Sunday, March 31, 2013

Playing the whole 60 minutes: Flyers

The Flyers went into this match-up defensively depleted against a team that is in competition with other playoff contenders. As underdogs, the Flyers had a lot of work to do. They knew what had to be done and in an upset they finally played the whole 60 minutes. Lauridsen had a successful debut with the Flyers, getting a penalty during the first minute of play but then never shying away from getting in the action. The Flyers, 7th ranked in the league for penalty kills, did a good job of killing off their first penalty. The power play against the Flyers, a crucial do or die moment in the game, letting the Bruins get on the score board so early in the first period would have been a death sentence. The Bruins maintained control during the first period until Chara was sent to the penalty box; the leagues best power play was matched against the leagues best penalty killers and the Flyers took this opportunity to score by Knuble. Chara being off the ice during the power play was a key element in being able to take an early lead in this game for the Flyers, as it is so hard to score while Chara is dominating the ice. Early in the second period the Flyers came back strong with another goal, they were winning puck battles and scoring opportunities. On paper, the Flyers had the opportunity to compete, it was a matter of them grasping that opportunity and exploiting weaknesses. Nathan Horton (Bruins) was in the right place at the right time, when a rebound came right to him and he scored on the Flyers, cutting the lead in half, 2-1 during the second period.  The fear in every fans mind at that moment was, "oh no a repeat of Thursday" where the Flyers had a 2 point lead and lost it in the third period. Fortunately, that would not be the outcome of the game. Although the Bruins came into the third with more energy, they didn’t produce.  The Flyers took out an insurance policy on their lead by firing a puck into an empty Bruins net during the last minutes of play, winning the game 3-1.
This win breaks the losing streak of the Flyers; with a restored confidence this team still has a difficult schedule ahead of them. It was obvious that the Flyers had built upon their successes from Thursday night and had brought 60 minutes of play onto the ice yesterday. The Flyers demonstrated great plays from Simmonds, hard hits from Rinaldo, scores from Knuble, Read and Fedotenko and impressive saves by Bryzgalvo. Coach Laviolette realized the importance of playing Knuble on Thursday, another good call, as Knuble made the first goal of the game again last night. Knuble is demonstrating leadership at the net by taking opportunities and turning them into points. The Flyers chance of the playoffs might have already past but a strong finish to this rough season looks possible, if not promising after the Flyers come back.  The Flyers need to go with the momentum they built in this game and continue it through the rest of the season, with just 14 games left the Flyers need to show up for 60 minutes at each game. Post game Knuble said:
"You feel good about it, but then you're frustrated too because that's an upper-echelon team in our league and you ask yourselves, 'Why don't you do it more often? Why doesn't it happen more often? You make the commitment right from the start and everybody was on board today."
If the Flyers can beat the Bruins, #4 in the conference, will the Flyers also show up against the #11 Capitals tonight? The Flyers remain 5 points away from a play off slot, with 14 games remaining. Rest up boys, we’re taking on #2 the Canadiens Wednesday followed by the #6 Maples Leafs on Thursday. The Flyers need to take the road back to play offs game by game; they could rise from the ashes, if they have the determination and discipline. The win from last night was short lived, as the Flyers go up against the #11 Capitals tonight. The team still has much work to do before their challenging matchups later this week. They need to work on their awareness, cover players in their own zone and get their second man into the offensive zone even quicker and work on their shoots if they look to win more points later this week.
Good job boys you played 60 minutes! Throw back another 5 hour energy and do it again tonight!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holding onto playoff dreams: Hershey Bears

The Hershey Bears, coming off of a loss yesterday, take on the Providence Bruins tonight as they try to hold onto to their play-off slot. This is the first meeting between the two clubs for the 12-13 season. The Bruins have the edge over the Bears in this match-up as the Bears record is 21-26-5. With only a month left in the regular season for the Hershey Bears, they cannot afford many mistakes in their last 9 games, 7 of those games on the road. The Hershey Bears road record is 14-10-0-3 better than their home record 16-14-3-2. Coach Mark French’s approach to making it into play offs is taking it “game by game.” Recently the NHL has been recalling players, which has been forcing the team to rework their defense as they push toward playoffs. French said earlier this week, although there are many new faces and their systems difficult, the team has been adapting.  Puck drop tonight at 7pm at the Hershey Giant center, see you there.

