Flyers Fun Won’t Last

If they win the Penguins series, the Broad Street Bullies need to tighten up if they're going to advance.

Flyers fans might derive more satisfaction from winning a playoff series from New York or Boston–might–but it is certainly fun watching the locals smack around Pittsburgh in their first-round series. The three games have had just about everything, from scads of goals, unlikely heroes (hello, Sean Couturier), fights and abject failure by Evgeni Malkin. It has been a gas.

It’s hard to choose just one highlight from the three victories. It might be watching Freddie Mercury, er, Sidney Crosby continue his rat-like whining and cheap play, at the expense of productive offensive contributions. Perhaps it was Couturier’s hat trick in Game Two. Or the Penguins’ replacing Marc-Andre Fleury with Brent Johnson in Game Three. Of course, the OT goal by Jakub Voracek in the opener was sweet, too. Best of all is the knowledge that those odious Pittsburghers were on the verge of having a plate of pierogies jammed down their throats.

It has all been great. And if the Flyers keep playing this way, they can forget about winning the Cup.

Wide-open, high-scoring hockey excites the fans, but it doesn’t beat the better teams in the NHL, and it certainly won’t top the Rangers or even the Bruins. There are nine games during 2011-12 of hard evidence to support that assertion. Some might say the Flyers couldn’t get a break against their rivals to the north. I say they couldn’t play the type of buttoned-up hockey necessary to beat teams with a strong defenses and sturdy goaltenders.

Now, it’s possible the Rangers could lose to Ottawa (they’re tied, 1-1), and Boston might crumble against the Caps (they’re also tied, 1-1), removing from the post-season the two teams most likely to give the Flyers trouble down the road. But if the Flyers are going to sniff the Cup finals, they have to stop some of the bad habits they have been able to overcome against the sloppy Pens. Philadelphia has trailed in all three games so far, which is fine if you’re going to play ABA hockey against a team whose goaltender is serving up more rebounds than Kim Kardashian. Lundqvist and Thomas don’t play like that, so falling behind early could be fatal.

The Flyers must also stop thinking they can just outscore people. Only two playoff teams–eighth-seeded Ottawa and Chicago, the West’s six seed–surrendered more goals during the regular season than did the Flyers. And even though they have scored 20 times against the Pens, the Flyers have surrendered 12 goals. As the playoffs progress and the opposition becomes more stout, the Flyers can’t count on winning wild games, no matter how much they continue to fight and scrap. There can be no denying the grit and heart with which the Flyers are playing. It has been inspirational and certainly more than the dog-ass Penguins can handle.

It won’t be enough against the Rangers or Bruins, two teams built for tight, close, low-scoring games. In nine games against the two teams, the Flyers were 1-8, with a pair of shootout losses. They averaged 2.00 goals/game, a figure inflated by a five-goal outburst in a Jan. 22 loss. It’s great fun to engage in slugfests, but New York and Boston don’t favor those types of games. Neither does Jersey. And it’s a lot easier to slow things down than to open them up.

Now, it’s possible Ilya Bryzgalov could revert to the form he showed in March, when he was shutting down anything on skates. But it’s hard to be practically flawless when the defenders in front of you aren’t clearing the puck well and are leaving men alone in front of the net. No matter how well Bryzgalov plays, he needs a tight team in front of him. That’s not how these Flyers play–at least on a consistent basis–and that’s why trouble looms on the horizon, barring some big-time upsets.

In many ways, the Penguins were the perfect first-round foils for the Flyers. They love to open up the throttle and score in bunches. Even without Crosby in the lineup for most of the season, they still piled up more goals than any other team in the NHL. Engaging them in a run-and-gun game is easier than getting Comcast to pimp its new Xfinity Live! leviathan. And that’s ridiculously easy.

The fun won’t last. Once the Flyers dispatch Pittsburgh and signal the official beginning of football season in western PA (like anybody out there is really following the Pirates), the climb gets tougher, and the margin for error shrinks. The Flyers will no longer be able to swap goals with the certainty that more will always be available and fall into early holes knowing their perseverance will carry the day. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist had a 1.97 goals against average this year, and President Obama’s favorite goalie, the Bruins’ Tim Thomas, gave up just 2.36 goals every time out. Don’t expect too many free-for-alls should the Flyers confront either one of them.

Don’t consider this a downer amidst the good times. Try to be a little more realistic and understand what’s necessary to win it all. If the Flyers are going to capture a Cup, they have to play sharper hockey, because they simply can’t count on their next opponents to fold up as meekly as Pittsburgh has.

Not that watching the Pens’ collapse hasn’t been absolutely wonderful.


  • The rumblings are getting louder. The Eagles will either trade up to take a quarterback (Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill) in next week’s NFL Draft or grab one (Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden or Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins) in the second round. The reasoning is clear: Even if Michael Vick transforms himself into a QB capable of recognizing the blitz and responding properly to it and directs Andy Reid’s offense the way it should be directed (unlikely), he is injury-prone. And neither Mike Kafka nor Trent Edwards is a long-term solution. Don’t be surprised to see the Birds grab a passer and be darn happy if they get one who has some star potential.
  • The Phils head west for a 10-game stretch with the second-fewest runs scored in the majors (thank you, Pittsburgh) and the 24th-best slugging and 25th-best OPS percentages in baseball. The funny thing? They are sixth in batting average, meaning there’s a whole lot of singles going on. Sunday’s win over the Mets was nice, but if the Phillies continue their slaphappy ways at the plate, they could return from the coast down six or seven games in the standings.
  • How dare the Sixers stagger lifelessly down the NBA regular-season stretch? What has this bunch accomplished collectively or individually that gives them the right to be disenchanted with Doug Collins or anything else? Losing at home to the Nets is a character issue, plain and simple. This team doesn’t have it, and Rod Thorn should devote his off-season to finding players with the toughness and integrity to win.