Sunday, January 03, 2010

Matinees and Hat Tricks and Blown Leads, Oh My

Well, we've seen it all today - two starting goalies being pulled, a blown 3-goal lead, and a converted touchdown worth of goals from the home side. If I told you that we put in seven goals and the Campoli/Carkner pairing was a minus-3, would you believe me?

I won't bother with the game recap because the guys at other blogs like Silver Seven do a far better job. I will say that it was fun watching Kovalev this afternoon. I haven't made a secret of my disappointment in the Kovalev signing and still think that the $5M could have been better used elsewhere. What I will admit, though, is that he put on a clinic today of how to be in the right place at the right time. Two of his four goals this afternoon were a result of standing on the weak side and waiting for a rebound to trickle over to him. Part of that is puck luck but part of that is knowing where to go in the offensive zone. It was nice to see the guy throw up a five point night.

Also good to see was the continued development of some of the role players. Guys like Shannon (who has been given a great opportunity to play with Kovalev and Fisher), Regin, Foligno, Neil, and Ruutu are all picking up the heavy lifting left by Alfie and Spezza's absence. I'll even admit that my optimism for this team is picking up. When the top two guys went down and we beat Buffalo, I didn't think much of it because we have their number. Beating Montreal was a nice comeback story but might have just been catching a team being complacent. But the resiliency this afternoon to put in three more after blowing a three goal lead in embarrassing fashion, that actually means something to me. Players are skating hard into the corners and are really filling in the holes on offence. The odds are still stacked against us given the tough January we have and the injuries, but we've looked like fighters lately.

Huge tests this week as we host the Bruins and then flying to Washington. I don't want to just state the obvious, but these two games would be a nice chance to grow the confidence and pad the standings against two top teams before getting some easier contests against Florida, Carolina, and Atlanta as we head into next week.

Finally, on Pascal - while I thought he was interfered with on the 3rd goal (his last before being replaced by Elliott), I think the message was more for the rest of the team to pull their socks up. Many coaches use the goalie change as a wakeup call for the team and in this one, it actually worked for both teams. Laviolette pulled Leighton and the Flyers responded with three goals to tie it. We pulled Pascal (before the tying goal) and that, combined with a tongue-lashing in the second intermission, propelled us to dominate the third period.

I really would like to see Pascal string together some consistent games here this month. We've probably overstated the importance of players stepping it up until Alfie and Spezza return, but we really need Snoopy to keep us in games. Against Montreal, you can argue that he is the sole reason that we were even close enough to come back and win it. Great! But this one was forgettable for him. He'll get the nod in two tough games this week and, mirroring the rest of the team, a strong effort would go a long way to building confidence for the stretch into the Olympic Break. When Pascal is hot, the defence gains mobility and the forwards can break out better. When he's porous, or you can watch video of Gerber's three years, the unit needs to hang around in the defensive zone longer and the outlet is lost.

And as we said in the summer - our playoff hopes rest almost entirely on Pascal. At this point in the season, does anybody disagree with this statement?

(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)


Oman said...

Pascal is no doubt a bit part of our playoff hopes, but I'm starting to think that with the effort and team system that they are putting together under Clouston, we might even have a chance with Elliot between the pipes.

Oman said...

Correction: "Pascal is no doubt a BIG part of our playoff hopes".