Thursday, January 7, 2010

Turning the Corner?

It's no secret that the Flyers have vastly underachieved this season. The trade for Chris Pronger was the move that was supposed to help put a talented, young slew a forwards over the top to be on par with the Pittsburghs and Detroits of the world. Yet here we are, one coaching change and 42 games in, and the Flyers still sit dead last in the Atlantic Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Yet over the past two weeks, something seems to have clicked for the Flyers. Perhaps they are just now getting accustomed to and comfortable with new coach Peter Laviolette's system. Maybe the players realize there isn't a ton of time left to turn this thing around. Or maybe the Flyers simply have caught a few more breaks, gained some confidence and are finally becoming the team we all expected they would be. It's still just a little too early to tell. But the fact of the matter is, the Flyers are playing much better hockey of late. In their last seven games, they've gone 5-1-1, winning four straight by taking care of some unspectacular teams on the road, fighting valiantly at Boston in the Winter Classic and earning a point, and then dominating a struggling Toronto team last night. Yes, there was that 7-4 clunker to the Senators on Sunday, but if the Flyers can have 5-1-1 seven-game stretches routinely, they'll certainly be in good shape.

Of course, that seven-game stretch has come against mainly favorable opponents. But the thing about that is, when the Flyers were at their lowest, those were the type of teams they weren't beating. Good teams take care of business against bad teams. All the sudden, the Flyers are doing just that. Last night was simply another example.

From the drop of the puck to the final horn, the Flyers were in control last night. Now, besides the 6-2 score, the stats aren't overwhelmingly in the Flyers' favor. The final shot total reads 32-32, faceoffs read 33-29 Philadelphia, and even the power play chances were pretty even, with the Flyers getting six and the Leafs getting four. But trust me, throughout the Flyers controlled the game and the tempo. There was never a moment that it felt like Toronto was tilting the ice in its favor. Not once. This was a dominating performance by the Flyers.

Every player who took the ice played well. Chris Pronger continued to show his worth, playing outstanding defense and notching three assists. Danny Briere continued his breakout, lighting the lamp twice, scoring the first goal of the game and and then answering just 40 seconds after Toronto finally got on the board with a beauty of a shot. It was a great way to get his 500th NHL point. And the Flyers got contributions from everyone, evident by the 12 players who registered at least one point. Oh, and Michael Leighton made one hell of a spectacular save early on on a perfectly executed pass for a tip by the Leafs, just getting his arm on it before Matt Carle swatted it out of mid-air and out of harm's way.

To me, three players really stood out in that game: Dan Carcillo, James van Riemsdyk and Danny Syvret.

On any given night, you can watch a Flyers game and notice that Dan Carcillo is having a great time out there on the ice. As much fun as he seems to have every game, last night he was really in his element. The Maple Leafs were doing a lot of barking, taking a lot of cheap shots, specifically Colton Orr and Jamal Mayers. That's the stuff Carcillo lives for. So naturally, he was jawing right back, irritating the Leafs to no end. He helped the Flyers draw penalties from the Leafs with his yapping, infuriated Orr with the fact that he wouldn't drop the gloves with him, and even gave Mayers a goose egg on his forehead in a fight. It was classic Carcillo.

To top things off, Carcillo scored a filthy goal, embarrassing the Leafs in the process. Then he put the icing on the cake with an exaggerated, awesome celebration, followed by a nice long skate down the Leafs' bench and signaling Colton Orr, who had crosschecked him earlier on the shift and had tried to get Carcillo to rumble all night. It was fucking fantastic.

The Flyers certainly know how to get under Colton Orr's skin. The tough guy from the Leafs wanted nothing more than to rumble with someone, anyone, but the Flyers wouldn't take the bait. Even after he took cheap shot after cheap shot, which he did all night long, including a run at captain Mike Richards, the Flyers wouldn't entertain him. They defended their teammates, sure, but wouldn't drop the gloves with Orr, which is exactly what he wanted. Instead, Carcillo and company kept antagonizing him, and then Carcillo rubbed some salt in the wound by very clearly skating over to him after his highlight-reel goal. Gotta love it.

You also have to love what Danny Syvret showed last night. In my opinion, last night was Syvret's best game as a Flyer. He looked confident on the ice, played sound, fundamental defense, and definitely displayed the offensive talent that allowed him to make the roster this year. His goal was a picture-perfect laser, placing right below the elbow. Gustavsson never had a shot at stopping it. His goal in the winter classic seems to have given the young defenseman confidence. At least, it seemed to last night. By far his best showing of the season.

And then there is JVR. Van Riemsdyk didn't take long to make his presence felt in the NHL, and he's played very all season long. But lately, the fast-starting rookie has been in a bit of scoring slump. He got off the schnide last night, deflecting home a goal on a textbook redirection, planted right in front of the net on the power play. (By the way, the Flyers went 3 for 6 on the man advantage last night.) And his best shift of the game came on Danny Syvret's beautiful goal. Riemer was the shining example of what Peter Laviolette looks for in his forecheckers on that shift, never relenting, hounding the puck, causing the Toronto defense to turn it over, controlling the puck, cycling, hitting, and then, eventually, leading to a goal. It was perhaps the best shift of James van Riemsdyk's young career. Excellent game overall for the rookie.

That line of Darroll Powe, Arron Asham and JVR looks like it was tailor-made to play for Laviolette. If ever there was a line on this team built for an aggressive forecheck, it's that trio. Powe goes 100 miles per hour every shift, and he's never seen a defenseman he hasn't wanted to charge at full-blast on a dump-in. Asham isn't a shy one at laying a hard hit and retrieving the puck either. And JVR is simply a beast along the boards, using his size and strength (which will only increase as he matures) to dig out pucks and work the cycle. That line has been playing the most consistent hockey during this 7-game stretch.

As I stated earlier, it's still a little too early to tell if the Flyers really are turning the corner on the season. After all, this mini streak has come against some pretty poor teams. But we'll get a better feel tonight, when the Flyers head west to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions. A win in Pittsburgh would surely do wonders for a team that is starting to look the way it's supposed to.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. a nice road test tonight, pens are due to come out of their slump but if Philly can extend it on their ice it could be a telling sign.