Baffling Formation Dooms Union in First Playoff Game

Baffling Formation Dooms Union in First Playoff Game

The agita started when the teams filed out of the tunnel and onto the field. I scanned the jersey numbers to see which eleven players Peter Nowak had selected to start the first playoff game in franchise history. The #6 stuck out like a sore thumb.

Before allowing the panic to set in I checked to make sure Brian Carroll was out there. He was. If Carroll hadn’t suffered an injury in the lead up to the game, then why was Miglioranzi out there? Next, my thoughts turned to Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes. Perhaps one of them was unable to go, and pressed for a starting center back Nowak plugged in Miglioranzi. Nope, both starting center backs were out there.

Ok, so why in the world was Miglioranzi, who played fewer regular season minutes than Carlos Ruiz (who left the team in JULY!), starting this game? I only became more incredulous when I saw how Nowak decided to deploy him.

The Union came out in a five man back line. With Miglioranzi stationed between Califf and Valdes. In a playoff game. At home.

Wait, what?

The Union came out, at home, in an aggregate goal two-leg playoff series, with six of their ten field players decidedly defensive-minded (Sheanon Williams, Califf, Miglioranzi, Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, and Brian Carroll).

The bizarre decision to plug Miglioranzi into the starting lineup backfired almost immediately. Six minutes in, Brad Davis whipped a free kick into the box, which was headed home by Andre Hainault. The man Hainault beat to win that header? You guessed it, Stefani Miglioranzi.

So much for that five man backline paying defensive dividends.

To some degree I understand what Nowak was hoping for when he dreamed up the lineup. The formation enabled Williams and Gabe Farfan to run the flanks. At times the formation morphed into a 3-5-2, with Williams and Gabe Farfan joining Carroll, Michael Farfan, and Justin Mapp in the midfield.

What I don’t understand is why he used Miglioranzi as a de facto third center back. Why not slide Carroll back there and use Amobi Okugo as the holding midfielder? Or, why not just stick with the 4-4-2 you’ve employed the entire season?

To be fair, the Union did not play all that poorly. They created chances, scored a gorgeous goal (Le Toux slotting home a beautiful floated chip from Michael Farfan), but in the end, unlike Houston, they were unable to finish their chances.

Substitutes Roger Torres and Freddy Adu injected some much-needed attacking verve. I’d look for one of those to start during the second leg on Thursday night.

All things considered, the Union have an opportunity to win this thing. They are only down single goal. Here’s hoping Nowak has scrapped the Miglioranzi experiment.

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Video highlights:

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds, Flyers not giving up hope with 21 games left

Flyers Notes: Wayne Simmonds, Flyers not giving up hope with 21 games left

PITTSBURGH – Wayne Simmonds remained defiant.

Yes, the Flyers have lost seven of their last nine games. Yes, they are five points out of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
But it's not over in terms of the playoffs.

"We played a great game, but unfortunately, it didn't go our way," Simmonds said after the 4-2 loss to the Penguins in the Stadium Series outdoor game at Heinz Field (see game recap).

"It wasn't good enough. I don't know what to say, guys. We have 21 games left and a never-say-die attitude. We're gonna keep pushing, no matter what. We've got to be desperate every game and play it as if it’s our last."

The Flyers had their chances and their moments. When Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first goal in 34 games early in the third period, it was a 3-2 game and momentum had been building in the Flyers' favor.

Then a key moment. A lost faceoff and the puck goes back to the point where Chad Ruhwedel fires so quickly that goalie Michal Neuvirth couldn't track the puck.

That was it. Game over.

"We brought it back [to 3-2]," Simmonds said. "We just had to get the tying goal and it slipped away. … We've got to score."

Still, there is time to regroup again with 21 games left.

"We have to have a short memory," Simmonds said. "Whether it's a good game or bad game, you move on."

They’re moving on but they're not gaining traction.

Weal back in lineup
Jordan Weal (concussion symptoms) re-entered the lineup in place on Roman Lyubimov. Weal missed two games after suffering the injury Feb. 16 in Edmonton.

Weal moved to left wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Simmonds.

“It’s a short sample, but it’s his body of work since he has been with us over the last couple weeks,” coach Dave Hakstol said of moving Weal there.

Before his injury, Weal played left wing on Sean Couturier’s line with Jakub Voracek. Brayden Schenn went back to center Saturday night between Nick Cousins and Voracek. It was another new line for Schenn.

If you’re wondering, Schenn has played left wing 33 times this season in 58 games.

Weal said he “felt good” and seemed excited to play in an NHL outdoor game.

Midway into the game, Michael Raffl went back to the top line and Weal moved to a line with Couturier and Dale Weise.

Weal played 15:43.

Power-play position
Shayne Gostisbehere played the point this game with the first unit and not the half wall. He also scored a goal there.

Coach Dave Hakstol has been rotating him from the point to the half-wall depending upon the personnel on the ice.

"It's a little bit of an adjustment no matter where I am," Gostisbehere said. "It's just nice to be on the power play. Whatever position they put me in out there, up top or on the wing, it's something I have to be ready for. I think I'm comfortable in both spots."

Outdoors
General manager Ron Hextall liked the outdoor game concept.

"It’s unique," Hextall said. "When they first started, I don’t love change. I was a little skeptical, I guess. I think they’re terrific. I really do.

"It’s good for the game. People watch an outdoor game and will pick that game because it’s an outdoor game. There is something about them. They’re neat."

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets crush Islanders, 7-0

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unlike some other NHL teams coming off their bye week, there wasn't a spot of rust on the sleek Columbus Blue Jackets.

In their first game following a five-day break, the high-energy Blue Jackets blew out the New York Islanders 7-0 Saturday as backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo earned his first career shutout.

Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, and David Savard had a goal and three assists. Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored to help the Blue Jackets end New York's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Zibanejad scores in OT to help Rangers beat Devils again
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New York Rangers are finding ways to win, and the New Jersey Devils just aren't.

Moments after goaltender Antti Raanta stopped Kyle Palmieri on a breakaway, Mika Zibanejad scored 1:16 into overtime and the Rangers rallied to beat the Devils 4-3 on Saturday.

"I had to redeem myself after that letdown on the breakaway the other way," said Zibanejad, whose mistake gave Palmieri a chance to complete a hat trick. "Rants came up big and it's nice to see that puck cross the goal line once again and win the game."

The goal was Zibanejad's first in 16 games and it gave the Rangers their ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1). Struggling New Jersey got its fourth loss in five games (1-3-1) (see full recap).

Shaw's OT goal gives Canadiens 14th straight win over the Leafs
TORONTO -- Andrew Shaw scored 1:06 into overtime and the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 on Saturday night for their 14th consecutive victory over the Maple Leafs.

Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk had the other goals for the Canadiens, who increased their Atlantic Division lead to four points over Ottawa and five on Toronto. They are 3-7-1 in the last 11 games and 2-2-0 under new coach Claude Julien.

Carey Price stopped 32 shots for Montreal, including a breakaway by Auston Matthews in overtime. The 19-year-old Matthews scored twice to reach 30 goals in his rookie season, and Frederik Andersen was sharp with 25 saves for Toronto (see full recap).