18 April 2011
Being tied 1-to-1 headed into Game 3 isn't that surprising. Missing Chris Pronger has continued to hurt us to a certain extent, but it's been the play of two guys the Flyers really depend on that's, I wouldn't say got me worried, that hasn't been encouraging to this point.
Jeff Carter - spending most of his time on a line with a 2nd year player who is performing at the highest level we've yet seen, complimented by the Flyers most offensively skilled player, Carter has managed to be Clay Aiken level invisible during the first two games of the series. Not to get too deep into the specifics of where his shots actually end up going, but as a measure of his involvement in the game, his decline in shots on goal during the post-season thus far is cause for concern. After averaging over 4 shots on goal a game (who knows how many attempted) over 80 games of the regular season, Carter has only 5 shots to his credit in this series so far. He's been streaky his entire career, which might be a source of comfort for Flyers fans, in that maybe he's gotten the poor play out of his system in time to contribute to the scoreboard in this round.
Mike Richards - save his little kerfuffle with Ryan Miller in Game 1, Richards has two hits in two Stanley Cup Playoff games to his credit - that's it. He's been out there in 4-on-4, 5-on-3, 5-on-4 situations…as a matter of fact he has almost 3 minutes more of PP ice time than any forward on the team but has not been making great decisions out there coming off the sideboards. His attempts at his favorite play in the history of the world, the fast, semi-unexpected snap pass, have resulted in more turnovers than scoring opportunities. One area he's been performing well is at the faceoff dot, but still, Laviolette has gone to Giroux, Betts, and Briere more often and Richie.
One thing that could work to his benefit as we get deeper into the series: the Nodl Ultimatum.
If Andreas Nodl has to miss a game or two with his upper-body injury then Nik Zherdev could provide that offensive spark the Richards and Versteeg combination is lacking, causing them to come up just short of being a danger offensively. Nodl has proven himself to be an effective NHLer, but in the same way Darroll Powe has - as a 4th liner. Zherdev has the ability to dominate out there and while he's perhaps a defensive liability, who isn't. You throw Zherdev on that wing and you honest to H.O.V. have 3 1st lines. Buffalo won't be able to keep up. This might be a decision that is made for Laviolette, which makes it easier to test the hypothesis.
On that point, Versteeg has at least been involved physically and emotionally in these first two games, which is why he's escaped a finger pointing here on this site. But he too has significant room to elevate his game before he hits his head on the WFC ceiling.
If Carter and Richards come out and play the way Flyers fans expect them to, the way they have in previous regular and post-seasons, then the Sabres and the whoever's left of the Eastern Conference down the line is going to have trouble handling this team with the way our "role guys" have already stepped it up.
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