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Meltzer's Musings: 3/7/12

March 7, 2012, 8:42 AM ET [728 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
A severely injury-depleted Philadelphia Flyers team outlasted an equally decimated Detroit Red Wings team, 3-2, in one of the most emotionally stirring nights at the Wells Fargo Center this season. Apart from the nicely done Mark Howe jersey retirement ceremony, it was a tense and extremely hard-fought hockey game.

After seeing just two shots in the first period, Ilya Bryzgalov's performance in the second and especially the third periods of last night's game would have made Howie's former teammates, Ron Hextall and Pelle Lindbergh, take notice even in their Vezina Trophy winning seasons. Bryz made some phenomenal stops on very tough chances. His best of the night was a 10-bell stop on Valtteri Filppula where the goaltender had to move laterally in a hurry.

Even on Henrik Zetterberg's perfectly placed backhanded shot early in the first period, it was a play where you simply have to tip your hat to the shooter. Zetterberg's shot was one that very few players even in the NHL can make -- and even someone with his world class skills can only pull off on occasion. Johan Franzén's goal was scored from good shooting position with traffic in front.

I loved the way the Flyers battled the Red Wings in the trenches while protecting their one-goal lead late in the game. The body-position battles down low between Nicklas Grossmann and Franzén in particular were a treat to watch: it looked like old-time hockey out there. Pavel Kubina and Brayden Coburn were also strong in the physical battles that took place around the Philadelphia net.

Kudos should also go out to Flyers rookies Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn for the way they stepped up with the game on the line. Couturier in particular looked like a future Selke Trophy winner with his play in the final stanza. However, the Flyers' two best forwards last night were Claude Giroux and Max Talbot.

Battling a sore hand that prevented him from taking faceoffs (Scott Hartnell took the draws for the top line), Giroux still managed to score a beautiful breakaway goal and later hustle up the lone assist on Talbot's game-winning shorthanded goal with 5:50 left in the second period. Talbot, even apart from his shorthanded goal, was a forechecking machine and made several important defensive zone clears as well.

The win was a costly one for the Flyers, who had to play much of the game with only nine forwards, as both Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek sustained injuries and had to leave the game and Zac Rinaldo (6:34 of ice time) rode the pine after taking an ill-advised -- but understandable -- unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and later a 10-minute misconduct.

Jagr looked like he had tremendous jump in the first period and early in the middle stanza. Unfortunately, he sustained a hip injury when he got tangled up with Filppula. He is being listed as day-to-day.

Voracek was in a vulnerable position trying to play the puck up the ice when aggressive hitting defenseman Niklas Kronwall stepped up on him and delivered a thundering shoulder or upper (tucked) arm hit that would have been totally clean except that the point of contact was to the head.

I don't believe that Kronwall was deliberate trying to go for Voracek's head. The forward was crouched down a bit and the play happened very quickly. Nevertheless, the hit was still a violation of Rule 48.

Before the season, Brendan Shanahan said of the amended rule, "Anywhere on the ice, coming from any direction, you target the head and make it a principle point of contact, you'll be subject to a two-minute penalty on the ice for Rule 48. You'll also be -- as with all two-minute penalties or non-calls -- subject to supplementary discipline."

The initial word on Voracek was that he did not immediately present with concussion symptoms but took stitches to his lower lip. We'll see. He was extremely woozy immediately after the hit but did appear to be alert as he went off to the dressing room under his own power. It remains to be seen how well he got through last night and how he feels today.

Such a tense game deserved better officiating. I thought that referee Chris Rooney in particular did a subpar job last night. Contrary to the oft-expressed belief that there are no good referees in the NHL, there are some fine refs in today's game such as Kelly Sutherland and Wes McCauley. Rooney is more in the Dave Jackson category of officials where poorly called games are the norm rather than the exception.

Not all of the non-calls worked to Philly's detriment last night. For example, I thought that Andreas Lilja got away with a lot of stickholding and clutching and grabbing, while Danny Briere easily could have been flagged for embellishing a pair of non-calls.

