Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Almost 2009 or Something

So, this final day of 2008 is turning into quite the shitshow for me. After getting home from work yesterday, I fell asleep at 6 and did not wake until I heard Jim Jackson's call of Jeff Carter's league-leading 27th goal.

I'll blame it on my back, which seems to be deteriorating faster than L.J. Smith's career, but I digress. I proceeded to watch the Flyers hang on for a 3-2 win … and then couldn't get to sleep until 4:30 in the morning. I slept briefly before waking at 8 and heading to work. I'm really not sure how this whole day is going to go, but I can't envision it going very well. I have a lot of work to do by Friday, and I'm going to punish myself by driving out to Minneapolis for the Eagles game with silver fox and Toonces this weekend.

Basically, I'm a mess right now, but I seem to be doing better than Simon Gagne at the moment. After missing everything right before the Carter goal, I hadn't seen the dirty hit that caused Gagne to leave with an upper body injury. Thankfully, it looked to be a hurt shoulder and not a concussion. Nonetheless, the Flyers weren't too pleased with the check from behind by Kevin Bieksa just 15 second in:

Gagne was blindsided by defenseman Kevin Bieksa after 15 seconds and fell to the ice. No penalty was called. Captain Mike Richards immediately went after Bieksa, and the two slugged it out.

Gagne appeared to injure his right shoulder and he did not return.

"He hit Gaggy. I kind of saw it out of the corner of my eye. I felt it was kind of a cheap hit, a late hit and from behind," Richards said. "So I felt I had to do something about it. I thought it was a hit that should have been a penalty and there wasn't a call."

Minutes later, Carter put the Flyers up 1-0, and the guys in orange and black never trailed. After the Canucks tied it, Scott Hartnell responded to make it 2-1, and Jon Kalinski scored his first NHL goal in the 2nd—the eventual game-winner.

At times, the Flyers looked sluggish and outplayed by Vancouver, but as has been the case in nearly every game this season, the Hartnell-Carter-Lupul line was the best line on the ice. The trio routinely got sustained pressure, and every player created incredible scoring opportunities. Hartnell even had two breakaways, both of which were denied. I have to say, Lupul has just been a beast in the corners, and with the game on the line, that's the line I want out there every time.

In a tough, evenly played game, there were some Flyers that truly impressed. Claude Giroux moved up to the Richards line when Gagne went down, and the rook looked confident. He had a very strong game, as it almost looked as if Mike Knuble and Richards didn't miss a beat. It was certainly an encouraging sign.

Another guy who has impressed me of late is Josh Gratton. Granted, Gratton isn't the most talented guy in the world, but for a player who really is never sure if he's going to be in the lineup or not, he comes to play every time he's called upon. If ever there was an energy player, he's it. No matter what the scenario, you know Gratton will help get the forecheck going, and the Flyers' forecheck was really strong last night.

As far as defense goes, man, the Flyers really do have some studs back there. Of course, having Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle back was great, as both have been fabulous this year, but no one is player any better on the blue line of late than Ossi Vaananen and Braydon Coburn. Last night, Ossi made some spectacular plays, including a save late in the game, and the guy has continued to convert me into a true supporter. After a slow start, Ossi is turning into a steal for the Flyers.

And last night, I think Coburn was the best defenseman on the ice for either team. He really was throwing his body around knocking Canucks off the puck, and his speed out of the zone was an incredible advantage for the Flyers last night. His contributions, while not showing up on the stat sheet, have been huge this season. Coburn is quickly becoming one of the best blue liners in all of hockey.

I'd also like to give kudos to Marty Biron for a very solid performance last night and a spectacular third period. Marty was called upon to make some tremendous saves in the final period, and he did just that. And that penalty kill to end the game was a thing of beauty for the Flyers. Richards and Carter were beasts harassing the Canucks. That's something Carter does not get enough credit for, his defense.

Last night, as he's done all year, Carter was relentless on his backcheck, often stealing pucks and getting the Flyers in transition. In the third period especially, he was incredibly determined in his own zone. If he can keep up this pace, Carter may be making a case for the Hart Trophy come April. There's still a lot of season to be played, for sure, but there isn't any player who is playing better two-way hockey than Jeff Carter so far this season. He certainly has been one of the biggest reasons for the Flyers' success so far, and he was integral in last night's win.

It was a much-needed win … and the Flyers' 14th straight game without a loss in Vancouver, dating all the way back to 1989. That's pretty ridiculous. Again, the Flyers are two points behind the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic. Hopefully, they'll be taking over pretty soon.

Update: Gagne has a mild shoulder sprain, will miss about a week. Whew!

BallHype: hype it up!

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