Otherwise known as the first baby step out of the slump. It was a great effort last night, but just about anything positive must be prefaced with the phrase, Ã¢â‚¬Å“albeit against the woeful Flyers.Ã¢â‚¬ï¿¾ They did manage to win, though, and you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how much joy it would bring me to type that phrase a dozen times. But I shall refrain.
OFFENSE: B+. One of the best efforts of the year, especially in the first two periods. They were outshooting Philly 31-10 after two. That is unheard of for this team. They continually bottled the (oh, okay, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll say it) woefully slow Flyers up in their own end with an aggressive forecheck. It was very impressive. This grade would have been an A, except they really backed off in the third. Not sure why. But all the goals came at even strength, another good sign after they got schooled so badly the last couple games. If not for a couple goalposts, Ryan Whitney, and some bad luck, the score would have been as ugly as it was in Philly a couple weeks back.
DEFENSE: A-. Very solid effort last night. For the most part, they moved the puck out of the zone. They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t allow too many rebounds. Oh, but then there were Gonchar and Melichar to bring the grade down. That was an ugly performance by those two, but at least they were only on enough to give up two goals. The line on the first Flyer goal should read, G: Gonchar; A: Robitaille, Melichar. Boy, they really need to find a good Eaton replacement. Brad Lukowich, anyone? For once, Whitney seemed decent in his own end, but he merits a special category later in the column.
GOALTENDING: A-. Once again a tremendous game for Fleury against the Flyers. He is really on a roll against them, going back to last year. He has become quite the Flyer killer. In his last four starts against Philly, he is 4-0, with a 1.00 GAA and an amazing .964 save percentage, and two shutouts. He is to the Flyers as John Grahame is to the Penguins. It was a good rebound game for him after the poor performance against Ottawa. He played under control (well, except for the last goal where he was kind of floating out in no-manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s land) and was letting the play come to him. You can just see that he is so much stronger mentally this year in a game like this.
POWER PLAY: C-. They did manage to set up better than they had recently, but couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put anything in (see Whitney grade below). It just wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite clicking last night.
PENALTY KILL: A. Tremendous job! At one point, the Flyers went I think three straight PPs, including some 5-on-3 time, without a shot on goal. They basically kept everything outside and waited for the inevitable mistake from the woeful Flyers. Max did scare me the one time on a two-man down when he passed the puck all the way back into his own end and then they couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get it out.
OVERALL: B+. Could easily have been an A, but they quit playing for about half the third period, even allowing the woeful Flyers to tie it up. Fortunately, they have this Russian guy who did nothing all night appear out of nowhere and put in the winning goal. If you havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t heard, that Russian guy can shoot.
FACEOFFS: F. Another pitiful performance at 40 percent. They really need to work this hard in practice this week. Some of it is the centermen, but some is hard work after the puck drops, winning the battles for the loose pucks, that type of thing. They need to get back to the early-season formula.
RYAN WHITNEY: F+. I have actually been a Whitney supporter all season, but not last night. The reason I am down on him is his offense, which is the only reason heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the NHL. How many times do we have to watch this guy miss the net from 3 feet away? I imagine he had the folks up in F ducking for cover everytime he shot. It was an embarrassment. He should be forced to shoot at the empty net for an entire practice this week. But I added the plus to the grade for him jumping Freddy Meyer IV for his hit on Armstrong.
BOB KNIGHT: A. Anybody else wishing that Colby would get a dose of this
( from Therrien?