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Giroux could barely keep a straight face last night when he claimed after the game that the reason why he was not taking draws last night had nothing to do with the sore hand he's been nursing since Sunday's game but because "in the playoffs sometimes I get kicked out so we want Hartsy to get in there" and "he has a heavy stick."

Peter Laviolette also feigned ignorance about Giroux being in anything less than perfect condition right now because, you know, otherwise other teams might suspect Giroux has a hand injury and target it. The fact that Philly's best faceoff man only took two draws (both losses) wouldn't arouse even a bit of suspicion by other clubs advance-scouting last night's game, right?

This part of the reason why the whole season-long injury denial charade that most (but not all) NHL teams go through is a joke. Other teams pick up on it, anyway, when a player is hurting. The denials and vague upper body/ lower body descriptors rarely do anything but waste everyone's time. The truth comes out quickly enough anyway.

That said, neither Laviolette nor general manager Paul Holmgren are about to stop their cloak-and-dagger routines when it comes to anything related to lineups (Laviolette) or injuries (both men). Yet both men agree that the Flyers don't prepare any differently for a particular opponent when they know certain players will be out or the club will be using one goalie or another.

So why do it? It's a moot question, because the Flyers just do it anyway.

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I think I've said enough to express just how much the career and jersey retirement in Philadelphia of my all-time favorite player, Mark Howe, mean to me. So the last words on the subject will be those of Howe's former Philadelphia Flyers teammates.

Last week, I reached out by email or phone to as many of Howe's old comrades as I could. I also dug out some archival quotes from the late Brad McCrimmon and Pelle Lindbergh. There is no greater measure of player’s value than the degree of respect that he commands among his teammates and coaches.

Brian Propp (teammate 1982-83 to 1989-90) on March 2, 2012

“I could talk for hours about Mark, because he was a Hall of Famer in every sense; offensively, defensively, knowledge of the game, you name it. I remember that when we first found out he was coming to the Flyers from Hartford, we were excited about it because we had seen how skilled he was, but he surpassed every expectation.

The first thing I noticed about him was his speed, because he was such a smooth and fluid skater. As a forward, it was a pleasure to play with him, because he made perfect passes, right on the tape every time. He was deceptively strong, too, in his wrists. He had a great wrist shot and he got away so quickly that he was one of our biggest weapons on the power play. He had great stamina, and could play 40 minutes if we needed him to, or 30 minutes on a normal night.

Take a look at what Mark and Brad McCrimmon did together. All the forwards loved being out on the ice with those two guys. First of all, I knew we'd spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. They didn't just lay back, they were part of the attack. But they were also very smart about it. They took care of business defensively, and they made great first passes out of the zone.

Mark could also carry it up the ice himself if the defense backed off. We had some great goaltending with Pelle [Lindbergh] and Hexy [Ron Hextall] but Mark individually and him and Brad together were a big part of that huge goal differential we had in those days.

As for his impact off the ice, Mark was tremendous. He had a big hand in running the locker room, helping the rookies, getting the guys on the team together off the ice and making sure everybody knew what expected and they belonged. I know I was very fortunate to be close with Mark and Brad. We'd get together at Kaminski’s in Cherry Hill after games, tell stories and just talk about hockey a lot. Mark told really great stories; priceless stuff about Gordie, the WHA, Bill Dineen and lots of other stuff.

I was also fortunate enough to play with Raymond Bourque when I went to Boston. Mark wasn't as big or physical as Raymond, while Raymond wasn't as proactive off the ice about getting the team together as Mark. But there were a lot of similarities in their preparations. They were both tremendous two-way players and extremely skilled but also a little smarter than most players. They thought the game out better and quicker than other players. Howe and Bourque both went in with a game plan and knew how they were going approach every game, every shift. That is why they were both so consistent.”

Tim Kerr (teammate 1982-83 to 1990-91) on March 1, 2012:

“Mark Howe is a true professional. He prepared himself for every game and practice to the best of his ability. He was a great teammate who always took care of his team rather than himself first. He had the ability to control the game playing 30 min a night and playing all different game situations: power play, penalty kill, and the last minute of a close game. I think it’s great that they are retiring his number.”

