Break on through to the other side...
With all due respect to Jim Morrison
, alive or dead, he could not have envisioned those words applied more aptly than to the Flyers' effort tonight versus a Pittsburgh Penguins team that wholly, totally and completely owned
them last year.
The Penguanos took the 2006-07 version of the Orange and Black to the proverbial woodshed, pitching a shutout with a 6-0-2 record. In those eight games, Sid the Kid scored 7 goals and 9 assists for 16 outrageous points and a +12 rating. The man was simply not human, but then he also faced the dynamic duo of Niitty and Esche. We are a little
bit better off in net this year, but it would still be a huge test for a team that is on the 7th of 8 road games in their longest span away from the Bank Building all year. The boys would have to bring their "A" game tonight or get blown out of the steel city.
If the Flyers were to have any
chance in this game they absolutely had to do three things:
1) Avoid the dreaded first period slump!!!!
This has been a very worrisome trait of this Flyers team for a good part of the early season. They could not afford to get behind by two to this high-powered Penguins offense. Keeping the shot totals down would go a long way to achieving that goal...but we say that every game.
2) Stay out of the box.
Period. End of sentence. The Flyers did not learn that lesson versus the Habs and got eaten alive. This Pens team has too much firepower to be man-down for any length of time.
3) Lay a body on Sidney Crosby EVERY time he touched the puck
and make him know you were there. You aren't going to stop him, you just hope to get him off his game a little and piss him off. You have to play tight, controlled defense and hit him every chance you get - Batphone for Mr. Mike Richards.
If the Flyers did those three things well, then perhaps they could keep up with their cross-state rivals. The Flyers played a hideous game against the Rangers, getting shut out 2-0 and looking pitiful in doing so. They would have to play a complete game with much more juice and controlled aggression if they were to be in it at the end.
There was much ado about Danny Briere being moved down to the "third" line between Umberger and Lupul. 28 seconds into the game, Joffrey Lupul wound up the recipient of a Briere pass and fired a wrister past the stunned Pens goalie, Danny Sabourin. No one said "Boo" about the change after that. With a 1-0 lead, the Flyers kept up their uncharacteristic first period pressure which resulted in Jeff Carter's 7th of the year. Sergei Gonchar was given the business by Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall behind his net, forcing a turnover which Upshall deftly found Carter alone in the slot. Jeff Carter wasted no time and roofed a wrist shot past Sabourin for a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Mike Richards might have played the best shut-down game of the year in shadowing Crosby. Sid was held to 4 shots for the game and found #18 in his jock whenever he got near the puck. Richards did an amazing job, but you are not going to keep Crosby off the score sheet too many games. Sid found Ryan Malone loose on a two-on-one, after a neutral zone collision jarred the puck loose, to put the Pens on the board at the end of the first stanza.
The Flyers ended the scoring in the second period with an absolutely pretty goal by, who else, Mike "The Rockstar" Richards
(thanks Jules). Richards broke in two-on-one on the forehand, with none other than Jason Smith, and made a nice fake where he pretended to shoot, pulled it back and let a twisted wrister go that froze Sabourin like he was an ice age caveman. It was karmatically fitting that #18 should put the steak in the heart of the Penguins, since he was such a huge part of keeping Crosby off the board.
All around team effort.
They avoided the dreaded slump and put up two in the first period. They stayed out of the box - ok they didn't. They had nine penalties but played solid PK by keeping the Pens to the outside and not allowing them to roam free in between the dots. Marty Biron was just amazing - his calm demeanor on the ice just never fails him. He always seems to know where the puck is when it hits him and has control of any rebounds. The man has ice water in his veins. The Flyers, and Mike Richards in particular, did a very nice job of making life miserable for Sidney Crosby. They hit him, they chipped at him and never allowed Sid to get into an offensive rhythm. They Orange and Black were excellent at clogging up the middle and not permitting the horses on the Pens to get room to generate speed. Conversely, the Flyers were moving well without the puck and seemed at home with playing an up-tempo game.
It was nice to see the "kids" factor into the game as much as they did. Carter and Lupul played exceptional hockey. Danny Briere just went out and did his job and forged the game's first goal with a nifty pass. Mr. Rockstar, Mike Richards
, is playing like a man possessed and is the unquestioned leader of this Flyers team. He has made a statement in the early going and has positioned himself as one of the bright, young stars in the league for years to come.
Now on to the Devils...
Thanks for reading...