Monday, March 8, 2010

From the Ground Up

"Thought I'd reached the point of no return,
but came back under the radar.
I've been there ever since." --Little Feat

"And now I'm sneaking
under the radar;
And now I'm creeping
under your nose." --Rolling Stones

From the days before Thanksgiving to the last-minute shopping days of the holiday season, the Flyers, it seemed, couldn't buy a victory. A team that, at least on paper, was stuffed to the gills with talent, experience, and character, couldn't beat anyone. From November 20th to December 21st, the boys in black and orange went an embarrassing 3-13-1. John Stevens was fired from the head coaching position on December 4th, but new coach Peter Laviolette didn't fare much better, winning just two of his first 10 games with the team.

But then, mysteriously, something clicked into place. Maybe it was the return from injury of Simon Gagne. Maybe it was the team's emergence from the learning curve of Laviolette's new aggressive-yet-disciplined style of play. Maybe it was the aftermath of that (first) wicked snowstorm. I don't know. But I do know that that was the end of the nightmare before Christmas, and the team many had hoped was a sleeping giant, was finally roused from its deep slumber.

Since December 23rd, the Flyers are 19-8-2. At the moment, they cling to the 6-spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with 72 points. They're only five points behind the Ottawa Senators, on whom the Flyers have two games in hand. They're just seven points behind the hated--and suddenly swooning--Devils at second in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the conference. (Since acquiring superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk from Atlanta, New Jersey has lost six of nine games, including back-to-back 3-2 losses at the hands of our resurgent Flyers.) And while the Canadiens are only two points behind in the 7-spot, they've played three more games than Philly.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, as a result of the pre-holiday futility, every game is essentially a playoff game. The standings in the East are tighter than that pair of jeans from college you're still trying to squeeze into, the difference between sixth and 11th being just seven points. And while Washington and Pittsburgh made moves before the deadline that probably make them even more formidable, the Flyers did nothing. Though I wasn't thrilled with this, being Optimist Prime, I'm very much okay with it. It's still a very good team, and any player that might have been of interest would have cost too much talent to acquire. In the end, Sam Carchidi of the Inquirer said it best when he wrote: "The problem is that the Flyers are potentially a very good team in a conference that includes two great teams."

So that's my key to all of this. For the Flyers to be able to make a serious run at breaking a Cup-less stretch halfway into its fourth decade, they need to finish, at worst, in the 6-seed. They need to avoid both the Capitals and the Penguins, hoping that at the very least someone else knocks them around, at the most that someone upsets them. Those are the only teams in the East that strike an iota of fear in me, and I do think we can hang with both in a seven-game series.

After all, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers proved once and for all, that the most important things are to make the tourney, and to end the season strong. They were the eighth-seed in the West, and reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that season. So, very literally, anything is possible.

But let's make the playoffs first.
Other Musings:

I was thrilled to get back to the NHL season, but I will miss the greatest international hockey tournament ever played, even if my DVR won't. What I won't miss, however, is the incessant Day-O chants. Despised it before. Now it makes me want to stab between my toes with an ice pick.

It seems to me that Luke Wilson has worn out his welcome. Those AT&T commercials are so snarky and obnoxious. Besides, the question for his friend to win $1 million is the capital of Peru? And you cheat to get it right? So many things wrong with that. (Note: I had incorrectly written "Owen Wilson" at first. See my friend Kevin's comment below.)

With the creativity level of sports nicknames in a coma, I have to applaud the Kevin Durant's moniker, the Durantula. That's good stuff right there. Also from the name department, the Latvians had a hockey player named Ankipans. Still can't stop laughing from that one. Just say it out loud to yourself. Then you'll understand.

I had been deeply concerned that the new Gatorade would have to lessen its 'G' content in order to make it healthier. But my fears have been assuaged: G2 has half the calories, but all the 'G.' Thank God.

Memo to the Eagles: The reports are true. Free agency has actually begun.

Anyone else crazy-psyched for baseball season?