Playing With Fire
There’s an old adage that states ‘if a cat jumps on a hot stovetop once and gets burned, it will never jump on a stovetop again’. Although the Flyers have seemingly had nine lives this season, game one illustrated they weren’t quite on the feline’s level of thinking. Keep playing with fire, and sure enough you get burned.
If you are looking for the positives to take from game one, look at Chris Pronger and Danny Briere’s line. Look at the ability to beat Niemi and create chances. Look at the fact that the Flyers can take advantage of the Blackhawks turnovers. Tell yourself it’s only game one the Flyers lost Saturday night, not the whole series.
If you are looking for where the team can make improvements, now you’re right up my alley. The first significant issue is obviously the troubling 6 that were hung on the board by Chicago. Where do we as fans put the blame? Did we finally see Michael Leighton’s nerves? Perhaps he is finally coming back to Earth? The questions are adequate and worth exploring, but my answer is not so fast. The blown assignments in front of Leighton were miserable. You can’t allow a team as skilled with the puck as the Hawks chance after chance at point blank range. This is the Stanley Cup Finals folks, there’s a reason the Blackhawks have made it this far. It seemed like no red jersey went marked in front of Leighton, and while his rebound control was marginal at best, it’s up to his teammates to collapse and clear out loose pucks. It has happened all postseason, and it didn’t happen enough Saturday night. Leighton will retake his position in front of the net on Monday, here’s to hoping his teammates lend him a hand.
Another troubling issue that the Flyers are facing after game one is the lack of contribution beyond the Briere line. The Richards line was unimpressive, but so was the Toews line on the other side. It doesn’t take Don Cherry to figure out that the top defensive pairings gave the top lines an extremely tough night. Toews, Kane and Byfuglien finished the game with a minus three rating, while Richards’ line was minus two. Expect those lines to dig in and make more plays (by more I mean at least one) moving forward in the series. On the third line, Claude Giroux looked hesitant; JVR unnoticeable and Arron Asham continued to be strong. The fourth line is the fourth line, minus the moment the world stopped when Blair Betts slapped home a goal in the second period. With that being said, it was clear that Hartnell, Briere and Leino were on a different level than the rest of the team Saturday night. Hopefully they share their Wheaties with the rest of the team Monday morning.
The most important issue that Laviolette must address going into game two is the tempo of the game. Although the Flyers came in waves for much of the game, so did Chicago. The key difference between the two teams is that Chicago is accustomed to such a tempo, which became clear upon viewing the brutally tired third period the Flyers performed Saturday. We all knew coming into the series that the Blackhawks wanted to push the game, more shots, more chances, more odd-man breaks. If I had told you game one ended with a score of 6-5, no matter where your allegiances may be, you would have guessed that Chicago won. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that Flyers shouldn’t try to trick themselves into thinking they can just outscore Chicago. If they’re banking on winning high-scoring games (which I assure you Lavy is not banking on), they have a problem. Look for the team to tighten up defensively and try to play game two in Chicago’s end with more dump-ins, cycling and sustained puck possession. If they fail to implement such a plan, the series will end quickly.
It’s safe to say that it was no surprise that game one of the Stanley Cup Finals with two young, inexperienced teams was a bit wild. Recklessness took over the game at times, and although it was exciting for the casual fan to watch, it nearly sent me to the hospital. The key to the series has now become clear, if the Flyers continue to participate in a speed skating relay, they’ll lose. If Laviolette can manage to push the right buttons for the 1,237th time this season, the Flyers can win the series and bring the cup back to Philadelphia after 35 years of waiting. The stovetop remains hot, here’s to hoping the boys in orange and black don’t jump back on.