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Talented Core Remains for Flyers

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers' shutout victory in Game 5 in Pittsburgh, when they faced elimination in the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, was inspiring. When the Flyers seized a 3-0 lead in Game 6 back in Philadelphia, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that they would win the series with the Penguins.
Then, faster than you can say “whatever happened to Roman Cechmanek?” the bottom dropped out for the Flyers. The Penguins scored five consecutive goals. Game, series, season.
With veteran leadership from Mike Knuble, Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere and Simon Gagne, plus captain Mike Richards, I never thought the Flyers would disappear the way they did.

I sense that many Flyers fans feel let down by the way the season ended. From the NHL’s worst team two years ago, the Flyers progressed to the Eastern Conference finals last season. The fans bought in with the orange and black, and at least another run to the Eastern finals was expected this season.
While the playoffs continue without the Flyers, it’s time to look ahead to next season. A talented core of the team will return, but right now, they don’t have a goaltender. A major issue is, should the Flyers bring back Martin Biron?
Goaltender Martin Biron is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. (Getty Images)

The vote here is to re-sign Biron, unless general manager Paul Holmgren can make a major upgrade. Is Biron one of the NHL’s top five goaltenders? No. But he’s a good shot-stopper who has been above average in the playoffs. I may be in a minority, but I think the Flyers could win the Stanley Cup with Biron in the nets. Provided, that is, that the rest of the team plays with poise. You can’t beat the Penguins, Capitals or Devils by taking a period or a game off in the playoffs.

Coach John Stevens hopes the way the Flyers lost in Game 6 is motivation for next season.

“It should be a lesson learned,” Stevens said. “It should solidify our philosophy that we need to really be committed to do the little things well all the time.

“It’s not as if we had a total breakdown (though). Two pucks were batted in out of the air. (Bill) Guerin put a lazy backhander on the net (which Sidney Crosby converted for the tying goal). New Jersey lost in even more dramatic fashion with a veteran-laden team.” (The Devils yielded two goals in the final 80 seconds in Game 7 vs. Carolina in a 4-3 defeat).

“But the bottom line is, we were up. That’s when you really have to shore up on all the little details on how you play.”

Taking too many penalties is a major criticism of the Flyers. Holmgren has some empathy for the players on this issue, perhaps because he remembers being whistled for a few as a player.

“The way the game is today, you’re going to take penalties,” Holmgren said. “But the players that take undisciplined penalties at the wrong places on the ice (hurts the team). A penalty in the offensive zone is a bad penalty. It was a bad penalty when Fred Shero coached.

“We need to demand more from our players, and that starts from Day One in training camp. Discipline is an all-encompassing word for me. It’s bad penalties, it’s over-staying your shift, it’s looking after yourself away from the rink. The organization and the coaching staff need to do a better job of getting our players more in line.”

Back to Game 6 for a moment. When Dan Carcillo accepted the challenge of Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot to fight shortly after the Flyers took their 3-0 lead, TV analyst Ed Olczyk immediately criticized Carcillo. Olczyk said it was a mistake for Carcillo to fight at that time. Fourteen seconds after Carcillo hammered Talbot, the Penguins scored and began their climb back into the game.

My reaction was, it’s easy to criticize Carcillo. In hindsight, maybe he should’ve skated away, but he’s the Flyers’ enforcer and the game is in Philly. Sometimes a fighter has to do what he has to do.

“Hindsight is a beautiful thing,” Stevens said. “If Carcillo would’ve skated away and we went on to lose that game, everyone would’ve been saying he should have fought him. To me, the fight had less to do what happened after the fight. (Evgeni) Malkin was a very determined individual. What he did on that next shift made a difference in the hockey game.

“Carcillo was disciplined and having an impact on the game. If (the fight) had an impact on the game, I haven’t seen it.”
John Stevens thinks the Flyers will be better prepared to have success moving forward to next season. (Getty Images)

Offering a mild criticism of Carcillo fighting Talbot, Holmgren said, “Your team has a 3-0 lead, you have momentum, why risk giving the other team momentum? (Still), I don’t believe the fight had anything to do with the outcome of the game.

“The goal ignited (Pittsburgh) a little bit and maybe we were in a little comfort zone. Maybe we were fast forwarding to Game 7. You’ve got to stay in the moment. Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job of that.

“One of the things that was disconcerting about the year was, we were in the fourth position in the conference for a long time. Even though we didn’t clinch a playoff spot until right near the end, we kind of lost our way. That can’t happen in this league. I believe the conference is going to be more difficult next year because there are some good teams that didn’t make the playoffs that are probably going to be better next year. The way the league is now, you play 82 playoff games just to get in the playoffs.”

In their last 10 regular season games, the Flyers basically were a .500 team. It’s during these stretches that many fans wonder if more emotion from Stevens behind the bench would motivate the Flyers. Predictably, Stevens disagrees.

“I have a philosophy that a frightened captain makes for a frightened crew,” the coach said. “I do hear (what fans say), but it doesn’t change my philosophy and my style. I look around the league and don’t see a lot of coaches ranting and raving.

“Good coaches demand accountability, which we have with our team. They demand that we play a certain way, which we have. I don’t see a need to become something that I’m not. I’ve always been a very quietly competitive guy that’s a good communicator.”

Stevens clearly likes the Flyers team he will take into next season.
The way the league is now, you play 82 playoff games just to get in the playoffs." - Paul Holmgren

“We’re think we’re a better team moving forward than we were last year,” he said. “Our leadership has been assumed by a lot of our younger core players like (Jeff) Carter, (Mike) Richards, (Braydon) Coburn and these (other) guys.

“We’ve rebuilt our blue line that’s much more suited to for the new game. We still have a strong, balanced attack up front, and we’ve added younger guys in (Darroll) Powe and (Claude) Giroux. Going through this experience, they should be better prepared to have success heading into next year.”

Then Stevens added a comment that all the Flyers should heed. “This will be a very important year for this group,” he said. “It’s time to dig in and take another step.”

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
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