The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Saturday night's alright for hockey, and the Caps are taking to the road to visit the City of Brotherly Love for a meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Caps will be doing so as the Flyers welcome a new coach, John Stevens having been relieved of his duties in favor of Peter Laviolette. In doing so, the Flyers… excuse me, what’s this?
“Yeah, the Top-Ten List…”
Where’d you get this, young lady?
“I used to work on the Letterman show…”
Ah, say no more. Now, let’s take a look at this… hmm… "The Top Ten Reasons John Stevens Was Fired"…
Number 10. Ed Snider found out he had a satellite dish instead of Comcast.
Number 9. Put a copy of “12 Steps to Effective Anger Management” in each of his player’s lockers.
Number 8. He failed to address a certain defenseman as “Mr. Pronger, sir.”
Number 7. When asked who Dave Schultz was, he answered, “the sergeant on Hogan’s Heroes.”
Number 6. He kept telling people that the Flyers played at “Whack-Off”ia Center.
Number 5. Told General Manager Paul Holmgren that the Flyers’ colors should be changed because they were “too Halloweenie.”
Number 4. Rooted for Pittsburgh in last year’s Stanley Cup final.
Number 3. Wanted to coach a game behind the Flyers’ bench dressed as a mummer.
Number 2. He ordered a vegetarian cheese steak at Geno’s
And the number one reason John Stevens was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers…
He didn’t win enough games.
What an odd circle these teams have traveled to get to this game. Barely two years ago, a coach stood behind his team’s bench for the first time in the same arena in which tonight’s game will be played, taking over for a struggling team that seemed to be on a trajectory to finish out of the playoffs. Tonight, the scene replays itself, with a new coach standing behind the other bench. It was Bruce Boudreau in November 2007 taking over the reins for the slumping Caps from Glen Hanlon, and tonight it will be Peter Laviolette, who takes over for John Stevens behind the struggling Flyers’ bench.
Laviolette is no stranger to the NHL. He has 487 games of experience coaching with two other teams – the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes, the latter of which he led to a Stanley Cup title in 2006. But here is the ominous part… that was the only year in three full seasons and a partial season that he completed in Carolina that he made the playoffs. He has two other playoff seasons on his resume – both with the Islanders – but he did not win a playoff round in either year. He does have a respectable regular season record, though, having gone 244-188-25-30 as he takes over in Philadelphia.
The team Laviolette inherits is still a formidable club, as the numbers suggest...
But the Flyers are also a team struggling of late. They have lost six of their last seven games, outscored by 23-12 in the process. The 12 goals scored in six games is part of a longer slump in which Philadelphia has scored only 20 goals in their past ten games and more than three in a game only once. They were shutout by their last two opponents – Atlanta and Vancouver.
Part of the problem is that the power play hasn’t had much juice lately. In the last ten games, it is sputtering along at a 12.1 percent pace (4-for-33). If there is a silver lining – and a warning to the Capitals – in that power play number, it is this. The Flyers played six of those ten games on the road, and the Flyers are tied for the top spot in the league in power play opportunities at home (67 in 14 games).
Needless to say, there isn’t any Flyer you could reasonably consider “hot” in terms of offensive statistics. The top five scorers for Philadelphia have had ten-game totals that look like this…
Jeff Carter: 3-3-6
Mike Richards: 3-4-7
James van Riemsdyk: 2-2-4
Scott Hartnell: 3-3-6
Chris Pronger: 1-1-2
12 goals out of their top-five scorers over the last ten games places a lot of pressure on the undercard of the roster to produce. And the trouble with that is much of it has been injured or otherwise on the shelf. Darroll Powe, who is tied for sixth on the club in goals scored, has been out since November 20th with a strained shoulder. Daniel (DCMD – Don’t Call Me Danny) Briere sat for two of the last ten games, courtesy of a suspension for a late hit on Colorado’s Scott Hannan, then he missed one due to the flu. Briere is the closest thing to “hot” on the Flyers’ roster (scoring-wise, that is) with 3-4-7 in the seven games he played out of the Flyers’ last ten.
Still, Carter (15 games, 7-9-16), Richards (16 games, 6-9-15), Hartnell (16 games, 9-6-15), and Briere (24 games, 9-11-20) are just about point-a-game players against the Caps over their respective careers.
