Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Philadelphia Flyers: Optomistic but still not winning

Not the start to the season that the Flyers had in mind, but they have offered a few glimpses at the type of hockey they hope to play all season. It’s too soon to press the panic buttons just yet, with a long season ahead, but it is feeling slightly reminiscent of last season’s losing streak.

Time and time again one player often shoulders the burden for the Flyers, right now it is Wayne Simmonds with substantial contributions from Claude Giroux, Mark Streit and Jakub Vorack. The individual contributions are great and as soon as they link everyone together in a team effort they could add some confidence with a win.  The Flyers need to harness their energy and control the ice.

The Ducks have a knack for slowing down plays and controlling the pace of the game. The Ducks held that strong hold until the Flyers came back to play hockey during the 2nd period. There is no time like the present for the Flyers to elevate their game and notch the wins.

The Flyers have several opportunities to build off of in order to begin playing the season the way that they want to: Their top-line is contributing, they notched quality shots on goal and they have a good power play.

Meanwhile, the Flyers are 0-2-2 and are up against a tough line up for the remainder of October. As they continue to struggle with their shoot out skills, it appears that no amount of practice can help that area of their game. But, the team remains positive and chases after the full 60 minute effort.
If you could offer one coaching tip to the team what would it be?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Who came out on top in the Scott Hartnell trade?

As we continue to digest yesterday’s news from the Philadelphia Flyers on the trade of Scott Hartnell for R.J Umberger of the Columbus Blue Jackets, more clues are coming out on the thought process behind this trade. Ron Hextall, who had been groomed all season to take over as G.M finally assumed his role and is making an impact, with the goal of producing a Stanley Cup team just like he created in L.A. With Hextall at the reigns it seems odd that the Hartnell trade feels very Paul Holmgren reminiscent.

Claude Giroux was shocked Monday morning when he found out that Scott Hartnell was one of his former teammates. A move out of left field for the Flyers team, shocking even the captain. The trade was for R.J Umberger, a player with some similarities to Hartnell, those similarities include age, goals last season, cap hit and experience they could bring to a team. Where Hartnell excels above other players is his commitment to the community in which he plays, he is more active in the community than any other individual player, he has been a fan favorite and a face for the Flyers.

The Columbus Blue Jackets undoubtedly are very lucky to have such a great trade on their hands and they did not have to sacrifice much. R.J Umberger doesn’t draw as much fan base but he brings an element of speed and versatility that Hextall is looking for in a player. Umberger, a former Flyer, had asked the Blue Jackets for a trade because he had been a healthy scratch down the stretch 2014-14. All signs show that Umberger is actually skating the best of his career and we can look to Craig Breube playing his in several different positions this season.

With R.J Umberger also comes a 4th round pick in the 2015 draft which is expected to be deeper than the draft happening this weekend. Hextall’s plan seems to be focused towards the long term. He is going to clean up the team, put them in a great position for a few years from now and then win the Cup. He has the vision to take the team where it needs to go and he wants to create the cap flexibility to be able to do so.

My feelings about the trade: Thinking of it from a player stand point for a minute, both teams seemingly did not want the player that they had. On an individual basis this is great for them.  Hartnell is a great guy and his soul focus is on winning the Stanley Cup before his retires and the Blue Jackets are very motivated to do that, so I think this season we are going to see great things from Hartnell. The Blue Jackets have Hartnell in their winning plan and that is a perfect place for him to be. A player that is motivated by winning is the kind that you want on your team. On the other hand, Umberger was a healthy scratch for the stretch last season (2013-14) there is a reason behind that and GM Jarmo Kekalainen of the Columbus Blue Jackets might have given a hint to that when he said:

“We had a player who didn't want to play here and had asked to be moved, so that was money on the sidelines for us. Now we've got a real good player (Hartnell) and we have clarity to the situation. We know what we look like heading into these next two weeks, which makes it easier to proceed."

So was he referring to Umberger. If so, all we can hope is that the move re-energizes Umberger to want to win with the Flyers. He is seemingly in the best shape of his career so hopefully he makes that kind of impact with the team.

