Ice Pickings

- Randy Jones Suspended for 2 games – Are the Flyers a dirty team?
- The Phoenix Coyotes; an ugly roster on paper
- Some slow starts between the pipes

Another player suspension and once again it’s another Flyer. Is this purely coincidence or is there something barbaric about these Philadelphia Flyers? Every longstanding hockey fan knows that the Flyers from their early days of the 1970’s have valued physical play, as well as a tough in your face style of hockey. Hence the Broad Street Bullies. But this years edition of the Philadelphia Flyers has been more than tough, they have been dirty on occasion. Now these unfortunate incidents initiated by Steve Downie, Jesse Boulerice and Randy Jones were poor decisions not by the team but by these individual players. To label the Philadelphia Flyers as a dirty team would be saying that coach John Stevens is encouraging a dirty style of play. Of course this is not the case. Like most coaches, Stevens preaches an aggressive and physical game and the suspensions of his players were a result of actions that went far beyond this system. After the disaster year the Flyers endured in 2006-07, they have rebounded strongly, which is a reflection of the hard work both General Manager Paul Holmgren and John Stevens have put into this team. To issue blame on Flyers coaching for the mistakes of Jones, Boulerice and Downie is simply over assessment. Colin Campbell made the right decision by handing Jones a two game suspension. It recognizes the hit from behind on Patrice Bergeron as inappropriate yet acknowledges the hit as accidental. Although the Flyers already have a dark eye for these three separate suspensions, it is not fair for the team as a whole to be labeled entirely responsible for these suspensions, when they were a result of poor on-ice decisions by Jones, Boulerice and Downie.

If you take a quick glance at most NHL rosters, at the very least there are a few good players if not some prime prospects. Heck, even the lowly Thrashers have scoring guns Kovalchuck and Hossa. But what about the Phoenix Coyotes? Man, do they look thin on paper at every position! I recall making my annual regular season predictions and thought to myself, “Geez, the Phoenix Coyotes are the only team in the league where if everything goes right for them, they’re still a far cry from the playoffs.” As to date, their best player and captain Shane Doan only has one goal to boot and the fate of their goaltending lies on the shoulders of Alex Auld and Mikael Tellqvist, both goalie castoffs. Guys like Daniel Carcillo, Radim Vrbata and Niko Kapanen are being relied upon for their scoring, Ouch! The veteran presence consists of chronic underachievers such as Derek Morris, Mike York and Nick Boyton, to go along with Ed Jovanoski who can’t stay off the disabled list each year even if he wanted too. Not even the Great One himself can make this team great. Maybe this team will come to surprise with a strong work ethic, but lets face it, this team’s destined for the doldrums of the NHL basement. Unless they lure substantial talent in this summer’s off-season, I don’t even think the term “they’ll be better next year” applies to this team. At least Phoenix upper management has finally decided to go with the youth movement instead of hoping wily old veterans could resurrect their careers (Nolan, Reonick, Hull, Nedved, Ricci ect.) All in all, it’s gonna be a long year for the Yotes in the desert.

So what’s up with the usual cast of the NHL’s goaltending elite? Martin Broduer (3.28 GAA, .877 sv%) Mikka Kiprusoff (3.15 GAA, 879 sv%) and Roberto Luongo (2.92 GAA, .903 sv%) have all mightily struggled out of the gates this year. First thinks first, it’s early days in the NHL schedule, but to see the games finest in the crease at the bottom of goaltending statistics can still raises eyebrows. Heck, even Jose Theodore currently boasts better numbers than the aforementioned goalies. In the case of Roberto Luongo he is finally starting to come around, although he still seems to be lacking that dominate presence between the pipes, a presence where he can single handedly win a hockey game for the Canucks. As for Martin Broduer, he has been absolutely awful in net for the Devils this year. However in his defense, the team around him hasn’t exactly played spectacular either. It also doesn’t help that New Jersey has played every game on the road but one. In last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs I recall Brodeur’s struggles against both Ottawa and Tampa Bay, where he looked inferior in net. Interestingly this has carried over into the current season. Are Broduer’s best seasons behind him? Well one can’t easily dismiss Broduer’s career as over considering he’s won three Stanley Cups, a gold medal and numerous individual awards. He was the 2007 Vezina winner after all, so unless your name is Jim Carey Broduer still should have lots left in the tank. A combination of nine consecutive road games, a mediocre defense and age are all possible factors in Brodeur’s early struggles.

For Mikka Kiprusoff early season struggles are just part of the path toward a successful goaltending campaign. In each of the last two years Kipper has struggled early on, only to regain form as he captured the Vezina trophy (2006) and finished third in balloting (2007) for top goaltender of the year honors. Although Kipper has definitely looked shaky in the majority of his games, the dynamic Flames offence has bailed him out on several occasions. If Calgary wants to be a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup, Mike Keenan and company will need Kipper to be at his usual best, which means getting Kiprufsoff to steal some wins for the team. Chances are Kiprusoff will rebound from another dreadful start, and that’s what Flame’s brass are expecting too after committing to Kiprusoff for six years and $35 million the other day.

It is true that every goalie has struggled at one point or another during their career, so it might as well be at the beginning of the season rather than later on. But the big three of Luongo, Brodeur and Kiprusoff better rediscover their game soon, before their team’s Stanley Cup aspirations begin to fade. `