Wednesday, February 4, 2009
So I DVR'd last Friday night's Flyers game, a 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. I have to be honest, I record the games and then I check the score to see if I really want to watch them. So you can imagine how quickly I deleted Saturday's game at St. Louis, which found the Fly-guys on the wrong end of a 4-0 beatdown. That said, I figured 6-1 over the "Bolts" (more on this later) would be an all-around enjoyable viewing experience. I would argue that the game was closer than the final score indicates, and I ended up learning a ton about this team.
First, the good news:
1) I reiterate yet again that I like this team. They are scrappy, fiery, very balanced in scoring throughout the lineup, with six players who will score at least 20 goals by season's end. Not to mention young. Only six guys on the roster are over 30, two of them--goalie Marty Biron and stud center Danny Briere--being just 31; another of them being 36-year-old Derian Hatcher, who I had honestly no idea was still on the squad until I looked it up. With all of the injuries this team has faced, it's a tremendous tribute to GM Paul Holmgren and the scouting system that the revolving door to and from the minors continues to churn out solid contributors. And a friendly littler reminder that Jeff Carter, second only to the ridiculous Alex Ovechkin in goals scored with 32, and Mike Richards, in the league's top 20 with 50 points, are 24 and 23, respectively. The core of this team is in place for, hopefully, many years to come.
2) Antero Niittymaki is a pretty great goaltender. Against Tampa Bay Friday night, the MVP of the 2006 Winter Olympics made 41 saves and even had an assist on Scott Hartnell's goal to make it 5-1 in the third. He is 21-11-4 on the season, with a 2.59 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He's 10-3-2 in his last 15 starts. And he was pretty much the reason that the Lightning didn't make it a closer game on the scoreboard, because there were plenty of moments where it could have gone entirely in the other direction. Niitty made saves on four one-on-none breakaways, plus a stop on sniper Martin St. Louis' penalty shot in the third that would have brought the score to 3-2.
3) Big fan of defensemen Randy Jones and Braydon Coburn. These guys are so Philadelphia, such blue-collar, rough-and-tumble grinders unafraid to do the dirty work that doesn't show up in the box scores. Winning the battles in the corner, making smart outlet passes, keeping the puck in the zone. Jones was a stud in Tampa, even flashing a nifty wrister that gave us the lead for good. And Coburn had a brief but impressive bout with toughguy Ryan Malone, who took a couple of Braydon's fists right to the face.
4) I like John Stevens as head coach. He is cool as a cucumber, won the Calder Cup with Richards and Carter for the Phantoms in '04-'05, and seems to have earned the respect of his players with last year's surprising run to the Conference Finals.
What concerns me about this team comes down to two main points:
First is that I saw a ton of defensive breakdowns that led to really good scoring chances for the Lightning. While we seem to be doing well in the kind of defenseman that moves the puck well and helps create scoring chances, there's still a need for a big, bruising shutdown defender. Florida Panthers blue-liner Jay Bouwmeester seems to be of interest to Holmgren, and would certainly be a great fit, but the Flyers are one of about a dozen teams vying for his services.
The second problem is that this team takes an egregious amount of penalties. Going into tonight's game, Philly leads the league with 938 penalty minutes, not to mention a few games in hand over any of the closest competitors. The problems may be connected, as the speedier, less physical defensemen are forced to resort to clutching and grabbing and hooking once the wingers get a step on them. Tampa had nine power plays on Friday night, including a 5-on-3 for almost an entire two minutes. Thankfully, the penalty kill, second in the league only to Detroit, was able to survive eight of the nine without a goal. But the Lightning are not that good a team, and I don't care how many shorthanded goals you've scored, if you're always down a man in the playoffs, you're in trouble.
Tonight's tilt with the visiting Bruins will be quite a test for this Flyers squad. Boston comes into the Wachovia Center with an incredible 37-8-6 record, leading the league with 80 points. The Flyers currently hold the six-seed in the tightly-packed East, with 61 points, six behind the Devils with two games in hand, but just two behind the Rangers with three games in hand.
There is still so much hockey to be played, and any number of things can and will happen. I plead guilty, as always, to eternal optimism and wishful thinking, but I do think that we're gonna take the Atlantic, and head into the playoffs with the two- or three-seed.
Go ahead, boys, make me look smart!
Other Musings (and there are plenty):
Couple more notes on the Flyers game in Tampa:
1) Tampa broke out their new third jersey, which says "Bolts" on it. Ew. Who puts a team's nickname on the front of the sweater? That'd be like us having jerseys that say "Fly-guys" or "Iggles" or "Phightins." That's pretty lame. But then again, so is hockey in Florida.
2) The Lightning have a guy on their team named Artyukhin. I laugh every time I hear it. Isn't that what Ryu shouts on Street Fighter when he throws the fireball?
The E-Trade baby commercials continue to be the best on television and were certainly the best of this year's Super Bowl. The one following the golf game was funny, and the earlier one with the other baby singing Broken Wings are instant classics. Honorable mentions go to:
Though we all know that there is no column in the standings for moral victories, I couldn't help but be proud that the Sixers only lost to Boston last night on a three-pointer by Ray Allen with 0.5 seconds left.
Anyone else absolutely disgusted that Donovan was on ESPN this week talking about the Super Bowl? I couldn't watch. You should've been playing in the game, Donovan, not talking about it.
I like the Best Buy commercials with the stories from the tech guys of why they love their job. The one that kills me is the story with the couple who had everything ready to watch the big game--sound system, wings, nachos, pizza, beer, the perfect setup for all of their guests. Everything. But they came into the store the morning of, in a panic. Why? Because they forgot to buy the television!!! Seriously, who are these people?
Time Warner Cable has a campaign out now welcoming you to "Newer York." Really? That's all you got?
Texting while you walk is one thing. But people who are reading books while they walk the streets of Manhattan almost deserve to be hit by a car.
Lastly, I was appalled to read in the paper the other day that there exists a creature named Staten Island Chuck, who predicts the remaining duration of winter on Groundhog Day. Way to hijack someone else's tradition. Sorry, ASPCA, but Punxsutawney Phil could beat the crap out of Staten Island Chuck any day of the week.