Pre-game Post: Flyers v Bruins

Today the Flyers face off against the Bruins at 1pm on home ice, it is their second of three meetings during this season. Last time the Flyers fell to the Bruins in Boston with a 0-3 loss, their final meeting will be April 23 in Philadelphia. The Bruins, a very physical team, are coming off of a 2 day break. The Flyers can pull an advantage by having the NHL's best power play but they need to show discipline, emotionally and physically. But, the Bruins are the top ranked at penalty kills, a match up a power play will be interesting. They can not give away power plays like they so often do.  Claude Giroux has had back-to-back multiple point games, he needs to be focused and provide this team with strong leadership against this challenging match up. This game is the eighth daytime start for the Flyers, who have won four of their past five day games. Player to watch: Oliver Lauridsen defenseman will make his NHL debut, he was recalled to replace the injured Braydon Coburn. The Flyers will be going up against the NHL's player with best face off percentage (62.4) Patrice Bergeron the Bruins team Captain.  Giroux is going to have a hard time with Bergeron, who does not get scored on while he is on the ice. The Flyers need to create energy through out the game and perform consistently. Recently we have seen them come out of the gate during the first period with energy and then tapper off during the remainder of the game.
The Flyers are coming into this game as underdogs but if they can build on their successes, there is an opportunity for them to succeed. The defense needs to work with the goaltender and they need to constantly be pushing offensively if they want a chance to win. If the Flyers don't make it happen in the first period there is a chance that we will see the Bruins run up the score, as the Flyers do not perform well under pressure. If the Flyers can keep a 0-0 score during the first period, or, score, their confidence could come back and surprise us during the rest of the game. As the end of the season approaches there are numerous players out due to injury, a positive outcome to this game would be no injuries to the Flyer players that remain. The team will look to players like Zac Rinaldo to create energy and Hartnell to control his temper. If Hartnell shakes it up by getting petty penalties, it will jeopardize the cohesiveness of the unit on the ice. With the team confidence down, Lavoilette will need to provide inspirational leadership to get this team to perform today. The outcome of the game will depend on how the Flyers show up to the game during the first period. Hopefully Bryz has had a 5-hour energy drink prior to puck drop because he is going to need it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Flyers fall to the Islanders 4-3

Last night we witnessed the attempt at more effort by the Philadelphia Flyers, and, although they lead the game for two periods, Flyers v. Islanders ended in a 4-3 loss during the shootout. This game could have been clinched for the Flyers, if they would have maintained their energy and took care of the puck during the entire game and not just the first period. The Flyers haven’t played well with a lead, and the energy change was evident once the Flyers led, they froze. Hartnell took the puck to the net twice, which was a welcoming sight to see, after he has had such an off season. Moving forward, if Hartnell can keep his game up and control his temper, it could give the Flyers the chance to perform at the level of skill which they keep claiming to have.
One of the best decisions Laviolette made during this game was to play Mike Knuble.  Knuble, who had been scratched in 10 of the past 11 games, backhanded a shot into an open net during the first period putting the Flyers 2 ahead. In the 15 remaining games Coach Laviolette should give Knuble more ice time; if Laviolette makes more conscience decisions to play, players who can take the puck to the net, there might be a chance of more leads like last night’s.
An unfortunate event came during the 3rd period with 3 minutes remaining, when Islander McDonald's slap shot deflected off of Flyer Gervais’ skate and into the Flyers goal, giving the Islanders a 3-2 lead. In response, the Flyers, who notoriously do not perform well under pressure, showed up in the final 29.8 seconds of the game. With Bryzgalov pulled, Hartnell scored during the power play, tying the game 3-3 and forcing the game into over time. Hartnell deserves some credit for that; it certainly was a shocking turn around in the last few seconds of the game. After a scoreless over time, the game went to shootouts. Each team scoring during regulation, Simmonds missed his shot in the fourth round and unfortunately that sealed the fate of this team last night. The Flyers could use some practice on those shoots, 4 out of  5 of their past games have been decided after regulation, they should have been more prepared to make it in the net.  
An ill-fated team, the Flyers, still battling to achieve the greatness that their Captain Claude Giroux claims they have according to this post-game statement:
''We feel like we are a team that should be in the playoffs and we're not. We need to find a way to get those points like tonight. It's not that we didn't battle; it's just bounces that go in. So it's tough bounces, but like I said, we feel we are a team that should be in the playoffs right now.''
For a team that claims to be conscious of their short comings, it has been surprising to see them not being able to come up with solutions. It’s hard to predict what we will see next from this team, but if they can build the energy, press offensively and play the puck we could be looking forward to some good games. The Flyers need to adapt quickly, build off of their successes from last night and get ready for the Boston Bruins on Saturday.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lights out Flyers

