...words can hardly begin to describe what happened at the Bank Building.
Coming into last night's tilt, the Flyers were a dreadfully inconsistent team searching for some home-ice answers; while the Penguins were the team on a roll, having won 4 in-a-row across western Canada, with their Captain in the hunt for the league leaders in scoring at 40 points. Both clubs were no strangers to the Sin Bin, with 365 penalties for over 1,000 PIM between them in a combined 58 games. There was the sense that things could get out of hand rather quickly if the referees didn't pocket the whistles or if things got "chippy." In retrospect, that was an understatement.
What went on for 60 minutes was a strange fusion of playoff intensity hockey, a close game turned into a rout and a junkyard brawl between two teams that don't like each other, even a little bit. In addition, you had the resumption of the sideshow feud between Pennsylvania's equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys - Sidney Crosby and Mike Richards.
Something had to give.
And it did.
Add to that fighting majors, 20 seconds into the game, between old friends Jason Smith and Ryan Malone trying to make up for lost time over a supposed slash of Sid the Kid in their last meeting. Toss in 98 penalty minutes by a team NOT
named the Flyers, 10 goals scored, six game misconducts, two Flyers with hat tricks in the same game, 136 total minutes of time spent in the box, as many missed calls as made on both sides and a viscious and blatant attempt to injure the Flyers' netminder by Penguins goon Georges Laraque (more on that later) and you have yourself the makings of a good, old fashioned fight where a hockey game broke out.
From a Flyers' perspective, there are things the Orange and Black did very well:
* The Flyers had consistent pressure in the offensive zone.
This does three things, it forces the Pens to react to the Flyers and spend time chasing the puck instead of being creative with it. It keeps the puck out of your own end and thereby lessens the shot totals and potential for goals against for Biron. And, most importantly, it leads to the next point...
* The Flyers put the puck on the net:
Hallelujah! The boys did a great job of putting the puck on the net and in the net. I know this is the most simplistic of hockey axioms but, as the immortal Wayne Gretzky said, "you will not score on 100% of the shots you do not take." Amen Wayne. The Flyers put rubber on net, in traffic and had a shooting gallery night.
* Special teams play was paramount:
Again, nothing Nobel Prize winning about that statement. You had a feeling that their would be a somewhat steady parade to the box when these two teams got together. How the Flyers handled the PK and tried to exploit the Pens on the powerplay would have a huge impact on how the game went. The Flyers gave up both goals man-down and killed off a third penalty. 1 for 3 on the PK - not so good. The Flyers powerplay, however, was firing on all cylinders and scored 4 goals in 13 opportunities (30.7% efficiency). Getting half your goals from the powerplay (Knuble, Lupul, Coburn and Umberger) made it even an easier day for Biron as the majority of the play was in the Pens' zone. In fact, the Flyers spent 19:16 - which equates to over 99% of an entire 20 minute period - on the man advantage. Not too shabby.
* The Flyers played smart 5-on-5 hockey:
By the middle of the 2nd period, the game was mostly over at 4-2. Mike Knuble sealed the deal with his 9th of the year and the team took a 5-2 lead into the room to start the 3rd period. His powerplay goal was the first of four straight, as the Pens game unglued in the 3rd period and committed 16 penalties. While the Flyers had penalties too, they were all concurrent after the 1st period and led to no further man down situations. Moreover, the Flyers played phenominal 5-on-5 hockey. The Pens went 0-13 on even strength situations, which illuminates what a great job the backchecking forwards did in supporting strong positional defense and good goalie play. An outstanding effort also occurred in maintaining proper spacing to reduce the potential for Sid et al. to slip behind the defenders for an easy scoring chance.
* The Kids are Alright
One of my favorite albums also describes the ridiculous job that the Flyers' young guns did against a dangerous Penguins team playing in a Divisional game. Senior Statesman Mike Knuble's 9th of the year was the only goal scored by someone over the age of 26. Ok, I officially feel old, since Mike Knuble is only 35.
Joffrey Lupul stole the show with three goals and three assists for the first six point night for a Flyers since #88 did it in 1997 against Toronto. Bet someone in the Oilers organization was looking at Joni Pitkanen's 7 points and wondering what the hell they were thinking.
Not to be outdone, pre-season trade bait and linemate of Joffrey Lupul, R.J. Umberger came up huge with his 4th, 5th and 6th goals of the year to go along with two assists. Both Lupul and Umberger had two even strength and one powerplay goal to fuel their career nights. The fact that it has been since 1986, when Timmy Kerr (my #2 all-time favorite Flyer behind only Pele Lindbergh) and Captain Extrordinaire Dave Poulin had dual-hat tricks in a game, still amazes me given the talented players to wear the Orange and Black during those 21 years. What a night!
