Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Final Tune-up and Finally Finishing

Last night, I was offered free tickets to the final Flyers preseason game against the Minnesota Wild, so naturally I took them. I, along with sliver fox, Adam EatShit and his little brother, headed down 95 to see the final tune-up before the regular season opener Friday. On the ride down, Adam asked his little brother who his favorite Phillie was, and he said he liked them all. So then Mr. EatShit asked him if there's anyone he doesn't like on the Phillies, and he replied Pedro Feliz.

Myself being a big Pedro fan, I respectfully disagreed, telling the little tyke why I am a fan. We agreed to disagree and made our way into the Wachovia Center. I was incredibly interested to see what the lines looked like in this final tune-up, and everyone who will make the team suited up, with the exception of Blair Betts, who we all want to see make the team but is in contract talks with the Flyers, thus not quite on the squad yet.

I gotta tell you, I really liked what I saw last night. Yes, the Flyers lost 5-4 in a shootout, and giving up four goals in regulation sounds bad, but early on, the team played incredibly well, especially Ray Emery. The new goaltender faced 10 shots in his period and a half of action, surrendering just one goal. That goal was the direct result of a boneheaded play by Jeff Carter. Down a man, Carter raced over to a puck in his own zone and saw Scott Hartnell streaking down the ice, wide open. Carter saw him and tried to get the puck to him on a backhanded shovel pass, hoping to reach Hartnell for the sure shorthanded breakaway. One problem: Carter flubbed the backhand, failing to get it out of the zone, and Martin Havlat wound up scoring because of it on a chance Emery really had no shot to stop.

But besides that one that slipped by him, Emery was sharp, smothering the puck to prevent rebound opportunities and showing his insane athleticism and speed going from post to post. For a guy I clearly didn't want any part of, Emery has played fantastic this preseaon. That certainly bodes well for the Flyers' chances.

But of course, as I'm sure you've all come to expect from me, my eyes were glued to Claude Giroux, and for good reason.

Giroux was impressive yet again last night, scoring the game's first goal, and all night long, he was making things happen out there on the ice. The guy is going to be a star, there is no doubt in my mind. Jame vanRiemsdyk will surely benefit from playing on a line with Claude.

As far as the line combinations are concerned, I have to say, I love this team's depth. I was a little stunned to hear that 28-year-old NHL rookie Mika Pyorala, who has spent his career in Europe, would be playing alongside Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, but in the few games I've watched, Pyorala has looked good. And he did again last night, scoring a goal and finishing the night a plus-2. Much like his linemates, Pyorala looks like a player with some nice skill and a scoring touch who is also not afraid to get a little dirty playing defense. Gotta love that. The next top line of Jeff Carter, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere simply has a ton of firepower. The more I see of this line and the more I think about its potential, the more I love its makeup. Carter is a sniper, which he proved with a breakout 2008, and Hartnell has a knack for being around the crease and finding the back of the net himself. Adding Danny Briere, a great playmaker and incredible passer, to that duo makes for a lethal scoring line.

From there, as I stated earlier, I'm pretty high on having JVR and Giroux on the same line, and Arron Asham is a hard worker that adds some grit. Asham played well with Briere and Giroux last season, so he'll do, but I wouldn't mind seeing another more skilled or quicker player up there with the two youngsters. Either way, don't sleep on this line, not with the incredible talent of Giroux and the goal-scoring potential of JVR.

Add all that to the very solid fourth line of Ian Laperriere, Daniel Carcillo and Darroll Powe, and the Flyers can comfortably roll four lines every single night. With Laperriere and Powe providing tremendous defensive play and relentless pursuit, along with the toughness and even scoring touch of Carcillo, and that's a fourth line that you can rely on. My hope is that Blair Betts gets signed as well, and the Flyers can move either Carcillo, Powe or Laperriere up to the third line to play alongside Giroux and JVR, with Betts centering the fourth line. Then keep Asham around as the extra forward. Either way, I'm liking this team's depth a lot.

Add in the defense pairings that are looking quite good, and this team has some scary potential. I love the Kimmo Timonen-Braydon Coburn reunion. Together two years ago, this was a shutdown pair, and while Coburn didn't necessarily have a bad 2008, he wasn't quite the same player with Kimmo by his side. Now they're back together, and Chris Pronger and Matt Carle looked very comfortable, and formidable, together. I'm not sure I can name another team that has two shutdown defensive pairs as talented as the Flyers top two. Then add in steady defensive defenseman Ryan Parent along with 24-year-old Danny Syvret and the Flyers have depth there too. Especially with Randy Jones in the minors and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen occupying the seventh defenseman spot. Though I will say, Syvret, in his limited ice time last night, didn't look impressive.

As far as the game itself is concerned, our attention was split between the happenings on the ice and the Phillies game. From where we were sitting, sliver fox and I could see the Phillies game on a TV in one of the sky boxes.

We saw J.A. Happ skirt around a bases loaded jam in the 2nd, Lance Berkman trotting around the bases in the 3rd and Paul Bako driving in Jimmy Rollins to tie it. The next time I glanced over, I saw Pedro Feliz trotting around the bases. Since we couldn't see the score from our seats, silver fox looked it up: grand slam by Pedro, Phils leading 5-1. Bet you like Pedro now, huh little guy? Moments later, they flashed the score and highlighted Pedro's grand slam on the scoreboard, and the fans went nuts.

The only other time I looked up, we saw Jayson Werth hit his homer. From there, all attention was on the Flyers. After Emery left, Johan Backlund came in and immediately gave up a goal. It was a nice shot in a prime scoring position, but it beat Backlund on the short side, showing he was clearly out of position. And he didn't look much better the rest of the way. The nicest thing I can say about what I saw from him is that I really hope Brian Boucher gets healthy fast.

While the score didn't bear it out, the Flyers were playing well. They outshot the Wild, who are known as a defensive team, 39-24, and to my surprise, the Flyers actually fared well in the face-off circle. They won 35 of 62 draws, good for 56.5 percent, led by Mike Richards (9-13, 69 percent) and Darroll Powe (9-15, 60 percent). Giroux also won five of nine, and both Briere and Jeff Carter each won half their draws. Looks like the Flyers actually did work on that this offseason. Let's hope it carries over into the season.

We left the game with 10 minutes left in the third so as to get home in time to see the end of the Phils game. It was preseason after all. We got to my house in time to see the final two innings, now with the score at 7-4, watching Ryan Madson actually close out a game. Though, as has been any Phillie in the closer role's forte, he made it exciting, giving up a leadoff single to Kaz Matsui followed by a fly out and then another single, bringing the tying run to the plate with one out. But then Madson struck out Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence to get the victory and, thanks to a Braves loss, reduce the magic number to 1 with five games to play. I feel a whole lot better after last night than I did this time yesterday, and thank god for that.

One more win. Might as well make it tonight.

BallHype: hype it up!

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