Friday, March 26, 2010

A Hole in Goal and a Hole in the Heart

Ugh. Here we go again. Another year, another goalie problem in Philadelphia. And this one is the worst of all.

I wanted Brian Boucher to be good. I really did. I've always been a fan, always like him between the pipes. But there comes a point when you gotta call a spade and spade. And Brian Boucher is a spade. Wait, that doesn't make sense. What I meant to say is Brian Boucher is a bad goaltender. Very bad. Very, extremely, incredibly bad. And his teammates aren't much better. Frankly, it's getting very annoying.

Last night, the Flyers were actually looking like a hungry hockey team for the first time in a while. They came out and jumped on the Wild in the first period, outshooting Minnesota 12-3 and taking a 2-0 lead. For once, Philadelphia actually looked like it gave a shit and wanted to make a strong push to the playoffs. The Flyers looked like a determined team, looked like they were fed up with the losing streak, looked like they were ready to trounce a team that's playoff hopes are already gone.

Then just 34 seconds into the second period, Boucher let the Wild right back in the game with a goal. Yes, Minnesota was on a power play, but it was hardly an unstoppable shot Boucher let slip by him. Marek Zidicky got the puck with a lot of room. He fired a shot from the point. There was absolutely no traffic in front of Boucher, no screen, no players impeding his vision. He had a clear sight line to the puck, one on one with a shooter from the point. But Boucher took too long to get across, and got beat short side. On a shot from the point. With no traffic in front of him. It was an awful, awful goal to surrender. Just terrible.

That's a shot you have to have to save. You just have to. It's routine. Yet Boosh couldn't come up with it. It was just the fourth shot of the night he faced. Four shots, one awful goal in. Terrible.

The next shift, the Wild fired another shot from the point, this one extremely weak, and Boucher actually stopped it. That's when Keith Jones said, "That's a good thing for Boucher. Good for him to see a shot and be able to make a save." Yeah, generally I'd say it's pretty good for your goaltender to be able to make saves, especially easy ones. But Jones actually felt obliged to say this, because Boucher has been that bad. It's almost shocking when he actually stops the puck. Awesome.

Still, his teammates answered, outshot the Wild 17-11 in that second period, and Dan Carcillo gave the Flyers a two-goal lead again on a beautiful effort. Carcillo made a hit in the offensive zone to free the puck, Scott Hartnell picked it up, got in shooting position, but then saw Carcillo streaking to the net. Hartnell hit him with a perfect saucer pass, and Carcillo redirected it right in. It was a tremendous goal, and the Flyers took a 3-1 lead into the third, outshooting the Wild 29-14 and playing a strong game.

Then everything came undone. And I mean everything. Carcillo, who was having a strong game and put the Flyers up 3-1, got caught from behind in his own zone and stripped of the puck. One quick pass and an even quicker shot later, and the score was 3-2. Martin Havlat fired immediately, and Boucher, being the terrible goalie that he is, was slow to react and got beat short side again. Another awful goal, though not quite as terrible as the first given how quickly the play unfolded.

Still, not good.

Suddenly, it was a one-goal game. Despite dominating play for two periods, the Flyers held the slimmest of leads thanks to shoddy goaltending and a turnover. Great. And from there, the Flyers did what is becoming customary for them to do. That's right, they folded like a tent. Just like several games this season. Just like the entire final two months last season.

The Wild outworked the Flyers the rest of the way, and Andrew Brunette tied the game up on a deflection from a shot by John Scott. Then 2:33 into overtime, game over, as Boucher had trouble with another shot, couldn't find the rebound as it bounced around, and Kyle Brodziak slipped it in. Four goals given up by Boucher on 21 shots. Just three goals for Philadelphia on 35 shots. A fourth straight loss, their sixth in their last seven games and seventh in their last nine.

Yes, the Flyers did get one point, but they also let one slip away. They gave up not one but two two-goal leads. They failed to capitalize on their chances, the same story as every other loss this season. They dominated for two periods and then didn't show up for the third. And the goalie looked more like a sieve than a wall.

This was a game the Flyers had to have. It was a game that Boucher didn't even need to be spectacular. He just needed to make the saves that you expect any NHL backup to make. But he couldn't. It was a game that the Flyers had to finish. Yet they didn't. Again. For what feels like the hundredth time in the past two years. Frankly, it's getting ridiculous.

This team just doesn't have the heart or the will to win when it matters. Two seasons ago, they did. Maybe that was more a reflection of warriors — though guys who were past their prime and not all that good anymore — like Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher. Maybe it was a testament to the heart of Sami Kapanen and Jim Dowd and Patrick Thoresen and Scottie Upshall. I don't know. What I do know is, the more I see of this team from last year and now, it sure as hell wasn't because of the Richards, the Gagnes, the Hartnells and Coburns and Brieres.

The Flyers are developing incredibly bad habits, becoming perennial underachievers. A coaching change didn't alter that. Bringing in a proven veteran leader like Chris Pronger didn't help. Nothing seems to be working with these guys. Maybe this core is just a bunch of losers. That pains me to say, because I like these players. I really do. I like Richards and Gagne and Carcillo and Powe and JVR and Claude and Kimmo and all the rest. But something just doesn't click with these guys. Something needs to change.

It wasn't the coach, even as much as I wanted to believe it was. That much is clear. And the current coach we have I think is the right man for the job. He's tough. He's focused. But the players aren't. They just aren't. As far as I'm concerned, no matter how this thing ends, there needs to be a shakeup this offseason. There needs to be changes. Several of them. This team may back in to the playoffs a second straight year, but barring a miracle, they'll be outsted quickly, whether it is at the hands of Washington, New Jersey, Buffalo or Pittsburgh. And then it will be the same old thing: a talented roster with big names that simply couldn't get it done.

Enough is enough. As far as I'm concerned, everyone is fair game to go. Everyone. If I had my say, Giroux and van Riemsdyk would stay. I see a lot of potential and a lot of fight in those two, even if their numbers are pedestrian. But all the rest, let them walk. Go get a goalie. Go get a face-off guy. Go get some players with heart, with desire, with a never-say-die attitude. Because I've had enough of a team full players with no emotion, no desire, no fire. I'm not saying these guys aren't trying. I know they want to win. But they just don't seem to be willing to put in the work to do it.

Maybe this is an unfair comparison because I'm talking about one of the best players in the world, but look at Sidney Crosby. Yes, he's public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia. You know what else he is? The hardest worker in hockey, or at least one of the hardest working players in hockey. Every year, he comes back better than the year before. As a rookie, he struggled with face-offs. So what did he do? He worked his ass off to become a great face-off guy. He didn't score as many goals as his teammate Evgeni Malkin, as many as Alexander Ovechkin. So what did he do? He worked on shooting more, on scoring more this year, even after hoisting the Cup last season. He was criticized for diving as a youngster. Now he rarely flops. He was criticized for his defense, now he back-checks with the best of them and kills penalties.

Then you look at the Flyers. Richards still is an average face-off man, never getting better. While he's a very good player, it can be argued he hasn't even gotten much better at all since he entered the league. And the same can be said for several others as well. Braydon Coburn has regressed. Matt Carle is still wildly inconsistent. Scott Hartnell isn't the same player as the last two years. Danny Briere hasn't come close to living up to his ridiculous contract. It's a common thread. And frankly I'm tired of it. I think we all are.

Something has to change, and it has to change soon. Whether that means overhauling the roster or guys simply looking themselves in the mirror and deciding it's time to turn things around remains to be seen. But enough is enough. The excuses are getting old. The lack of effort is getting tiresome. It's time for the Flyers to put up or shut up.

BallHype: hype it up!

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