Ryan Miller continues to give the Sabres a chance in every game as he helps them defeat my Flyers 3-2 last night. This game was on CN8, and of course Verizon doesn’t have that channel, so I have to write about it by basing everything on highlights and recaps. I tried listening on the radio, but that’s a bit hard to judge things on. Anyway, from what I saw Leighton had a ton of good saves, but is on the hook for 2 of the 3 goals. Meanwhile, the defense still hasn’t recovered from the layoff, and is starting to give away too many chances. The Flyers gave up 6 or 7 shots to open the game before getting one of their own. They ended up being outshot 35-29. I know that shots are not the best indicator of how a team is playing, because anyone can just throw pucks at the net. Still, for the season the Flyers are 7th in shots per game, and 6th in shots against. That means that they generally carry the play. However, they just gave up 43 shots to Florida, and 38 to Tampa. This is three straight games with heavy shot totals, and that means that they’re not getting the puck out of the zone quickly, and their transition game is not working. Also, They are not forechecking as hard as they were in January and February, or else they’d have more time in the offensive zone. I’m starting to wonder whether Pronger and Timonen, the two best defenders on the team, are to blame because they’re still tired from the Olympics. Anyway, when a team is playing poorly on defense, they need their goalie to save them.
Michael Leighton, is showing more and more that he’s not the man for the job. He could learn a thing or two from Miller, who faces the seventh most shots, and is at or near the top in every major goaltending category. First, Leighton made a rookie mistake of hesitating, and it cost him the first goal. As a puck rolled slowly towards the left corner, he took too long to think about coming out to play it or letting it go. Once he started to move, he took a weak swing, missed, and started to slide back twoards his net. Vanek got to the corner, and banked it off a retreating Leighton and into the net. Now I know what the confusion for Leighton was, but it’s something that a player at the level must decide quickly on. Vanek was clearly going to be the first skater to get to the puck, so here were the choices: 1. Race out to get to the puck and flip it out of the zone or cover it; 2. Stay in net, because the puck is headed twoards the corner and let the defense deal with Vanek because he’s not in a dangerous shooting position. Leighton kind of did the in between, and he got burned.
The third goal, which was the overtime winner, was also his fault. Lydman took a low shot that Leighton stopped, but left the rebound just out of his own reach for Connolly to rebound into the net. Shooters are taught to aim low towards the inner part of a pad when they are trying to create a rebound because it’s a spot where a goalie doesn’t normally catch the puck, and it’s hard to trap with the pads. It’s also a spot where it’s difficult for a goalie to redirect into a corner, so the rebound should pop into the middle of the area. This is exactly what Lydman was aiming for (maybe hoping five hole) but the shot went a little high. Leighton could have reached out the glove and caught it, because there was no screen and he saw the shot the whole way. Instead, he allowed the puck to hit his pad, land in front, and we know the rest.
- Another point about the defense: the Flyers had a 2-1 lead late in the game. This is a Sabres team not known for their offense. You need to be able to shut them down, especially with the playoffs looming.
- Mike Richards made a nice play to give the Flyers the 2-1 lead. He picked off a cross-ice pass from Connolly, and since the defense were wide apart, he had a free path to the net. Fake the forehand, alip to the backhand, works almost everytime on almost every goalie.
- Gagne opened the scoring, and continues to look better. He’s been here forever, but he’s only 30 years old. I think if he stays healthy, it’s worth keeping him another 5 or more years. He’s a low profile player that puts up good numbers on both ends of the ice. It’d be nice for the entire team to start clicking for the final 19 games.
- Although they were outshot, Flyers had a ton of chances. Of course, Miller continues to play incredible and not give up any soft or easy goals. I’ve been watching hockey for 16 years already, and in the time the Flyers have never had a goalie of that calibur. I think it’s time to tinker with the scouting system, because everyone else in our division seems to have one (maybe not the Isles, but I blame injuries for that.).
- Ville Leino, a Flyers addition from before the break, has sounded pretty good. I haven’t watched him too closely yet, but from what I’ve seen he’s a nice support player. He’s got some decent vision and has adapted pretty well so far.
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