Welcome back to Broad Street, for a weekly look at some NHL topics and a review of the Flyers. This week I will examine the standings as the Olympic break begins after Sunday’s games. I keep hearing how close the standings are this year. If you look back since the inception of the “3 point game” this has been the case. This has less to do with the parity of the teams due to the salary cap and more to do with the lack of ability to separate from the pack since many of the games are artificially inflated.
My personal view of the shootout is that it was designed for the ESPN highlight package (and by the way ESPN doesn’t show hockey highlights) and not to be a fair competition. And oh by the way, I hate the shootout. First of all only uses 3 shooters is totally unfair. Second the game of hockey is a team sport and not a skill competition. My suggestion is to level the playing field more and make the shootout more of a team competition.
My plan is to reward the team for winning the game outright. Encourage the team to go for the win in regulation all year long, not just as the playoff races come to a close. All games ending at 60 minutes with a win will be worth 3 points for the win and a game decided in extra time will be 2 points for the win and 1 for the loss. After 60 minutes the teams will begin a 7 person shootout were at least one defenseman must be used in the first 4 shooters. There will be no artificial 4 on 4 overtime. Overtime will be saved as a special delight for the playoffs. This will accomplish two critical things with respect to the game. First it will make all NHL games worth 3 points in the standings and if you go to the shootout, you are sacrificing a point by being extended to the shootout. The 4 on 4 overtime session is a waste of time. Over 60% of the games that go to overtime end up in the shootout anyway through Feb 12, 2010, so the OT should be played 5 on 5 in the playoffs only. Since guys like Gordie Howe has never scored an OT game winner (since OT games were only in the playoffs), we should preserve that tradition and save OT as a playoff special occasion.
By forcing the teams to use more players and a defenseman the shootout becomes less favorable to a team with a shootout specialist or a couple of skilled players. Teams like the old Rangers with Jagr and his buddies used to play for the shootout because if 2 of 3 score the shootout was over. In soccer they use 5 players, but I like 7 since it forces coaches to 2 forward lines and 1 defenseman to fill out the shootout. Also I think the current Penguins play to get to the shootout, knowing that with only 3 shooters they have an advantage over most teams in the league.
I welcome all comments and discussion.
Now I will examine the Flyers week in review. This week the Flyers had back to back, home and home series with Eastern conference rivals.
First up were the NJ Devils in Philly. This game started badly for the guys in Orange and Black. For the first 38 minutes the Flyers played careful hockey and were down 2-0 until they struck quickly with 2 goals before the end of the 2nd period. The 2 teams played an even 3rd period before Kimo Timmonen made a special play on a late powerplay to feed Mike Richards in front for the game winner. This game will be remembered for the rare hit by Jeff Carter on the Devils Salmela just as Salmela scored the Devils 2nd goal. As Salmela shifted in front to shoot, Carter was a split second late from preventing the shot and Carter used his big body to eliminate Salmela. The check was clean and was not late. When the hit occurred the puck was still in play. If Leighton made the save, Salmela was in position to collect a rebound.
Flyers at Devils in round two. Again the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Flyers. This time the Flyers clawed back into the game and with an extremely rare sighting this year, Simon Gagne made an impact on the game. Gagne took the puck and dangled past 3 Devils to snap the game winner past Marty.
Round one versus the Canadians in Philadelphia. This was a different script for the Flyers after trailing all week to the Devils, the Flyers sprinted out to a 3-0 lead over the Canadians in the first 2 periods. Quite frankly the Canadians didn’t put up much of a fight in the first 40 minutes. However a really weird bounce got the Habs back in the game early in the 3rd period. A shot went well wide of the net, hit the glass and went up high. Several players pointed like the puck went into the safety netting. However the puck came down, hit the wall and flew in front of the net so fast it went off Briere’s skate and into the net before anyone could make a play on the puck. Then less than a minute later the Habs scored again to make the game 3-2. However, Leighton and the Flyers were able to right the ship and hold the Habs off for the remainder of the game. There was one incident with about 1 minute to go as Spacek skated to retrieve a puck with Powe in hot pursuit. Spacek tried to reverse as he came to the wall and Powe plastered him into the wall. Spacek was cut and I hope he is ok. However, this cut was the direct result of his reversal on the play. If he skated through the back of the net he might have avoided contact all together. This play was given a 5 minute boarding call to Powe – which I feel was too much. The player with the puck is just as much responsible for his own health as the player checking him. I rate this play as very similar to the hit by Randy Jones on Patrice Bergeron last year. If the player with the puck tries to make a move along the wall, the checker cannot always anticipate the move and should not be held responsible for the result of the check. Again I hope Spacek is ok and received only a cut. Because of this hit, the end of the game resulted in a large “gathering” of players and punching setting up the rematch in Montreal.
Round two in Montreal. Glad to hear that Spacek is scheduled to play in the game, too bad that the rest of the Canadians didn’t have the same heart. The Flyers cruised to a 3-0 lead after 1 period, a 5-1 lead after 2 periods. Danny Briere scored a hat trick, and none of the locals threw a hat on the ice! The forgiving fans from Philly threw hats for RJ Umberger! The rest of the Habs looked like they were already packed for a couple of weeks off. The Flyers will go into the break solidly in 6th position in the playoff race. The Flyers are becoming a tough team to play against. They are fast, physical and playing tough defense. No team in the East will be looking forward to seeing the Flyers in the 1st round of the playoffs. Laviolette has really turned the team around with the more aggressive system.
Olympic Break. Now it is time to watch the players represent their countries and play the game, not for money but for passion. I hope that the semi-finals produce matchups between the US, Canada, Russia, and Sweden in any pairings and that the medal games do not have to be decided by a shootout.
Good night and good hockey!