Monday, April 14, 2008

Did Ovechkin Even Play Yesterday?

Some not so bad hockey played between Philadelphia and Washington this weekend. The United States' version of the Swedish Elite League certainly picks up the play come April. At the very least, the North American players look engaged again.

Vis-à-vis the Flyers, while it is a big disappointing to take a pair of two-goal leads into the third period- and come out with only one win, the Flyers got their needed road win in this match-up with the Capitals.

Jeez- but these are teams with flaws. Maybe not Toronto or Tampa Bay-sized flaws, but still... Watching the Flyers defense melt down in the third period of Game 1, it is hard to have sustained confidence in that unit. Heck, as inopportune as Washington’s offense was in Game 2, there were still very long periods where the Flyers ran around inside their blueline for sustained periods.

And Washington is so dependent on their ability to counter-punch. The Flyers seem to be able to control play along the dashers with their second, third and fourth line for long stretches- and they win all the face-offs. Makes it hard for Washington to generate offense- thus the repeated long stretches without shots and chances. The Caps are sort of like the Iverson-era Sixers. There are some good role players, but for juice they need the other team to help them or the stars (Ovechkin/Green) to do something. For a high-scoring team, they’re kinda passive.

Still, the weekend was a net plus for Philadelphia for two reasons. First, I know the chic thinking in the NHL is to dismiss “home ice” advantage. Well, some think that- but Vegas (and I) do not. I do know Washington was a Vegas favorite for both Game 1 and 2- and will not be for Game 3 and 4. Even if the Flyers split these home games, they’ve probably forced the series deep, compelled Washington to probably have to win a Game 6 or 7 (come on Hatcher!). And, that is what an underdog wants, right? Philadelphia wants to play a best-of-three, not best-of-seven. And as I wrote in the preview: the longer the series, the more the Flyers genuine up-front depth has to play a positive factor.

Second, the shut out has to help. The play-offs go right by you, real quick. A one-game scoring slump gets to be a two-game, three-game super-problematic slump right quick. I mean, the Flyers went two periods yesterday without a goal, and Biron/Prospal went all three- and there is already yammering in Philadelphia about scoring.

I dunno; I got the feeling a times Washington was already starting to press, to look for the perfect play on offense: six shots in the third period? none in the final seven minutes? Plus, these endless one-minute plus shifts for Ovechkin. Just stupid, no one other than Jagr can play fifteen of those- no wonder Alex was a non-factor late. And going on the road, confidence in your ability to put the puck in the net won’t grow easily. For one, Ovechkin figures to see more Timonen, and that staggering courage for a Finn- not less.

I also think, counterintuitively, the Flyers indirectly helped themselves with those four first period minors. Again, if they’re not taking a few obstruction/dirty/running into Huet penalties, they’re not being aggressive enough. Early in games, “Hartnell for cross-checking”, is not a total loss. The Flyers need aggression. Washington has more skill; Philadelphia needs more calculated violence, ill-humor. No whistles without scrums.

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