USA Wins World Juniors; Flyers Return to Form
January 10, 2010 by Big Tony
First off I have to take this time to congratulate the Team USA U-20 squad on winning the World Junior Championship over Canada in one of the best games I’ve ever seen at any level. The flow of the game was back and forth the whole time with Canada wiping away a two-goal Team USA lead in the final three minutes of regulation before Team USA took the 6-5 win in overtime. Canada once again had an incredibly talented team and for the second year in a row had the home crowd behind them but Team USA did not let that effect their level of focus and that is to be greatly respected. So congrats to both teams on an incredible game and hopefully it is a prelude to what we will see in Vancouver in February.
Refocusing on NHL news this is the perfect time to welcome the Philadelphia Flyers back to the contenders table. I’ve been particularly critical of this team thus far because they had way too much talent to be playing so poorly. Michael Leighton has provided some much needed stability for them in net posting a 7-0-0 record with an astounding 2.14 GAA; any team with a netminder playing like that has a chance to win every night. The rest of the team has uped their level of play as well but tactics and strategy do not explain why the Flyers have all-of-a-sudden returned to respectability. In a game against Pittsburgh last week the Flyers defeated the Penguins 7-4; throughout the game there were many opportunities that the old Flyers would have taken to win the “battle of the tough guys” causing their team precious penalty minutes in the process and ultimately losing the game. But these new Flyers kept their cool, stayed focus on the real task at hand and that was winning the game on the scoreboard. It’s a fundamental change that should be credited to Peter Laviolette as well as the on-ice leadership of the Flyers. If they keep their focus (while managing to stay healthy) and continue to get decent goaltending the Flyers will not be a team people want to play down the stretch and into the playoffs.
On the flipside are three teams who haven’t played well and do not seem likely to turn things around anytime soon; those teams are the Carolina Hurricanes (not much to say about them, they are embarrassingly bad in every way), St. Louis Blues, and Columbus Blue Jackets. All three teams made it to the playoffs last year and were expecting big things this year but so far have flopped. St. Louis may be the most intriguing of these teams because they actually have a very good road record at 12-5-4 but are terrible at home going 6-14-3. Traditionally in hockey it is a little “easier” play games on the road because players worry about getting and protecting leads rather than entertaining the fans but in the case of St. Louis it is pretty extreme. Perhaps their new coach can inspire them to translate their road game play into a few extra home wins but for the moment their home performance and overall record as a result are embarrassing. St. Louis is much too talented to be in such a big hole at this point in the season.
As for Columbus what’s happening to them is what many people feared might prior to the season—that is that Steve Mason would not be able to play up to the level he did last year and the team would suffer as a result—that has come to fruition. Mason’s GAA is a deplorable 3.31 and while there is plenty of blame to go on the defense in front of him the team is built to basically rely on Mason night in and night out. Maybe it is unfair to place so much blame on Mason but that is the situation the powers that be in Columbus have structured the team that way. It isn’t that their plan all along was to have Mason be the cornerstone of the team, but with how he performed last year management seemed to make the determination that they would make him that piece and did little to sure up their defense. So either Mason (or Garon) step it up or Columbus will be a lost cause until they get better defensemen and defensive forwards.