afterwards.

The story of the late Karlis Skrastins’ family heading to the airport, his daughters happy to go on a trip to Europe, naive to the real reason of their departure. The story of Derek Boogaard’s mourning family, his relationship with Todd Fedoruk, and an entire fanbase in Minnesota rallying behind his memory. The story of Wade Belak as the ideal family man, a wonderful father of two kids, a loving husband, and, on the surface, the happiest man alive. The pictures of Josef Vasicek, holding the Stanley Cup, high above his head in euphoric victory.

Lastly, the tragic story of “The Beast”, Brad McCrimmon. He looked to get his head coaching career off the ground, but before he could coach one game…tragedy struck.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pays his respects (AP FILE PHOTO)

Even if I didn’t once speak to any one of the members of the hockey family killed this summer, I still grieved with every passing loss. Each was a shot in the chest, culminating with the massive sorrow of an unprecedented plane crash which felt like someone took all of the air out of my life. It got worse with the aforementioned stories. Now, we hear stories of current NHL players valuing their own lives, and paying tribute to fallen teammates, family members, and friends.

Sometimes I wonder how long it will take for hockey to feel right again. Or will it ever feel the same? Hockey players have never felt more human or felt more real than ever before. It would have hurt more had I been in the business already, but here I stand on the outside, hoping and wishing I had known them. What’s done is done, and I never did know them, and I never will.

In times like these, it just makes you realize just how important life is. Jaromir Jagr said it best in his press conference the other day.

“You just have to sometimes think that life is a little bit more than anything [here].  It gets me thinking that it could happen to anybody, anywhere.  That’s why you should enjoy every minute of your life.”

To the people I know, we’re connected by bond of the hockey family. Someday, hockey will feel right again, and our mourning for the fallen souls will conclude, and we will move on. But until that day comes, we should value what all of these people brought to our lives, and the joy they gave other people as well.

It just makes you think, Rick Rypien should have heard that ovation the Jets faithful gave him tonight…

So until next time…enjoy tomorrow. You have the power to make it great, and worthwhile.

God bless.

Pieces of a Winner

Photo Credit: Reuters

Akin to the Philadelphia Phillies’ “Big Piece” Ryan Howard, new Philadelphia Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov hopes to fill a similar role with his new team.

“I hope I am the missing piece,” said Bryzgalov in an interview with RT News.  “I want to be the guy who carries this team because I [brought] the Phoenix Coyotes to the playoffs twice.”

After being stashed behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Martin Gerber early in his career with the Anaheim Ducks, Bryzgalov hit his stride through a series of seemingly unlucky breaks.  He led the Ducks through the first round of the playoffs, and he watched Giguere lead the rest of the way in the 2006-07 Final to win the Stanley Cup.  Over that time, he developed the skillset to be a number one goaltender in the NHL.  His chance came when he Ducks placed him on waivers the following season.

The Phoenix Coyotes desperately needed a goaltender.  It was there that Bryzgalov asserted himself.

Through four seasons with the Coyotes, Bryzgalov posted a record of 130-93-27, and a combined save percentage of .917.  Even in the midst of a financial crisis and an attendance problem in the desert, the Togliatti native led the Phoenix Coyotes to two playoff berths through strong play as the number one goaltender.

The 31-year-old Bryzgalov knew deep down that he was one of the most successful goaltenders in the National Hockey League.  With that came an inevitable agent change.  “Bryz” hired Ritch Winter as his new agent.  With that change, whichever suitor courted him knew they had to pay a real price to reel him in.  That didn’t stop the Flyers from fulfilling their mission of fixing their goaltending problem.  Bryzgalov hit paydirt to the tune of nine years, $51 million.  The contract that makes him the highest paid goaltender in hockey history.

Bryzgalov didn’t see the big payday as something completely material, however.

“When I play, I don’t think about the money,” Bryzgalov said.  “When you sign the big contract, it’s nice.  You know your family and your children are secured.”

“You can relax and just work.”

The always colorful Bryzgalov is a natural quotable.  His perspective is infectious.  He added on about the gargantuan contract.  It’s a thought nobody would have ever thought of…except him.

