Jason Akeson made a huge mistake in Game 1. In a tied playoff game, on the road, with a golden opportunity for the Flyers to steal a win in a game they had no right winning, Akeson got a little too revved up at the end of a solid shift.
He bumped Carl Hagelin off the puck, but didn't control his stick on the follow-through. It caught Hagelin in the face -- hard -- and Akeson went off for a four-minute high sticking double minor.
The Rangers scored two goals on the ensuing power play en route to a 4-1 win.
It was ugly, and really unfortunate for Akeson, who quickly became the scapegoat for, well .... an entire city.
Jason Akeson on the back page of tomorrow's Philadelphia Daily News: pic.twitter.com/BBDaKDZgWG— Frank Seravalli (@DNFlyers) April 18, 2014
@BroadStHockey are you shitting me? Stupid fucking penalty.— Matt Weindel (@MattWeindel) April 18, 2014
@BroadStHockey I don't, he lost his team the game trying a little too hard— Earl Cosner (@EarlCosner) April 18, 2014
@BroadStHockey he's the one who made the stupid play— John Ryan (@JohnRyan2357) April 18, 2014
@BroadStHockey if he is that good, why in minors all year? He isnt that good and this is a desperate and bonehead move playing him.— Jim Kelly (@JimKelly66) April 18, 2014
@BroadStHockey Yea should be sent back to the phantoms— Dave Macalino (@Macalino11) April 18, 2014
@BroadStHockey fuck him man. Stupid penalty!!!— Cristina Smith (@csmith1388) April 18, 2014
Consider, however, the following:
Akeson was probably the Flyers best player in Game 1.
Aside from the penalty, of course. He played most of the game with Sean Couturier and Matt Read -- that's the Flyers tough-minutes defensive unit, by the way -- and he seemed to make an impact every time he hit the ice. He out-skated the Rangers pretty consistently and created some offense.
While Akeson was on the ice last night, the Rangers didn't get a single scoring chance. He was the only Flyer who didn't face a Rangers scoring chance while he was out there. In addition, the Flyers had two chances of their own while Akeson was on the ice, at least one of which was directly caused by him.
Akeson did this without being given easy minutes. It's worth noting.
He had four shot attempts in the game -- three that hit the net and one that missed -- which was good for second-most among Flyers forwards. In terms of shot differential at even strength, Akeson was the only Flyer who finished as a plus player in Game 1. The only damn one.
And Craig Berube noticed it.
When Ryan McDonagh took a high-sticking penalty early in the third period to put the Flyers on their first (and only) power play of the night, Akeson was rewarded with time on the second PP unit. Nothing came of the power play -- it was pretty ugly, to be honest -- but for a kid in his third-ever NHL game, getting power play minutes is a good sign that you're doing something right.
Akeson had a really good game last night. That's not to absolve him for making a huge, game-costing mistake, because it's one of the first things you're taught as a hockey player: CONTROL YOUR STICK. But making him the scapegoat for this loss isn't fair, especially considering he's one of the only players who was a positive for the Flyers in Game 1. The entire team played like crap. This loss wasn't Akeson's fault.
If the team puts the blame on him -- and by that we mean if Craig Berube sits him in Game 2 -- it'll be a pretty crippling blow to a young player who clearly has the skill to help the Flyers more than he hurts them. Let him rebound on Sunday, and if he plays anything like he did on Thursday, we'll be pretty happy.