JP is a Leafs fan, but we can forgive him for that since he was kind enough to write us this awesome recap of last night's game in London, Ontario. Cheers, buddy. - Travis
By now, you will have read about the banana-throwing incident, and though I will add to that story later on in this article (yes, several important details have been so far left out), I would like first and foremost to report on what should have been the headline for Flyers fans everywhere: an entertaining game played by a bunch of prospects.
I was in attendance at the John Labatt Center, and was lucky enough to find myself in a front-row seat, right next to the glass. Because your benevolent overlords Travis Hughes and Eric T are such wonderful people, I thought I would share my thoughts on a game that many may not have had the opportunity to see.
I'll start with a recap of how the game progressed:
First, it should be noted that the Detroit Red Wings iced a group of players that was far closer to their starting lineup than the Flyers, so for Philly fans to be disappointed by the 4-3 SO result would be silly. Well-known names included Lidstrom, Franzen, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi, Filppula, Abdelkader, White and Helm. These players simply carried the play while on the ice.
The good news for Flyers fans is that most of their young prospects refused to go down quietly, and forced a group of seasoned Detroit veterans to a shootout.
Detroit pushed hard through the first, and was first to strike on the scoreboard, as Darren Helm scored short-handed with his teammate in the box for cross-checking. It was a goal scored off the rush, shot just over the shoulder of goalie Mike Leighton.
The Flyers had some good chances in the first, but Detroit certainly controlled the flow of play.
Valtteri Filppula scored the second goal of the game, widening Detroit's lead to 2-0 with roughly 4 and a half minutes left in the second. This was a tip-in that Leighton had no chance on.
Soon after, Andreas Nodl hustled back to break up a sure breakaway for the Wings, allowing play to continue flowing, and, on the same shift, allowing Claude Giroux a great chance on a breakaway himself. Before the puck could leave the zone again, James VanRiemsdyk had stuffed home a rebound of another Giroux shot to bring the Flyers to within one.
Wings' defenseman Ian White potted a goal on the power play just under 6 and a half minutes into the third to regain the Wings' two-goal lead. On the ice for the Flyers at the time were Couturier, Zolnierczyk, Coburn, and Simmonds.
Fortunately for the Flyers, JVR and Matt Carle connected to bring the score back within one on the second PP unit.
With less than a minute left and Leighton pulled for the extra attacker, Wayne Simmonds was able to bank a shot from behind the goal line off a Detroit player into the net to tie the game. This is where things started to get ugly.
It has been well-documented that someone threw a banana at Simmonds during the shootout. What has not been reported as widely is that the shootout was the second time in the game that a banana was thrown. As soon as Simmonds scored the tying goal, a banana came flying over my head, smashed into the glass, and literally landed at my feet. At the time, I figured that someone had simply been angry, and thrown a piece of food that they had smuggled into the arena. I even turned to my friend Danny Gray (a.k.a. Plea From A Cat Named Felix over at PPP) and wondered aloud whether or not this could be an act of racism, but we figured that it was too random to make any kind of assumption. Noteworthy is that the fruit seemed to come from the opposite side of the rink than the second banana. Unfortunately, by the time I turned around, I couldn't see who had thrown it.
In the eighth round of the shootout, Ian White finally ended the game with a nice faked shot, and a well-placed wrister.
The Three Stars of the game (as announced at the JLC):
2. Valtteri Filppula
3. Mike Leighton
A Few Individual Assessments:
Mike Leighton: Leighton played reasonably well, and although he allowed three goals, the Wings put 41 shots on net. A few highlights include a blocking arm save made on Filppula, as Filppula batted the puck out of mid air from deep in the slot, and a breakaway save on Johan Franzen. Franzen went five hole and Leighton shut it down in a hurry.
Oh, and a quirky side note: Leighton's dental hygienist sat in beside us, and told us that he's a really nice guy, and has all his own teeth to boot.
Blake Kessel: Overall, Blake Kessel played a good game. He saw a lot of ice time in all situations, including some time on the first PP unit with Carle and the second PK unit . That said, Kessel needs to get stronger to compete in the NHL. At one point, Filppula easily held him off with one arm while calmly deciding what to do with the puck with the puck pinned against the boards. Granted, Filppula is a strong player, but Kessel really struggled to keep him to the outside.
Andreas Nodl: Andreas Nodl played a solid defensive game. He came back to break up surefire breakaways and 2-on-1's several times. He finished checks, was strong on the puck, and played a quiet, responsible game.
Zac Rinaldo: A rambunctious player looking to contribute on the fourth line. He took a dumb penalty midway through the game for boarding, and was a bit of an agitator on a few occasions. He was lucky at one point not to get penalized for piling into Ty Conklin looking for a loose puck, and he quickly found himself in the middle of a scrum.
Sean Couturier: Typical of younger players, he needs to get stronger. At one point, Couturier went in to hit Darren Helm in open ice, and not only was knocked over himself, but then was nearly trampled, as Helm simply stepped over him and kept moving. He looked a little jittery around his own net, as he coughed up the puck right in the middle of the slot. Fortunate that no Wings were around to capitalize. He showed some offensive flare on a few rushes, and saw time on the first PP unit with Simmonds and JVR.
Tyler Brown: Showed flashes of good speed, and forechecked well on a line with Eric Wellwood and Ben Holmstrom to create a few chances. At one point, he came very close to catching Ty Conklin out of his net.
James van Riemsdyk: Looked dangerous all game. He had two goals and several other chances that may have lead to a hat trick. He looks really gangly out there, though. It seems to me that he could use a little extra muscle.
Defensemen Marc-André Bourdon and Oliver Laurisden both played quiet games. Bourdon shut down Zetterberg 1-on-1 at one point, and Laurisden was quick to clear away rebounds from in front of Leighton.
Other Philadelphia players to stand out were regulars: Claude Giroux had a few good rushes, including a breakaway chance that he missed on, Matt Carle looked good on the PP, PK, and at both ends of the ice at 5-on-5, and Wayne Simmonds, of course, had a very strong game, including the game-tying goal.