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Mediocre teams are inconsistent, and that’s what the Flyers are.
Results this week: Flyers 3, Predators 2 (SO); Flyers 3, Capitals 2; Hurricanes 4, Flyers 1; Maple Leafs 3, Flyers 2
Current record: 26-25-11, 63 points
Record at this point last year: 32-24-6, 70 points
Record at this point in 2006: 16-37-9, 41 points
Upcoming schedule: Feb 28 vs Rangers, Mar 3 vs Flames, Mar 5 vs Blues
The other night I was watching an episode of Shark Tank and there were two guys who were shopping a security system for college campuses. Their design was fascinating and original, but when the sharks started asking questions, it became apparent that they had spent ninety percent of their considerable start-up capital on developing their technology outside the company and had no money to do anything else. I remember Mark Cuban saying “the problem is, you started with money and you didn’t have to change what you were doing, you just threw money at problems when they came up instead of adapting. A lack of money didn’t force you to get smarter with your product.”

This is where the Flyers are. Ron Hextall doesn’t have money to throw at problems, and he doesn’t have any sharks who can raise the cap for him. Right now, all he can do is plug holes with stopgap options like Nick Schultz. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the long run; it will force him to be creative and smart about where he spends his money, and hopefully, when he finally does have room, he’ll be appreciative of the room and use it wisely.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Flyers are doing what they’ve done all season; be inconsistent. After earning hard-fought wins over the Predators and Capitals and clawing to within four points of the Wild Card, they dropped a game against the Hurricanes in which they looked like they were never really in it. I would look for Braydon Coburn to get moved in the next few days as the Flyers begin to sell, although after Nathan Horton and David Clarkson got traded, I wouldn’t rule out Andrew MacDonald or Vincent Lecavalier being moved just yet, as it seems there’s hope for everyone.

Kimmo Timonen will be back this Saturday! He’ll play one game as a Flyer before the trade deadline comes and may be moved, depending on if he wants to chase a Cup with another team before he retires at the end of the year. I have a feeling it’ll be entirely up to him.

Too hurt to start should mean too hurt to dress

I’m concerned about how casual the Flyers are with Steve Mason’s health. First the Flyers dressed him in Game 3 of the playoffs last year even though he was still suffering concussion symptoms (a game he entered in relief, no less). Now, coming off of an eight-game absence which was caused by having arthroscopic surgery on his knee, he took a limited practice Wednesday and afterwards said things like “right now I feel like I haven’t skated in a couple weeks” and “we’ll see how it goes the next couple days”. So what does Craig Berube do? So of course after Zepp allows two goals to the Maple Leafs (both pretty good snipes, I might add), he puts Mason in! And THEN there’s a huge fray around Mason, and Leaf players know he’s hurt, and he ends up tangled up in a mass of bodies as Flyers fans cover their eyes and hope for the best.

Mason never should have dressed. You should never be “hurt but good enough to back up”. The Flyers should have kept Stolarz up until Mason was ready to come back fully and start. I understand their stance that Stolie is not ready, but you’re out of options: Emery can’t go and Mason sounds very much like he can’t go. Let Zepp start and let Stolarz back him up in case of injury. There’s no reason to risk your franchise goalie for a season that was never going to amount to much anyhow. Just add this to the list of reasons why Berube shouldn’t return as coach next year.

How Craig Berube stifles the Flyers

On the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, former Soviet player and three-time Stanley Cup champion Igor Larionov offered his opinion on a couple things, one being the style of play in the NHL:
“The game is all about ‘north-south,’ chip-and-chase…People ask me why (a) creative style of play is now so rare at the NHL level…The problem is more philosophical and starts way before players get to the NHL. It’s easier to destroy than to create. As a coach, it’s easier to tell your players to suffocate the opposing team and not turn the puck over. Many young players who are intelligent and can see the game four moves ahead are not valued. They’re told “simple, simple, simple.” …If I was just coming into the league today, I would probably be considered too small. I would be sent down to the minors after my first or second neutral zone turnover. …There’s a reason why Pavel Datsyuk went undrafted in 1996 and 1997.”
He continues:

“If you look at the coaches in Juniors and minor league hockey, many of them were not skill players. It’s a lot of former enforcers and grinders who take these coaching jobs. Naturally, they tell their players to be just like them.”

Does that sound familiar? It should. (By the way, read that article. It is well worth your time.) Berube was a tough guy (3149 PIM in 1054 games) who took a minor league coaching job, wound up getting the head job with the Phantoms and got promoted to the big club. In this article talking about the Predators game, both Simmonds and Berube laud the “simple” play style as the key to their success.

So yes, Berube is stifling the Flyers, as many other head coaches are stifling their teams in an attempt to play the latest playstyle that seems effective. Teams are always looking for the next best thing, however. What beats a good defense? A good offense, of course, an offense predicated on puck possession and player movement, finding patches of ice and using them, you know, kind of like how the Miracle and Soviet team both played. An offense that’s impossible to cover due to the movement and confusion it causes.

All the hints are there. There’s miles of film on it. The NHL team who dedicates and builds with this in mind has the potential to be the next dynasty, without question. But it’s a risk, like Larionov says, that few are willing to take.

Other thoughts:

-Bellemare watch: blocking shots and doing the little things. Still got that killer mouthpiece too!

-I put this up on Twitter and I’ll say this here: if the Flyers make the playoffs, I’ll make my AVI either Nick Grossmann or Andrew MacDonald for the length of the first round. I’ll let you decide which.

-The Flyers don’t deserve a playoff spot. If they had beaten the Hurricanes and the Leafs, they would be tied with Boston right now for the last spot. They’re not.

-More on that: the Flyers played very well tonight. They outworked and outshot the Leafs by a wide margin, 49-17. But Bernier made 47 saves, Zepp got sniped a couple times, and that was that. It happens.

-The whispers say the book is out on Zepp, who you shoot high on to beat, but really, isn’t that the book on all butterfly goalies? By design, the butterfly stops pucks at the bottom of the net, so why wouldn’t you shoot high on everyone?

-As soon as Mason came into the game I just hoped he didn’t get hurt. That’s all. The Giroux skate injury taught us this year is not about this year, it’s about two years from now. Long-term, career-altering injuries serve us no purpose, and there’s no reason to risk them anymore than any healthy hockey player risks them each time they step onto the ice.

-Berube changed his lines and pulled his goalie when the Flyers went down 2-0 despite the fact his team was dominant in possession, were outworking the Leafs by wide margins, and were leading everywhere but the scoreboard. This is results-based thinking and it will get you nowhere in the new analytics NHL. The Flyers had better cut Craig loose before the rest of the league outpaces them even more.

-There are 20 games left in the season.

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