From a Flyers stand point this is such a bad trade. They had one of their top guys, who is a face of the team, great attitude/motivated to win, respected and looked up to by his teammates, fully committed to the Flyers and Philadelphia and they just downgraded to Umberger. That’s the business side of the game but it’s just such a sad move on their part.  Hartnell was such an integral part of the team, they will not be able to find someone that can fill his skates on and off the ice. Hopefully the gamble on the 4th round pick in 2015 works out.

The Columbus Blue Jacket should be over the moon. I don’t think I am at all the bias when I make that statement. Hartnell has made the most of this situation and he is with a very motivated team.  He is bringing them valuable experience and leadership. He’s motivated and wants to win a cup before he retires and when Hartnell is motivated he gets things done. The Blue Jackets came out on top in this trade.

This trade rests on the shoulders of Ron Hextall. Everyone had been wondering if Hartnell had requested this move and that was just not the case at all. Hartnell loves Philly and even in being asked to move on he is still doing what is best for the Philadelphia Flyers. I am dreading the Hextall regime already and hoping for some kind of saving grace soon like resigning Ray Emery as back- up goaltender.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Surprise performance from the Flyers leads the series to Game 7

Much like their late start to the regular season, third period come backs and their last minute playoff push, the Philadelphia Flyers second wind has finally arrived. It is not too late and the momentum is welcomed in a series that will now be decided during Game 7.  The New York Rangers will take home ice in a game everyone has to win but only one team will be moving on tonight. Will we finally see some over time from this series?

 Last night, on home ice facing an elimination, the Flyers surprised everyone as they held as much as a 4 goal lead going into the third period. The Rangers started off the game dominating but by the end of 40 minutes looked disjointed and unorganized, they looked tired and were not playing as a team.  The difference of play between Game 5 and Game 6 was like night and day for both teams. After a very disappointing Game 5 that showed little promise for the Flyers, the comeback kids have risen and will take this series to Game 7.

 The Flyers have slowly regained their goal scorers. Claude Giroux netted his first goal during Game 5 and Wayne Simmonds made huge contributions in Game 6 with 3 goals. I think that when the top players are scoring for the Flyers it adds to their confidence, instead of building the frustration they get when they cannot find the back of the net. With Steve Mason's huge sprawling saves in goal the team is set to win Game 7 and move on. But, before we think about that let’s talk about what they have to do in Game 7: Keep it simple. Play the game. Exploit the Rangers weaknesses. Up until now the Rangers have been a solid competitor. Last night we saw a different side of the Rangers and with their confidence deflated the Flyers need to go into Madison Square Garden and dominate.

 Fingers crossed.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Game 4: The return of Steve Mason in time to tie the series at 2

The man, myth and legend returned to his rightful place in net tonight for Game 4 in Philadelphia.  Steve Mason had been out for two weeks, seemingly not missing a beat last night as he returned to block 37 shots and help tie the series.  Veteran Ray Emery had been holding it down and kept the Flyers alive in this series, while Mason was recovering.  Having their number one man back in goal gave the Flyers the added confidence that could now serve as their launching pad to win the series. The way that Mason defenses the net is outstanding, he has been able to reclaim his career probably largely in part to the veteran that has been backing him up all season.  Emery is largely important to the team as well but when it comes to incredible saves Mason is the guy that has shocked and awed us and has gotten the job done.

Looking forward to Game 5 in New York, the Flyers need to continue to build on the play that they exhibited during Game 4. During the playoffs they need to play better and better each game if they have their eye on advancing. I look forward to a line shuffle by Chief, his changes usually result in opportunities for their top guys to score goals. Speaking of their top scorers ,there has not been too much action from their top guys and all eyes are on Captain Claude Giroux waiting for a goal.  I think that Game 5 is when Giroux will notch a goal.