A week and a half out from the trade deadline and rumors are: the Flyers could acquire some new talent; this change could give them some hope at the chance to finish the season with a little dignity.  In order for this team to make the play offs they would have to win 10 of their final 16 games. Winning is not something the Flyers are consistently good at and it is doubtful that a few changes would fix anything. One can only wonder what is going through Laviolette’s mind as he tries to coach this team. Last night the Flyers had home ice advantage over the Ranger who won 5-2 in a game where the Flyers struggled to look alive on the ice.  The Flyers have been consistent only in their mistakes on the ice and have even been finding more ways to loss games. There was no lack of mistakes last night; this team is all around in shambles and there is not one single person to blame. Let’s review:

Wayne Simmonds
One of the top scorers for the Flyers, Wayne Simmonds had a very rough night and it is going to be a very rough day in the mirror for Simmonds in light of a few incidents. Last night as Luke Schenn attempted to clear the puck out of the danger zone, it struck Simmonds’ visor-free face sending him to the locker room. Simmonds’ would return to the game with a burst of energy and make a lucky goal in the 2nd period during a power play, where he scored via a puck reflection off of his skate. Finishing out the game battered and bruised, Simmonds set an example for the team, who mostly were asleep during the entire 60 minutes of play. Unfortunately, the night did not simply end there for Simmonds, who also took a few sticks to the face curtsey of the Rangers. Post game Simmonds said:
“..The losses are just a result of us not coming to battle shift after shift. To win games in this league that's what you have to do and it just didn't happen tonight."

Ilya Bryzgalov
One of the best players during the last few games, Ilya Bryzgalov, the goaltender was lights out last night.  When the puck was coming, he was no where to be found.  Often pucks came against no resistance and an unguarded net. Where was Bryzgalov the entire game? And, why did Laviolette not switch out goaltenders? One of the biggest mistakes Laviolette made during the game was not realizing it was time for a change. As the trade deadline approaches hopefully he will be able to find a talented backup goaltender to add to the roaster. Post game Bryzgalov said:
"For me it seems like one team really was to play and wants to win the game and the other team not so much. It was obvious since the puck was dropped. I think that was the main difference in the game."

Claude Girioux
During the crucial homestand, right when there needed to be leadership on the ice the team captain Claude Girioux was no where to be found. Nothing much came from Girioux until 3rd period when he got lucky and deflected a shot off of Jakub Voracek’s chest and bounced the puck into the goal. Right at that moment the team was coming back, 3-2 score on the board with plenty of time to turn the game around. That did not happen. It was such a disappointment to see the disconnect between these players.

Scott Hartnell
A super star veteran, Scott Hartnell continues to struggle. Another lack of leadership from one of the Alternate Captains, seeing him not perform is a major disappointment but not a surprise. Hartnell has not really offered much all season, except for cheap shots and shocked looks when he gets sent to the penalty box.  It seems as if the Flyers only keep him around in hopes he returns to the shinning hockey player he was in years past. Hartnell is a best player of the past, he has not shown up this season and its time to cut him loose. Hartnell you’re old go home!
The whole unit of the Flyers team completely fell apart last night; the lack of leadership and lack of awareness were among so many of the mistakes that lead to their down fall.  The Flyers can pretty much be assured they will not be making play offs with the way they have been playing lately.  They would have to win 10 out of 16 games and it is highly unlikely that they will turn it around this late in the season.  This season has really put Laviolette in no position to be considered to coach the 2014 USA winter Olympic Hockey team in Russia.  The GM and Laviolette have some difficult decisions to make as the trading deadline approaches. The Flyers could use a forward, a back up goaltender and some talent on the blue line. But, will that even be enough to break the ice on this teams problems? Laviolette had a pretty profound reaction post game:
"It's a disappointing night. We needed to compete better than we did and we didn't."

This loss was certainly not the fault of poor coaching, but unprepared players. From watching Laviolette on the bench, it is clear that he is pouring his heart into this team and it is a shame that they are not rising to the occasion. With last night’s loss, the Flyers are 7 points away from a play off spot. With 16 games left in the season, the Flyers face a very challenging schedule. Kimmon Timonen’s post game statement says it all:
"I think it always comes down to individual preparation. You're either ready or play or you're not. A lot of people blame coaches, but if we're out there making plays, like I said you have to be ready to play or not. When you're not ready to play you'll lose one-on-one battles a lot. "

I can only imagine that Coach Laviolette is yelling: “Let’s fucking gitty-up and go” 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Second Chance for Tiger

As the dust settles and the fog clears on Tiger Woods golf career, we see him emerge on top once again.  He secured his 3rd tournament win of the 2013 season on Monday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is the latest milestone for his career comeback from the scandals in his personal life in late 2009 and subsequent injuries that plagued his golf game. Although he has returned to number one in the world, has he found a place in the hearts and minds of fans once again?

