Saturday, January 9, 2016

Behind the hockey scenes: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Islanders

                                                                                                    (My pre-game, press level photo of the Wells Fargo Center.)

The Wells Fargo Center was silent upon arrival this Saturday, January 9, 2016. The Philadelphia Flyers were set to play the New York Islanders on another mild winter's day that has thankfully been snowless to-date this season. The historically high $900 million-plus national Powerball lottery pot amount was the only screaming voice this scribe heard pre-game.

The consistent professionalism of the staff in this building is always noteworthy. A hard-working collective unit, which includes many familiar faces, is always appreciated. Random chance doesn't enable this solid sports' business to retain its mojo. Instead it began with the leadership of Ed Snider and continues to flow through the earnest efforts of all team members, both on and off the ice, since the 1960's.

Driving past the site of the fabled Spectrum never grows old as one approaches the Flyers' second home in south Philadelphia. The exact physical location of that cultural icon was tastefully not supplanted by another structure. A reverent amount of open space allows the lasting image of all hockey, basketball, wrestling, concert and other events to live on in the mind's eye.


Flyers' starters: Goaltender Steve Mason, First line: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. The defensive pairing was Mark Streit and Nick Schultz. (The lack of Shayne Gostisbehere, due to a recent leg injury, will remain challenging to overcome, considering this impactful rookie's presence since his fall arrival.)

Islanders' starters: Goaltender Jaroslav Halak. First line: Brock Nelson, Mikhail Grabovski and Ryan Strome. The defensive pairing was Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait.

First period

Little action, underscored by the lopsided 11-2 shot total in favor of Philadelphia. The lack of Flyers' goals, in an of itself, can't be defined within this one iced frame. However, until general manager Ron Hextall is able to inject at least three additional, effective, offensive players into this roster, it will continue to have limited playoff chase potential. Having typed that, it's also worth noting that the second-season front office boss is doing a fine job, as recognized across the National Hockey League, in incrementally upgrading the organization.

Evgeny Medvedev took advantage of minimal open iceway on the power play taking the puck in the faceoff circle and scoring his third goal of the season at 8:33 on the power play. Assists via Matt Read and Michael Del Zotto. Penalized Islander Mikhail Grabowski left the box with a chagrin on his face.

Second period

Michael Raffl (sixth goal) opened the scoring at 1:28 of the period by lifting a quick passed Halak. Matt Read carried the puck into the o-zone, passed it to Sean Couturier, who gave up his body into the back boards, while simultaneously shifting the disk to the approaching Raffl. Result: Full line team effort and goal scored.

The period ended in a 2-0 lead for the Flyers. New York mustered eight shots in the period, with minimal effective scoring chances.

Third period

Read scored his sixth goal of the season by flicking a wrist shot through Halak's five-hole at 10:58. He took the puck near the blue line and fired from above the faceoff circle. His tally was assisted by Mark Streit and Scott Laughton.

Radko Gudas ended the scoring with a spin-o-rama shot, that was tipped by Couturier, past Halak's right pad at 15:14. Couturier's ninth goal of the season capped a fine home performance that featured fine work by all four lines and 200 feet of hockey responsibility.

The raucous crowd serenaded the visiting hockey team prior to the horn sounding. The ode offered the gathered thong's philosophical take on New York's collective worth. A 4-0 shutout didn't elicit generosity from the hometown crowd.

Mason tied Neuvirth with three shutouts on the season.


                                                                                                    (My post-game presser photo of head coach Dave Hakstol.)

Head coach Dave Hakstol emphasized the sound work of his unit in the post-game presser. Part-way through his first year foray in the the NHL, this bench boss has had an effect upon a group of players that are somewhat similar to last year's contingent.

Speaking to the press, post-game, about his team's current track, Hakstol said, “Yeah, every two points, it sounds like a broken record right, but it’s true, every game is pretty important for us.  These games happen to be against eastern conference teams.  I said it the other day, our long term focus is between now and the four day all-star break.  That’s long term and short term is just what you saw today, one game, two points at a time.”

Hakstol also agreed, when asked, that tomorrow was an earned day off. Monday's practice will reflect the good feelings generated by the three-game win streak, that started with a 4-3 regulation win against the Montreal Canadiens last Tuesday. Next up is another home contest that features the Boston Bruins on January 13th.

Per the Flyers' media relations department: Matt Read recorded his eighth career game of three or more points and his first since Dec. 4, 2013.  Three of those eight games have come against the Islanders.  Read has had 11 shots on goal over the past two games. And, Steve Mason recorded his 29th career shutout and his second career blanking of the Islanders. It’s his third shutout of the season.  

One last noteworthy points about Snider: He founded the Flyers at at time when professional hockey didn't exist in Philadelphia. The risk he took represented the spirit of capitalism in America at that time. Battling the reemergence of cancer this season, Mr. Flyer has been resting at this California home for much of this season. Released information indicates that his fight is going well, yet this disease always remains fully unpredictable. His team's Christmas' break visit brightened his spirits and also allowed the modern version of the orange and black to rightly offer its respect to the man behind it all.

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