Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Pitiful Flyers:Why They Are Down 3-2 in the First Round

OK, so after the overtime goal by Tyler Ennis there are too many emotions for a Flyers fan to process. You're angry, upset, confused, astonished, in denial etc. And in this tornado of emotions it is hard to think clearly about your hometown team. But that's why I am here, to lay it out there all neat and nice for you.

This is why the Flyers have went from Cup Contender to 3rd line benders. No sugar coat, no home team special.

Note- this will be looooooong, so grab a snack and settle in.

1) Goaltending
This is not their biggest problem, but it is the oldest and most talked about, so let's start with this.

Once Bobrovsky was pulled, I just knew what would happen. Brian Boucher would play solid for a few games but then the other shoe would drop and it would cost us. Well the other shoe dropped in Game 5 and it cost us big time.

Their is no reason why a team contending for the Stanley Cup should rely on two NHL back up goaltenders at best to take them from round 1 to the championship. No excuse for it.

Look at the other teams in the East that made the playoffs. Tampa Bay went out and got a goalie who is reliable and has Stanley Cup experience in Dwayne Roloson. Rangers have King Henrik. Sabres have Ryan Miller. Montreal has Carey Price. Pittsburgh has Marc- Andre Fleury. Boston has Tim Thomas. Washington has an untested goalie in Michael Neuvirth. But Neuvirth has won two AHL championships, and even that may not be enough.

Look at the goalies in the West that made the playoffs. Chicago has an untested goalie in Crawford but a playoff experienced and former all-star goalie in Marty Turco. LA has Jon Quick. Phoenix had Ilya Bryzgalov. Nashville has Pekka Rinne. Anaheim has Ray Emery (though no one thought he would recover so fast and well from his hip problem) who has been to the Stanley Cup and is only playing because of an injury to Jonas Hiller. Detroit has Jimmy Howard. San Jose has reigning Stanley Cup winning Antti Niemi who has improved overall from last year (despite his numbers). Vancouver has Roberto Luongo.

Out of 16 teams in the playoffs, the Flyers were one of three teams that went into the playoffs without a goalie capable of stealing a game. One of the other teams, Chicago, is riding the hot hand, but still was prepared in having a previous all-star goalie on the bench. The last of the three, Washington, rolled the dice just like Philadelphia and I would not be surprised to see them lose in the 2nd round.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that the Flyers are one of those stubborn few that go into the playoffs with a question mark in net year after year. This is nothing ground breaking as far as analysis. TSN, and all the other hockey media outlets have been harping on this for decades when it comes to Philadelphia.

But Ed Snider, Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren are so focused on proving their theory that averaging goaltending can win a Stanley Cup that they handicap themselves every year.

They went into this year with the same tandem that did them in last year, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. The duo almost knocked them out in the Boston series when Boucher dropped the first three games and Leighton gave up 3 easy goals in Game 7. But the Flyers offense prevailed and got them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup before the goaltending blew up. That's bad team management.

Yes, they did make a move for the future in signing a promising 22 year old Sergei Bobrovsky. Yes, they were fortunate he could come in and play so well this year. Yes, he is their best goalie.

But doesn't that speak for itself? That the Flyers left their chances in net up to a rookie who never before played a game in North America? Bobrovsky has played better than anyone thought he would and has really been a bonus, but in the end it is unrealistic to expect him to be the number one guy on a team EXPECTED to win the Cup. But then again, because of neglect, he is the ONLY one capable of doing it. (Sidenote: he better start Game 6).
Bobrovsky has done well, despite the knee-jerk reactions of Laviolette and media

In no way do I mean to knock Bobrovsky, no matter how bad the Flyers do this post-season, none of this falls on his shoulders. He was not given enough of a chance, and it isn't responsible to throw him into the fire and not expect growing pains/not be willing to accept the growing pains, like Laviolette, the media and fans have not been able to do all year long with him.

For the rest of these playoffs, however long they last, they need to give the reigns to Bobrovsky. He is the only goalie capable of getting hot and bringing them deep into the post season. You can't play Boucher. Boosh did worse than Bob did in Game 2 and Bob was banished to the pressbox. What will the message to the young Bob be if they start Boosh in Game 6? I'll venture a guess: We trust the less than average and too streaky Brian Boucher but we don't trust you. Not a good message to send to your future franchise goalie.

So who is it going to be, the rookie with the chance of stealing the game, the journey man goalie who has played only a few periods in the NHL this year or the career backup who is in his infamous cold streak? Not a very desirable situation to say the least. But thanks, management, for once again putting us in this situation.

