Flyers Have Pens in a Bit of a Spot.

The Sidney Crosby of SCDP.

If you don’t watch Mad Men and playoff hockey, I’m afraid I don’t have too much time for you right now.  Spoiler:  Peter Campbell got his ass handed to him last night on Mad Men.  The general consensus around the offices of Sterling, Cooper, Draper Price was that Campbell deserved the beating and the majority of the sympathy fell to the guy who did the pummeling.  The only difference between the Mad Men episode and the Flyers game is that Sidney Crosby’s teammates jump to his defense when he acts like a spoiled (wildly offensive noun).  Pete Campbell’s co-workers just stood around and let it happen.  So on the scale of being insufferable, I suppose Campbell still has Crosby beat–but just by a nose.

I assume everyone has been caught up on the details by now.  Two more come from behind wins for the Flyers.  A total of 16 goals in two games for the Orange and Black.  Dueling hat tricks from Cooter and Claude in game two.  The total loss of control by the refs in game three.  I don’t remember a playoff series ever starting off in such an unexpected way.  What’s made it so strange…

1.  The play of Marc-Andre Fleury.  The Penguins goalie has been horrific.  0-3, 6.34 GAA, .798 Save Percentage.  Those numbers shouldn’t be possible, even for a small sample like three games.  Fleury has actually made a handful of great in this series, but the Flyers attack, which has been coming in waves, has turned the Pittsburgh goalie into a quivering pile of mush.  If the Pens weren’t scoring their fair share of goals, he likely would have been pulled long before game 3.  The Pens need to patch this guy together for game 4.

2.  Flyers winning without dominate goalie play.  Bryz has had his moments.  He’s been hung out to dry by his defense on a few occasions, and kept the Flyers in game two with a couple of spectacular saves.  On the other hand, he let in some comically soft goals in game 3, and the Flyers could have easily won that game 8-2.  If the Flyers get by the Penguins, they’re not going to keep scoring 6 goals a game, so Bryz will have to rein in the mental lapses.

3.  Play of Flyers Rookies.  The Flyers are young.  It’s my favorite thing about the team.  Rookies like Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn have big responsibilities with this team and have all year.  Toward the end of the season, in the case of Matt Read especially, you wondered if the long season was starting to grind on these guys.  All those three have done is combine for 6 goals and 6 assists in 3 games.  Throw in Courturier’s handling of Malkin and you could make a case he’s been the team’s MVP so far.

4.  The Magic Time Out Lives.  I’ve never seen a coach call as many timeouts in the opening periods as Peter Laviolette.  He calls them when the Flyers are down, he calls them when they’re about to go on a 5-on-3 advantage and they always seem to work.  Lavy’s tirades still seem to have a positive impact on this team, which is always a good sign.

The other issue with this series and the other match-ups around the NHL is the presence of the cheap shot, a strain of play that has crossed over the line to dirty.  It started with Shea Weber and continued through the weekend.  Sometimes you can go a whole playoff series without seeing a fight, but the gloves have been dropping all over the place and it’s often been on the heels of some very questionable hits.  While hockey die-hards are loving the old school action, I’m afraid we’re on the verge of seeing a serious injury that could turn a series or seriously hinder a team’s chances of making a run.

There’s no way to make this anything but a homer’s viewpoint, but in my opinion the Penguins spent the last 6 or 8 minutes of Sunday’s game skating around trying to injure Flyers’ players.  Sean Courturier was the first target and then Claude Giroux was the victim of a wild run.  Unlike their battle at the end of the regular season, Peter Laviolette and the Flyers did a pretty good job of keeping their composure, but the Pens keep coming and taking every chance to turn a legal hit into a questionable one.  It appears the Flyers escaped the game unscathed, but I don’t like their chances to do so again if they end up with another big lead in what would be a clinching win.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Pens face any punishment for their actions in game three.  It’s pretty clear the referees have little control on the ice, so we’ll see if the NHL can do anything to control the reckless play with some suspensions.  Otherwise, the teams moving forward might be more banged up than usual.

 

Flyers Lose Pronger for the Season.

Flyers Captain Suffering From Post-Concussion Syndrome.

It could be career ending news for Chris Pronger.  The verdict from a Pittsburgh based concussion specialist was severe post-concussion syndrome.  The Flyers captain, and stabilizing force on defense will miss the remainder of the season and at 36, you have to wonder if he’ll ever play again.  The truth is, we don’t even know if Pronger will ever be healthy enough to play in the NHL again.  Former Flyer Keith Primeau still battles the effects of his concussions years after they forced his retirement.  If Pronger were to get a clean bill of health, you couldn’t blame him if he chose retirement, the dangers of one more head injury unknown.

Hockey clearly has a concussion problem.  It’s not necessarily a new phenomenon.  The arc of Flyers history was forever altered by the multiple concussions Eric Lindros suffered during his time in Philadelphia.  There are players like Primeau, Paul Kariya and Pat LaFontaine who have been forced out of hockey due to head injuries, even Lindros’ brother, Bret, had to retire because of multiple concussions.  Still, they seem more prevalent now.  Especially in Philadelphia, where the team’s premiere defenseman is out for the year and their leading scorer is out, “indefinitely.”  Add that to Sidney Crosby’s struggles to return after his concussion and you’ve got a sport that is going to need to soon figure out how to keep their star players on the ice.

There’s no doubt awareness has risen, and that probably makes the injury appear more prevalent than it was 10, 20 years ago, but I have to think that hockey has also passed some type of critical barrier where the players are just too big, moving too fast, and the impacts are too great.  It’s not hockey’s problem alone.  The NFL faces a similar dilemma.  Their attempts to limit contact to the head, to this point, appear to be largely unsuccessful–unless the intention was to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in player fines.  The one thing the NFL does a decent job of is keeping the QB on the field.  They take heat for it, but maybe it’s a start.  In the NHL all players are equally vulnerable.

The biggest problem the NFL faces is trying to legislate head injuries out of a sport that relies on such violent collisions.  Contact is obviously an integral part of hockey as well, but it’s much easier for me to envision hockey without the violent impacts than football.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the physical nature of hockey.  I like watching the big hits, I’ve always been pro-fighting, but I also like to watch my team’s best players on the ice.  If any sport is going to successfully change, I think they’re probably going to have to start from the youth leagues, the minor leagues, or somewhere besides the highest professional level.  The NFL players have proven they aren’t adept at changing their style of play.  I’m sure no one in the NHL wants to be thought of as a guy who can’t play a physical game, so I think you’re basically going to have to train a new generation of players to play a different way and then hope that when they get to the NHL or the NFL that background will take over.

As far as what losing Pronger does to the Flyers season, it’s hard to determine right now, because the Flyers are so hot.  They’ve won 7 in a row and are one of those streaks where you could plug almost any player into the lineup and they’d get a win.  Missing Pronger and Giroux, they’re still scoring a ton of goals and facing little resistance.  You’d have to think, though, that the injuries will eventually catch up with them.  Scott Hartnell isn’t going to score every game, and the team in general isn’t going to score 4 goals a game the rest of the season.  The Flyers have shown plenty of fire power, and of course you hope Giroux can return, but I imagine the wheels are already in motion to sure-up the defense in some way.