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USA Wins World Juniors; Flyers Return to Form

January 10, 2010 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

USA Juniors win 300x203 USA Wins World Juniors; Flyers Return to Form
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.

Winter Classic Ruined by Philly?

December 29, 2009 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

flyers give up goal Winter Classic Ruined by Philly?
The third annual Winter Classic is only days away! There is plenty of hype about the mystique of Fenway Park with its stories baseball history and coupling that with the return of hockey to its roots by playing an outdoor game. The stage will be magical, the fans excited in stadium and out, the media frenzy is on, and the players are psyched as they day gets closer. However, despite all of that there is a strong possibility that the game itself will flop big time. Although the Philadelphia Flyers have made some strides recently they still are not a very good team while Boston is pretty well put together and getting a little better as the season goes on. Philadelphia has problems that go so much deeper than just tactics and strategy; it’s rumored that some of the guys do not get along off of the ice and I tend to buy into that because it is certainly being manifested in their poor on ice play. There is no doubt that plenty of teams over the years have played well and even won championships across sports with a group of guys who do not generally get along, but it seems to run deeper than that for the Flyers. There is also the issue of the Flyers caring more about winning the fight than winning games night in and night out which also needs to be addressed down to each individual player. Perhaps they tried to fix some of their off ice issues and on ice focus by firing John Stevens and hiring Peter Laviolette but it seems unlikely that changes coaches will help that. Thus far a coaching change has made little difference despite some recent success; I think that’s true because the problems for the Flyers come down to the players respecting one another in hockey terms. There is no doubt the Flyers have a ton of talent on their team but each player has to take do what they do best every night while stepping aside in some aspects and let other players who may do something a little better to take the lead in that area. But if the players do not respect one another then they will all try to do everything on their own with complete recklessness and it results in a losing team. It is unlikely that this will be made apparent in the Winter Classic because of so many extra elements surrounding the game [or so we hope for the sake of the event] but while watching the game keep some of those things in mind and see if the Flyers have made any strides in rectifying the situation or if they show why they are currently well out of a playoff position in the East.

Hurricanes and Laviolette Part Ways

December 3, 2008 by Big Tony · Leave a Comment 

peter laviolette Hurricanes and Laviolette Part WaysESPN.com is reporting that the Carolina Hurricanes have fired Head Coach Peter Laviolette just three seasons after leading the Hurricanes to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup title. Although Laviolette led the team to the highest level possible they have missed the playoffs each of the last two years. Carolina currently stands second place in the weak Southeast division only three points behind Washington but have given up 10 more goals than they have scored thus far this season. The team’s power play has struggled mightily scoring only 12.9% of the time and have won only four of their last 10 games and once in their last five. In a strange turn of events Laviolette has apparently been replaced by Paul Maurice who Laviolette actually replaced when he was named head coach five years ago. As it stands now Carolina would be in the playoffs sitting in the 8th spot just one point ahead of Buffalo but the team clearly needs to turn a the corner. What this will mean for Carolina long-term is yet to be seen but Maurice will be tested right away as the Hurricanes welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night. Carolina has plenty of talent in Ray Whitney, Rod Brind’Amour (although he’s aging), Eric Staal, and a reliable goaltender in Cam Ward; but now that talent needs to produce wins.