Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We Got Trouble

A re-occuring feature of this blog is an opportunity to ask the wise Mr. B (the sage plush toy pictured just right) any question concerning the future. Today's question: facing Game Seven, what is up with the Flyers?

Well, we got trouble. Hard to feel good about a team that allows an opponent to waltz in their building and score four straight unanswered goals? The Capitals have played with real “want to” the last three outings. The Flyers have three weaknesses- and Washington has increasingly exploited them. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, this rabbit thinks they’re better than Philadelphia.

I don’t want to kill Briere and Prospal. Well, okay, I want to. Look, I understand they’ve scored goals and are the only sense of consistent pulse on the power play. But jeez'em crow, I would chain them to the bench when protecting a multiple goal lead- or any lead in the third period. They aren’t just bad defensively, they’re horrid.

Which brings us to our discussion of the aforementioned Flyers’ three areas of concern. Flyers’ weakness number one this season has been the horrendous goal differential of the Flyers’ first line at five-on-five. The plus/minus of Briere of -22 is consistent bad news. He only has 17 goals at even strength. And he takes a minor penalty every other game. He can fly and he has skill- but inside their own blue line the first line is so physically weak on and off the puck. It is a nightmare. Both Briere and Prospal were minus three last night. Can’t have that-the first line has a lot of nights were they flat out give up more than they get.

I have down on the Flyers (ed note. wrongly- they made the play-offs)- and my angst started with weakness number two. Biron is not a plus goaltender in the NHL. He is barely average.

Okay, I've said it. In these games with Washington, he is more likely to allow four goals than one. His save percentage stinks. The more he is asked to play, the worse Biron is (0-5 in back-to-back games- and every slump he has is fueled by his workload). Since Pelle Lindbergh died, the Flyers have had two seasons- the years Hextall took them to the Cup Finals versus Edmonton and Detroit- where their goal-tending was above average in the play-offs. It is an institutional cancer in Philadelphia. As long as Biron as the number one goalie in Philadelphia, a serious Cup run seems impossible.

Of course, this is compounded by the Flyers’ weak overall defensemen- problem area number three. No two-goal lead has been safe with these characters all year- and it ain’t changing now. As the series has evolved, the Caps have gambled a little more in the neutral zone on defense to generate turnovers and been more passive on offense: just get the puck into the Flyers’ zone. Anything to create any semblance of pressure on the Flyers defense to get the puck, handle the puck, do something positive with the puck. The Flyers aren’t dumb on defense- just not very good. Every guy has a flaw: don’t scare you carrying the puck, weak on the puck, slow. It is hard to tell a team nursing a two goal lead to not be reactive on defense- to keep pinching, etc.- but the Flyers just aren’t a team that can count on competence with this crew and their top line of defensive liabilities.

What does it mean? It means real trouble. The series has proved that when Washington is engaged, committed to paying the price of winning in the NHL play-offs, they are two goals better than Philadelphia.

The Flyers deserve credit to forcing a team that is better than them to a one-and-done situation. They have the proverbial punchers chance- get that early goal that gives them a chance to get lucky late. Maybe Washington will relax tonight- fat and happy after their two solid wins. Desperation is the biggest intangible in pro-sports- and the Flyers will have that mojo tonight.

But this morning, I’m pessimistic. They have a chance, but it is a dependent one. They need help from Washington, some luck too. And Biron has to have a great game in spite of all contrary evidence. This is a game where having a goalie who can reasonably expect to play a game and allow two goals would really help. Something you could count on. That just isn’t Biron- but maybe they’ll get lucky.