Friday, November 14, 2008

Captain Screwup

It's hard not to like Mike Richards. He's a hard worker. He's seemingly intelligent. He's a stand-up guy. Oh, and he's a pretty damn good hockey player. But sometimes even the best players on the team have bad nights, and last night, the Philadelphia Flyers lost because of Mike Richards.

Now, that's a pretty bold statement to make, saying the loss was the fault of one guy when the Flyers lost to a red hot Pittsburgh team that has two of the best players in the world in a shootout. But if you watched the game, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

After playing a sloppy but even period, the Flyers trailed 1-0. And then, the Pens simply took over in the 2nd, led by their two budding stars, Crosby and Malkin. I mean, the Penguins completely dominated the first 7 minutes of the second and began to pull away. Evgeni Malkin used his incredible skill to thread a saucer pass to former Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko, who gave it right back. Then Malkin did something only a handful of players in the world can do, pinpointing a backhander to the upper far corner from in close. It was a thing of beauty. And it sucked. All at the same time.

Less than three minutes later, Crosby matched his teammate's brilliance, exploding past the defense and roofing an incredible backhand past Biron. Fuck, these guys are good.

Just like that, the game looked to be over. The Flyers showed no signs of life, and the Penguins could smell the blood in the water. But immediately after Crosby's goal, John Stevens called a timeout and spent the entire time reaming out his players. Now, I've never been a huge Stevens fan, but this was awesome to see. And his players, who were seemingly running on life support, responded.

Jeff Carter got things going with an odd goal that went off him, then off Fleury and in. 3-1. Just over a minute later, Simon Gagne continued his brilliance on the penalty kill, netting a backhander on a breakaway, and then, incredibly, Gagne added another shorthanded tally to tie the game.

Suddenly, after looking awful to start the period, the Flyers had battled all the way back to tie it, and the avalanche of goals didn't stop there. With a power play late in the 2nd, the Flyers remained calm, and Joffrey Lupul redirected a shot from the point that fluttered over the head of Fleury and into the net. Just like that, the Flyers headed into the third with a 4-3 lead.

And that's where things stayed as neither team really asserted itself in the final period. And it looked as though the Flyers just might escape with the win. But then this happened:

With just over 2 and half minutes left, Kimmo Timonen left the puck for Richards behind the Flyers' net. Richards had all the time in the world and completely open ice to his right. Instead of making the smart play, he followed with the puck right behind Timonen, right where two Penguins were, turned the puck over and it wound up on Crosby's stick—all alone, in front of the net. Game tied. For some reason, Richards inexplicably brought the puck right back into traffic in his own zone and cost his team the regulation win.

It was awful. Richards, being the player he his, tried to make up for it, almost scoring late in the period on a brilliant rush, but he did not. Had he, all would have been forgiven. But he didn't. And then, in the shootout, Richards completely faked out Pittsburgh goalie Dany Sabourin and had virtually an entire net to shoot at. And it would have won the game. But Sabourin reached out his paddle and denied Richards. Had the captain simply lifted the puck a little bit, game over. Flyers win. But he did not.

Then the Flyers lost. And the main culprit was the captain. Now, I'm sure Richards will more than make up for this gaffe the rest of the season, but to lose that way, against the Penguins of all teams, is tough to take. Richards is the last player you'd expect to cost the Flyers the game at the end. But this one has to be pinned squarely on the shoulders of the captain. I guess that's why he wears the C. He can take it.

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