“When you’re secured, it gives you the same thing like a coach’s trust in you,” he said.  “Not relaxed…more kind of a freedom to play and create.”

The Philadelphia Flyers have not had a reliable goaltender since Ron Hextall tended the twine.  With the signing of the new Russian, the Flyers now have a reliable goaltender in tow.  Though one look at last year’s playoff series between the Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings would show any observer that the man isn’t completely impervious.

“We didn’t have success,” said Bryzgalov of the most recent playoff sweep.  “It was partially my fault too.  Especially this year.”

Still, Bryzgalov has one thing on his mind.

“I signed the contract with understanding all consequences as could be,” he said.  “I’m ready for this.”

Ilya Bryzgalov continues to show plenty of praise for his new squad, citing the talent on both forward and defense.  He enters his contract as a Flyer in his prime.  General Manager Paul Holmgren may have made some outlandish moves by jettisoning two of the Flyers’ most important players to make room for Bryzgalov, but the crazy move may be enough to get them to the next level.

Bryzgalov may be the last piece of a real winner.
————
Two interviews with RT News contributed to this blog.

Never Letting Go

Chances are, if you tune in to 610 WIP, you’ll hear Howard Eskin and Ike Reese talking about Donovan McNabb.  Every single time I hear a Philadelphia fan talking about McNabb, I cringe.  The Eagles wanted to go in a different direction.  McNabb didn’t deliver a championship.  He went through ups and downs, success, failure, praise, controversy, as well as a failed run at a championship.

Even after a year of his departure, the fans still talk about the “what-if”s, or the “what-could-be”s with McNabb.  They talk about if he was sick during the Super Bowl, and how they would have won it if he were healthy.  They talk about if he made a completion during a certain championship game, or something along those lines.  The fact of the matter is, those games are over.

Fast forward to this summer.  Mired in ups, downs, successes, failures, praise, controversy, and a failed run at a championship, former captain Mike Richards was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.  The Flyers needed a culture change, and they decided to go in a different direction.

Out of nowhere, an article printed on June 25 brought Richards right back to the spotlight for a completely different reason.  Daily News gossip writer Dan Gross reported that part of the reason that Richards (and Jeff Carter) were dealt was because of excessive partying, and their indifference to a locker room policy called the “Dry Island”.  Players would write their numbers up on a white board to signify that they would not drink for a month.

There are two interesting points that come up here.

First, journalistically speaking, this was a total foul.  It lacks integrity, and it lacks relevance.  What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.  This sentiment was mirrored by General Manager Paul Holmgren (in Gross’ article), coach Peter Laviolette (on 97.5 The Fanatic), and Richards himself (on TSN’s That’s Hockey).  The article breached a sense of trust.  Everyone here has a reason to be mad at either Gross for being an irresponsible writer, or a reason to be mad at the Flyers organization (or just at Richards, you tell me).

Second, will we ever leave Mike Richards alone?  He has become the new Donovan McNabb of the Philly sports landscape.  He was dealt to Los Angeles a month ago.  Why is this newsworthy, or worthy of our attention?

He responded to the Dry Island fiasco rather candidly in his interview with TSN.

“[The allegations] couldn’t be further from the truth,” Richards said. “Unfortunately, things get blown out of proportion and things get said and taken out of context too. I’m not sure if people are trying to get a sense of it or trying to convince other people that it was the reason, but at the same time, it’s not true at all.”

The more and more I think about it, the more and more I see similarities between Mike Richards and Donovan McNabb.  We always find someone’s deficiencies to cling to.  The fact of the matter is this.  Both of these figures are gone.  Their tenures in this city are over.  They both got to the championship, but didn’t deliver.

The purpose of this blog is rather hypocritical, I know.  Let’s just take a look at our teams.  These players are not under a Philadelphia roster name.

If you thought Richards was or wasn’t a good captain, celebrate his contributions to the Flyers anyway.  He brought about another era of consistent playoff appearances, and spearheaded an opportunity to lift Lord Stanley.  He was part of the storied history of the Flyers, and labeled as the next icon.  Unfortunately, the chips just didn’t fall into place the way we all thought they would.  Sad, but true.

