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GREENBERG: Been Here Before

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Down? You call this down?

In 2010, the Flyers were down as down can be down, 3-0 to the Bruins, plus down 3-0 in Game Seven and came back. They lost the first two at home to the Penguins in 2000 and to the Leafs in 1977, then never lost another game.

So, never mind a long goal, why any long faces?

Granted, no Sean Couturier. No luck around the goal. No answer for that Alexander Ovechkin one-timer. No escape for Steve Mason from the blooper reels, and no reason to believe these President’s Trophy winners are their fathers’ Capitals, who in 1985 blew a 2-0 lead even in a best of five.

Flyer defensemen’s sticks are breaking on the penalty kill. Pucks are going off two Flyers and still finding their way into the net, plus being reflectively and accidentally deflected over the boards and termed deliberate delay of the game.

Next thing you know, the Flyers will get a goal called back on an offsides, if only because practically everybody else in the playoffs has. Besides, that’s the way Philadelphia’s bounces are bouncing. If the Flyers didn’t have some bad luck around Braden Holtby in Game Two, they wouldn’t have had any luck at all.

So save your rationalizations about the Flyers being overmatched, or have fought the good fight just to get here. Keep them for the summer, whenever that comes. As the Flyers come home without reward for competing to the fullest in Games One and Two, undoubtedly they still think they can win.

The stack of chips in front of them has been cut in half, but what’s left is still the house’s money. That’s the good thing about being an eighth-seed, never mind that the bad thing is playing a one seed. Every year there are first-round upsets, almost every spring the team that earns the parade was down and being written off in at least one series, usually an early one. Things turned and even faster than a fan can turn on a struggling power play.

Of course, for things to change the Flyers have to change some things to help themselves. Dave Hakstol gets paid to find ways to do that and in Game Two he did, by switching some positions around on the power play. But he can’t pass and shoot. And you don’t have to be Toe Blake to see that shooting is the Flyers’ biggest problem right now.

We’re not talking about quantity, obviously, after a game in which the Flyers put 42 pucks on Holtby while the Caps put only 23 on Mason. Quality is the issue, because even with that huge disparity, Washington still had the better looks and really, more reason to lament missed golden chances than did the Flyers.

Philadelphia put pucks to the net on that two-man advantage, and didn’t have any luck in the resultant scrambles. But the Flyers also missed the net twice on the five-on-three and again on the five-on-four. You cannot do that and expect the extra man to work in your favor.

There are times when the opposition are so perfectly aligned between the shooter and goalie that firing on net is an invitation for a block and a fast counter the other way. Thus there are occasions when a skilled player’s best play is to go for the tip or shoot for the corners, but the power play is not one of them. You miss the net on those, there is a good chance the puck will rim out and you will have done the penalty killers work for them.

The game has become so fast that you have to marvel at the instincts of NHL players to uncannily make good decisions about where to put the puck. And then you have to wonder what is going through their minds when something they were first taught at eight year-olds – not only can you not score if you miss the net, there won’t be a second opportunity -- doesn’t seem to enter their minds. Too many of their chances on Saturday night ended up in Holtby’s midsection, where – thank you very much – any goalie can easily control them.

In 1989, after a season of many injuries, the Flyers were a .500 team going against a Capitals division champion, but assistant coach Andy Murray had a plan: Shoot at Pete Peeters feet. They did, a huge factor in a six-game upset.

Of course Peeters was one of the last of purebred standup goalies, and not a particularly a quick one, plus the butterfly style of today is designed to protect the bottom of the net.

But the reason for that is goals are scored there. The age-old best shooting strategy -- six inches off the ice -- hasn’t changed.

So keep it down. Not you, the fan, because the Flyers can’t afford a bad start Monday night. We mean the shooters. With morale high and shots low, the Flyers still can make this interesting.

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