The Philadelphia Flyers playoffs started with an all-around poor showing at Madison Square Garden as they surrendered three 3rd period goals en route to a 4-1 loss. I think that everyone would agree the Rangers were the better team through the entire game, despite the fact that it remained tied with about 12 minutes to go. Obviously, at the core of this loss was a critical high sticking penalty of the 4 minute variety taken by Jason Akeson. The dumb Rangers would get 2 dumb goals within a minute and the rest is dumb history. Predictably, Akeson has been the target of much criticism and blame following the loss, which came in just his 3rd game at the NHL level. It was the result of both poor discipline and just some bad luck while trying to make a play on Carl Hagelin in the neutral zone. For this reason, the 23 year old winger will likely be benched in favor of Steve Downie (Ugh) or possibly even Chris Vandevelde. This is wrong and it will result in me hulk-smashing my computer, probably before I even finish writing this. In reality, any blame shouldered by Akeson for this loss should probably be shouldered more by Paul Holmgren and Craig Berube. When you ice a 23 year old with a whopping 2 games of NHL experience, you can't be shocked over something like this taking place. That penalty is exactly what inexperience looks like (Captured in a great picture from Frank Franklin of the AP)
This is maddening for several reasons. Here are some of them.
1. Through the first two periods, Akeson spent the majority of his minutes with the defensively stout duo of Matt Read and Sean Couturier, taking on top competition while starting a whopping 0% (Yes, actually 0%) of his shifts in the offensive zone. Despite these difficult minutes, he was the team's only (/takes a break from writing and cries some tears) positive possession player last night, registering 62.5% of the shot attempts (per Extra Skater) (Extra Skater kicks ass). While 2 games is an incredibly small sample size, Akeson seems like a good fit as the winger who the Couturier/Read duo has been seeking throughout the season. He was being largely praised by almost everyone as the Flyers best forward through 2 periods, and tied for the team lead in SOG with 3. Within the span of 5 seconds, he went from standout to scapegoat and likely spectator for Sundays game two at the Garden. If he is benched come Sunday, we remove our most effective offensive player from a game that was completely void of effective offense.
2. Akeson played more minutes last night than Wayne Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier, and Brayden Schenn. The majority of his shifts were started in the defensive zone. 'Fluky' penalties like this are obviously much more likely to take place in the neutral or defensive zone. One cannot criticize Akeson's discipline without also questioning whether or not his 2 games of NHL experience were enough to prepare him for the usage he received last night.
3. If Akeson is suddenly a guy who we are comfortable icing in those minutes, why was he not on the damn roster before last Sunday? There has been no shortage of opportunities for him to be called up this season. Tye McGinn and Chris VandeVelde were both recalled and played for several games this season. We played Zac Rinaldo more often than not, and Jay Rosehill saw several games as well. It is not entirely egregious to say that more preparation at the NHL level could have helped him avoid making a play like that last night. We have to question why he wasn't the guy we went to before, but suddenly is come playoff time.
The decision making of the coach and general manager regarding this player has been questionable at best this season, and that has everything to do with what happened on Thursday night. If we play an inexperienced player and he makes an inexperienced play, we cannot react with anger and shock directed exclusively at the player. Benching him because of a split-second event within a solid game is not the answer. These playoff knee-jerk reactions never end well (see Bobrovsky, Sergei). We should maybe reevaluate his ice time and deployment with 12 minutes left in a tied playoff game, but removing him from the lineup entirely is not the way to handle this. I absolutely want to see Akeson in uniform again on Sunday, and I will be extremely disappointed if he is not. Any 'fans' or 'analysts' who believe that Akeson is the sole reason that we lost a game in which we registered just 30% of the shot attempts need to take a stick to the mouth themselves, and have their jaws wired shut for the rest of the playoffs. That is all. LETS GO FLYERS.