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Greenberg: Two men down, same goal

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

Nick Grossmann is hot, so the Flyers have to ride him.

Saturday night he scored his second goal in his last 22 games, and third in 178, so if the team is going to survive the month without Andrew MacDonald and Braydon Coburn, it’s gotta be Nick to the Net, unless the Flyers can coax Ray Bourque out of retirement or take one of those twos off Luke Schenn’s back and pretend he’s Mark Howe.

A third option is to continue play like they did in their own end Saturday night while rope-a-doping the Red Wings, preferably with an occasional shot on goal thrown in over the first two periods. The Flyers weren’t good but they survived -- and against a playoff outfit -- for more reasons than just Ray Emery,

“If we play like a team . . . ,” said Craig Berube, his face turning as blue as the blueline from the number of times he already has said this. “That will be the big thing; playing like a team.”

Berube is in charge of the Flyers playing like a team. His job is not to make excuses, but make them better, so whether the Flyers are 3-3-2 or 8-0 it is Next Man Up, whether that be a kid like Shayne Gostisbehere suddenly playing against men or whomever.

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To succeed, the Flyers have to perform the same with or without Coburn and MacDonald, which is the way they played for the last two periods in Pittsburgh and the final period against the Red Wings.

“Shut down (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin like nothing,” said Jake Voracek.

And actually it was really something. The neutral zone was more jammed than even cyberspace ripping the Flyers D. Participation was full, starting with, but not limited to the back check.

“I think we have been there on the back check, [the problem had been] more blocking shots, boxing out people, winning the battles along the boards,” said Voracek. “That what we have to do.”

They have to do it again Tuesday night against the Stanley Cup champion Kings and Thursday at Tampa Bay as this gauntlet through contenders continues, and then the Flyers have to keep doing it when the schedule supposedly eases up with games against Florida and Edmonton. Over the last year and change, the Flyers have shown they can play with anybody and also demonstrated they are not really much better than anyone.

We all know they don’t have that big, swift defenseman who skates the puck out and covers all sins. So their margin for error becomes that Flyer playing off the puck in case the Flyer battling for it along the wall gets beat, forwards in all three zones reading the play rather than the stat sheet, and all five players making second-nature good decisions both in possession of the puck and without.

“Some of the biggest things that happen is you break a play up the D zone then you don’t make a play with the puck,” said Berube. “And they get it back and then you get problems.

“Doing something, might not always be making a possession play, it might be just getting it out of your zone.”

Despite the perceived lack of foot speed, the Flyers have three defensemen standing, -- Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz -- who can get up in the play and help create goals.

Streit has been making a seamless entry to the first power play unit in the absence of Kimmo Timonen, whom the players have to assume won’t be coming back, just like they are better off turning on the bulbs in their own head, rather than keeping any candle lit for MacDonald and Coburn, who is their best one-on-one defender.

The answer is not to score more goals or strategize for making do with fewer, just to make sound and responsible plays. This defense had to be better than the sum of its parts when it was whole, same now when it is broken.

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