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Red Wings vs Flyers, 2/12/2012


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MINI-PREVIEW 6:30 AM EST

Tonight, we are about to learn the full extent of the Philadelphia Flyers' (31-17-7) resolve. The team needs to put aside the frustration of losing five of their first seven games since the All-Star break, including two more games to the New York Rangers. They need to overcome the fatigue of having played seven times in 10 days (including three of the last four). Last but not least, they have find a way to defeat what has been the NHL's best team during the 2011-12 regular season: the Detroit Red Wings (37-17-2).

The Red Wings enter tonight's game looking for their 20th consecutive victory on home ice. On Friday, they had some anxious moments but went on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks via shootout, 2-1.

The game starts at 7:30 PM EST and will be broadcast locally on CSN Philly. It is the first of two meetings between the teams this season. They will rematch at the Wells Fargo Center on March 6, when the Flyers will retire Mark Howe's jersey before the game.

The Flyers lost Jakub Voracek to an upper-body injury in yesterday's game. However, he traveled with the team to Detroit after the game. Ilya Bryzgalov (flu) was seen in the locker room after yesterday's game, so he is apparently feeling better.

I'll update the blog later today with tonight's lineups.

**********

Yesterday against the Rangers, the Flyers were the better team at five-on-five for the first two periods in yesterday's game. Special teams, of course, were another story. In the third period, everything collectively fell apart.

Rather than simply pointing fingers at particular Flyers players, I prefer to give New York some credit here. As Kimmo Timonen noted in his scathing post-game locker room assessment of the game. New York does not significantly more talent than the Flyers, if there's even a talent gap at all.

Rather, they play a well-defined system under coach John Tortorella and they execute it well on a game-in-and-game-out basis. They block a lot of shots, receive consistently excellent goaltending from Vezina Trophy favorite Henrik Lundqvist and wear down teams with their puck support. New York also exploits other teams' specific weaknesses, which in the Flyers' case is inconsistent team defense and goaltending.

These are the reasons why the Rangers boast the league-best record (25-1-2) when scoring the game's first goal. This is why New York has now converted 50 of its last 52 opportunities (50-0-2 over the last two seasons) to win when it leads after two periods.

I partially agree with Timonen's assessment of the Flyers' effort yesterday. I agree that the team can't have just half the team going to win this time of year. For instance, Claude Giroux was on his game yesterday but Danny Briere was a non-factor. The Flyers need everyone contributing and winning their one-on-one battles while supporting one another. New York has done that better than Philly this season, and the season series reflects it.

Where I disagree with Timonen is in terms of implying that the team-wide effort level was lacking from the get-go yesterday. Listen, the Flyers battled back twice from one-goal deficits against the hardest team to come back against in the NHL. They did the same thing last Sunday, too. That takes a lot of hard work and determination to accomplish, and is the ONLY silver lining I can see to the disaster that has been the five games with New York.

Obviously, the penalty killing at home has become a major problem on this team. That is the fault both of the skaters and the goalies. Yesterday, the PK coverages were abysmal. Sergei Bobrovsky had no chance on two of the three power play goals (or either of New York's even strength goals).

If you want just a single reason (and there's more than one) why the Flyers have played better on the road than at home this season, look at the PK. At home, the Flyers now rank 28th in the NHL with a dismal 77.3 percent success rate on the penalty kill. On the road, they rank 10th on the PK with an 86.7 percent success rate.

Getting to the bottom of why the PK has been so bad at home, it's some combination of the positional play, lack of ability to clear out traffic in front, the goaltending and the tendency for opposing attackers to keep things a bit simpler on the road than at home. But it's still the same personnel involved. The home-road discrepancy shouldn't be THAT severe by this point of the season when the percentages aren't as volatile based on a hot or cold game or two.

The Flyers ran out of steam in the third period yesterday. But I don't think lack of effort had anything to do with it. You know what you were looking at? You were looking at a team than had been worn down over two periods, made another fatal defensive coverage breakdown that put the game virtually out of reach and then a combination of fatigue ("heavy legs") and desperation set in.

Despite the positive connotation coaches use for the term "desperation," what a truly desperate hockey team does is run around aimlessly, make low percentage passes and play as individuals while waiting for the next disaster around the bend. Desperation is counter-productive.

Playing with energy, urgency, fearlessness, focus and cohesion is how a team is successful. That describes the New York Rangers right now. Philly has been the desperate team in the last two meetings. We saw how it worked out.

Meltzer
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