Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Fourth Line Spark

Riley Cote is in the National Hockey League for one reason and one reason only: To drop the gloves. At least, that's the public perception. In reality, Cote is a vital cog in the Flyers' lineup for a number of reasons.

For one, he is that enforcer every team needs, the guy who will come to the aid of his teammates. But he's also a hard worker, strong cycler and that spark off the bench that will give his team all the energy he has in his body.

And last night, Riley Cote was the spark that got a struggling Flyers team going. As I attended my first Flyers game of the season, sitting in section 120, row 16, right behind the net that Martin Biron was planted in for two periods, I watched as the Flyers started out slow. Very slow.

They were sloppy with the puck, making poor passes and getting absolutely no forecheck. Particularly struggling was Andrew Alberts, who made some erroneous passes that became awful turnovers. With the sloppy play, the Islanders took advantage, scoring the first two goals of the game. The Flyers looked disinterested, lax and tired.

But then, a minute and half after New York took a 2-0 lead, Riley Cote laid a punishing hit on the forecheck, stole the puck and fed it out front to Aaron Asham, who didn't miss.

With that, the Flyers had life. Suddenly, everyone in orange and black was up on his skates, and the Flyers were in business.

As the second period began, the Flyers were coming our way. And it was a fourth-liner again that brought the Flyers life. In the midst of a line change, Kimmo Timonen got the play started on the breakout, passed cross ice to Ossi Vaananen, who found Mike Richards streaking up the middle. Richards stopped, fired on net, and seemingly out of nowhere, Darroll Powe jumped off the bench, on the ice and headed right to the net. The rebound from Richards' shot went right to Powe, who deposited it in the net for his first NHL goal. Just like that, tie game on two goals by two fourth-liners.

But the Flyers weren't done yet. Mr. Incredible, Jeff Carter, notched his 20th goal of the year to put the Flyers up 3-2. You could just see this coming, because Carter had numerous chances in the game. It was only a matter of time before he slammed one home.

All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better second period. The Flyers scored twice right in front of me to tie the game and then take the lead, and an extremely well-developed Flyers girl came by, passing out 25% coupons to the fan store to our entire section.

The Islanders did manage to tie the game just minutes into the third, but just as Carter took a cue from the fourth-liners, Simon Gagne followed suit. On the power play, Simon scored the game-winner with a tremendous shot. The Flyers bore down on D from there and came away with the victory.

It turned out to be an excellent game that was very hard-hitting and intense, and everyone contributed. Cote, Powe and Asham sparked the Flyers, and the stars, Richards, Carter and Gagne, ensured the victory.

That effort did not go unnoticed by Puck Daddy:

No. 2 star: Simon Gagne, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers erased the New York Islanders' lead on goals by Darroll Powe (his first) and Jeff Carter (his 20th, tying him with Thomas Vanek for the League lead). But Blake Comeau's first of the season tied the game at 3-3 ... until Gagne's power-play blast at 11:08 of the third proved to be the game-winner in the 4-3 victory. Mike Richards had the assist, his second of the night.

Honorable Mention: Riley Cote energized the Flyers with solid fore-checking, leading to an assist on Arron Asham's critical first-period goal, and this bloody confrontation with Mitch Fritz in the second period

I would also like to point out just how incredible Kimmo Timonen is in person. That guy is easily one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and I will be extremely disappointed if he is not named to the All-Star Team. Same for Braydon Coburn, who is really coming into his own, but his absence could be warranted. Kimmo, on the other hand, is as good as it gets back there.

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