Wednesday, May 03, 2006


NHL: Eastern Conference First Round is Settled

The Eastern Conference Semi-Final matchups are set, with one of the two Canadian teams falling by the waysides and leaving Carolina vs. New Jersey and Ottawa vs. Buffalo.

Jes's Jedi powers worked for 3 of the 4 series, with Buffalo as the only team I didn't pick to win. Of course, I picked the Flyers solely because of Peter Forsberg, but his evil powers are waning.

Much has been made of the NEW NHL vs OLD NHL argument when it comes to the Flyers/Sabres series. I don't think the Sabres dominance of the Flyers (apart from one game) was quite that simple. There is more than meets the eye.

1. Goaltending - Poor Robert Esche, the "Rebound Machine" wasn't entirely at fault last night despite the score. No NHL goalie should have to see that many odd-man rushes against in the single playoff game, much less one period. Still, Esche has proven himself as not a good goaltender and his 87.5SV% reflects his substandard performance.

Either the Flyers should give the reigns to Antero next year, or go out and acquire Dan Cloutier from the Canucks (so we can get rid of him. Thx)

The Flyers put so much money and work into their roster, yet neglected the goaltending position in a serious way. When it comes to evaluating goaltenders, Clarke doesn't have much luck or skill in that area. Either he gets good performances and they are wasted (Cechmanek), or he gets poor performances from goalies that were shaky propositions at best (Esche, Burke)

2. Roster Moves - The Flyers are great at drafting and developing players, so it boggles the mind why they went out and spent big money on immobile and immovable objects like Mike "Horse Mouth" Rathje and Derian "Chewbacca" Hatcher. The Flyers banked on the NEW NHL being just like the OLD NHL and got burned. Still, NEW or OLD, spending big money on obviously slow defensemen (especially Hatcher post-knee surgery) is a foolish strategy no matter which way you look at it. Acquiring slow and useless fodder like Petr Nedved and Brian Savage was also foolish. Nedved has greatly declined and Brian Savage adds no offensive value and sucks eggs defensively. Denis Gauthier? Apart from the usual bevy of stupid penalties he takes, he also finished -5 in the 6 games. Gauthier was cast aside by Phoenix of all teams. Why would a cup contender want Gauthier? He sucks!

3. Injuries - While every team has its fair share of injuries, the Flyers can definitely hold their claim as being the worst of the lot during the playoffs. Michal Handzus, Sami Kapanen, and Mike Rathje are scheduled for almost immediate surgeries while Peter Forsberg will have to be reconstructed again. 14 Flyers were reported to get Cortisone shots to even be able to play.

Handzus hasn't been practicing very often since December, skipped the Olympics due to injury, and couldn't shoot the puck (just 4 shots in the series) because the pain was so bad.

You could just tell the Flyers were a broken and worn down team, even Peter Forsberg. I've seen Forsberg play through the worst pain, and he's never looked quite as slow as he has in this series. I think even he has his limits. (And he still managed 8 points in 6 games)

4. Youth - The Flyers rookies, as most rookies do, struggled in their first taste of the NHL. Since only the first line was scoring any goals, it was crucial for the young guns to step up and they didn't.

RJ Umberger - 1 goal in 5 games, -3, and had his world rocked.
Jeff Carter - 0 points and -4 in 6 games
Mike Richards - 1 assist and -5 in 6 games
Fredrick Meyer III - 1 assist and -5 in 6 games

Bobby Clarke has the pieces in place to continue a cycle of success for the Flyers, but they really need to evaluate their whole goaltending and defence situation and realize that big, slow, and stupid doesn't win games.

Carolina/Montreal -

Montreal had Carolina on the ropes with a 2-0 series lead, but couldn't seal the deal and Carolina came back like Ali at the Rumble in the Jungle. Cam Ward pulled off some Cinderella magic and won his first four career playoff starts.

It was obvious that Montreal's speed advantage was narrowed as the series went along since Carolina matched their intensity. Montreal's lack of offensive punch was only exasperated by the sudden loss of Saku Koivu to Justin William's careless stick gouging his eyeball.

That said, Montreal played pretty well in this series and should be encouraged by the fine play of Crystal Ball Huet and that of rookie Tomas Plekanec. "Pleky" had 4 assists in 6 games and finished +2. Tomas was assertive during the entire series and was showing flashes of being able to carry a heavier offensive load.

