Monday, May 12, 2008

Enough With the Defense

Following on last week’s theme of soul-sucking ennui at the loss of Kimmo Timonen, the other half of the duo, Braydon Coburn, immediately went down at the start of Game Two after taking a puck to the face that required fifty stitches. I mean, come on now.

What can you do? Dress Gauthier? Don't laugh, I bet they considered it. The remnants of the Flyers defense- your new top pair Hatcher and Jones!- probably played their best collective game of the season. The Flyers pulled their horns in, kept the wingers back protecting the AHL level characters forced to dress on defense, lured the Penguins into a turgid pace. It was very very 1990’s New Jersey Devils. Philadelphia played hard, heady- got a break on the disallowed goal, cashed in their chance short handed on Pittsburgh’s blunder. They successfully played the proverbial tight road game against the better team- where the team hockey outfit doesn’t win, but the team with fewer errors, better goaltending, wins.

Philadelphia almost pulled it off. That first ten minutes of the third period probably was their chance to make a competitive series- get a goal there, win that game, and this is a series rather than a coronation of the “official” NHL’s new fave team.

But, well, Marty Biron isn’t enough to win that sort of game. He’s good, very admirable, right now. But he’s not great- and last night was proof. The Flyers did enough to force overtime or win- but only with great goaltending. Frankly, this mistake-free, good goaltending, formula isn’t the Flyers’ normal approach- which is exchange chances outside the opponents top line, get to three plus goals first- because they just don’t trust their collective play inside their own blue line.

For all the plaudits, in these fourteen play-off games, Biron has allowed one goal or fewer only once. He stole one game- Game 2 in Washington. That is it. He’s been touched for seven goals in the last pair. He’s a journeyman having a good month- not a Parent figure capable of glory under duress. Forget stealing a series because of Biron, try winning just a game here.

And let’s face it, that game was a celebration of the new NHL. The Flyers grit and determination and work counted for little. But it was dream game for the new NHL: five goals, four on special teams, a real complete contest of power plays and shorthanded play. The Penguins were given six power plays through the first forty-two minutes, not one that was significant foul on a scoring chance. The crucial season defining aforementioned ten minutes was kicked off by a ridiculously marginal call on Briere for goaltender interference.

Even the announcers were saddened at Hatcher’s hook on Malkin- a call they referred to charitably as “marginal”, as opposed to utter horsebleep. If you were honest, their tone was almost resigned. I’m honestly trying to not complain. I mean, I get it. The Flyers, like everyone else, were informed the NHL was real serious about calling these sort of NBA-style touch fouls on talented guys carrying the puck. Hatcher probably stars in the movie about “what to call” that NHL officials are shown. But after last night, stop telling me the NHL is about grit and tough. It is about recruiting defensemen who won’t touch Malkin.

And I suppose that is just it. There is no doubt what team imposed their will, drove the tempo, which team played harder, was smart. Again, Biron was good. But it wasn’t enough. That is the hard thing about it- that is probably the Flyers A-game sans the top two defensemen. And they still trailed the whole game, needing a bad Penguins error and a big break to be competitive.

I suppose you’re never dead in a short series until you lose a home game- but it appears Coburn is out for Tuesday? With this crew of defensemen; I don’t think matching up really helps- I mean, we’re trying to protect everybody. I guess they might get Breire away from Malkin and end that horrendous match-up. They’re at home, they’re a bunch that tries hard- but I think they’ll be doing great to get a split.