I took a couple days to absorb what happened so I didn't merely speak out of emotion. The only conclusion I can came up with is that I am utterly disgusted. Make no mistake. This was a disgusting performance by everybody involved from the players to the coaches to the general manager. We were exposed as having multiple problems that began in the regular season and continued throughout the series. Points that need to be stressed:
- Refeeres and the idea of 'human error' during playoffs has to be addressed by the league. Teams are so evenly matched that a single call can turn a series, which is exactly what happened with the offside goal that forced game 1 into OT after a 3-3 tie in regulation. We won that game. Take the refeering mistake out and we win 3-2 and things look much different. Game-changing calls during playoffs simply can't happen. Have a guy in Toronto call down and correct the mistake. However badly we played, to me, the series ended 3-3.
- As good as Giroux is, he cannot outshine Crosby or Malkin. I didn't like their performance. Malkin with the ill-advised penalties and Sid being unable to bring out his magic. We can blame the players themselves or focus on Dan Bylsma who was seemingly outcoached in the series, as the Flyers have a knack for clogging the middle and forcing us to the outside where we shoot with little chance of scoring. It's probably a combination of the two, but they needed to be better.
- Fleury is a goalie that plays well behind a solid group of defenseman and quickly loses his confidence when our D does not play well. While I still believe in Fleury, he did not play up to his standard and there is no sugar-coating it. Should have been relieved at some point, although due to lack of a reliable backup goaltender, this was an impossibility.
- Below-average defensemen. I am horrified that Ray Shero put this group together. This was the worst collection of D we have had in many years, lacking skill, size, and physical play. They were outworked and outmuscled by the Flyers. One particular goal in the final game where Michalek failed to tie up a stronger Flyer's stick in front of our net is a good example. If that is Gill or Grossman there, the Flyer does not score. Forget about Martin because he should be traded for a Gatorade bottle.
- I hate to be saying this because of my like for Dan Bylsma, but our lack of a system counteracting what the other team was doing was apparent, as was the worst PK that I possibly ever saw since I began watching hockey. Still not enough success on the PP featuring Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. Lack of team structure, composure (those needless penalties), and accountability (thank you Henry for your post.. it was right on the money) has me thinking that something needs to change, even if Dan remains as head coach but a guy like Rick Tocchet comes in as an assistant who isn't afraid of hurting players' feelings and get in their face when times call for it. A new PP and PK approach needs to be developed because the Flyers have our number. It looked like sometime during the series Penguins began to copy Flyers' wider PP setup and were able to get better shots on net, but the PK remained atrocious.
- I don't understand why Crosby does not play on the PK with his vision and speed, and Staal with his size and improved shot on the PP.
- I give Ray Shero the #1 Goat Award. As I wrote a few weeks ago, areas of needed improvement have been apparent all season. They were not corrected. I don't recall a single trade this year. Shero must feel that it is OK to be #27 in size. Ever since an early Sharks game, it was clear we needed to beef up at boths ends. We had problems penetrating Flyers' bigger D all year and the same is true at the other end where our D cannot displace anyone from the crease. The lack of an additional PP quarterback and threat on the defensive end who can join in and fire the puck has been with our team for 2 years. Looking at Pens' D alone, I can't help but feel that Shero has lost his marbles. He replaced two solid shutdown defensemen with two guys who would have no role on my team in any shape or form. My philosophy is that if you're not going to put people on their behind, contribute offensively. If you can't score, you better be physical and reliable on defense. Martin and Michalek do neither.
Fleury struggled in the playoffs, yet we could not remove him because there was no viable alternative.
Lack of hard work may be attributed to a complacent coach, but little desire in players' hearts has to fall partly on Shero. I thought we came out flat in game 6. There were easy pieces to pick out for trade all year. Something that was not done. If he planned on making a change on deadline day, he failed and has no one to blame but himself. I'm sure if I looked at my old posts dating back to the time of his hire, I would find some where I argued that he does not work quickly enough. I wrote in his support earlier in the year in that he does not overspend and isn't prone to being tricked, yet, at the same time, the man waits all year in hope of making a splash on last day. There has to be some middle ground there. This was a small, soft, team long removed from being the defensive juggernaut of a few seasons' ago that blocked shots and played tenacious hockey for 60 minutes.
Flyers' Paul Holmgren may occasionally make a mistake where a player doesn't fully work out (Bryzgalov), but he is quick to act in identifying a weaknesss and addressing it. Replace Michalek or Martin with Grossman and our D immediately looks better. Grossman was available to anyone interested. Holmgren understands the importance of size at forward, which is why they now feature Simmonds in addition to Hartnell. Voracek is big. Jagr is big. Couturier and Schenn are big.
The Flyers will be better next year. Their young players will be better. They will have Meszaros back and likely buy Pronger out and add a solid defenseman. Would not surprise me to see them offer JVR and Bobrovski. This seems like such a wasted opportunity for another legitimate run at the cup. Teams in the East are struggling. Boston can't score. Caps aren't a threat. Rangers don't scare me and we've owned them all season. Flyers have goaltending issues. Who knows how things will shape up next year.
It will be a shame if after all is said and done, we'll have 1 or 2 cups while featuring two generational talents in Crosby and Malkin, instead of 3 or 4, because the GM cannot build a full roster. Remember that dynasty talk? Ray Shero will have to answer one day.
Without taking credit away from the Flyers who have a deep and talented group of forwards and are well-coached, this was a winnable series. I don't necessarily think it was the Flyers that beat us. We played so badly early on, allowing 20 goals in 3 games, that our team is more to blame for what happened. The guys have already acknowledged it in their interviews. I doubt that Flyers will score so many goals on anybody else for the rest of the playoffs and that is our problem.
This was an ugly series. Ugly hockey. Too many mistakes uncharacteristic to both teams, but I will say that we did not deserve to win based on our play. I am very disappointed.
BTW, I know Ray Shero cannot pinpoint blame on any specific player, especially if he is hoping to trade him, but Bylsma and Orpik gave a pretty good indication in their interviews that they didn't feel we were hard enough on the Flyers (in our zone). Lack of size and physical play is an enormous issue for us on the blue line.
One last thing. Shero and Bylsma can point to a lot of success during regular season, including the PK, stats, defensive ranking a year ago with similar roster, but what one has to factor in for the playoffs are match-ups. That must play a role when acquiring players and developing a gameplan. Flyers built specifically to beat us and it was a success. Congratulations to them, regardless of how far they'll go in the playoffs.