He’s Los Angeles’ problem now.  If there’s anywhere in the world to drink and party, it’s there.  We’ll see in the future if they care.

At the Top

Mike Emrick has been an inspiration of mine, and the icon of which I have wished to aspire to ever since I started pursuing this crazy dream that I hold.  I’m sure there are thousands of people out there a bit like him, including me.  Difference is, they want to broadcast anything.  I want to be like Mike Emrick.  I want hockey, and nothing else.

Today, the 65-year-old Michigan native bid his farewells to the Devils and the MSG Network, and has decided to put all of his efforts at the top of the hockey food chain with NBC and Versus.  He has made it exclusively to the top.  He is “the man”.  Not that he particularly wasn’t “the man” before, he just is now more than ever.

On top of being the voice of hockey that people will miss desperately when he’s gone, he is one of those people that everyone should strive to be.  Some broadcasters lose their sense of class and moral once they reach the top.  Emrick is an example of one that retained his class.  I have seen a lot of broadcaster hate, especially in the past couple of weeks.  Doc isn’t one you should hate.

I don’t care if you think his voice is annoying, I don’t care if you think his anecdotes mean nothing.  He spends countless hours going through his hockey encyclopedia mind trying to teach the audience something they never knew while watching the best game on earth.

On an episode of the NHL Network show “Voices”, Dave Strader said that Emrick personally mailed a packet of 100 pages of notes to Strader’s hotel in Chicago for the Winter Classic.  On top of that, his expansive vocabulary puts a stamp on his brand of game.  It’s infectious.  You know it’s a big game.  No play will ever be as artfully and yet culturally spoken as he would describe it in the biggest moments.

I personally spoke to FOX Sports broadcaster Kenny Albert last week–he raved about Emrick by telling all of the Sports Broadcasting Campers this: listen to him intently.  You will learn how to broadcast well from him.  I’d like to say I’ve learned quite a bit.

It’s my dream that one day I could have some sort of correspondence with the man who sits at the top.  Doc spent years of hard work while digging in the trenches of the minors.  It’s a lesson that many broadcasters and many people could take from him.  “Hard work builds character”, I was always told.

I know I won’t be applying for any of the NHL broadcasting jobs that are popping up left and right this summer.  I’m still in college, and I want to finish what I started.  I also want to start at the bottom just to build the character I’ll need to be like Mike.

Doc, I will drink to you and your success tonight.  You deserve every bit of praise you garner.  If I knew a way to get this to you, I would.  For now, it stays here.

Congratulations on making it to the top.

The Past has Passed

We all know the last time the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup.  It was a long, long time ago.  Not for lack of trying, though.  They have been to the finals several more times since then.  Ever since the back-to-back victories, there has been no replacement to the Flyers’ ultimate hero, Bobby Clarke.

When the Flyers drafted Mike Richards, instantly, he was tagged with the hero tag.  He is the new Bobby Clarke, no question.  Just a few years later, the Flyers drafted Claude Giroux.  Who does he remind people of?  Bobby Clarke, of course!  Then after the Flyers dealt Richards for Brayden Schenn, Paul Holmgren tagged Schenn with the Richards tag.  What does that mean?  He obviously meant to say that Schenn is like Richards, who is like Bobby Clarke.

Will the Flyers ever let their players be themselves?

The management and the fanbase seem so wrapped up in the past.  Every goaltender with promise is magically the next Bernie Parent.  Every big scorer is a Reggie Leach or Bill Barber.  When will we say that Claude Giroux is a standard for new Flyers?  Will James van Riemsdyk be the standard for new Flyer power forwards?  Will it take a Stanley Cup?

These comparisons to players that played in a completely different era seems unfair.  The team can’t be branded the Broad St. Bullies anymore because the game has changed so much.  Players prepare a lot differently.  It’s just different.