On the other side, we have the enigmatic Richard Zednik, who seems to have lost all of his offensive mojo. "Zed" finished with just 2 goals in the series (0 assists) and had a horrible regular season (16 goals and 14 assists). Zednik was supposed to be the big sniper for the Canadiens this year, but was relegated to being a standard 3rd line player. I'm serious when I ask, "What the hell happened to him?"

As for Carolina, they can be encouraged that Eric Staal got into a groove and finished with 8 points while Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour continued to be rock solid with 6 points and his usual fine defensive work.

On the other hand, there are a lot of bad signs on the horizon, besides the fact they are relying on a rookie goaltender who may turn into a pumpkin at midnight.

1. Ray Whitney - Due to injury, the "Wizard" was relegated to a Power Play-only specialist and finished with just 1 goal in 5 games. Whitney looked terrible when he was on the ice and it's obvious that he's playing at something like 15% capacity.

2. Doug Weight/Marc Recchi - the Recchin Ball had a big goal last night, but both of these codgers still haven't found their groove with their new team. Both finished with just 3 points in 6 games (Weight was a team worst -3) and don't look nearly as effective as they did with their old teams. Eric Staal and Brind'Amour can't do everything, so these two fogeys need to step up.

3. Josef Vasicek - He returned from a nearly-season-ending injury to play 4 games in the series. Like Whitney, Vasicek wasn't all that effective as he hobbled around the ice.

4. Justin Williams - He appeared to have karma come back to bite him in the wrist as he was noticeably sore in that area during the 2nd and 3rd period of Game 6. Again, this would be another big slow to Carolina's depth if he can't play at all or play at full strength.

The Canes will have a very hard time going far into the playoffs with two significant injuries and a lack of offensive depth. It looks like they just may be ripe for the cotton pickin.

I'm sorry, but when you say something like "14 flyers reported to get Cortisone shots to be able to play", then "Injuries" should be #2 or #1, not goaltending. No NHL goaltender should have to suffer in front of a wounded, slow defensive corps like Philly's turned out to be. And wouldn't you know it? Over half will now go to get surgery or were already sidelined.

Can we please stop hearing about how the Sabres kicked the crap out of the Flyers, or will that only happen after they get eliminated in the next round by a healthy team?

Also, with Forsberg officially out of the postseason, question: what's with you and Swedes, anyway?
For the Flyers...
Injuries is #1 on my list of reasons for their first round exit.
388 man games missed. Missing Primeau and Johnsson for the playoffs is big. Also missing Therien, while being a pylon on the ice the last few seasons he is good in the locker room. Stevenson was hurt all year, never got it going. Then you had all the players that were playing hurt. 10 players needing surgery during the off season, rumor that this could go as high as 15.

Rosters moves aren’t a bad #2. I agree on the Rathje, Hatcher signings. Rathje wasn’t that bad this year up till he was injured. While the Flyers acquiring the 2 I don’t have an issue with, the amount of salary room they take up is just ridiculous. No way either one is worth 3.5 mil. Also thought Rajthe should have gone on injured reserve when he got injured. With him 100% he was ok, at 50% he should have sat. Flyers could have picked up a decent defenseman at the trade deadline.
The other signings were reactionary to injuries. Savage was signed when it was known Kapanen was going to miss the first part of the season. He was just supposed to be a fill in guy and he won’t be back next season. Nedved was signed when it was known Primeau wasn’t coming back. While the Flyers are stuffed with centers, 3 of them were rookies, Clarke was looking for a veteran. Gauthier was signed with Johnsson being out. After Kasparaitis gave the Flyers fits one game Clarke decided he needed a Kasparaitis type player. He isn’t a top 2 defenseman, but I’d take him as 5th or 6th.

At #3 I’d put chemistry. Apparently there are some personality conflicts in the Flyers player leadership group.

Youth is a good #4, sticking with the Carter-Dimitrakos-Umberger line. The last 2 months of the season they were averaging a goal a game. They just didn’t show up in the playoffs.

I’d put goaltending at #5. While Esche did give up several soft goals, when it’s already 4-0 early in the game it really doesn’t matter.
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