Frustration. Conversion. Finish.
Three key words that play as the bricks to the Devils' foundation. A forechecking, defensive nightmare for any heavily loaded offensive adversary. It's what we have to get used to watching, and it's absolutely essential that the Flyers bear through it and solve it.
Or else our boys trade in their sticks for fairway woods.
After last night's overtime loss that put us down 2 - 1 in the Semis, it's never been more clear that all of our stars need to step up at once and give a full 60-minute effort. Danny Briere's been doing his part, but he cannot do it all alone.
We've seen Jaromir Jagr get demoted from the front line combo to the second and/or third group of forwards. We've seen Claude Giroux completely outmatched and turned into a ghost for almost three consecutive games, which is an unreal accomplishment by New Jersey all in its own.
And now that Sean Couturier's looking at sitting out the next couple of contests with a deep gash in his leg (suffered early on in the 1st period from a rogue skateblade), we're going to need extra defensive and faceoff efforts from our forward skaters.
If we all just sit back and take a deep breath, we can remind ourselves that the Flyers have a substantial amount more of firepower than New Jersey. The Devils know this which is why we're seeing such an aggressive forecheck and a bustled cycling game.
There's that word -- "cycling".
Throughout the contest -- and especially in the 1st period -- we heard ice-side analyst, Pierre McGuire, repeat this term over and over and over again. McGuire used this to describe New Jersey's ability to keep the puck in our end by deploying a continuous sequence of puck drops into the opposite corners. Once the rubber was deposited and our defensemen chased the play, each of the three Devils forwards had a particular job to do. It's almost the exact opposite of players just rushing to the net to screen the goalie, or get big bodies in the crease to pick up second-chance garbage goals.
Cycling in the offensive zone opens seams and space for the rush. When these paths are generated, so are opportunities and the chance is either lengthened and/or finished on.
We heard New Jersey's head coach, Peter DeBoer, say that "the best defense against this [Flyers] team is keeping the puck in their zone."
Not only does cycling the rubber create contingency for the Devils, but it wears down our preventative guard, forcing our five skaters to stay on the ice and remain on long shifts. And I don't need to tell you that tiring out your competitor usually pays out in your favor.
It's what we saw through the entire 1st period. The Devils (simply put) looked like a great team playing a terrible team. It was almost like we had no answers. Once possession was gained by a Flyer, it seemed he was just as quickly forced to make a decision (due to the forechecking) which either morphed into a turnover, or one of our players had to dump the puck to the Devils end to get fresh legs on the frozen pond.
So if New Jersey's going to continue to cycle the puck, how do the Flyers defend against it?
This is where our big name players fall into place.
An effective offense is generated by an effective defense. The cycle's ultimate objective is to score goals by creating confusion in the defense's zone. New Jersey did this in effort to make our players miss assignments.
To eliminate confusion, the Flyers must establish a positive, universal checking game. Whether it be taking the body between the puck and the net, or stick-checking the puck handler to gain possession. Clearing the puck out of our zone is one thing (and frankly, I'm tired of watching the Flyers do it over and over again), but Philly needs to constitute an active transition from the defensive zone through the neutral zone using smart stretch-passes that actually connect. We have more than enough speed to accomplish this feat.
If an opponent insists on playing an aggressive cycling game, then getting the puck out of our end and skating it up ice will ultimately lead to odd-man rushes or breakaways.
There just wasn't enough of that last night.
Our Broad Street Bullies have the speed and depth to compete with New Jersey's extremely good defensive game. Right now it's a question of who wants it more, and can our star players rise to the challenge?
Danny Briere can't do it all himself. He came up huge with an equalizer just past the midway point of the 3rd period which took us into Overtime. But he cannot keep doing it all on his own.
Oddly enough, it wasn't the Devils cycling or forechecking that gained them the game-winning goal in the extra stanza. It was confusion on our bench that led to a premature line change while Kovalchuk still possessed the puck at mid-ice. There wasn't enough Flyers players on the backcheck to contest a stampeding Alexei Ponikarovsky who combated for a rebound off his shot, and put the second-chance behind Ilya Bryzgalov.
Missed assignments and missed opportunities are what the Devils are counting on from our end. So far, we're feeding straight into it. We're not playing our game, and we're failing to familiarize ourselves with New Jersey's strategy. For that, we're not strengthening our threat as the game grows on. Instead, our Flyers are skating on some kind of plateau with no progression, and each time our drive hits a pothole....the Devils are right there to run us off the road.
Clean it up, boys. The Series depends on it.
Check out The Pack on Facebook!
You can follow Michael DeNicola on Twitter: @MikeyD_OandBP
Send us your feedback to OrangeAndBlackPack@Gmail.com