Mike Richards may not have had the ability to be his own player because of the lofty expectations put upon him for being the next Flyers icon.  Claude Giroux may be in danger of these same expectations.  Brayden Schenn is next in line.  What will it take for these players to be their own player?  When will management or the fanbase say, “that is Claude Giroux, one of the best passers and two-way players in the NHL”, and not “that is Claude Giroux, the next Bobby Clarke”?

Putting the pressure of winning another Stanley Cup championship to change that way of thinking is unfair.  What do you think?

A New Day

What the Philadelphia Flyers did just 48 hours ago seemed catastrophic on the surface.  General Manager Paul Holmgren took two of the biggest pieces of the Flyers post-lockout and shipped both of them away in two separate trades.

It only took fifteen minutes to completely change the look and feel of the franchise.  Seemingly unprecedented.  Arguably, this could be the biggest Flyers transaction since the acquisition of Eric Lindros after the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.

Jeff Carter became the cap casualty that was rumored for weeks.  Carter packed his bags to Columbus, where the Blue Jackets sent back Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall pick and a third round pick.  Just minutes later, captain Mike Richards, mired in controversy and question, was sent to Los Angeles in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a 2012 2nd round draft pick.

Shortly thereafter, the Flyers announced that they had reached an agreement with goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov on a nine-year, $51 million contract.

At first, it all seemed bad.  After all, the franchise’s cornerstones are gone, and they’re not coming back.  Let’s take a second look.

PROS

New Captain
The Flyers can now work with a completely different captain, and work with a new energy.  Should the rumor of Peter Laviolette and Mike Richards infighting have been correct, this move makes sense.  The Flyers may go with more experienced candidates for the captaincy such as Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Danny Briere.  They were all former captains once upon a time.  The Flyers could also boggle our minds and choose Claude Giroux, arguably the new face of the franchise.

Changing of the Guard
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter grew to be 26 years old in almost a heartbeat.  In last year’s playoffs, two faces emerged as the franchise’s exciting future.  Claude Giroux scored 12 points in 11 games in the playoffs, and James van Riemsdyk tallied a team-high seven goals in eleven games.  Not to mention, van Riemsdyk showed his potential to completely dominate on the wings in the Boston series.

To keep this new guard, room had to be made, especially for the young van Riemsdyk, whose entry level contract ends this year.  Giroux recently signed a three-year contract at an affordable price to stay in Philadelphia for the time being.  These two will be leaned upon heavily for the loss of depth at forward.

Natural Wingers
When Jeff Carter lost appeal as a centerman, he became a winger.  His game should have gotten better because his game is very similar to a winger.  He was not the same player.  Instead of having a massive logjam at center between Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Danny Briere and Blair Betts, the Flyers saw it fit to do an organizational clearing house.  In the trades, Holmgren made sure to grab young, gritty wingers that had the potential to put up points.  He didn’t disappoint by bringing in Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds to fill that capacity.  There will be no natural centermen playing wing this year.

Two Stars are Born
Flyers fans, look out for two players as a result of these deals: Brayden Schenn, received in the Richards deal, and Sean Couturier, picked with the eighth overall pick received by the Flyers in the Carter deal.

Schenn (picked 5th overall in 2009 by LA) has the potential to be one of the most dynamic and explosive scorers in the NHL.  This kid has tremendous speed, tremendous hands, and possesses a scoring touch like no other prospect waiting in the minors right now.  In his last showing at the World Junior Championships earlier this year, Schenn scored eight goals and ten assists in just seven games.  He received honors as the World Junior MVP, World Junior Best Forward, and he was named to the World Junior all-star team in the past year’s championships.  With the Brandon Wheat Kings and Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, he scored over a point per game in every single season.

This kid is only 19 years old.

Couturier (picked 8th overall by PHI)  was a teammate of Schenn’s on the silver medal winning Canadian World Junior team.  Earlier this year, Couturier ranked atop the QMJHL’s best skaters with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.  His final ranking may have dropped due to a bout of mononucleosis he suffered early in the season.  Couturier has been heralded as a solid two-way player with a prolific scoring touch.  The 18-year-old forward posted back-to-back 96 point seasons, and because of the aforementioned bout with mono, he scored 96 points in ten fewer games this past season.  In the 2009-10 season, Couturier won the Jean Beliveau trophy, named to the QMJHL player with the most points at the end of the season.

