The Philadelphia Flyers are giving this series away. Sure, the Penguins are doing the Playoff Triumvirate (Great goaltending, solid defense, timely scoring) very well, and the Hossa/Crosby/Dupuis line is still a monster; but the Flyers have been a joke of a hockey team two games in.
Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first. Yes, the Flyers are having injury troubles. Yes, Timonen going down out of the blue hurts, but you have to overcome injuries. Coburn getting a puck to the face is a freak thing, but maybe he could have ducked if he wasn’t worried about what size Malkin’s gloves are. (and investigating with his stick…) Having two of your best defensemen go down is rough but you have to do what it takes, even if that means starting Micheal Funk in Game Seven of the Conference Finals.
Besides, there are no excuses for an awful defensive effort when the effort is most of the problem. Playing Hatcher for over 25 minutes/game is never a good start, but you have to get a solid backcheck from the forwards in that case. Defensive responsibility is much more than with your top pairings, and when your 4th line is getting outworked with less than ten minutes to go, well, I doubt Timonen can help Steve Downie much.
There are too many players on Philly just… coasting, and when it is your “best player” leading the
charge lackadaisical skate to the blue line you can’t possibly claim to be happy with the effort. While Mike Richards is playing out of his mind on both ends, Danny Briere is completely dogging it.
I’ve never liked Richards much and I’ve certainly knocked his contract, but I’ve been very impressed with his play this postseason. The anticipation on the PK to take that Malkin pass and break down the ice was some very smart hockey. While the Crosby line was making ridiculous cross ice passes look easy, Malkin was struggling all game and forced one and Richards cashed in. While he is still a bit of a diver and talks to the refs like he is negotiating their salary for next year, you have to admire his play and how he has stepped up this year. (In many regards, he’s like Derek Roy Plus…)
Still, while Richards is shining like an oh-so-bright star, Danny Briere is playing like he wished they hung above his fluffy widdle crib. The best bias-free opinion I can give of Briere’s performance is that he is playing like a freaking pansy. That’s honestly the best I can do. He is not playing hockey at all. While Vaclav Prospal is digging in the corners and taking checks, Briere is beside the net waiting for the puck to magically drift his way. Repeat for about 20 minutes of ice time.
Now if anyone understands Briere’s game it would be a Sabres fan. We’ve seen the best and worst of his game, from before he was a superstar to when he denies he is a superstar but gets paid like one. But what makes him so good, along with an uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time, is his ability to play bigger than he is.
It’s not about taking on Zedeno Chara, it’s about working the corners and winning battles. What made our PP so good at times was when all five guys could get into a corner an win a battle, making a pass to an open man under pressure. For as many backdoor goals he scored with the man advantage, he and Roy could set up countless more with a blind pass from the end boards or by overpowering a 6 foot defenseman.
Briere isn’t doing that, and when you couple this complete absence of tenacity with his incessant diving and trying to draw penalties you get a waste of a roster spot. Danny Briere hasn’t been playing like a franchise player, and when you are having trouble on the back end, you can’t afford not to have great forward play. When was the last time you saw Briere backcheck in a Sabres uniform, let alone in orange and black?
This isn’t a vindictive post against a former player. I don’t hate Danny Briere, but right now I hate his game. He is playing like a joke, and it’s embarrassing to watch. Yes, he took a butt end from Malkin. Yes, he was forced into Fleury on the penalty call. But when you spend your other 18 minutes on ice stationary or flopping to the ground like a wounded elk, do you really expect calls to go your way?
The Flyers’ offensive gameplan is a mess. They have no working entry method, and no one seems willing to get the puck deep and take a hit to set up the zone. It may not be the answer, but when nothing else seems to be working the Flyers don’t seem willing to change. Biron is playing pretty well, but when you can’t get the puck past the other blue line it’s only a matter of time before the Pens hit the back of the net.
Tonight it may be a completely different team. Briere may decide to show up, the crowd may get all vengeance-y and may be into it. But after that first ten minutes, if the score is still tied, what do the Flyers do? Dallas hasn’t shown they have a third gear. Pittsburgh and Detroit have. Will Philly have what it takes to make a series of this?