Any given Sunday...
With all due respect to Oliver Stone, while that phrase obviously related to football, it rings true in all professional sports - with hockey being no exception. On any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team.
How 'bout them Cowboys?
If you are not on your game or in some way distracted...
you can lose your focus and lose to a "lesser" team.
That being said, It's nice to see the better, more talented team win; especially when that team wears Orange and Black.
In the case of last night's 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers, the better, deeper and hungrier team did
win the game. That is not to say that it was a walk in the park, though it might have been if not for some pretty spirited play from Les Panthers' netminder, Thomas Vokoun. The Flyers busted out on offense, scoring four goals in the first period. They did it with hungry, aggressive play from their team leaders and all-stars. Flyer All-Star, Kimmo Timonen scored his seventh goal of the season and assisted on two others. Kimmo is having a stealthy quiet great year. He leads the team in defensive scoring, with 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points, and continually logs more than 20 minutes a contest in all sitations. He could not be playing to any higher level of expectation for the Flyers. Continued Kudos to Paul Holmgren for nailing this guy down.
After a one to nothing lead, Jay Bouwmeester knotted the score at one but the Flyers' powerplay responded with two man-up tallies from perrenial all-star Simon Gagne and, a guy who had better play like an all-star in the second half, Danny Briere. It was heartening to see those two get on the board for hugely different reasons. Gagne continues the somewhat difficult process of getting reacquainted with the speed of the game and playing with his KGB linemates. He's not done too poorly - as witnessed by his two goals in and two assists in four games since returning. If Gags can continue to take hits, play aggressively and is not afraid to go in high-traffic areas, he should continue to pile up points in a way we are accustomed to. That alone, would be like making a trade for a scoring winger.
Danny Briere potted two goals last night - one powerplay and one empty netter. It was great to see him score in both situations. As it has been well documented, in the "new" NHL the powerplay reigns supreme. Teams who can consistently score on the man advantage have a much greater chance at winning the game versus those who cannot. Plain and simple - the Refs are calling more obstruction, more hooking and more stick fouls than ever before. Danny Briere's game is tailor made for those situations where speed and shiftiness are paramount. He needs to become more consistently involved in the team's offense while not allowing himself to take games off and not become a defensive liability when he is on the ice. Danny Briere needs to use his considerable gifts every game and every shift. Last night, he did. AND he was rewarded with playing time at the end of the game with a one goal lead. He worked hard and hit the empty net for his second of the night. If the Flyers are to make noise in the playoffs, this first line must apply continual pressure to force teams into playing their best checkers against it. That would open up the ice for the other lines, one of which I am going to talk about now.
With the number of phone calls Steve Downie has received from NHL Lord of Discipline, Colin Campbell, you'd think that Steve was on Campbell's Psychic Friends Network
You go Dionne Warwick! Downie has been suspended and publicly crucified as the worst thing for hockey since Todd Bertuzzi's sucker punch. This young man did the crime and did his time. Something must have happened between here and there, because Downie has been on a tear since he was paired up with NHL All-Star Mike Richards and gritty winger, Scottie Hartnell. Downie has scored 2 goals and 4 assists with steadily increasing ice time since the January 5th contest against Toronto. To be fair, the whole line is en fuego, as Richards (2 goals and 5 assists and better faceoff %) and Hartnell (6 goals and 3 assists with a +6 and 24 PIM) have been clicking on all cylinders. The sandpaper and tenacity this line brings is unquestionable; however, the offense that this line has brought to the table is astounding. A line this good needs a nickname....how about the STP line: A Stud
, a Thug
and a Pug
It has a certain...something that I cannot explain.
All kidding aside, for this team to lose its perennial leading scorer, Simon Gagne, for 26 games and Joffrey Lupul, who was as hot as anyone in the league at the time of his injury, for who knows how many speaks volume to the job that GM Paul Holmgren has done to field a competitive team on a nightly basis.
Yes, Virginia...they were only the Panthers. But any given Sunday. The Orange and Black need to put forth the same effort against the Devils and Penguins of the Atlantic Division world in order to be ultimately successful, but they did take care of business. They did beat a team that was inferior for the second straight time. The Flyers need to begin to hone this killer instinct as we move into the part of the season where teams' fortunes are made and broken by the gain or loss of a few points. (God do I hate the point for an overtime loss)
The Flyers had better put on their big boy pants and get their heads in order because the next four games are against the hard-nosed Isles, the enigmatic but supremely dangerous Ottawa Senators, the Division leading Flyer-Killer Jersey Devils and the revenge minded, Sidney Crosby led Pittsburgh Penguins (which Blueline and I will take in from the confines of the Wachovia Center). While it might be too early to call these games critical or must wins, they are extremely important in gauging where this team is versus the elite of the Conference.
I hope the Flyers can take 3 of 4 - though that could be a tall order...but hey, any given Sunday.
Thanks for reading...
Let's Go FLYERS!!! (Clap Clap...Clap Clap Clap)