For next year, they need to either ride Bobrovsky and accept the growing pains or step up and get a big name goalie. And even if they do ride Bob, they need to go out and get a real backup. No more Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton. They just don't cut it.

2) Power Play
2 for 26. Yup, and one of those power play goals was Jeff Carter's goal off the rush. Where he went to dump it in and it went off a skate, bounced right back to him and he caught Miller out of position due to the bounce.

It's pretty pathetic to be talking about one power play goal and in essence talking about half of the power play goals. Especially in the playoffs.

You can go ahead and excuse the Flyers for struggling on the man advantage because Chris Pronger is hurt. But in all reality with a list of talented forwards and D, shouldn't the power play be operating a little more consistently? JVR, Giroux, Richards, Leino, Briere, Zherdev (who barely sees PP ice time but that will be addressed under the coaching section), Mez, Carle, Kimmo, Carter, Hartnell, Versteeg, and Coburn. You would think you could compile one good unit out of the bunch.

2 for 26. Too many pretty passes that are low percentage, too much perimeter play, not enough shots. It's simple. When you are struggling on the PP you make two or three passes and look for the shot with guys at the net and going to the net. But that's not what they do.

You can't win a playoff series when you choke on the power play again and again. Especially post lockout NHL. Perfect example: 3 minutes left in the third of Game 5, tied 3-3. They get the power play and refuse to cash in on it. They lose in OT and are now down 3-2 in the series. If you want to win the cup, you score on that power play.

3) Offense
To begin, the Flyers have one of the deepest, if not deepest, offense corps in the league. But you wouldn't know it looking at the playoff scores. Two loses in five games of 1-0. Unacceptable. Ryan Miller or no Ryan Miller, you need to score to win.

Let us look more closely at this deep offensive unit to spot the real issues though.

Jeff Carter. 1 goal this playoffs. Yeah, he picked up a PP goal but he had many chances to hit open nets that he flubbed. He has been almost invisible this post season except for when he misses a scoring chance that someone of his talent should not miss. Again, he is hurt in the post season. Not saying his fault, but didn't we just ship out a winger with a 5mil contract because he was hurt too much and thus unreliable? But hey, at least Gagne was clutch in the playoffs. Carter has never been.

Mike Richards, Captain. 0 goals this playoffs. I don't know whether he is hurt or not but he has been a non-factor in the physical aspect of the series, an aspect where he earned his big contract. At times he appears disinterested and unmotivated. He has not led by example or has seemed very vocal on the bench and ice. While he has a playoff pedigree that warrants his contract, this year he has not been the Mike Richards who earned that C.
If Richards does this consistently, Flyers will be in good shape.

With that said, I won't be too hard on Mike. He needs to really work in the off-season on strength to keep his shoulders healthy and to add some more pounds to his frame. Honestly, he needs to model himself after Sidney Crosby and work hard to step his game up. Crosby and Stamkos train all off season on and off ice to be better. You don't hear those stories with Richards. Instead you hear that he's in Sea Isle visiting Jeff Carter.

Which brings me to my next point. The best thing for Mike Richards and this team is to move Carter this off season. Not only does it clear salary (which is much needed and will be discussed under management section) but splitting up Cartsie and Richie will be good for Richards' career. They moved Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul who were part of Richards and Carter's original crew.

There were rumors that those players were moved because they were too influential on Carter's and Richard's lifestyles. Well, they are gone and not much has changed from 17 and 18. Obviously, 18 is more vital to the team and has proven he can step up in the playoffs while Carter has not. The best thing to do now is to get value for Carter before his no trade kicks in. Will it happen? Probably not with this management but we will get to that bit soon enough.

Back to players...

Scott Hartnell. 0 goals. While he has a lot of heart, he has no hockey smarts and very rarely drives to the net, which is his most needed asset. His contract is too big and was given out due to one year's production. He has a pension for turnovers and stupid plays. He is not good on defense and relies too much on his linemates. My advice, see if there are any takers this offseason. Kris Versteeg is the same player with a lower cap hit and younger. Not to mention a cup ring.

Kris Versteeg. 0 goals. Versteeg has played increasingly better since Zherdev has joined his line and in Game 5 played well. He hasn't had it this year with the Flyers but I think if the post season continues he will start chipping in.I also think he will do well next year, and should be kept.

Nik Zherdev. 1 goal. He has played in only 3 games but netted a game winner and has brought life to Versteeg. He is one of the only forwards who constantly is looking for open ice in the offensive zone. He moves the puck quick and has game changing ability. Oh and his physical play and defense has greatly improved to boot. If I'm Philadlephia, I try to resign him and give him more playing time. He has been good in limited action.