Excited yet?  I sure as hell am.

CONS

Offensive Dropoff
The Flyers lost two 30+ goal scorers in a span of fifteen minutes.  They also lost over twenty years of that scoring prowess in a matter of fifteen minutes, too.  Should Carter fill out to his potential, he could have been a consistent 40 goal scorer.  Centermen are usually burdened with putting up a lot of points on top of scoring goals, and the Flyers lost two prolific centerman with that ability to post points.

The onus of putting up points rests with fewer players than had previously existed.  Danny Briere may have to change his role (again) to be the team’s goal scorer and set-up man.  Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are expected to significantly increase their point totals as well.  The team will not have the same offensive depth.

Sergei in Limbo
As a result of this past season, the Flyers needed to solve an ages old problem of bringing in a netminder that could actually stop the puck, and maybe play good enough to pitch a shutout.  The Flyers picked up goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s rights from the Phoenix Coyotes by shipping out gritty prospect forward Matt Clackson, a 2012 third round pick and future considerations.  They signed Bryzgalov moments after shipping out Richards and Carter to a nine-year, $51 million contract.

Quite a hefty term, huh?  It’s also terrible news for young netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who was a shining star in the crease for the Flyers last season.  On top of having two years left on his entry-level deal with the Orange & Black, he has to play behind a goaltender that has proven to play over 60 games a season.  This gives Bobrovsky close to no room to develop as an NHL starter with the Flyers.  Also, by playing in game four against Boston, he breached his 60 game waiver exemption period.  This means that Bobrovsky can’t travel between leagues unless he is put on waivers.

I think everyone knows he’d be picked up in a heartbeat.  So the question remains: is it worth keeping him for the post-Bryzgalov days, or is it worth giving him away for a quality asset on forward or D so he can further develop as a goaltender?  Both results are bad news bears.

Immediate Star Loss
By getting rid of the captain and the team’s most natural goal scorer, the Flyers lost two stars.  They lost the faces of the franchise post-lockout.  It is really hard to envision this team without these two players.  Say what you will about Richards’ proficiency as captain or Carter’s ineptitude of playing in the playoffs…this team lost two really good players.  They lost two players that stand out.

Even in a marketing sense, the Flyers need to hope that van Riemsdyk actually gains a little bit more of a personality in the years to come.  Giroux is already a pretty funny guy to start with.

The Flyers’ offensive structure will not be as deep as in years past, but that’s the name of the game right now.  The new stars need to fill those old star shoes starting right now.

As far as their Cup hopes, I don’t think anyone has a clue until they see this team play a few games.  For now, let’s be excited for what this move means for the future of this franchise.

Stanley Cup Disgrace

I’ve been trying to figure out why this year’s playoff season hasn’t gelled with me at all.  I was given the easy answer.  The Flyers got knocked out a while ago.  Perhaps that would work for the average Flyers fan, but that doesn’t work for me, and for a lot of people I know.

Then I watched the Stanley Cup Final series and realized something tonight.  This past stretch of games has shown a dark side of hockey that I am hating every single moment of.  There’s such a thing as clean competition for the ultimate goal.  For the past couple of Stanley Cup Final series, there hasn’t been much in the way of outright controversy.

All it took was a bite and a blatantly awful hit, and suddenly a dark cloud descended over the NHL’s grand stage.  Think what you want of BiteGate or the Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton, I don’t care.  Point is, these events continue to cloud the NHL’s grand spectacle.  This should be the best hockey.  This is the end.

All I see are two teams being complete classless assholes (or as I’ve been coined to say, classholes) to each other.

Maxim Lapierre is the type of player that should be banished from the League with his classless conduct.  Mark Recchi continues to do or say whatever he wants just because he’s 42 years old.  “Dr. Recchi” knows all.  I used to respect the guy because of his prowess and because of his former Flyer status.  Now he finds ways to call people out and just be a general malady on the game.

