Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hats Off to Richards, Carle, Briere

Yesterday, I get a text at 3:40 simply reading, "U want my flyers tix for tonight?" Of course I said yes, and boy am I glad I did (like there was even a chance I'd say no).

With Alexander the Great getting off to a blazing start to the season, it seemed like the entire hockey universe was slobbering over Ovechkin getting 50 goals in 50 games, cracking the 70-goal barrier and generally dismissing anyone outside of D.C. Apparently, Mike Richards got tired of hearing about his friend to the south, and he was determined to do something about it.

Early in the game, the puck was heading toward Ovie with his back turned to the Flyers defense. Richards, fresh off the bench on a line change, noticed, made a b-line toward the Russian sniper and took a bit of a run at him. Ovechkin saw him at the last minute, avoiding most of the hit, but the NHL's darling didn't take too kindly to it. He and Richards exchanged words near the Flyers bench for quite some time at the next whistle. Right then, you knew these two were going to make their presence felt.

And sure enough they did. After a scoreless first period, Mike Richards scored the first goal of the season at the Wachovia Center on the power play. Just 1:07 later, Ovechkin answered. After Kimmo Timonen gave the Flyers the lead back, Ovechkin struck again. Chris Pronger, who had a pretty awful debut in front of the home fans, flubbed a pass attempt in his own zone, resulting in a horrible giveaway right to Nicklas Backstrom, who immediately found Ovechkin all alone in front of Ray Emery. When Ovie is one-on-one with a goalie, the goalie never wins. 2-2.

A few minutes later, Alexander Semin, who was giving the Flyers fits all night, completely undressed Braydon Coburn and beat Emery. 3-2 Caps. That's when you could just see Richards boiling. He wasn't going to let the Flyers lose their home opener, not against this team, not against Ovechkin. And he damn sure wasn't going to let anyone come in and outshine him. Not this night. Not this season. One minute and 23 seconds later, Richards scored again on the power play, again assisted by Matt Carle (who also assisted on Timonen's goal). Tie game. Just 18 seconds later, Richards struck again, again assisted by Carle, to regain the lead and cap off a wild second period that saw 7 goals scored and had three lead changes, not to mention a hat trick by Richards and four assists by Carle.

When those hats were flying, the place was nuts. It was a loud as a playoff game, and really, throughout, the game had that feel. When the ice finally was cleared of all the hats, Semyon Varlamov had been chased from the net, pulled in favor of Jose Theodore.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, they couldn't carry all that momentum into the final period. Jeff Carter took a lazy penalty 6:58 in, and on the ensuing power play, Alexander Semin tied the game. Just over a minute later, Brendan Morrison put the Caps ahead. Luckily, the Flyers capitalized again on the power play before the game was through, as Scott Hartnell buried a loose puck to send the game to OT.

Then, Danny Briere gave himself a nice little birthday present with just over a minute to go before shootout time:

I thought the roof was going to blow off, the noise was so loud in there. What a way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

It was a truly exciting, playoff-intense game. Mike Richards was outstanding, scoring a hat trick and tying Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals at 5. He also became the first Flyer to ever record a hat trick in the home opener. Matt Carle went nuts, posting 4 assists in one period, and the Flyers' special teams were outstanding. They scored three power play goals in eight chances, while limiting the potent Washington man advantage to just one goal in five chances.

However, it wasn't all good news, despite the 6-5 overtime win. Blair Betts, a huge part of the dynamic Philadelphia penalty kill, dislocated his right shoulder and will be out at least four weeks. And rookie sensation James van Riemsdyk was taken awkwardly into the boards in the 2nd period and was slow to get up. He looked woozy, and I feared a concussion. He did make it back out there for two shifts in the third, but then did not return. He's being evaluated for a possible concussion. Not good.

That's not all. The Flyers' trouble winning faceoffs last season resurfaced last night, winning just 31 of 65 draws (47.7 percent), and only Richards won more than he lost (14 of 20). That definitely hurt them at times last night. But not as much as the sloppy turnovers, specifically by Chris Pronger. Without a doubt, Pronger was the worst player on the ice last night. He looked slow, indecisive with the puck and turned it over way, way too much. The official box says he only had four giveaways, but trust me, it was much more. Perhaps Pronger was a bit nervous playing in front of the Philly fans for the first time as a Flyer. He certainly played like it, and the fans sitting around me in section 221 were letting him know it. I don't expect that to be a problem, especially since he played very well in the first two games, but he was just awful last night.

And so was Emery. Yes, many of the goals he gave up were very tough to stop, but many of them were the result of big, fat rebounds he left out there for the Caps to get. Again, perhaps it was nerves playing in front of the home fans for the first time, because Emery actually had been swallowing up everything in site in the first two games. But last night, he had no puck control, leaving rebounds all over the place. That was a annoying. He certainly had some really nice saves as well, but when you give up 5 goals, it's not a good night.

In the end, though, the Flyers were able to overcome the rough home debuts from the their biggest offseason acquisitions thanks to great special teams, explosive scoring and, oh yeah, their captain:

No. 1 Star: Mike Richards(notes), Philadelphia Flyers
Richards and Alexander Ovechkin(notes) (2 goals, 1 assist) helped put on a nationally televised show in a seven-goal second period, powered by Richards's second career hat-trick. He scored on the power play, and again later on the man advantage. His third goal was scored 18 seconds after that, on a misplay by Washington Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov(notes). The Flyers rallied to win the game, 6-5 in overtime, with a tying goal credited to Scott Hartnell(notes) and an OT game-winner by Danny Briere(notes) on his birthday. The AP reported that the team collected 492 hats after Richards's trick.

Really, I couldn't have asked for much more. A 6-5 overtime win in the home opener against one of the best teams in the league, who just so happen to have the most dynamic goalscorer alive. And not one, but two free T-shirts. That's what I call a nice little Tuesday night.

BallHype: hype it up!

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