If the Flyers need to get someone else to contribute, that would be Claude Giroux. In the early part of this ten-game offensive drought, he was the one Flyer producing, going 2-6-8 over the first five of those games. But in the last five, he is 0-1-1, and the biggest thing on his resume in those games was getting into his first NHL fight (against Colorado’s Marek Svatos).
On the blue line, the Flyers are a talented group, especially their top four of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn. They log the big minutes (all of them over 20 minutes a game), they contribute offensively (all have more than ten points), and none of them have yet missed a contest this year. They have been the one constant for the Flyers thus far. They will bear watching in this respect. If you compare that top four with the Caps’ top four, the striking difference is that they Flyers’ quartet get pucks to the net in the offensive end. They have a total of 182 shots on goal in 25 games. Meanwhile, the Caps’ top four defensemen (in ice time) who will be most likely to play in this game (Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier, and Milan Jurcina) have a combined 155 shots on goal in 27 games, and Green has 79 of those. Even if shots don’t go in, they create commotion in front that teammates can take advantage of.
In goal, you’d have to wonder what the new coach’s thinking is going to be here. Does he go with the hot hand? Brian Boucher – in the nets for the decision in four of the last five Flyer games – has a GAA in those last four games of 1.73 and a save percentage of .933. It is testimony to how much the Flyers are struggling on offense that he is 1-3-0 in those last four games.
Or, does Laviolette go with Ray Emery? In his last four games (one of which he was pulled from in favor of Boucher), Emery is 0-3-0, 4.69, .824. After starting the season 10-3-1 and giving indications that the gamble to sign him would pay off for the Flyers, he has recorded one win since November 12th.
1. Ten. The first ten minutes, that is. This is always a tightly contested affair, and it will have the added intensity that comes from a team wanting to take out its recent frustrations on the visitor, wanting to get the new coach off to a good start, and a rabid crowd. But the Caps are 5-1-1 in their last seven regular season games in South Philly. They can do this… but getting past those first ten minutes will go a long way toward ensuring that result.
2. Balance. In the Caps’ modest four game winning streak, seven players have the 14 goals the Caps have scored, and 13 players have points. In the absence of Alex Ovechkin for almost two full games of those four, the goal scoring has been picked up by Eric Fehr (four goals) and Nicklas Backstrom (three). Eight players have at least two assists. Against a Flyers team that will employ four defensemen for the lion’s share of the time (unless the new coach has other ideas) the pressure has to come from up and down the lineup.
3. Memories. Rewind back to that 2007 game when Bruce Boudreau took over. The Caps squandered a 3-0 lead in allowing the Flyers to tie the game. But the game was won by the Caps in overtime when Nicklas Backstrom curled the puck onto his stick, slid it around a sprawled Martin Biron, and lifted it over Biron into the net for a 4-3 win. Well, that’s hardly been the only success Backstrom has had against the Flyers. In ten career regular season games against Philadelphia he is 4-12-16. In two games this year he is 1-6-7. He could be the spoiler of the new coach’s debut.
The man Boudreau coached against that evening in November 2007, and who departed as Flyers coach yesterday – John Stevens – takes his leave very much a “Flyers Man.” He was a 1984 draft pick of the Flyers as a defenseman. Although he played in only nine games for the Flyers (he would also play in 44 games for the Hartford Whalers), he would score the first goal in the history of the Flyer’s AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. He also coached the Phantoms for six seasons after his retirement as a player, winning a Calder Cup along the way.
Unfortunately, perhaps, the most distinctive part of Stevens' legacy is that he set, and later tied, the Flyers’ franchise record for consecutive losses – ten (0-9-1 in 1005-2006 and 0-8-2 in 2007-2008). Nevertheless, it is always sad when anyone loses a job, even the coach of a fierce rival of the club we root for. And in that sense, we wish Stevens success in his future.
Here is an odd product of the change behind the Flyers’ bench – Bruce Boudreau is now the third-longest tenured coach with his current team among the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, trailing only Lindy Ruff in Buffalo and Claude Julien in Boston. We think that while the roles have been reversed since November 2007, the result will be the same on the scoreboard…
Caps 4 – Flyers 3