It’s a sad situation because I want to love this Final series with everything I have.  I love hockey.  I’m a fan of the game before a fan of a team.  Sometimes I feel like this game shouldn’t even be called a sport.  It’s something more.

The way this series is going, it’s an absolute disgrace.  I’m hating every second of this Final.  I don’t find myself wearing the stupid grin I usually have when I’m watching a game.  I don’t find myself with the general excitement I have for every game.  I’m watching two teams that hate each other find a way to disgrace the game with their antics.

That being said, the fact remains, a team that I don’t particularly like will be winning the Stanley Cup this season.  That much is true.  Both of these teams have been struggling to get back into the Final series to obtain the Holy Grail of Hockey.  The way the two teams are fighting for it is purely shameful.

I would be embarrassed if I were Claude Julien or Alain Vigneault.  Both of my teams play like little kids.  Both of my teams don’t play with the spirit of hockey first and foremost.  Perhaps that’s the worst part of it all.  What these teams are playing right now can’t even be called hockey.  It’s a lot worse than that.

I suppose all we can hope for is the return of the 2011-2012 season to take us back to times where hockey’s pure spirit reigned.

And that’s it…

Shame.

Shame, shame, shame.

That’s what the Philadelphia Flyers should feel right now.  Unlike other post-mortems that will just spout out “reasons” of the here and now, I can find a particular date that the Flyers started to get away from their style of play.

On February 14, the team traveled to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum.  The game was tight.  Back and forth the two teams fought.  The Flyers controlled the game in the second period, but the Lightning fought back with three goals of their own to tie it up.  The game forced a lot of emotions.  It felt a lot like a playoff game the way these two teams fought.  The game ended up going 7 rounds in a shootout.

The Flyers won that game 4-3.  If you look at the schedule after that win, things started to really go downhill.  Normal people would expect a team to gain a lot of momentum from a win like that…however, just the opposite happened.  I’ll let you take whatever you want from the following months.  I feel like that was the moment the season turned around for the negative.

We saw that no switch existed.  The team still played a lackluster brand of undisciplined and terrible hockey.  They are usually used to playing physical, intense hockey that they have prided themselves on for years.  In the first series, the team let themselves fall behind.  They couldn’t muster any offense to beat Ryan Miller in two games; on the other hand, the Flyers’ goaltending just wasn’t good enough to keep the puck out enough.

The Flyers did not even record a shutout all season.  Regular teams can actually do that several times a year.  Even the bad ones.

Personally, I was ready to accept the Flyers’ season being over in the first intermission of game six.  Michael Leighton, seemingly the final straw in the Flyers’ season, played beyond terrible.  It didn’t seem possible for the Flyers to keep moving.  They won that game, and played a ridiculously dominant game in game seven.

What makes zero sense is how seemingly unprepared the team was for the Bruins.  Completely outplayed and outcoached in game one, barely losing game two, and getting their asses kicked in games three and four.

No effort.  No switch.  No win.  No Cup.

Ryan Bright of Philly Sports Daily in his latest blog (which you can read http://bit.ly/ksdtZH) he says it’s all about the attitude.

He’s so right.

We can hear about the injuries rolling in, but when push comes to shove, the attitude was not there.

Period.

Flyers Lacking Initiative

“Great save…!”

Those are two words I can’t say I’ve heard any commentator say about a Flyers netminder.  Maybe some of them said it, but I sure don’t remember it.  That, or it wasn’t a memorable save.  There are no times we have been really wowed by Flyers goaltending in the past couple of years.

There’s three netminders on the Flyers roster, and all three of them are not willing to take the reins.  Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky played a masterful regular season, even with the late-season struggles.  Once the playoffs started though…different story.  There have been so many goaltender pulls in just a few games that it is starting to become an expectation.

Goaltending gets scrutinized first.  It does for good reason, too, because ultimately, that’s the last line of defense.  Let’s take a look at some statistics that I have been finding over the past couple of days.

