The NHL playoffs race is heating up, folks. With just about twelve games remaining left for the Philadelphia Flyers, crunch time has arrived.
After a terrible month of February, in which the team went on a ten game losing streak, the Flyers have bounced back slightly and remain in the playoff picture. However, their play has become severely inconsistent, and although they continued to win games in the month of January, their play has dropped off because of injuries and sloppy play overall.
Gearing towards the playoffs, the Flyers need to focus on becoming stronger in their own zone. All year they have given up way too many shots, and have put both Antero Niitymaki and Martin Biron in terrible positions, in which both goaltenders basically have to play standing on their own heads.
The latest collapse of poor defensive play can be seen in their game against the Maple Leafs, in which the Flyers headed into the third period with a 3-0 lead. All game the Maple Leafs, whose season is on the line, played physical and put Biron in a spot where he basically kept the Flyers in the game. Once again, the Flyers powerplay allowed them to get on the scoreboard, and disguise their bad defensive play, in which not surprisingly, the Maple Leafs controlled in not only shots on goals, but time of possession in the offensive zone.
Frankly, Flyers wingers have not done the best of job backchecking. But to be fair, more fault lies on the defense, in which several Flyers defensemen have been unable to clear the puck out of the zone once in pressured situations. The best example of this is Randy Jones, who made several mistakes in coughing up the puck in his own zone, most notably the one that eventually tied the game up, in which Jones banked the puck off the boards, and had it intercepted by Toronto forward Jeremy Williams, who nailed the puck right over Biron.
I’d also like to fault John Stevens on his attitude on the bench during his games, or lack thereof. Stevens seems to be relatively calm on the bench, which in certain situations is probably the best option. However, in a situation like the Toronto game, there should be no reason for him to NOT be yelling at his players after their poor third period.
Come playoff time, the Flyers will need to really step up their defensive play. Last year, Ottawa took down the Penguins and stopped Crosby because the whole team played very well defensively. The Flyers will have to be more assertive like the Senators of last year if they want to become more than a first round exit. Obviously they are hit with the injury bug, and have been since the beginning of the season, yet that does not excuse them of playing poorly in their own zone.
Defense wins games, defense wins Cups. The Flyers need to realize this before it’s too late, or once again this team will go on for another year without Lord Stanley’s hardware.
• Watch Malkin’s numbers go down now that Crosby is back, considering that Crosby will once again be the go to guy on the powerplay and have his usual minutes on even strength shifts.
• If I was a Penguins fan, I’d be worried about Malkin’s showcase of his skills while Crosby was out with injury. Although everyone knew Malkin was good, no one expected him to carry the Penguins to the record that they had with their captain out for over six weeks. And because of that, I expect Malkin to look for some real big money in his next contract--I don't know if the Penguins can pull it off. I also think Malkin might not want to be stuck being behind Crosby--since he's virtually the face of the franchise, and that's never going to change.
• With the addition of Brian Campbell, the Sharks not only become better defensively, but they also get in Campbell, a puck carrier who can go coast to coast with the puck as seen in his first few games with the Sharks. Campbell is very intelligent not only with the puck on his stick, but also when it’s not. He’s going to be a hot commodity come summer time.