Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NHL Vendetta against Flyers Continues as Senators Come Up Victorious

By: Tim Brennan

It's not everyday that someone says that the National Hockey League has a bias against a certain team but I'm really starting to think that the NHL has a serious problem with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The team affectionately known as the "Broad Street Bullies" tends to get a bad rep from those who watch the NHL, calling them anything from goons to bruisers who have no skills. During the 2007-08 season, five different Flyers players were suspended for a grand total of 32 games combined, with Steve Downie serving a month ban in the American Hockey League. I am not saying in any sense of the word that all those suspensions were wrong but that a couple weren't suspension worthy. Steve Downie, Jesse Boulerice and Scott Hartnell definitely needed to be banned for their blatant cheapshots but Randy Jones and Riley Cote were unfairly punished. The now famous boarding incident where Randy Jones hit Patrice Bergeron, leading to Bergeron's serious concussion knocking him out for the rest of the season. The hit was vicious but you can't blame Jones for what transpired because Bergeron looked back to get position and knew Jones was there so they can both be fault there. Riley Cote's suspension was only handed out because of his reputation as a fighter and not much of a hockey player.

Aside from the slew of suspensions, the Flyers were robbed of a goal during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 7th. The Flyers ended up winning the game 7-4 but the league fumbled the ball again when they declared a no goal on a play where Flyers left winger Simon Gagne stuffed the puck past Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. The puck crept over the line and Johnson used his leg pad to push the puck back over the line as if he made the save. The only media outlet that had angles on the play was Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh. When the referees decided that the war room in Toronto needed to sort things out, FSN Pittsburgh sent all the angles to Toronto, except for the one that clearly showed the puck over the line. The war room disallowed the goal and the result was a full on investigation by the NHL into this event, which led to a worker for FSN Pittsburgh being fired and fined.

Flash forward to Tuesday night when the Flyers went to take on the Ottawa Senators. The Flyers received three weak penalty calls in the first period, including one call on Mike Richards for holding when he went to poke-check the puck off of an opposing player and missed on a hit attempt, resulting in the penalty. The Senators would get on the board first, like almost every team that faces the Flyers, when Chris Kelly scored on a 2-on-1 with a laser over Brian Boucher's left shoulder. Danny Briere's selfish play led to the goal when he tried an open ice hit on Jarkko Ruutu but missed and Ruutu's pass to Kelly led to the odd man chance.

The referees continued to miss penalties throughout the game including a certain stretch where the play returned to the old NHL. Every time a Flyers forward would try to go around a Senators defender, the clutch and grab came into effect, slowing down the Flyers and leading to less scoring chances. Chris Phillips and Andy Sutton were guilty of these plays all game long, but were only called once.

The breaking point in this game was a simple play by a Flyers forward that almost turned into another concussion and possible career threatening injury that wasn't called and then the subsequent play led to a goal for the opposing team. The play started when Simon Gagne received a pass at center ice while facing the boards. Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov came in and decided to throw a bodycheck, but Gagne's back was to him but he still followed through, resulting in Gagne being viciously thrown into the boards head first. Gagne stayed down for a little bit and the Flyers were looking for a penalty, which never came even though the referee was right there when it happened. The Senators took the puck down where Daniel Alfredsson buried his opportunity for his 18th goal of the season to make it 2-0 Ottawa. When the puck hit the back of the net, Gagne snapped and grabbed Volchenkov and starting throwing punches.

I give Gagne a lot of credit for sticking up for himself after being drilled from behind when he was in a vulnerable position. The most ridiculous thing about this was not only was there no call on the play, but that Gagne was given four penalties on the play and Volchenkov only one. If the officials had a normal functioning brain, they would have called Volchenkov for a five minute major for boarding and slapped him with intent to injure. The penalties that were assessed to Gagne weren't even logical ones, like five minutes for fighting when Volchenkov didn't drop the gloves so it wasn't a fight and not one, but two instigator penalties which makes no sense whatsoever. The result wouldn't have happened had they made the initial call on Volchenkov in the first place.

The Flyers sat back and didn't take it to Volchenkov after his gutless play, which is unacceptable. Scott Hartnell exchanged pleasantries with Volchenkov in front of the net but nobody challenged Volchenkov to a fight and the Flyers really didn't respond in the way that fans would expect.

Then another play came under fire when Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk shot the puck off of the back of Brian Elliot's leg, which dribbled over to Kimmo Timonen, who shot it in between his legs facing the wrong direction where the puck slid under Anton Volchenkov's shin pad and across the line before Volchenkov shoveled it out with his glove. An extensive review ensued and finally the decision was made: no goal. Several angles showed the puck clearly over the line, with one side angle showing some white between the puck and the goal line and an overhead view showed the puck over before Volchenkov swatted it out of the net.

So what can we conclude from all of this?

Volchenkov made a gutless move in drilling Gagne into the boards from behind and got away with it. The Flyers scored a goal to make it 2-1 but it ended up getting thrown out the window, leading to another shutout for the Senators and Brian Elliot. All of this courtesy of the fine folks of the National Hockey League.

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