Ville Leino. 1 goal. This year has been hard for Leino and has really hurt his chances of a big pay day. He has just never got back to his last year's playoffs form once this season started. I doubt that last year was a fluke, but he turns the puck over a lot and refuses to make the simple play. He has been bad this post season when we needed his line to step up. I am skeptical of resigning him, unless for cheap. I think he is redundant with Giroux on this team, and money would be better spent elsewhere.

Danny Briere. 3 goals. Unfortunately, he may be a victim of the salary cap. But Briere has 3 goals in 5 games and is the most clutch forward on the team. He has played well and always comes up big. He is the only veteran forward on this squad and right now he is their best shot at success this post season. I think he needs to be a part of the Flyers next year, and be given better linemates.
Danny Briere has been Mr. Clutch over the last two years, but could benefit from better linemates

Claude Giroux. 1 goal. Along with Briere and JVR, Giroux has been the few constants on this team. He is their true number 1 center and should be given top minutes. Despite what people think, Giroux is their main guy.

James van Riemsdyk. 2 goals. JVR has really grown into his potential and has proven all the haters wrong this post season. The Flyers desperately need that to continue if they want a shot at getting out of this whole. JVR and Giroux, not Carter and Richards are the core of this team now.
JVR has been good against Buffalo this series, and even in the regular season, like in this clip.

Blair Betts. 0 goals. Not that goals matter with Betts, but he is starting to run out of gas. He may have another year in him, but this post season, he has been fairly decent. But then again, he is not the problem.

Darrell Powe. 0 goals. He has been good enough this post season and is the only forward to constantly hit. Again, not the problem.

Dan Carcillo. 1 goal. Despite his solid post season performance, Carcillo should not be back next year. He is half the player he was last year and that's not saying much. The Flyers need tough Carcillo to show up in Game 6, not head whip and back down Carcillo. Especially if he wants a shot at being resigned.

Andreas Nodl. 0 goals. He is playing out of position in the post season. A reliable and defensive minded forward, when it comes to the playoffs he is best suited for 4th line. He has done his best playing top 9, but it hasn't reaped any production.

So what is the problem with the Flyers offense? Too many overpaid, overrated players that aren't willing to get the job done in the post season. Too many chokers and no shows. They can't afford the role players (or goalies) because they put too much money in forwards that are the same. Hartnell and Versteeg. Giroux and Leino. Carter and Zherdev. Take one and ditch the other. Personally, Versteeg, Giroux and Zherdev have deserved to stay based on this year.

The Flyers need have 2 scoring lines, a two way line and a 4th line. That's how you get far in the playoffs. You commit to the system and you bring in the guys that fit the role. Instead of bringing in players and trying to adapt the system to them.

Scoring Line 1- Power forward JVR- Playmaking center Claude Giroux- Shooting, Scoring Winger who is clutch (Zherdev?)
Scoring Line 2- Winger who crashes the net- Play making center Danny Briere- Scoring Winger (not named Carter)
Two Way Line 3- Gritty winger Kris Versteeg- Great Two way center Mike Richards- Two way winger
4th Line: Betts, Nodl, Powe, Sestito, maybe free agent or Phantom's Matt Read or Ben Holmstrom

Right now they have holes in their seemingly strong offense that has them underachieving.

4) Coaching
Let's be honest, Peter Laviolette has some blame to take in the Flyers losing the Eastern Conference top seed and so far choking in the playoffs.

He mishandled Zherdev all season long. While Zherdev could be even better than he is this post season he is not, because he didn't play in Game 1 or 2 and because he barely played this year. The Flyers are missing a prime time scoring winger and they sat on one the whole year. Hopefully Zherdev continues his good play and pots a few more this post season to really make it obvious that Lavy screwed the pooch on this one.

But then again, Zherdev is not seeing enough ice time and PP even though he has been one of the best forwards on the ice these past 3 games. It is frustrating and maddening to think about it but Peter Laviolette's stubbornness is keeping Zherdev from making an even greater impact on this series.

Then there is the playoff goaltenders. He pulls Bob in Game 2, which may have been a panic move. Usually in a 3-2 game, with only 1 soft goal being allowed, you take a time out first. Especially when the team is playing bad and not just the goalie, rather than pulling the goalie. But he didn't. Then he refused to go back to his most skilled goalie in Game 3. San Jose coach Todd McLellan when faced with the same situation after pulling Niemi while losing by 4, went back to Niemi the next game. The next game Niemi played quite well and the Sharks took a lot of momentum from it.

