DeNicola's Dekes: Musical Chairs - the 8th Seed Edition, the Wayne Train Hat Trick, & Couturier >

by Michael DeNicola

Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 --

If you take a gander at the Eastern Conference standings, you'll notice that the 8th seed through 12th seed is tighter than the tape around the stickblade. Tampa Bay and Philadelphia are tied in points (19), while the Rangers, Jets and Islanders remain one or two points below the Flyers. 

Ottawa's riding a four-game winning streak which has propelled them comfortably 5-points ahead of the 8th hole. All despite having an IR list longer than Robin Williams' body hair.

Right on the bubble of feeling adequate and uneasy are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who nestle in the 7th seed with 22-points, and prepare to cushion that effort with a win over the Broad Street Bullies this evening in Philadelphia, 7:00. 

The Leafs have gone 3-3-0 since spanking the Flyers back on February 11th, 5 - 2, and have the ability to takeover 6th seed with added aid from a Montreal victory over Ottawa tonight. If the cards fall in Toronto's favor, they could literally find themselves dug into the 4th seed by Thursday this week. 

So, I guess you could say we're into the meat of the schedule, and all teams must be firing on all cylinders. One loss here, one loss there, and a Club could find themselves nudged from contention and forced to get back on the horse. Philadelphia's no different, having gone 3-1-0 over the course of seven days, and look to go .500 for the first time this season with a win in tonight's contest. 

The New York Rangers (10th seed, 18-points) battle the Winnipeg Jets (11th Seed, 17-points) on Tuesday, and the winner of that tilt could determine if the franchises flip spots in the standings. 

If Philadelphia falls to the Leafs, the Islanders win against Boston, and either NYR or the Jets gather 2-points from a victory, then the Flyers could drop from 8th seed to 13th through the course of two days. 

Having fun yet?

It's like watching a soap opera, only the acting is not nearly as terrible as Ryan Kesler's diving. But the dramatic trepidation exists, fogging the atmosphere like morning-breath. Each of us (the fans) expected this going into such an intense, abbreviated NHL schedule. For some of us -- Flyers fans particularly -- we weren't counting on skipping rope along the fine line of marginal strife and emulation. Our Fly Guys must take each game at a time, never looking ahead. No more "trap games" like we suffered against the Florida Panthers. There'll be many more similar gauntlets ahead.

We win tonight, we walk together forev....uh, well, 'till Wednesday. 

To get on a roll, your hot players gotta continue their points streaks. Orange & Black Soldiers like Voracek, Brayden Schenn, and Giroux have littered the score-sheets like the gutters of a city street. As Bryzgalov's struggled as of late, our key forwards have burst through the early-season funk like a stripper from a birthday cake, bursting the bulbs off the scoreboard, and delivering hope to the hearts and minds of Flyers fans worldwide. 

Feeding into that acclimatized feeling has been Wayne Simmonds. 

Since coming back from his injury against the Capitals, the Wayne Train has tallied (at least) a point in every contest except for two. He's lit five lamps and totaled 10-points in nine games. Through this streak, Mr. Simmonds has recorded two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks, which, if you didn't know before, is an assist, a goal and 5-minute major for fighting.... ALL in a single tilt. 

Wayne's become this team's soul (no, that wasn't an African American pun), skating with just the right mixture of Broad Street Bully attitude, and the new era's scoring touch. 

He's got what many label as "clutch" in his cache of attributes. Some may argue that there's no such thing as clutch; there's either consistency to a player's performance, or inconsistency. He's either trying hard on every shift, or he isn't.... there just isn't any such thing as being "clutch". 

Whatever you want to call it, Wayne Simmonds has a knack for planting resurgence at JUST the right time. Whether it's screening a netminder on a goal-for, dropping the mitts to jump-start his bench, or tickling the game-tying / game-winning twine, Simmonds finds a way to step up and get the job done. 

He is a valuable, imperative piece to the Flyers' success. 

Sometimes success is not delivered offensively. Sometimes, it's your Club's defensive game that tallies hardest in the win column. 

Over the course of this season, I've seen an odd number of Flyers fans ladling criticism on Sean Couturier. They figure he's in a sophomore slump, or perhaps not the dominating steel curtain he was in our QuarterFinals series versus Pittsburgh last post-season. 

Fans take a look at his goals-total (2) through 2013 and wonder where the offensive hype has gone, which would otherwise be associated with a centerman chosen 8th Overall in an NHL Entry Draft. Despite my best efforts proving that trading Couturier for Ryan O'Reilly would be a horrendously expensive lateral move, I'm still seeing haters voice their radically misguided request to deal the 20-year old skater.

Allow me to drop a reality check on you...

Thus far this season, Sean's started 65.6 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone. That means most of his time spent on the ice has been "heavy-lifting" minutes; that refers to difficult roles that certain players are placed in, with significantly tougher quality of competition and zone starts [].

Meanwhile, Couturier's shifts end in the offensive zone almost half (46.8 per cent) the time. 

Sean has received the majority of his laborious minutes in the trenches of the rink, on a team that turns over the puck regularly, and on a team that is arguably part of the most tenacious, challenging, skillful Division in the National Hockey League. 

.....and he does all of this at an age not old enough to enjoy a beer in this country.

This kid is four or five years out of entering his prime, and he's already become the axiom of our Club's resistance. Ladies & gentlemen, Sean Couturier is not a dime a dozen. He's no 1st Round bust. He's not battling through a sophomore slump. And we sure as shit shouldn't sell him while his stock is high. 

Sean Couturier is that 'diamond in the rough' that 29 other franchises slit throats to acquire. Could he get better offensively? I'm not arguing that he couldn't. But that's what tenured experience will do for an NHL player.

So, if you're a hater, do yourself a favor.... stuff a sweat-sock in your suckhole then duct tape it shut. We've gotta star on the rise. 

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