Monday, March 29, 2010

Strong Effort Key to Flyers Victory over Devils

By: Tim Brennan

For the Flyers, the Olympic break wasn't necessarily the best thing to help out their playoff aspirations. They have struggled mightily, posting a mediocre 5-7-3 record since the NHLers went to Vancouver. The combination of no effort and determination to win games and solidify a playoff spot has taken its toll on the Flyers. Although they have faced a couple uphill battles, such as the matchup against Ottawa (see my article about that below) and a recent game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins which had a goal disallowed, a blatant throwing of the stick by Marc-Andre Fleury at Claude Giroux on a breakaway which should have been a penalty, and a missed penalty call on Matt Cooke that led to the Penguins third goal scored by Cooke.

Aside from these two games, the Flyers haven't showed enough and have too many problems at a time when they need to bring a solid effort night in and night out. They took it to the Minnesota Wild last week by getting two quick goals in the beginning of the game to establish momentum. Then, like most of the recent games, the Flyers led their guard down in the third period, opening the floodgates for the Wild to get right back into the game. The Wild scored two in the third after trailing 3-1 and forced an overtime session. The Flyers crumbled and fell apart during the latter part of that game and it continued into the overtime as Kyle Brodziak beat Brian Boucher when Boucher's attempt at making a save landed the puck into the net.

The Flyers needed a huge change in attitude and philosophy to break out of this current funk they've been in and the perfect opportunity was a battle against their division rival, the New Jersey Devils. This is the same Devils team that the Flyers have dominated all season long and it shows in their record (4-1) against New Jersey. The only possible outcome for the Flyers was for a win to keep themselves ahead of the Thrashers and Rangers who were nipping at their heels.

Something that was apparent from the opening faceoff was a hunger and determination by the Flyers to bury the Devils. This element led to an early goal from the stick of Matt Carle, who had missed two games with a bruised foot. Arron Asham started the play when he dangled the puck through Colin White and passed off to a breaking Scott Hartnell whose one touch pass to Carle gave him the lane to fire it through Martin Broduer's arm and in. A game between division rivals always stirs up animosity as Ian Laperriere and David Clarkson dropped the gloves and went at it after Clarkson bugged the Flyers top forwards. The Flyers went up 2-0 after strong work along the boards led to Daniel Briere's pass opportunity that was deflected by a Devil and landed on the stick of Ville Leino who subsequently added to the Flyers lead.

After a bad penalty taken by Devils forward Pierre-Luc Leblond, the Flyers capitalized on the powerplay just 45 seconds into the second stanza as Kimmo Timonen fired a slapshot to the far side of the net, clanking off the post and in. The defense continued this scoring trend when Lukas Krajicek fired a shot from the point that got past Brodeur and completely shattering his confidence with 40 seconds left.

As a result of the Flyers scoring onslaught, Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire replaced Brodeur with Yann Danis to start the third. For an instance, both teams seemed to neutralize each others chances until Ilya Kovalchuk broke Brian Boucher's shutout bid at 10:20. Like most of Kovalchuk's goals, he received a slow pass that led to a one timer that was too quick for the goalie to catch up to. Any momentum that the Devils could have gotten from that goal was snuffed out when the Flyers hot hand, Simon Gagne, scored 32 seconds after Kovalchuk. The frustration of the Devils exploded when Pierre-Luc Leblond and Arron Asham came together to exchange pleasantries and shortly after, Clarkson challenging Dan Carcillo to a fight. Both got their sticks up high and as a result, Carcillo cut Clarkson with his stick, leading to a match penalty and now a two game suspension. The Flyers established themselves superior in their matchup against the Devils this season, picking up a 5-1 win and a 5-1 record against them for the year.

One of the many areas that stood out throughout the course of this contest was the Flyers penalty kill. The incredible play of Blair Betts and especially Ian Laperriere helped the Flyers cause when they fell into penalty trouble during the second period. Laperriere was throwing his body into every shot and wouldn't allow the Devils defense to set up by relentlessly forechecking them. Even the defense provided a strong presence throughout as three defenders scored goals and a few gave the Flyers strong efforts on the defensive side of the puck. Flyers forward Simon Gagne continued his success during the month of March and has been a steady influence on the team during this skid. The finesse player has even provided a physical presence in recent games and has thrived under the spotlight.

The Flyers take on the Islanders tonight and look to continue giving effort and bringing a sense of urgency to keep their playoff hopes alive and well.

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