Now the goalie he decided was a better fit than Bob, blows up on the team in a huge Game 5. In fact, Boucher played worst than Bob did in Game 2. We will have to wait to see who starts Game 6 to see if Laviolette makes another mistake in goal tending personnel.

And then you have the situation where Peter Laviolette's team has failed to put in a full 60 minutes. His job is to prepare the team and get them up to play the game. He has to take some responsibility for them not being able to come out strong in important post season and regular season games.

Fact of the matter is that this is a team that should have been first seed. But they aren't. Fact of the matter is that this is a team that should be scoring more goals. But they aren't. Fact of the matter is they should have a top power play unit. But they don't. Fact of the matter is that they should have won this series already. But they haven't. Fact of the matter is they should be playing tougher. But they aren't.

And some of that needs to fall on the coach. I, personally, have been of the opinion that Peter Laviolette is not the right coach for the Flyers. After the playoffs last year, I was okay with keeping him on for another year, to see what he can do. But now we have seen it and I'm not impressed. He, along with others, need to go.

5) Management
Hindsight is 20/20 but let's not use that as an excuse to throw away this evaluation of the Flyers' management. They made some good offseason moves, Mez and Zherdev (though the coach refuses to admit it). But they made piss poor ones also. Re-signign Leighton, trading away their clutch winger Simon Gagne for a 7th or 8th defenseman.

And then there are the moves they haven't made, and the ones I feel they might never. Or at least, their track record gives one little hope. They fail to address goaltending (which was addressed earlier) and they fail to cut ties with players who they personally like, but aren't up to snuff (examples: Jeff Carter, Dan Carcillo, Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher). And then there's the players they never bring in, like the real scoring winger, the guy who gives us net presence, the role players, the gritty guys we need. There are a lot of "ands" in there aren't they?

What it comes down to his that the Flyers replaced Bob Clarke with a newer version of Bob Clarke. Man could Bob Clarke make a good trade, but damn could he make a bad one. And same with free agent signings.
Paul Holmgren

Paul Holmgren also shares Bob Clarke's point of view on a lot of things, since Clarke is still in the organization and Holmgren has always been a part of the Flyers' franchise. Whether it's their decent goalie can win a cup mantra or how to handle a star player who isn't so much a star, it's about the same under Holmgren as under Clarke, just a little better.

Unfortunately, that won't be changing soon. Holmgren is not going anywhere most likely and we will be forced to deal with the management decisions that has us down 3-2 to the Sabres when we should be looking forward at the second round not just this year, but many years from now.

5) Heart
This isn't a player problem or a coaching problem or a management problem. This is an all-the-above problem. The simple truth to why the Flyers are down and out right now is that there has been little heart all year. Blame the players for not giving a damn, blame the coach for not motivating the players, blame the GM for not bringing in guys that will give a damn and trading away one that does.

It is embarrassing as a fan to see this all year. For the Flyers to put it off saying they can "flip the switch" and act like its no big deal. Well it is a big deal, and it does end up biting you in the end.

Teams need heart, effort and desire to win a Stanley Cup. We haven't played with any of that since last year.
You can blame it on Ian Laperriere being forced to sit out with an injury. Yes, that hurts but is there any reason why we cant go out and get someone with heart? Is there any reason why the other 20 odd guys can't have heart?

This team relies on skill and one hard period of play to win games. Until they find heart, these types of articles about the Flyers will be written every year.

In the end, you as a fan can blame the refs, blame the Mickey Mouse league for the Flyers failures. You can even blame injuries, like we have every year. But every team plays in this league with the same refs and every team gets injured. The Flyers have to rise above that and start making the right decisions, the hard decisions and simply, trying harder if they want to visit the promise land.

I am not counting the Flyers out yet, but it will be tough to salvage this year. I desperately want them to. The playoffs without your favorite team is not as enjoyable. But maybe a first round exit will bring about a sliver of change that will help us next year.


  1. sir thomas, you've done it again. richards is a second line center at best, and carter/hartnell/leino need to go. i also HEAVILY agree with zherdev's situation. everyone has something against him. he's a highly-skilled player in a system that doesn't use him properly. he reminds me of semin, who had the same questions as zherdev of where's his heart, he doesn't play D, etc. but bruce found a place for him, and now he's clutch.

    it's hard to watch all of these chances produced without anyone on the ice who can seal the deal and put it home. like you said, JVR, giroux briere are the clutch players this year. we gotta build around them.

  2. Jussi Jokinen could be a good fit for a second line scorer. he put up 52 points in 70 games this season. Curtis Glencross or Tomas Fleischmann could be a good third line winger fit, or maybe Upshall.


What do YOU think?