The last unscreened goal that went straight in from 50 feet out probably was scored in Jaromir Jagr’s rookie year. The worst goalies in today’s NHL gobble up those shots and the best ones uncannily find the puck through all the sticks and legs, all the while smiling beneath that mask every time the puck sails wide.
It’s first about the traffic. After that, it becomes about the volume, leaving accuracy a distant third. Mike Bossy swore he never deliberately picked a corner in his life, shot for the middle of the net every time, why arguably the quickest trigger the game has ever known averaged more than 50 assists per year over 10 seasons.
Different era, as we said. Nevertheless, same principal that Vinny Lecavalier, once-and-again sniper, brings with the puck to the net.
He scored his fifth goal in his last seven games Saturday night, too little and too late to save the Flyers their fifth straight loss, 5-2 to the Devils, but not to illustrate a point. There are no stats to prove that the Flyers give up more screened and deflected goals than they score, but there certainly is visual evidence. And this is not entirely a manifestation of bad aim or bad bounces.
The Flyers face an uphill climb for a playoff spot because only through the grace of their sixth-ranked power play are they are 16th in the league in goals. There are 14 teams that have more power play time than they do, a reflection of not spending enough of games in the offensive zone drawing penalties.
The only way to do that is to get the puck to the net. But the Flyers are 25th in shots on goal. There’s just one team in the top 10 team in the standings that has taken fewer. That is the Rangers, a club whose strength is on its defense and can afford to play more of the game in the defensive zone. The Flyers strength is their forwards, yet there are too many periods they manage five or fewer shots on goal.
|Lecavalier has points in each of his last three games |
and five of his last seven contests
“When you don’t score, you have to come back to basics,” said Lecavalier on Saturday night. “On my goal [R.J. Umberger] was right in front of the net, why we got that goal.
“Yeah we definitely have to shoot more.”
Lecavalier fired three shots in 15:50 Saturday night, two in 16:03 on Friday night in Carolina, six in 14:56 at Arizona. That’s how he has scored 410 NHL goals and assisted on 513, why the Flyers fourth line currently is producing more offense than their second line, despite more limited ice time.
During an otherwise trying time Berube seems reluctant to break up something going good by moving Lecavalier between Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. He has defense to consider, too: Lecavalier is minus-7 for the year. But that goal he set up in Carolina demonstrated ample speed to still back defensemen off. And a 13.70 shooting percentage, second on the team to Jake Voracek, is tribute to a man born to crank and his refusal to get cranky during seven consecutive scratches that preceded this run.
Lecavalier didn’t let himself go, either mentally or physically, while sitting out, and if, at age 34 there is to be a larger role for him, he is ready.
“It’s a lot more than what I had two weeks ago,” he said about his ice time. “The more you are out there, the more comfortable you are, the more you feel the puck.”
It feels good to see a classy guy, seemingly headed for an inglorious end to a stellar career, succeeding again. Vinny has still got it, and more of his teammates have to get it, too. It’s never a bad play to get the puck to the net for a rebound or a faceoff. The worst one you can make from shooting position is to miss the net and have the puck rim out of the zone.
As much as the Flyers beat themselves up Saturday night for not picking their tongues off the ice for a fifth game in seven nights, the loss in the concluding game of a 3-4-1 trip – without the availability of Claude Giroux, too -- was the only lopsided one. The Flyers have been within a goal at goalie-pulling time in eight of their last nine losses. So as they come home, the rebound has to be in some rebounds.
They are not putting themselves in position for enough of them, but they don’t have to take that from us. By shooting, the oldest Flyer forward, Lecavalier, becomes the messenger.