First off, the Flyers have won game one in a playoff series only twice since the lockout.  They have put themselves behind the eight-ball way too many times.  A glaring error in the Flyers’ ways for the longest time has been their ability to base their style of play on coming back.  They rarely dictate the pace from the start.  The other team has their way with them to start and the Flyers are forced to make drastic adjustments just to stay alive.  Being down 1-0 in a series, especially with home ice, just takes the wind out of your sails.  It happened twice this year.

Secondly, the Flyers have scored the first goal in four playoff games this year.  The rest of them, they have fallen behind, and sometimes by a considerable margin.  We can look no further than game five of the quarterfinals series where they fell behind 3-0 before almost coming back to win.  We can look to the Bruins’ drubbing of the Flyers in games one and three.  Teams have their way with the Flyers early and often.  Where’s the initiative and intensity?  Where has the intensity gone since January 15 after an emotional win against the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Some other things to consider:
-Mike Richards fired 8 pucks in game one, scored once.  Richards fired 10 shots in game two, no goals.  Four shots in game three, nothing doing.  And of those shots, I could only count maybe two or three scoring chances.  His patience is hurting him.  He forces the plays that aren’t there.  Trust me, I’m not saying Richards doesn’t deserve the captaincy.  Everyone loves him in that room.  But he needs to bury pucks and be a bit less patient.

-The Flyers built their defense at the beginning of the year to combat relying on Chris Pronger.  Problem is, it didn’t work.  On my recollection, the year Chris Pronger isn’t around, a team struggles mightily.  When the Oilers made the Cup Finals with Pronger, the team struggled the year after as he left the team.  They didn’t make the playoffs.  When the Ducks shipped him off to Philadelphia, the defense core could make up for his loss, and the Ducks didn’t make the playoffs.  Pronger covers up a lot of holes, and he does it subtly.

-Continuing with the defense, Matt Carle is playing a disastrous postseason.  Four assists and a -8.  That’s a team-worst -8.  Briere isn’t much farther behind with a -5.  Carle has shown considerable weakness when paired with anyone but Chris Pronger.  During the season, he put up numbers consistently.  He scored one goal and 39 assists and ended the year +30.  He wasn’t playing with Pronger the whole time either.  He’s not useless.  He may be hurt, or just completely helpless right now.

-James van Riemsdyk is playing with the god mode cheat on.  Far and away, van Riemsdyk’s 7 goals have carried this team.  He’s only 22 years of age, and he’s growing into his body.  He’s a taller guy.  His strength on the outside is uncanny and not many defensemen could shove him off the puck.  Everyone criticized this guy.  I hope you’re seeing what everyone else is though.  I can’t wait to see him work in the future.

-The goaltending needs help.  When they get the chance, the Flyers’ brass should wring their hands clean of Leighton.  I’m a big Boucher fan, but his play this postseason has been nothing short of inconsistent.  Bobrovsky needs time.  He will be good in the future.  Just not now.  So the short term fixes consist of these…
+…an injured and risky Ray Emery.  The guy is coming off of a debilitating condition called avascular necrosis.  He had his hip completely re-shaped and because of that, he needs to go through rehab every single day.  His story is remarkable and completely worthy of the Masterton trophy, but his return to the Flyers is unlikely.
+…a very capable Tomas Vokoun.  He’s expensive, and getting older, but the guy has skills.  Even on a terrible Panthers team, his save percentage was annually over .920.  The guy can stop pucks consistently.  This option is only possible if the Flyers dump some salary.  Who goes?  My gut says to go after this guy at all costs.  He wasted his prime years in Florida, but he still has value.
+ …41-year-young Dwayne Roloson.  The Lightning have first crack at him, and he’s showing he can still play.  Let them keep him.  They have the room and they need him.

I’m sure there are others, but the Flyers need someone solid.  I know only the Lord saves more than Bouchleightsky.  But it’s time for a change.  Not only just a goaltending change, but a philosophy change.

Laviolette’s intense forechecking system works well.  It frustrates teams.  However, we see teams draw first blood against the Flyers a lot when it counts.  That’s especially apparent this postseason.  Honestly, it’s a little sickening to see on a daily basis.

