DeNicola's Dekes: Hairiest Clip of the Season, Boucher's Beautiful Blue Eyes, Harry Z's Suspension >

by Michael DeNicola

Monday, March 04, 2013 --

When the final buzzer sounded on Saturday's victory over the Ottawa Senators, the Flyers had finally accomplished a .500 record for the first time this season. As it stands currently, Philadelphia sits in 8th seed with 23-points after 23-games played, separated from the 9th seeded Rangers by a single point margin and the 7th seeded Devils by 2-points. 

Getting to .500 was the easy part. Now comes the hairiest chunk of our abbreviated schedule. 

In the next 11-days, the Flyers battle the Rangers, Penguins, Bruins, Sabres and cap that off with a home-and-home stint against the New Jersey Devils. This will undoubtedly be Philadelphia's largest test so far this year, and will separate whether our boys are ready for the big dance or we're as mediocre as our record says we are.

First up, the Broadway Blueshirts on Tuesday; a squad who hasn't yet found their identity and have had their fair share of struggles just as we have. But much like the Flyers, the Rangers have tallied two consecutive W's against underachieving Clubs (TBL, BUF) and look to prove their record doesn't paint their destiny. 

Thursday night is bound to be loaded with overflowing emotion when the Flyers welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins to town for our series' third skirmish. The Pens ruined our home opener back in January, but then we did ourselves a favor by crushing their hearts in a late 3rd period victory the second time we met. Thursday's contest will be the tie breaker, and I'm sure it will have the weight of the hockey planet watching.

Saturday's game is not only set to begin in the afternoon, but it's against Boston in their barn. The Big Bad Bruins have been on a roll ever since the shortened season began. They haven't suffered more than five losses, and only three of which have been in regulation. 

The remainder has gone in the win-column, propelling them to 4th seed with only the Canadiens besting them in the standings. Boston's beatable, but only if the Flyers are prepared to give a 60-minute effort. I refuse to look through rose-colored glasses; the Bruins are a better team and are surgically efficient at capitalizing on mistakes.... which the Flyers make a lot of. Boston will either make us pay embarrassingly, or our boys find the heart to roll over that yellow & black mountain victoriously. This contest has all the makings of giving our boys incredible confidence, or setting us back two steps. 

The following Sunday evening, Buffalo's miserable Sabres come toppling into Philadelphia a broken ship without its admiral, Lindy Ruff. Since the Flyers last met with them, Sabres ownership decided to cut ties with head coach Lindy Ruff after fifteen seasons under his belt. Was it a surprise? Maybe, maybe not. But it was time for the bench boss to go. 

Buffalo is the epitome of the word "underachieving". It seems before every season gets underway, I take a look at their roster and swear that this is the team to turn that franchise around. Then, like clockwork, somewhere in mid-season, the Sabres pinch a loafer all over their chances and we're back to cracking jokes about Ryan Miller's hissyfits (God, what a bitch). 

Nevertheless, this piss-soaked blanket of a Club scratched an 'L' in our loss-column last time we met. And now that they're floundering on the outside looking in, this will be the perfect time to put our boots over their throat and increase the weight. Squeeze the life out of this franchise, and move on to worthy adversaries. Adversaries like....

The New Jersey Devils; ahhhh, the stank of smog, hot garbage and gun powder. Now you know you're Newark, NJ. 

On Wednesday, March 13, our Flyers take an armored train ride through the heart of America's taint to kickoff a home-and-homer with the Devils. Judging from my choice of adjectives, you can tell I feel a tad sour towards this bankrupt, divisional outfit. 

Ignore my poor feelings, and focus on the fact that New Jersey always poses a threat against the Flyers, especially as of late. I don't get it; the team loses its captain and (arguably) best forward in Zach Parise, their backend is old enough to go through a midlife crisis, they play in front of an unfulfilling hometown attendance, and yet.... they continue to impress me by sidestepping every franchise obstruction and put together a winning season. Well, that, and Ilya Kovalchuk seems to become our Club's worst nightmare each and every time we face him and company. 

So, not only are we taking on this rival once through the toughest clip of our schedule, but we're doing so twice in two days. It's become a tradition with each season, and it has the agonizing power of either turning us into depressed shells of ourselves, or thanking the hockey gods we managed to push through triumphantly. 

Like I said, getting to .500 was the easy part. Through the next six games, the Flyers MUST collect at least 9 out of 12-points. We have the ability to do so, and better. The past two consecutive wins could not have come at a better time. Before we looked inconsistent and couldn't manage an invariable performance. Now's the time to grab momentum by the reins and ride it forward. 

Here's where the hard part gets even harder (giggity)....

