Game Time: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TSN2, WGN-AM 720
Still Haven’t Sent Us Cheesesteaks: Broad Street Hockey
A lot can change in three and a half years’ time. And there might not be two more wildly divergent teams in that period of the NHL with regard to both asset management and results on the ice than those that competed in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. And tonight, the Hawks will welcome the Philadelphia Flyers back to United Center ice for just the second time since a 7-4 dong whipping in Game 5 of that series.
It’d be almost too ridiculous to believe if it weren’t witnessed by the masses in real time, but the Philadelphia Flyers have gone from perennial Eastern Conference contender to punchline in near record time. Most of it falls at the feet of the braintrust of impatient owner Ed Snider, and his butt puppet GM Paul Holmgren, who has made too many hilarious personnel choices in the last year to even begin listing here. Some of it can also fall to the coaching, both from the deposed Peter Laviolette, who might be a bloviating gasbag but is a solid hockey mind, as well as their new bench boss, neanderthal Craig Berube, who’s fared only modestly better than his predecessor in a garbage Metropolitan Division. And of course, some of it boils down to unfortunate luck, as sure-fire hall of famer Chris Pronger lingers in ostensible retirement after a debilitating eye injury and concussion that he’s never recovered from.
But there’s also some blame to be shifted to the players on the ice. Captain and alleged Greatest Hockey Player On Earth Claude Giroux has seen his production drop precipitously from 1.13 points per game in 11-12, to 1.0 per game in the lockout shortened year, and now to .667 this season with 5G and 15A in 30 games. And he’s still currently the Flyers’ leading scorer. Most recent ill-advised offseason purchase, the gorgeous Vinny Lecavalier leads the team with 9 goals and hasn’t played in two weeks. One time one-man wrecking crew Scott Hartnell has basically been non existent with 6 goals and 6 assists. The lone modest bright spot in this group with little to no cohesion has been the two-way development of Sean Coutourier, the lone regular of the group with a plus rating in his 19 minutes a night in all situations, to go along with his 15 points.
Things aren’t much better on the Flyers blue line, where Kimmo Timmonen and Brayden Coburn are still picking at the scabs of the burns from 2010, and now aren’t sheltered by Pronger playing ahead of them. Mark Streit was brought in and overpaid for reasons no one can really quite discern while still remaining goalless on the power play. Luke Schenn, hilariously acquired for JVR, and who this blog once thought might be a viable option in Hjalmarsson’s role during some of his more adventurous times with the puck, is basically a big, pie faced tub of goo not doing anything for anyone. Once again, the composition of this unit makes little sense and has very little balance, but at least the Flyers can be given credit for consistency in their approach.
And now to the crease, long the fist-sized boil on the ass of the Flyers’ championship aspirations. And apparently Paul Holmgren’s idea of stabilizing the position from the rocky performance of Ilya Bryzgalov was a combination of Calder Trophy flameout Steve Mason and the bionic hips of Ray M. Murray, who should get a proper and lively ovation tonight. Mason has actually been quite solid with a .923 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against, while Emery has been as average as one can expect from him at .908 and 2.57. Mason has received the bulk of the workload of late, including three straight starts, the last being on Monday. But don’t be surprised if Emery gets the call tonight.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, it’s another quick turnaround after last night’s beat down of the Dallas Stars. With no morning skate today, it’s unclear if Antti Raanta will get the call again in net or if Greasy Thug Kent Simpson will make his NHL debut tonight against a non-conference opponent. The three way #6 defenseman platoon of Rozsival, Brookbank, and now Kostka is also open to speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kostka go again after two points in his return last night.
The Flyers have been in town for two days now awaiting the Hawks, who have not fared as well in back-to-backs this season as the have in years past. They’re also likely to come out with their asses ablaze in the first simply because they’re the Flyers, with an aggressive forecheck that the Hawks will have to weather. But patience in execution against what’s by and large a disorganized group should lead to another two points. Let’s go Hawks.