Three and a half decades. That's how long it's been since the Flyers lifted the Stanley Cup, and if some of their fans -- born long afterward -- are any indication, it's gonna be a loooooong time before they admit their team can ever do wrong.
My focus here was going to be how the entire Islanders team played awful in another loss in Philadelphia. Because they did. But then I saw "the tough Danny boys" Briere and Carcillo be big men by high-sticking and taking out 172-lb. Frans Nielsen with one minute left in a 6-1 game -- really? Frans Nielsen? He of 24 PIMs total in his 174-game career? That's when I remembered the tools we're dealing with. From the blueline on out to the stands where the faithful chew the cud, it was an excellent showing of we'll-win-but-show-you-how-we-can-act-like-children-anyway.
Then I read some paint-by-numbers tripe (that's where my absurd headline and lead comes from, if you didn't bother to click the BSH link or pick up on my satirical sarcasm) from fans of a team that employs the notoriously dirty Chris Pronger, Carcillo, and a litany of general thugs. A franchise still proud of their tradition of how they won two Cups by dirtying up the league. (I forget, was tonight the night they raised the banner to commemorate all the pucks Pronger childishly collected ast spring? Or is that on a different Flyers Are Adults Too! night? Or "Just Pronger Doing What He Does Best" Night?)
If you can talk yourself into pretending Nielsen got what he deserved, or gloss over what Briere and Carcillo did to Nielsen as the fair result after Nielsen "said something to Briere," then you checked your tenuous hold on reality at the door long ago. And you emulate the stereotype NHL fans have long held of Flyers. But I repeat myself.
Dear Danny the Smaller,
You've scored 534 points in this league. You know what you're stick is for -- and it sure isn't for hitting people across the head, no matter how little you are. So don't be a Cammalleri. Just play the game.
All who like to watch hockey players play h-o-c-k-e-y
I also recall how just seconds after a clean Trent Hunter hit on Andrej Meszaros -- even the Flyers radio announcers called it clean -- produced an absurd five-minute powerplay plus a 5-on-3, when on the ensuing PK Nielsen beat two lazy Flyers to force a penalty and penalty shot he converted, still Flyers fans at the Com-Wacha-Well-Whatever Center did their "Hey ref, you suck" chant to protest the penalty shot. Really? You were just handed a gratuitous powerplay and you watched your two powerplay pointmen take the lazy route to defend Nielsen on a 3-on-5, and you still think the ref is out to get you?
That's when I remembered, ah yes: No matter where you are in this great sport, there are always dirty players, and there are always delusional fans who will act like the mercenaries wearing their colors in any given year can do no wrong, emitting one-sided effluvia that would make the Kremlin blush. Indeed.
It's a special thing to watch this sport. It's a strange thing when it turns people into blind lunatics who cannot see the festering bag of toolishness in their own neighborhood. (But oh no, go ahead and tell me Briere and Carcillo are innocent -- victims, even. After all, it's not like Briere has a history of dirty stickwork when his inner Napoleon feels wronged.)
Carcillo didn't know what [Nielsen] said, but he "knew something was going to happen, so he just went in there and hit him"
DiPietro: Because readers here have heard enough from me lately on the topic, I'm not going to address the goaltending specifically; in terms of puck stopping and positioning, I'll let the evidence speak for itself on the highlights above. "Just aad night" for DiPietro or typical of the limitations in his current form, you be the judge. But I will speak to Rick DiPietro in terms of his: 1) again wandering out of his net needlessly before the first Flyers powerplay, which led to the second goal, and 2) coming out of his net for no reason to make the incorrectly called Hunter major worse. In the garbage time Briere/Carcillo cheapshot section, though, I on't blame him one bit for getting involved.
Zenon Konopka-Trevor Gillies-Jon Sim: The shift in the first period where they were hemmed in against the Flyers' big line -- it ended in Sim taking a penalty right as they finally got control -- was made worse by DiPietro playing the puck when he shouldn't have. Just an example of perfect storm cluster on this night.
Konopka: Doing the kind of thing Flyers fans typically
excuse expect their team to do when their team is getting their arses handed to them. But at 4-0, it was too little, too late. Still an epic fight with Dirt Bag Car Bomb Carcillo though. So yay for people who are into that.
Officiating: Not an issue for me since the Isles were steamrolled, and ugliness ensued so you expect some strange calls just to get the game over with. The refs blew the Hunter call, but of course the game was long out of hand at that point. The rest can be quibbled over (Nielsen with a misconduct? Huh.), but like WebBard -- who was at the game -- said afterward: "I saw some people complaining about the calls. The bad calls went both ways as the refs missed a LOT of Islanders stuff that was happening out of the play. But what was BS was that they didn’t toss Carcillo until late in the game. It was obvious he was picking fights with the Islanders just because Gillies/Konopoka were gone."
Outplayed, outmanned, out-everything: By the end, as blowouts sometimes work, the Islanders actually outshot the Flyers 31-29. They even forced some nice saves from Sergei Bobrovski early, like that nifty Doug Weight dangle that led to a doorstep setup of Josh Bailey. But we know the reality: At the end of the second period the Flyers had 25 shot attempts (shots + blocks + misses) to the Islanders' 11. Goaltending and special teams or not, that's not gonna cut it. The end-of-game total was stil 63-52 in the Flyers' favor, though that included nearly 11:00 of PP time for the Flyers -- 3:38 of it 5-on-3 alone.
Bruno Gervais and Jack Hillen: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the two players who were healthy scratches for the first weeks of the season do not make an ideal defensive pairing, even if you try to shelter them.
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Overall, we had a sense something like this could happen tonight. The Islanders are undermanned, hurt by injuries to two of their best players, riding some luck to get this far, (overly) dependent on special teams, in the middle of a brutal road-heavy opening six weeks, riding a poor trend in play over the last two weeks, and notoriously futile in Philadelphia in recent years. Tonight was a perfect storm of suckitude made worse by a good Flyers team rounding back into form.
We'll pick up the pieces as we go between now and the next game, on the road Wednesday in Carolina. With each game, we're understanding a little more on how strong this team's flaws are and how much they miss Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo. (Speaking of, how much do we miss Andrew MacDonald already?) A "healthy lineup" is not a reality for any NHL team, but with the Islanders' thin depth and injury curse, it's all the more important that they find a way to mitigate the effect if they want to stay in the race before we all start to fret about the traditional December swoon.