Can the Flyers defy history again?  It’ll take a hell of a lot of initiative to pull off.

Who will be the hero if it happens?

Playoff Predictions

EAST
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers

Washington wins in six games.  The Rangers are missing a key two-way piece in Ryan Callahan, and their young defense is not battle-tested.  The Caps are on fire, and are playing a more playoff style of hockey.  Alex Ovechkin is clearly the key to the series.  If he runs dry, the Capitals’ secondary scoring is not the most elite.  The Rangers can throw a little scoring depth at the Caps if it came down to it.  If Neuvirth/Varlamov/Holtby can hold the fort against Henrik Lundqvist, then the Caps have this one in the bag.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Buffalo Sabres

Philadelphia wins in five games.  The Sabres are the sexy pic in this series for reasons I’m not even sure of.  The Flyers didn’t play well going down the stretch, and will likely be missing Chris Pronger to start, but the Flyers are three scoring lines deep and extremely battle-tested.  The Flyers were the best road team in the League, so they will give the Sabres a run for their money at home.  The Sabres have some shifty players in their ranks like Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe, both of which have a thing of scoring against the Flyers.  But I think the Flyers’ scoring depth wins the day.

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Boston wins in seven games.  I have a feeling this series will come down to goaltending.  Price doesn’t have to worry about Alex Auld taking his job like Jaroslav Halak did in years past.  Price is a more mature and more efficient goaltender and he will need supreme efforts to take down the likely Vezina winner Tim Thomas, who ended his season with a goals against average of 2.00, and a save percentage of .938.  Thomas is simply unreal this year, and if the Habs have a chance, they need Cammalleri to step up on the goal scoring front.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay wins in six games.  Everyone loves the Pittsburgh Penguins and what they’ve done without Crosby and Malkin.  But I think when it comes to the playoffs, Tampa’s firepower will win out.  Stamkos has been as cold as it gets in Edmonton’s winters, but I have a feeling the playoffs will give him a new incentive to get going.  Pittsburgh knows what it takes to win, but when they have won, it has been with 87 and 71.  Tampa’s goaltending is a bit of a question while Pittsburgh’s is set.  I just have this sneaking suspicion that the Lightning are going to make some noise to start these playoffs.  Both teams are hot going into the series.  Should be a good one.

WEST
Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Vancouver wins in seven games.  The huge distraction that gave the Canucks fits was Dustin Byfuglien.  And he’s in Atlanta and out of the playoff picture entirely.  The Hawks are not the same team, and the Canucks are not the same team.  Either way, in the Canucks’ interviews, they know Chicago will be a challenge and are prepared to take it seven games if need be.  The Canucks have injury problems with Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra out of the lineup, but they are stacked.  The Hawks are not as stacked as they used to be.  If Luongo can actually perform in the postseason, Vancouver wins.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

San Jose wins in six games.  San Jose is HOT.  The team is feeling really good.  They have the Stanley Cup Champion netminder in their ranks.  Los Angeles on the other hand has lost Anze Kopitar for the entire postseason, and their big name acquisition that they grossly overpaid for, Dustin Penner, has not been exactly the find they thought they were getting.  Penner has only two goals and six points in 19 games with the Kings.  San Jose has forward depth and a young rookie that tore up the regular season and could easily tear up the postseason.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes

Phoenix wins in seven games.  I base this on what happened last year.  Both teams are pretty much the same, except Phoenix is one more year mature.  This series has the capability of being the best because it will be the tightest checking.  I think I’m going to love this series.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

Nashville wins in six games.  The Ducks are way hot, but they are top heavy.  If Nashville’s top defenders can stop Ryan/Getzlaf/Perry/Selanne, then the Preds can use their scoring touch to win.  Pekka Rinne has been remarkable lately, and he is clearly the better goaltender over Dan Ellis who is projected to be the starter for the Ducks with Emery’s hip condition flaring up.  The key to this series will be secondary scoring, and for the Predators, that starts with Mike Fisher.  He has been definitely below average for the Preds with just five goals and twelve points in 27 games.  This one has the capability of being a really good series too.

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