Ilya Bryzgalov's been an absolute workhorse in Philadelphia's cage. He has now started in 21 of the Flyers 23-games played, and has no doubt earned himself a rest. However, given the insanely important chunk of schedule ahead, I cannot suggest that he gets his time off any time soon. 

I know, you don't want to tire him out and suck any energy away that he'll otherwise need in the post-season. Especially in such a condensed schedule like we're experiencing this year. But frankly, the Flyers do not have that luxury. Bryzgalov gives us our best chance to win, and we need to win NOW. 

Given all the circumstances of this season up to today, Peter Laviolette is facing the roughest road ahead. If the circumstances were normal, I'd point to backstop Brian Boucher to get a few nods over the next ten games. But even Brian and his beautiful blue eyes don't stand the chance of saving the Flyers the points they'll need through the next six meetings. 

We love 'Boosh', and we'll always consider him a lifetime Flyer who's poured every ounce of his heart into his performances -- win or lose. But the Flyers are now in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" moment; we cannot worry about saving Bryzgalov's energy for the Playoffs. At this rate, we have to worry about getting to the Playoffs first, and the next six games could very well become the difference between an admission ticket or falling short. 

Once again, I am not arguing that Bryzgalov should get a rest. But, unfortunately, now's not the time.

Our energy line's newest regular, Harry Zolnierczyk, has officially been suspended for 4-games after his controversial hit on Ottawa Senators forward Mike Lundin in Saturday's match. Below is League disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan's suspension video which explains his reason(s) for dropping such a heavy sentence on Harry --

First off, yes, Zolnierczyk launched himself into Lundin, and the charging penalty was appropriate. I refuse to be one of these bias Flyers fans who allows his hometown subjectivity to cloud my judgement. Harry violated a key tenet of the NHL's rulebook which has been burned under the disciplinary microscope for the last three seasons now. 

There's no excuse anymore to deliver these sorts of hits, and what I mean by that is this -- Harry left his skates prior to connecting with Lundin. The propulsion led to Zolnierzcyk's shoulders flogging Lundin's head which left the Senator dazed and lifeless on the ice. 

We love big hits. And I'll admit, at first glance I was applauding the heavy blow delivered. But as Shanahan explained in the video, Harry's skates never left the ice as a result of the impact. He launches before contact is made, which is blatantly obvious during slow-mo replay (from a handful of recorded camera angles). 

Here's where my minor disagreement is laid on the table; the suspension was earned, but 4-games seems to be too much, in my God's honest opinion. In the 43-NHL games Harry has skated in, he's never once been fined or suspended before, so he didn't enter his hearing as a repeat offender with any case history. 

Because Lundin suffered a concussion, I believe that's where the added games came from. 

Some fans would ask what the difference is between Harry's incident and James Neal going high on Sean Couturier in last post-season's QuarterFinal series. At least that's what I'm asking. 

Neal received a one-game suspension for his collision with Couturier. But not only that, the 1-game sentence INCLUDED his next infraction which came on the same shift. Neal threw a high elbow through Claude Giroux's lid, which left Giroux wobbling and disoriented (and this after Giroux suffered a concussion during the 2011-12 regular season). 

Earlier that season, Neal received a fine for a disorderly occurrence, and TWO MORE warnings for TWO SEPARATE occurrences. So, before he cheaply charged both Couturier and Giroux -- in the same game, same shift -- he had already been in question with the Department of Player Safety three isolated times. 

That's called 'having a case history.'

Yet, Harry Zolnierczyk had no such thing before entering his hearing yesterday at noon. Is Brendan Shanahan really going to tell me that Harry Z's charge on Lundin was THAT much worse than Neal's two not even a year apart???

The answer is simple -- he doesn't have to answer. Not because I'm just some hockey blogging peasant, but because hockey's elements are not conducted in a controlled environment. They're constantly changing over time, and whether that time is a year or just a day, the game changes. As does Brendan Shanahan's disciplinary decisions. 

Bear with me; only two days after Neal went high on Coots and Giroux, Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres attempted to open Marian Hossa's skull like a goddamn can of tomatoes --

A very similar hit that James Neal delivered on Sean Couturier two days earlier. A similar occurrence happening not too far apart. The hit cost Torres a 25-game suspension (granted, Torres has a long list of earlier suspensions, so that's the reason for such an astronomical amount of games suspended for hit on Hossa).

Since then, Shanahan has been constantly forced to make examples of players. Sometimes more harsh than similar incidents prior. But if these illegal checks to the head continue, then players ought to know their punishment won't be so lightly weighted. 

Harry Zolnierczyk is a clear example why. 

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