It was a tumultuous week in South Philadelphia for the orange and black. Following a disheartening loss to Anaheim, General Manager Paul Holmgren followed through on his promise to hold the players accountable for their performance on the ice and record in the standings.
On Thursday, the Flyers traded Max Talbot to the Colorado Avalanche for Steve Downie, who was the Flyers first round selection (29th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. On the surface it just seemed like more of the same. The “inbred” Flyers bringing back another one of their own and another “tough guy” (the organization calls it character players) to boot. However, once you start peeling back the layers, there is reason that this deal made sense.
Downie gives the Flyers some much need breathing room on their salary cap and he is up for free agency and the end of this season. If it doesn’t work out the second time around, the Flyers free up even more cap room come the off-season. In addition, despite his somewhat unruly play, Downie has performed well on the top lines of both Tampa Bay and Colorado. In the long run, he may be able to help Claude Giroux out of his scoring funk by creating time and space on the ice for the Flyers franchise player. Turns out though, the immediate impact was just more of the same.
Friday night’s 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals saw the Flyers take a monumental step backward as they try to climb out of their early season hole. The game was highlighted by a “Slap Shot” like brawl that included Flyers goaltender, Ray Emery, skating the length of the ice to take on his Capitals counterpart, an unwilling participant in Braden Holtby. The skirmish even has league officials looking into whether or not there should be a more severe form of punishment for goaltenders leaving the crease to engage one another in fisticuffs.
Management, while not condoning the behavior of the players on the ice, took the opportunity to acknowledge the players passion and frustration at their situation. Both in the game and on the season. On the outside, it just sounded like vindication for not having to change the culture of the franchise. For his role, newly acquired Steve Downie was injured during a fight earlier in the night and was taken to Pennsylvania hospital for further evaluation, which turned out to be a concussion. He is out indefinitely. The Flyers also lost Vincent Lecavalier who was injured during the third period melee. The injury has been identified as a facial contusion.
If the Flyers thought that they hit rock bottom on Friday night, then they must have felt as if the climb back up was lined with oil as they had a date on the following night with the New Jersey Devils in Newark. North Jersey, whether the swamps of the Meadowlands or the pristine Prudential Center, has not been kind to the Flyers over the years.
On a night where they needed a bounce-back performance in the worst way, the Flyers got just what they needed. The Flyers came out and beat the Devils at their own game. Scoring early, playing suffocating defense, and hanging on for a 1-0 victory that was more of a statement on their dedication to a system than it was a continuation of their offensive woes. The Flyers did not commit a single turnover in the game. They held New Jersey to just 14 shots. It wasn’t perfect. In fact, it wasn’t even pretty. In the end the Flyers got exactly what they came for, a soundly played hockey game and a precious two points.
With the two points and one of the few 60 minute efforts of the season in hand, the Flyers turned their attention to a stretch of games that had fans and pundits alike thinking they could take advantage of some weak opponents to leapfrog over a few teams and back into the upper echelon of the under-performing Metropolitan Division. The team arrived in Carolina to face a Hurricanes team in the midst of a five game losing streak and who is missing some key players, including goaltender Cam Ward. The Flyers finally broke a scoreless third period tie when Scott Hartnell deflected a shot from the point to give the Flyers a late 1-0 lead. It was Hartnell’s first goal of the season.
The Flyers had put on a similar defensive clinic in Carolina as they had in North Jersey over the weekend. But a missed defensive assignment and a turnover lead to the tying and winning goals. The Flyers had dropped a game they needed. They had given away a game they had fought hard to win.
The Flyers have two more chances to take advantage of playing some of the weaker teams in the league. The struggling Devils make their first trip to Philadelphia on Thursday and the the Flyers welcome the worst team in the league, the Edmonton Oilers, for a Saturday matinee. Lastly they will play an Ottawa team that has had it’s struggles.
By the end of next week we should know whether or not we need to change our philosophy regarding this team. Are they a good team that is struggling and finding their way back? Or, are they a bad team? If it’s the former, they should win their next two games, at least. If it’s the latter, then Flyers fans are in for a long season.
On The Fly:
- Scott Hartnell has one goal this season, and he has gone an astonishing 36 games without an assist. Is it time to consider moving him off of the top line?
- The Flyers have recalled Chris Newberry and loaned Tye McGinn to the Phantoms.
- Steve Downie (concussion) skated yesterday and continues to be listed as day to day.
- The Flyers continue to struggle offensively. The recorded more than two goals only once this season (five vs. NYI on 10/26). The Flyers have scored 21 goals on the season. To put that number in perspective, including beating the Flyers 7-0 last Friday, The Washington Capitals have scored 16 goals in their last three games.