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Meltzer's Musings: 11-22-09

November 22, 2009, 1:50 PM ET [ Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Flyers looked like a fatigued hockey team in last night's 3-1 loss to Phoenix. The Coyotes are a hard-working team that forces opponents to grind out victories, and Philadelphia just wasn't up to seeing the task through in the third period. The Flyers' skating legs were gone by the latter stages of the second period, the passing wasn't crisp all night and the Coyotes won the majority of the battles for loose pucks.

Those things will happen over the course of a tough road trip. Don't forget that this was the Flyers third game in four nights and fourth of the week (spread out over three different time zones). Yes, Phoenix is a club against whom the Flyers hold an on-paper advantage, but the outcome last night really wasn't surprising nor should it be cause for alarm in and of itself.

Of much greater concern is the fact that the Flyers special teams -- which were so good for the first six weeks of the season -- have been atrocious of late. In addition, the losses of Blair Betts and Darroll Powe will hurt the team's checking efficiency and depth. Betts, who reinjured his right shoulder and has a history of problems with that shoulder, could be lost for a month. To fill the void, the club will need strong runs from rookie Daniel Laliberte and whomever is called up from the Phantoms (Could Jon Matsumoto finally get his first call-up? Will it be Jared Ross, as it was last year? Or will they opt for a more strictly defensive minded player?).

One bright note from the most recent games: Claude Giroux seems to be getting into groove.

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Whenever a team is in need of a lift, its best players need to be its best players. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have not been doing that enough this season.

Carter is pointless in his last four games, has been held without a goal in 14 of the last 16 games and without a point in nine of the 16. The team needs better production from him than that, especially with Simon Gagne on the shelf.

Just as important, he can't get utterly dominated in every other aspect of the game the way he was by Joe Thornton on Friday night. Carter had been showing significant improvement in one key area of the game -- faceoffs -- but has fallen off in that area as well of late. As for the two-way play that John Stevens so often credits Carter with, he tends to be as streaky defensively as he is offensively. There are stretches of games where he's been outstanding, and stretches of games where he's been ineffective.

As for Richards, the Flyers team captain has been held without a goal in 14 of the last 17 games. He's at his best when he's playing physical hockey to set up his finesse game, and has seemed less aggressive since the controversial hit on David Booth. Richards is also guilty of forcing a few too many low-percentage passes into traffic.

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Originally, I had planned to blog today about Matt Carle, but Tim pretty much covered all the points I was going to address. One additional issue that I would like to mention is one that goes beyond the play of Carle and the lack of leaguewide recognition he's getting: No matter what the sport, many scouts and GMs hate to admit they are ever wrong. Some just go to greater lengths than others in never admitting they misjudged a player.

Once Carle's name got omitted from the initial Team USA Olympic list, his exclusion was going to have to be justified. It's a ready-made excuse to say that Carle's play is mainly a product of being paired with Chris Pronger. Somehow, I don't think Carle is interchangeable with other, lesser Flyers defensemen. Could you see Danny Syvret or Ole-Kristian Tollefsen being so effective, even if they were paired to

I'm by no means comparing Carle to Brad McCrimmon (who was a different style player in a different era and had a longer track record of success), but they are similar in one respect: their play got written off as a product of playing with a star partner on defense. It took years following the Flyers' disastrous trade of McCrimmon for Bob Clarke to even grudgingly admit that McCrimmon was a good defenseman whom he'd undervalued because he played with Mark Howe. Again, I'm not comparing Carle to McCrimmon in any way except to say that he's had a fine season in his own right.
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