The Flyers have to keep it simple and stay patient on Sunday if they want to claim a win on the road. Mason has been a huge part of the teams wins all season and now that he is back in net he will be the reason that the Flyers are successful but they cannot only rest on him. All the elements need to be in place to make it past Round 1. In past games the Flyers seemed to try to spot correct some of their weaknesses instead of playing and even keeled game. The Flyers need to have everything working at once: good defense, puck control, great goaltending and keeping it simple for 60 minutes. They have yet to play a 60 minute game which is something they struggled with all season.

With Grossman’s future unclear, as he was taken out of the game with a lower body injury, there could be some additional changes coming to the line-up for Sunday. The big question is who should they put in for Grossman, I think that Hal Gill would be a great choice. Right now the Flyers have the momentum and if they play their game, they should be successful. Regardless of what is to come, the Flyers have a top of the line ace in goal for them and if they give him the space and the defense they could take it all the way. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Game 2: Flyers beat the Rangers to tie the series

After taking the detrimental penalty in Game 1 that doomed the Flyers to a defeat, Jason Akeson was a major part of the win last night during game 2.  Now officially a Flyers come back kid, he tied the game during the 2nd period and salvaged his reputation with the fans. Although the Rangers dominated in the beginning with classic puck control and a strong power play unit, the Flyers applied pressure and played the defense.

Leading from the top, the Flyers top line got in on the action, building up their team’s confidence. In the 1st period with a goal by the top line, Voracek helped built the momentum, as he notched the go ahead goal with the help of Giroux-Hartnell. Showing great defense, the Flyers went onto claim their first lead of the game and first win, tying the series.

The Flyers are most dangerous when they are determined to win, and Game 2 was everything that Game 1 should have been. I think that by getting their first play-off game under their belt and dealing with the initial jitters the veterans have been able to help calm the hungry team and focus in on their goals on a game by game basis. Last night the Flyers top line was performing, they were working together and hungry for the win. They exhibited some great defense and hopefully will build off of that in the coming days.

The take away from this game is that: The series is just getting started, the Flyers still need better puck control and less time in the box. As they claim their first road win during this series, hopefully they have rattled Henrik Lunquist enough to post more wins this week against the Rangers.  The Rangers are going to come hard on the fore-check, control the puck and dominate power play opportunities. By now, the Rangers are fairly consistent with how they play and the Flyers can use that to their advantage. The Flyers have ebbs and flows to their play and can rise up and surprise when they really are determined.

With Ray Emery posting a 50/50 split in the absence of Steve Mason should he continue to start in goal?   Potentially Mason is expected to be healthy enough to play on Tuesday and with a chance at a serious run at the Cup should they let Mason rest up for more challenging competitors to come. I think that Mason has been out of goal for long enough and if he is good to go he needs to get in on the action.  Too much rest is not a good thing, being in goal and blocking shots is going to be the best way for Mason to prepare for future games.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Philadelphia Flyers fall way behind New York Rangers in Game 1

With a fresh opportunity for new beginnings, the Philadelphia Flyers took the ice last night in Madison Square Garden. Although, they were already starting Game 1 playing their back-up goaltender, a hopeful team stood tall during an evenly matched first period. But that’s where the good news ends. After a tied first period they lost momentum in the second.  The nail in the coffin came from a penalty taken by Jason Akeson, which gave the New York Rangers a perfect opening and go ahead to score 2 goals during their power play.   The Rangers pulled away with the lead during the third period and the Flyers did not have the discipline nor the control to be able to catch them.

Game 1 for the Flyers was not too horrible. Minus the Akeson mishap, turn overs and lack of puck control, the Flyers showed some promise during the first period. In the coming games the Flyers will need to make a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box. The Rangers’ power play may only be 15th in the league but there is a lot of talent out there on the ice and the Rangers were able to beat the Flyers last night. Serving a whopping 1,180 minutes in the penalty box during the regular season, the Flyers generally have a hard time staying out of the box, so when they are shorthanded they will be looking to Mason-Emery to come up big in net and the dynamic duo of Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

Claude Giroux is the backbone of the Flyers and there wasn’t much of a performance from him last night. Now that they have Game 1 under their belt G needs to come out big. As soon as he brings the energy and the momentum the team will do likewise.

