Monday, March 22, 2010

Flyers Get Thrashed in Home and Home Matchup

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers haven't been playing up to par in the games since the Olympic break, which is a problem for an Eastern Conference team because of the close playoff races that we see year in and year out in the East. The Flyers suffered a couple of loses at the hands of the New York Rangers and Nashville Predators before regrouping and picking up a win against the Dallas Stars. The only way for the Flyers to stay near the top of the conference was to pick up a possible four points in a home and home series versus the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that the Flyers have enjoyed much success against except for this season.

The result? No points and the security of a playoff spot slowly fading.

The first game, that took place at the somewhat empty Phillips Arena, was one that the Flyers never had a chance at gaining any momentum for a victory. After a tussle with Mike Richards near the benches, Jim Slater dropped the gloves with Dan Carcillo 39 seconds into the game. There is no way that any team would gain momentum off of this donnybrook after both players fell several times just trying to stand up and throw a few punches. Then the Thrashers set the tempo early with a goal just a minute and 48 seconds into the contest off the stick of Niclas Bergfors, one of a few coming over from New Jersey in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. Colby Armstrong added another for the Thrashers, making it 2-0 after just over five minutes into the game. Dan Carcillo got on the board by tipping in a Chris Pronger slapshot from the point to make it 2-1.

The Thrashers would continue their domination in the 2nd period as they held the Flyers to only three shots while firing eleven of their own. Nik Antropov pushed the Thrashers lead by two goals after one timing a pass from Niclas Bergfors. Shortly there after, Flyers center Blair Betts sent a shot on net that squeezed through goalie Johan Hedberg to make it 3-2. The third period belonged to the Flyers, but was won by the Thrashers after two goals from Bryan Little and Colby Armstrong gave them the resounding 5-2 win.

The two major contributors in this game were goaltender Johan Hedberg and forward Jim Slater. Hedberg stood on his head for the majority of this game, which included having to make 15 saves in the third when the Flyers tried a comeback. Jim Slater wasn't even a steady contributor to this team, heck he had a hard time making the roster in the beginning of the season. What made him a difference in Game 1 was his willingness to get involved physically and pestered the Flyers top players all night. Some of the odd man chances that the Thrashers gained throughout were because of a Flyers player going out of their way to hit Slater or try to instigate a fight. The Thrashers looked like the hungrier team during the course of the game, creating odd man chances with their speed and agility and provided more physicality than the Flyers from players such as Slater, Evgeny Artyukhin and Eric Boulton.

So after an effort that wasn't all that good to start out with you would think the Flyers would reshape their gameplan and be ready to take away the Thrashers chance of a season series sweep in Philadelphia, right?

The Flyers made some changes to their roster before the start of the game, taking out Ville Leino and Lukas Krajicek and replacing them with Arron Asham and Oskars Bartulis. Coach Peter Laviolette also shuffled the lines a bit, changing around a few players on the forward lines and pairing Braydon Coburn with Kimmo Timonen. All these changes didn't help the Flyers chances as the Thrashers struck first again two minutes and four seconds in. The Flyers have a horrendous goals for/goals against in the first period of games since the Olympic break and the Thrashers continued to help that stat. Ron Hainsey snuck in from the point to fire one past Brian Boucher for the first goal and Todd White added another first period tally on an odd man rush.

The second period had plenty to offer, with tons of physical play and the tremendous play of Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who ended the game with 44 saves. The Flyers showed some urgency during the latter part of the game as they continued to pile on the shots, tying this season high for shots in a game with 45. The physical part of the game turned it's head when Scott Hartnell and Jim Slater (go figure) went at it to give the Flyers some momentum. The Flyers had a hard time figuring out Pavelec until captain Mike Richards received a pass from Matt Carle to put it within one goal at 11:56. Atlanta took control of things once again when Rich Peverley fired a low shot past Boucher with a little over 3 minutes left. The Thrashers would prevail with a 3-1 victory and a season series sweep of the Flyers, which has never happened in the history of the team.

Both of these games were clear examples of how the Flyers have been playing since the Olympic break and have been painful to watch. This Flyers team gets behind early on, tries to battle back but doesn't put in a full effort and gives the other team too many odd man rushes and point blank opportunities. Yes, the Flyers have had some wins during this stretch but most of those were simply because they were able to get a late goal just to keep the game interesting.

Two glaring problems are in net, where Brian Boucher has struggled for the majority of the season and has been letting in some bad goals, which doesn't help the Flyers chances when they can't get quality goaltending. Boucher will have to play out the rest of the year due to Michael Leighton's season ending high ankle sprain. The other would be the defense who has been terrible in front of Boucher and hasn't given him much help to clear the crease. The worst of the bunch has to be Ryan Parent and Braydon Coburn who are absolute turnstiles and couldn't defend an infant on skates. The megastar Chris Pronger hasn't fared much better and his partner Matt Carle continues to try too much that leads to turnovers. The Flyers steady force on the backend, Kimmo Timonen, hasn't played like he usually does and it shows in his hesitations on offensive and defensive plays.

If the Flyers are going to secure a playoff spot, they need an overall team effort and also should focus more on defensive play to limit chances.

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