Mr Everything (you know...#18) had three assists to go with the two hat tricks by Lupul and Umberger. This offensive barrage, by a line intended to shut down Crosby, gave the line of Lupul - Richards - Umberger 14 points for the evening. Oh, and Sid Crosby had zero goals and two assists.
Note to Mr. Crosby, who continues to whine like a schoolgirl, just take a look at how Mike Richards plays and you just might learn something and be respected for more than just your considerable God-given talent.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Braydon Coburn's 2nd of the year. How refreshing it is to see a young Flyers' defenseman coming in off the point on the PP and blast a shot home from inside the circle. The future is so bright for this kid it is just fun to watch him play.
* Goalie play:
Marty Biron had a strong game in not giving up any even strength goals. The two that he gave up on the PP were acceptable, considering he was run at, tripped and nearly plowed over by a player, that if he were a Flyer, would have been suspended for 6 games. Biron got his 3rd win in three tries versus the Penguins this year and kept his composure at all times - even when getting run over by NHL player-x, Georges Laraque.
OK...enough about what went right. Now let's talk about what went wrong.
Straight from "The Bad" to "The Ugly":
Not only were there many calls missed on both sides, but the Refs permitted some behavior that is sure to have potentially dangerous repercussions in the January 24th game
(which Blueline and I are going to take in). I am speaking of the two attempts against Marty Biron: one by Sid Crosby
to hook Biron's skates as #87 went behind the net; and the second, and far more repugnant act
, of NHL player-x Georges Laraque
performing a ridiculously ill-conceived, pathetically executed "pretend" loss of an edge, that happened to look much like a takeout slide at the front end of a doubleplay, right into the legs of Marty Biron. It was lucky that this 6'3", 243 pound, gutless wonder did not seriously injure the Flyers netminder as retaliation for calling for Crosby to come back for another piece of him after he was tripped by the whining superstar.
Chippy is one thing. Fighting is part of the game. Rough stuff is to be expected with certain teams and individuals. But one thing that has always been sacrosanct is the notion that the goalie is "somewhat" protected from the rough stuff and that he is not to be intentionally injured in any way, shape or form because he is vulnerable. Apparently, Laraque missed the memo on that one.
I am also categorically certain that the Flyers did not miss that one and that Mr. Laraque had better have his head on a swivel in January.
Moreover, the question that has likely popped into the head of every Flyers fan is "what if that were Ben Eager that took a deliberate and malicious slide-tackle into Dany Sabourin?" What would the announcers (who were horrible) say? What would the hockey and non-hockey "media" say? I bet there would be an uproar of biblical
proportions - swarms of locusts, seas turning to blood, David Hasselhoff going back on tour...that kind of stuff.
Seriously though, I would bet the ranch that the headlines would read "Another Broad Street Bullying" and the media would be shouting from their ivory towers that the Flyers are "out of control." The Lord of Discipline, Colin Campbell, would be pressured to make another example out of the player, the team and the ownership of the Flyers. I can almost hear it now.
But wait...it wasn't one of those fly-off-at-the-handle, rogue Flyer players. It wasn't one of those out of control freaks wearing Orange and Black. It was JUST
a Penguin...call off the press conference, hold the phone, stop the presses, tell the anchors with the perfect teeth and the wind-tunnel-tested hair to go home. No story here.
I was being a little tongue-and-cheek there, but the point remains valid. If a Flyer player had done the same thing that Georges Laraque did, there would be folks calling for that Flyer player's head on a silver platter Salome style (a la John the Baptist). Why are those same people NOT calling for Georges' head? (or the head of Michel Therrien who ordered the "code red" on Biron)
Is it because the infraction was any less wrong? No. Did the league or media see some other version that looked less heinous, less attempting to injure, less executed with malice aforethought? I doubt it.
Then why the non-reaction? Is it not a story when a player commits a caught-red-handed, intent to injure play on a goalie? Unless there is no story. I hate to sound like a wild-conspiracy theorist, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, perhaps it is a duck on skates. Perhaps, if that duck wore Orange and Black there might be a story worth getting in a lather over.
Yes the game was out of hand and the Pens were frustrated. Yes the Pens were looking for payback. Yes the earlier play between Biron and Crosby and the words that followed were material to the action of Georges Laraque. But what Laraque did was still wrong
and he should be painted with the same brush that the Flyers have been in the recent past. If he is not, then there are two sets of standards - one for the Flyers and one for everyone else. If that were to actually be the truth of the matter, then I would be deeply saddened and have lost a lot of faith in the people charged with protecting the game that we all love.
Am I out in left field? Maybe. If I am, then so be it.
But...if I am not. What then?
You be the judge...