Flyers-Pens never disappoints

Results this week: Flyers 4, Sabres 3; Islanders 7, Flyers 4; Flyers 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

Current record: 19-22-7, 45 points

Record at this point last year: 24-19-5, 53 points

Record at this point in 2006: 11-32-5, 27 points

Upcoming schedule: Jan 27 vs Coyotes, Jan 29 vs Jets

The other games this week seemed to pale to insignificance compared to the last game before the All-Star break against the Penguins, but the Flyers picked up two valuable points against the lowly Sabres to keep their modest playoff hopes alive.  As late as the third period, the Sabres were tied 2-2 with the Flyers and at times looked like they could steal the game, but ultimately, the Flyers scored two in the third before Buffalo got one on a very late power play but couldn’t even the score.

The Islanders game was just plain ugly, a fitting game for the last contest between the two teams in the stinking, crumbling building known as Nassau Coliseum.  The Islanders are moving to Brooklyn next year and we can only hope that they leave the ability to play the way they played in this game in the old building, as the Flyers were trounced in a game that didn’t feel as close as the score portrays.  The Isles had five different three-goal leads en route to a relatively easy win.

This of course was all prelude to the main event: a game against Pittsburgh in Philadelphia.  A division game.  THE division game.

Of course the Pens came out on fire, and of course they owned something like a 17-3 shot advantage.  And of course, because this is hockey, the Flyers had the only goal in the first, a Luke Schenn wrister that found the net through five miles of Broad Street traffic.  We also saw Zac Rinaldo take a dumb penalty on Christian Ehrhoff and give the Pens their first power play, and then we saw Rinaldo take an INCREDIBLY dumb penalty by charging Kris Letang (who was facing the boards), LEAVING HIS FEET, and driving Letang’s head into the glass.  Rinaldo was ejected, Letang left the game with a rumored concussion, and the Pens got a five minute power play…

…with which they did nothing.  Maybe it was because it was against the Pens.  Maybe it was because their power play QB, the defenseman who is as important to them as Timonen is to us, was sitting in a dark, quiet room, the victim of a senseless, illegal hit.  But for whatever reason, the Pens wouldn’t cash in on this or any of their six power plays, as the much-maligned Flyers penalty kill unit came up big over and over.

The second saw Chris Kunitz snipe Ray Emery on a short-handed rush with Crosby on the other side on a beauty of a shot just over Emery’s shoulder.  It also saw four fights, with Michael Raffl more than holding his own with Zach Sill, Jake Voracek fighting Rob Scuderi and landing bombs, Luke Schenn fighting Steve Downie and winning (followed by Downie leaving the ice and going straight to the locker room while waving to the jeering crowd), and my favorite, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hitting noted fighter Bobby Farnham (who was called up specifically for this game) on the chin so hard he knocked Farnham to the ice.  The game was going exactly as the Flyers wanted it.

The third saw Beau Bennett score a quick goal two minutes into the third, but Chris VandeVelde deflected a Michael Del Zotto shot through Pens goalie Thomas Greiss two minutes later to tie it at 2 again.  That’s where the game entered overtime, where the Pens gave the Flyers back-to-back 4-on-3 power plays and eventually saw Claude Giroux pot the winner during a goalmouth scramble.

This game was nuts.  Had the Flyers kept playing the way they did before the Letang hit, they would have gotten run out of their own building.  Emery was great but the Pens kept pelting him with shots and eventually some of them were going to go.  Rinaldo said his hit changed the game in the media scrum afterwards (he later denied saying so) and I agree.  What I don’t agree with was the hit itself: it was an illegal hit in every sense and will get Zac at least six games off, probably closer to ten.  He could have changed the game with a fight or a couple clean hits; instead he further made the case as to why he should be a healthy scratch.  All he can do is hit and fight; he’s terrible at drawing more penalties than he takes now.  He has no hands, he can’t score, he can’t kill penalties and doesn’t belong on the power play, so what you have here is a skater that is surpassed in skill by nearly every other skater in the organization.

The more I think about it, the more I think Rinaldo will become organizational depth, a forward on the Phantoms roster, buried like Jay Rosehill is this year.  That might have been Hextall’s intent all along.  Consider the offensive talent that’s growing in the system and nearly ready to come up, names like Scott Laughton (who has already spent time with the Flyers this year) and Nick Cousins (who recorded a hat trick earlier this week).  Last year in the playoffs the Rangers showed the Flyers what happens when you can ice a skilled fourth line, and the Flyers have in turn iced skilled fourth lines more this year.  Obviously someone would have to take the place of those like Cousins and Laughton in the system and be available for a call up in case of emergency; why not someone who’s already been in the NHL a little bit?  He’ll make less than a mil ($850,000 per) each season so it’s not like he’ll be eating up a ton of cap space, even with the Redden Rule in effect.  And it’s way better than to have him on the ice for the Flyers.

One last thought, and it’s more about the process of supplementary discipline as a whole.  It seems a large part of the consideration done on whether or not to suspend someone and how long to suspend them hinges around the result of the play, which is inherently flawed.  The Letang hit was dangerous and potentially career-threatening; Rinaldo should be suspended as if Letang was knocked unconscious and unable to play indefinitely.  The Pens Twitter feed said Letang was on the ice the next day for the skate before the Blackhawks game (which is great news), but that shouldn’t lessen Rinaldo’s penalty.  Players should be punished for the act, not the result of the act, punished for the damage it COULD have caused, and not for the damage (or lack thereof) it DID cause.  Opponents to this may point to the court system and say “the penalty for attempted murder isn’t the same as a successful murder”, but we’re dealing with a bunch of boys who get paid millions of dollars to chase a little black rubber disc around the ice, so this isn’t exactly everyday life.  This is a special set of circumstances, and the rules inherent to the game should treat it as such.

