Better With Popcorn

Flyers Slow Down, Speed Up to Win Late

On the night when the Philadelphia Flyers raised their 2009-10 Eastern Conference Champions banner, they came out with overwhelming energy and jumped out to the quick lead over the Avalanche. Then, they turned into the lethargic team that was on the ice in St. Louis on Saturday. Finally, in the nick of time, they showed up again and took the late lead, added an empty net goal, and improved to 2-0-1 on the season.

I don’t know how much can really be evaluated in seriousness in the first three games, but I do know that Peter Laviolette’s decision to play Claude Giroux on the penalty killing unit is paying dividends. Giroux netted the first tally of the game shorthanded after a neutral zone turnover by Colorado. Mike Richards forced the turnover, passed to Giroux and as he skated in on goal, he deked goalie Craig Anderson out of his mind and simply flipped the puck in off the backhand. Giroux came into the season having never scored a shorthanded goal. After three games, he has two. Many thought Giroux would come into his own this season, but few thought he’d be such a factor on the penalty kill. After the loss of Ian Laperriere, a spot opened up for Giroux and he has more than taken advantage of it.

Jeff Carter scored on an eerily similar move, also coming during a Colorado power play, albeit as the penalty time wound down. The power play unit has struggled, but the penalty killers are helping to pick up the slack. So, with the Flyers up 2-0, it seemed as if they could skate away with the game easily. However, Colorado ended up cutting the lead in half after a terrible defensive zone turnover by Scott Hartnell in the second period. At the beginning of the third period, rookie Sergei Bobrovsky let in a weak wrist shot off the stick of Milan Hejduk. Once the game was knotted up, the Avalanche had all the momentum and flew around the ice.

Luckily, Anderson misplayed a Jeff Carter backhand shot which gave the Flyers the lead at 3-2 late in the third period and Darroll Powe added an empty net goal shortly afterwards. There was a lesson to be learned in the matchup, and I hope the team learns it as they move forward. When an experienced team like Philadelphia faces a younger team (especially on home ice), they absolutely have to keep their foot on the gas and leave no doubt in the outcome. Despite coming out looking like gangbusters, the Flyers simply seemed content with their ever-dangerous two-goal lead and would end up watch it dwindle away. As was the case in St. Louis, the team looked somewhat lethargic. Luckily, they caught a break before time expired and skated away winners. I don’t know what caused the team to go into cruise control, but it will have to be corrected in order to fulfill lofty expectations. All in all, a win is a win and there’s something to be said for that. However, the Jekyll and Hyde persona that I see on the ice leaves something to be desired with all the talent this team has.

Chris Pronger did return to the ice for the Flyers Monday night, and his presence was clearly helpful. He had over twenty minutes of ice time, although he looked as if his injury was still hampering him a bit. Whether or not he still has lingering effects of his knee surgery is up for debate, but having him wearing a sweater is definitely a positive thing for the team moving forward. One other thing I noticed in the game was Nikolay Zherdev’s reluctance to shoot the puck. The preseason Zherdev and the Zherdev that has been on the ice through three regular season games are like night and day. As aggressive as he was during the preseason, he’s been that hesitant in the regular season. To me, it seems as if he’s been reigned in, but that’s just a hypothesis. I hope that someone on the team or coaching staff can let him know that the team needs him to shoot the puck. He has been pretty responsible with his defensive play (something that was questioned frequently before the season), but some assertiveness on offense would be great. Here’s to hoping he can open up his game a bit and gain some confidence on the offensive end of the ice.

It was a great night for the franchise and their fans, saluting the miraculous run that the team had on the playoffs last year. It was a great first period that furthered the greatness of the night. And it was a late goal that helped erase the problematic second, and most of the third period. The Flyers marched on, and while they’ve earned five of six possible points, there is plenty of room for improvement.

While I re-watch Giroux’s short-handed goal over and over again, feel free to email me at mtrible@thecheckingline.com or follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/mtrible