Tiger Woods was the most dominating player upon the leak of his extra material affairs in late 2009. The turmoil of his personal life followed him into his golf game, forcing him to take a leave of absence December 2009 to April 2010.  Woods was not able to recover from the scandal, he lost his form and was plagued with injuries, ultimately losing his number one rank in October 2010. Many thought his best days were in the past. He was losing endorsement deals and his imagine was more than slightly tarnished. 

A player who was once referred to as the worlds most remarkable athlete, Woods had fallen to a low #58 rank in the fall of 2011. There is no doubt this was due in part to his personal struggles. Woods marriage had ended in divorce in light of the scandal and he under went therapy to help him change. Through all of this Wood struggled to regain his golf game over the past 3 years and his inconsistent performance had kept him low in the rankings, he had performed no where near the skill level he had pre-scandal, until now.  

Emerging back on top, with a recovering imagine during the early 2013 season shows promise that our most remarkable athlete has returned; a feat most critics doubted would ever happen for Tiger Woods. Woods is playing  more strategically, decisively and confidently, then he has in the past 3 years, which is translating to wins for this seasoned golfer. He has worked hard to regain his confidence. Woods still is working hard on his career goal of beating Jack Nicklaus' championship record, which he is only 4 wins short from beating. 
A month out from arriving in Augusta for the Masters and Tiger Woods remains the man that everyone will strive to beat. 

Whether Woods has regained the hearts and minds of the fans may be debatable but the skill and performance he brings to the game is undeniable. If you can separate the athlete from the man, who wouldn't admire him? After all, he is an American icon and although he suffered a fall from grace that seemed irrecoverable, Tiger Woods has claimed his second chance for greatness once again. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reality Check Flyer Fans

It’s not really that great of a day for Philadelphia Flyer fans coming off of a really close game with the Pittsburgh Penguins last night. Starting off the first period both teams came out fast and furious, buzzing around the ice and finished the period with 0-0 on the score board, a scoreless game.  But as the periods wore on, the players wore out and we could see the lag in their game come second period.  Flyers team captain Claude Giroux had the first goal of the game, coming in the second period and the Pittsburgh Penguins did not answer that goal until the third period. Team Captain for the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby tucked one into the back of the net during a 5-on-3 power play late in regulation.  In over time Kennedy wristed a shot past goal tender Ilya Bryzgalov and made the final score during OT sealing the win for the Pittsburgh Penguin. Unfortunately for this Flyer fan, the Penguins continue on their 11- game winning streak.  

Although the Flyers have been very inconsistent, winning this game was one of their last chances to possibly redeem the season, as they were only 5 points away from being in the playoffs. But, as the division grows wider with each loss, it seems as if those dreams are now out of reach for this team, who fumbles opportunity in crucial moments of their game.  

As it stands, the Philadelphia Flyers have fallen to 13th place, with the Tampa Bay Lightning on their heels in 14th place, only separated by 1 point. The Tampa Bay Lightning, a team the Flyers just lost to a week ago. It does not seem promising for the Flyers in their next match up on Tuesday against the New York Rangers, who are ranked 8th in the Eastern Conference. The last time these two teams faced off in Madison Square gardens just two weeks ago, the Flyers were hitting their all time low point at 5 straight loses with that game being their 6th. They demonstrated bad line changes and poor defense transitions which ultimately cost them the game. 

The question remains, how can this team redeem the season or at least finish the season with dignity? Maybe the Flyers GM should take a note from the Tampa Bay Lightning GM who fired their coach yesterday after General Manager Steve Yzerman commented that he was not satisfied with the direction they were heading. That direction was not toward the playoffs for a second straight year. Last Monday prior to their 6 day break, the Fans were calling for a new coach. Peter Laviolette was able to bring the Flyers back from a 3-0 series deficit in the 2009-2010 season after replacing Coach John Stevens December 4, 2009. And, on May 24, 2010 he led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, where after six games the Blackhawks took home the Stanley Cup. But has Laviolette lost his touch with the Flyers since then? Laviolette has been a fan favorite with his fiery temper and preference for intense play on the ice but the fans also like to win… now that he is on the hot seat with fans, could he also be on the hot seat with the GM? 

Coach Laviolette, you need to start coaching with some jam. – Philadelphia Flyer Fans