Things I learned on Tuesday night:

-Raffl, Voracek, and Bellemare can all fight.  Every one of them.  They have a combined total of five NHL fights amongst them, which speaks as much to their skill level and intent to play hockey, but also now it’s apparent they have the ability to take care of themselves if necessary.

-When a guy with 583 PIM in 168 games in the AHL and NHL gets called up specifically for a Flyers game and gets his ass beat by a Frenchman who’s fighting for the first time, fans of his team will tell you he’s an “energy guy”, not a “fighter”.  Right.  Got it.  I love how he singled out Bellemare in that scrum too, like he was going to be easy pickings.  Not so much, eh?

-From this neat little article, we see that the Pens are actually quite a bit ahead of the Flyers in PIM this year and that they dressed three goons (Sill, Downie, and Farnham) that night while the Flyers dressed one (Rinaldo).  Hmmmm.

-Dirty goals count the same as pretty goals.  The two Pens goals came from great plays (the laser by Kunitz and a patient assist from Malkin that did all the heavy lifting for Bennett).  The three Flyers goals came from a screened shot, a deflection, and a rebound and subsequent scramble.  It doesn’t matter how they go in, just so they go in.

-Games called by NBC’s B team are even worse than having to listen to Pierre (who probably couldn’t do this game because he has to stay a hundred feet away from Crosby at all times.  We think.)

As a Flyers fan, you’re used to hearing the whole “1975” thing, especially from Pens fans.  It’s the equivalent of “1940” for the Rangers before they won the Cup in the 1990s.  There are a lot of good things about being a Flyers fan though.  Consider:

-Part of a huge, rabid fan base that can be seen in every arena and is spread throughout North America

-Classic jerseys.  Instantly recognizable colors.  The only time the Flyers have altered their logo was when they added a metallic border to it for a third jersey, which was done away with quickly.  The orange has gotten a bit brighter from the older jerseys, but the colors remain.  They are as iconic as any jersey in sports.

-Your team has won two Cups, back-to-back, even, the first expansion team to do either.  Only four post-Original Six teams have won more Cups than the Flyers (Oilers (5), Islanders (4), Devils (3) and Penguins (3)). And no post-Original Six team has played for the prize more.

-Your team is one of the few who lives on in the history of the sport by a simple moniker, the Broad Street Bullies.  Not only did this team win two Cups, but they defeated the Soviet team when the Soviet team was the best team in the world.  The Flyers were literally the best team in the world at one point.

-The organization and the owner cares about winning and spares no expense.  There are two ways to run a sports team: as a business, counting pennies and nickels and scrimping where you can even if it costs you wins, or as a hobby, a passion, doing everything you can to enjoy it, even if it loses you money.  The Flyers are run as someone’s passion, which is exactly what they are, and they are generally better for it.

-The Flyers are nearly always competitive and nearly always make the playoffs, at least.  This year will probably be an exception, but the caveat is there’s a plan in place that will let one step back equal two steps forward very soon…

Rivalry night?  More like ratings night.

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?  Although NBC’s Rivalry Night sounds great, often the two teams who meet aren’t exactly rivals; sometimes the teams aren’t even from the same conference.  How can teams who play each other twice a year be rivals?  Familiarity breeds contempt; it’s why Flyers-Pens is so good.  They play each other four or five times each year as part of the same division.  Games like Pittsburgh-Chicago or Detroit-Washington are good for ratings because they involve good teams, but rivals?  Not so much.  Let’s give credit where credit is due, however; a major sports network is putting the NHL on the air at least once a week, and soon with weekend games it’ll be more.

How to stop diving

I know we’re all tired of grown men flopping around on the ice at the first hint of contact in the hopes of drawing a penalty.  They do it because it works.  It draws penalties.  So how do we stop diving?  Good question.  Here’s a couple ways referees can help eliminate it.

  1. Call what you see, not what the players want you to see.  If a guy’s head snaps back, you can’t call a penalty unless you saw what made it snap back.  You can’t guess at what happened (or didn’t happen).  This helps to stop rewarding divers by only calling penalties that actually occur and are witnessed by an official.
  2. If proper, penalize the diver alone.  Take a note from soccer, who often times lets the play carry on after the dive (thus not rewarding the diver) or play is halted and the diver is penalized with a card.  Hockey can do that too.  Want to get serious about diving?  Call the diver for embellishment alone, if there was no actual infraction performed on him.
  3. It’s okay to take both guys off, though; if there’s an actual penalty, take the guy off the ice, but if the other guy overreacted to it to try to sell it, take him too.  Don’t let it replace penalizing the diver alone, though, when there’s no penalty but the diver went down anyhow.  Refs seem to be doing this more lately.


A Final Thought

The Flyers need to hire a quality name to coach them, and they need to sign him for a long time.  He can’t be a hothead; their shelf life is four years, and that’s not enough time for this team to get where it has to.  He has to be a cooler head, but good at the game and good at putting players in positions to succeed.  The guy they hire has to have weight behind his name, someone who is respected by Hextall and Snider.  One last thing: he can’t be a member of the Flyers “family”.  He has to bring outside thinking, another perspective to this team, a team who has lacked perspective for way too long.

Enjoy the All-Star break!

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