Ron Hextall (teammate 1986-87 to 1991-92) on December 31, 2011:

“I was really happy for Mark and his family when he got picked for the Hall of Fame. He deserves to have his number retired, too. As a goalie, it was a big comfort to know that I had guys like Mark and Brad (McCrimmon) and Brad Marsh in front of me. They were a huge part of the team’s success. Mark had great skill and a lot of speed but also a tremendous work ethic. I couldn’t be happier for him because he was a great teammate and a tremendous person.”

Dave Poulin (teammate 1982-83 to 1999-2000) on March 3, 2012:

“Our teams in the mid-80s had a lot of skilled young players but we were really more than the sum of our parts compared to a team like the Oilers with all of their Hall of Fame players in their primes. Mark Howe was the one guy on our team who was a legitimate Hall of Famer. He had a rare skill level both offensively and defensively. He had great stamina and mental toughness, but more than that, he had a winner’s mentality. Mark could not have cared less about himself or his stats. He cared only about the Philadelphia Flyers winning; no more and no less. Mark was a huge part of our leadership in the locker room. The honor of having his jersey retired could not go to a more deserving player.”

Paul Holmgren (teammate 1982-83 to 1983-84; head coach 1988-89 to 1991-92) on March 1, 2012:

“Mark was the best defenseman that I ever played with. He was a unique combination of skill, both offensively and defensively, tenacity, leadership and the will to win. On top of that, he was a great teammate that was respected by not only his team but the other team as well. It was also a pleasure to be his coach.”

Kerry Huffman (teammate 1986-87 to 1991-92) on March 2, 2012 :

“I thought I knew how good of a player Mark was until I actually got to play with him. He was way beyond anything I could have imagined. I was just 18 years old when I came to the team. Mark’s best friend, Brad McCrimmon was going through a contract dispute with management. That’s what opened up an opportunity for me. You know what? Mark could not possibly have been any nicer or more helpful. He was great to me.

In terms of his ability on the ice, you can go on and on, but probably the most overlooked thing was that he could play 40 minutes a game – with no problem – whenever the team needed him to. He was out in there in every situation, and he did everything well.

My first NHL game was against Edmonton (on Oct. 9, 1986) and I remember how nervous and excited I was to be playing against a team loaded with incredible players. It was a little overwhelming. Then I looked over at Mark and saw that he was even more up for the game, because he loved that kind of challenge. He was such a consistent player, but the bigger the game, the more he enjoyed the challenge. That made a big impression on me.

I talked to Mark recently, actually. I’m really happy for him that he’s getting honored with having his number retired. It’s very well deserved.”

Brad McCrimmon (teammate 1982-83 to 1986-87; 1992-93) to Philadelphia Inquirer on Dec. 20, 1986:

“I don’t consider myself a scorer at all. Mark Howe is the one with the speed and the big wrist shot. Playing with him and our forwards opens up a lot of ice for me, and I’ve been able to score some goals. That’s really it. I just know that Howe is a great defensive partner. He’s very easy to play with and I want to hold up my end of the deal.”

Pelle Lindbergh (teammate 1982-83 to 1985) to Philadelphia Inquirer on April 9, 1985:

“Mark makes my job easy. It’s a pleasure to play goal when you have guys like him and Brad McCrimmon. He’s the best defenseman and one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”

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It has never been a secret that Nicklas Grossmann's family spells its surname with two Ns. I had always assumed that it was the player's choice to go with one N, because it was that way when he played in Sweden for Södertälje as well as the junior national team.

Last year in Dallas, I asked Grossmann about it, and he just said it wasn't a big deal to him either way, but the family spelling was, in fact, Grossmann and not Grossman. The player, who is often erroneously listed among the Jewish players in the league, is the son of Rolf and Mona-Lisa Grossmann.

For those wondering, there has been one Swedish Jewish player in the NHL. Former Ottawa Senators forward Robert Burakovsky hails from Malmö. Current Dallas Stars forward Eric Nystrom is the U.S.-born son of a Swedish father (longtime New York Islanders forward Bobby Nyström) and an American Jewish mother.

Oh, and if this counts, former Flyer and current Modo Hockey head coach Ulf Samuelsson used to own a Jewish-style deli in Elkins Park, PA. I suppose it doesn't.

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