Saturday, April 14, 2012

A million little pieces

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

It would be too easy to mark each and every Flyers goal in last night's 8-5 Game 2 victory as some kind of turning point, because to some degree, they all were -- and as a whole represent another dimension the resiliency I wrote about two days ago following Game 1's comeback.

What isn't so easy, and what serves the day-after analysis best for today at least, are to take stock of the moments behind the moments -- the nuts and bolts without which great things cannot stand.

The biggest of the bunch came with 7:37 remaining in the first period, the Penguins already ahead 2-0 and looking to triple that advantage on a power play:




If you notice, a split-second ahead of the spectacular stop, Bryzgalov appears to look towards Letang's side of the ice before checking back where the puck was located at that moment.

Without that check-down, there is no way the fast-twitch muscles react in time to force his body across the crease in time to make a save. There is probably no way he senses that a cross-ice pass may be coming, and most likely he has no indication that Letang has snuck into open space until the horn blast would have sounded.

But, because of that tiny little fraction of an inkling -- maybe hockey sense, maybe a fleeting reminder of something he saw on tape breaking down the Penguins power-play positioning, and yeah, maybe some blind luck, we have a save now etched in franchise playoff lore.

And of course, the man who fears bears in the woods but apparently no deficit, played it off like something in the Universe was helping his cause.


“He just put it in my glove,” Bryzgalov said. “It’s pretty much a small chance...It was pretty much a lucky save.”

Next up, is Claude Giroux's first goal of the night, which pulled the Orange and Black within 3-2 on their first power play of the game:



Jakub Voracek's puck-moving brilliance is on full display here. He aggressively moves towards the net on the right wing, using multiple quick stick-fakes to pull both Brooks Orpik out of position and on his belly, and also rendering Jordan Staal totally useless.

The drop pass he utilizes to hit Giroux also confuses Orpik once he straightens up, the dish so quick he has no time to realize where the puck is before it is released; the swiftness of the pass also confuses Marc-Andre Fleury, who drops down to guard the right post and close off the five hole as if Voracek is still in active pursuit.

That means, if nothing else gets in the way, Giroux's shot has all kinds of space on the far side. If it doesn't find the net right away, Wayne Simmonds is parked at the left post and can sweep up the rebound.

Zbynek Michalek is in the vicinity, but since he's turned to the right side anyway, he most likely will not be a factor if Simmonds gets the puck.

Then, the go-ahead score, produced by 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr. His first score in the playoffs as a Flyer came at the 9:13 mark of the third and gave the visitors control of the contest for good:



With his back facing the net, apparently wrapped up by his checker, the infamous Ben Lovejoy, Jagr knows exactly what to do at this moment.

Would any other player on the ice or on the bench be able to read the play in its entirety? To see that a pass would be too risky since the points were covered and that chipping it behind the net was unwise because Scott Hartnell was marked?

Thanks to great presence of mind and more than 100 postseason appearances to his credit along with more than 700 combined NHL goals, he knows instinctively that his best option is to shoot. Not only that, but to process, through muscle memory, how to spin just right in order to make use of the inches of space between Fleury's extended pad and the far post, and to keep his shot low.

Jagr's not a man, at that moment, worried about losing the puck or shooting wide. He knows the two most difficult shots for a goaltender to track are the backhander and the turnaround because the full trajectory isn't picked up so that the appropriate reaction can be made.

And then, the score which capped Sean Couturier's hat trick and put the Flyers ahead by two goals:



It happens in one second at the top-right of the screen, and therefore is barely noticeable, but the whole odd-man rush is set up by a Pittsburgh miscue.

Giroux is simply trying to push the puck out of the zone, but it is apparently Steve Sullivan who goes for the poke check at the right point and misses, allowing Giroux to break free into open ice inside the neutral zone. If Sullivan takes the man, the rush never gets started and maybe the Penguins gain possession and start again the other way.

Now, onto the rush. Voracek joins the play late up the middle, and Couturier glides up the left-wing side to make it a 3-on-1 with only Letang back.

The puck-carrier is able to survey his surroundings, and chooses not to drop back to Voracek, because it becomes a low-percentage shot, straight on, with the chances that Letang will block it or Fleury to be square to it relatively good. Instead, he is able to draw Letang down to the ice, cutting off Fleury's visual angle while the pass slides across from one wing to the other.

Finally, Couturier makes a savvy move by slowing down a bit, but still remaining ready for a pass, stick on the ice.

Being a left-handed shot on the left wing aided the goal, as the direction of his blade matched perfectly with the open spot at the far post. Had he let up, thinking Giroux was going to slide in and try to shoot, the shot he takes if Giroux elected to pass will be either headed wide, hit the outside of the net, or stuffed right into Fleury's pads as he would have enough time to come across and face the chance.

There are others, to be sure, sprinkled throughout the madness of playoff hockey on Friday the 13th.

Bryzgalov's sprawling, desperate glove stop on Sullivan in the second period; Max Talbot smartly following up the play on Giroux's first-period short-handed breakaway which resulted in an easy tap-in; Couturier showing calmness when Lovejoy's errant clear early in the third found its way onto his stick as he alertly guarded against a back-pass in the Penguins' zone; Braydon Coburn not conceding the end of the second period and flipping his shot from the right point which ended up resulting in the goal that tied the game 4-4.

All of these are what the important plays in last night's win were made of, and need to be championed just as much as the individual scores or the collective effort. All of these need to keep oiling the machinery if the Flyers are to advance no matter who the opponent.

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