One of the biggest challenges between the Flyers and a goal is the Gold medal goaltender blocking their shots: King Henrik, a consistent and confident goaltender who has gone 8-0-0 against the Flyers at Mason Square Garden. The Flyers will need to break that wall down and beat him in order to stay alive during the post-season. Lundquist is good and the Flyers will have to do their best to break down his confidence.

Last night, the goaltender in net would not have changed the outcome of the game for the Flyers. But, Steven Mason is magic and could have had a big influence. Mas has reclaimed his career this season, with a team that has been known as “where goaltenders come to die” I have complete confidence in Mas and it is unfortunate that he is out right now, but we have a veteran backup who brings playoff experience and all hope is with him now until Mas is healthy.

Now that everyone is off to the races, the Flyers will need to come back in a big was during Game 2. If the Flyers can’t perform better and they revisit their start from the regular season, they are in for a short post-season. Cross your fingers!! See you on Sunday!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Final notes from the 2013-14 regular season: Philadelphia Flyers

Over the final days, hockey fans have relished in the additional minutes of free hockey as the regular season concludes. In several games that I have watched over the last few days, teams like: the Flyers, Avalanche and others have gone into exhilarating overtimes during this regular season that ‘just won’t quit’, as a hockey analyst proclaimed this weekend. Several of these passionate final games were deemed of less importance and would not affect the playoff standings, but the players proved that no one likes to lose, as they vehemently took the ice and gave everyone a preview of the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Flyers have astonishingly made the playoffs and are now prepping for their postseason. But, this is not a surprise to everyone.  Their fearless leader, Captain Claude Giroux never lost sight of their end goal, as he made this audacious claim in late October: ‘We will make the playoffs’. At the time the Flyers sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, at the bottom of the league with their top scorers not performing, they had tallied a low 11 points and their record was 1-7-0. An epidemic early in the season were coaching changes and the Flyers were not immune, as they dropped three games they also said good-bye to Coach Peter Laviolette and Assistant Coach Craig Breube got a promotion. Just 6 days into a 195 day season, the immediate outcome was not overwhelming success, it took some time to turn the season around and it took 15 games for Giroux to net his first goal of the season.  The critics were brash but Giroux proved why he wears the C on his chest and he took his team to the top, after all the only direction the Flyers had to go was up.

Now the Flyers start fresh in the postseason, facing the New York Rangers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. After overcoming a season of adversity the comeback kids have had the final say and they will be taking that energy into the post-season. On Thursday we are looking at a familiar lineup from a Flyers team that has remained fairly healthy all season long.  Zac Rinaldo will be back from his 4-game suspension and Steve Mason who left after a 2nd period mishap in the Flyers game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday will be playoff ready.  [Edit: Mason will be side-lined for Game 1 and Emery will start in Goal] The Mason-Emery tandem goalie team is a recipe for success and with a healthy team everyone is focused going into Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

Reflections on the regular season from my point of view: While I saw signs of Peter Laviolette’s early departure from the team, I do not think that it was completely necessary. Craig Berube stepped up and was able to make effective line changes all season long that padded the success of the team. But, I think the foundation for success was always in the locker room and once the Flyers figured it out and wanted it enough the momentum turned around. I could have never endorsed Giroux’s early season claims that they were headed to the playoffs as they sat at the bottom of the league. First because it was too early to tell and second because I thought that he was just doing his job, it would have never been right for him to be less than encouraging, motivated and optimist of his team. All in all, the Flyers have laid out some lessons for us to learn from this season: Lesson 1 Never get in a fight with a Boxer, Lesson 2 Keep your eye on the prize, Lesson 3 When you work together you can win. At the end of the day hockey brings communities and families together, even despite rivalries. Young athletes are looking up to these NHL players and I think that through a few bumps the Flyers set a great example this season.

I will be at my favorite bar with my Dad on Thursday, proudly wearing my Flyers shirt, downing some beer and eating wings as I celebrate the post season.  Win or lose I couldn’t be more proud of the athleticism, sportsmanship and motivation of this Flyers team this season.

For the 2013-14 regular season this is The Amateur Fan signing off. Welcome to the postseason.