How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

There used to be a little derision in references to
the Los Angeles Kings being "Flyers West." We've always said there
wasn't, that it was a term of endearment. We respected the particular
group of Philadelphia expatriates who wound up together in Hollywood.
While those sentiments were and are still true, they came with a smirk
and an attempt to conceal undeserved condescension.  

With former Philly bench bosses and front office
folks in positions of power and a small rotation of former Flyers
wearing a small rotation of Kings uniform variations, the club had
certainly earned the nickname. Failing to sustain any real momentum
toward postseason glory is probably what garnered the seldom spoken
derision, even if the Flyers' own successes, while consistent, also
consistently fell short. 

That was before Mike Richards was traded to LA
though. Before Simon Gagne signed up to be his teammate again nine days
later. With former captain Richards and decade-long fan-favorite Gagne,
the Kings had undeniably were "Flyers West," but the derision began to
disappear. When Jeff Carter moved in with Richards in Manhattan Beach,
the reference was set in stone and the derision gone entirely, replaced
by a quickly rooted sapling of fear. 

Fear? Of a struggling, limping forward joining a
chemistry-challenged team that might not even make the playoffs? A team
that had jettisoned its head coach and endured Richards' weakest ever
regular season and a long-term injury to Gagne?

No, this fear was for what in retrospect now feels
to have been inevitable—that the exiled former Flyers would unite like
Voltron elsewhere and raise Lord Stanley's gift to the league less than
one year after being sent out of Philadelphia against their wishes. 

Melodramatic? Maybe. But it could happen tonight, or later this week, and it will be painful. It is already painful.

we said when Carter was dealt to LA, we are happy for the two players
who were drafted together and were once proud to be Flyers "for life."
Same goes for Gagne and Williams, though the latter already has a Cup
and will be known in passing as one of the franchise's "what if…?"
stories. Same goes for Ron Hextall, who was so close in 1987, a force
for the league to reckon with. Ten years later, Hexy was back in the
Finals for the Flyers, but as part of an all too familiar goalie
carousel. Now he's Assistant GM under Dean Lombardi, a man who flew
under most fans' radars during his time with the Flyers. We see you now,

The trades were much safer on June 23rd, 2011—both
to execute as the Flyers GM, and to accept as fans. Carter seemed
destined to live out a purgatorial existence in Columbus, and that's
being generous. Richards might do well in LA, but that was fine. They
weren't traded by a vindictive man hoping to ruin them. Paul Holmgren
had tears in his eyes in the wake of the deals, knowing full well
neither player wanted to go at all, much less be separated. Maybe Scott
Howson's need to move the publicly disgruntled Carter and Lombardi's
need for more scoring combined to alleviate Homer's guilt.  

But their reunion immediately reopened the dialog
of, what if the Flyers and Kings play in the Finals? It seemed unlikely,
with the Kings an 8 seed and the Flyers facing a treacherous path
through the East. But after the Flyers beat the Penguins, the way they
did, and the Kings marched through the top-seeded Canucks, we (and
probably the league) were a little closer to believing that pipe dream
matchup might just happen. 

Only for a moment though. And that's where it starts to get painful.

series against the Devils went so astonishingly bad, knocking us all
down a peg after we uncharacteristically assumed the Flyers' next real
challenge after the Penguins awaited in the Conference Finals. The
Kings, meanwhile, had clearly found their stride and continued on a
historic tear through the West
. They were the group catching fire at just the right time, as well as the team with the hot, dominant goalie. 

While our rival fans toasted another early tee time
for the Orange & Black—even those who'd met their end too—they had a
new mocking line to trot out, and we'd better get used to it. Just
after the traditional goaltending comments, be prepared to hear a chorus
of Richards and Carter digs. They came in waves as Carter scored his
second goal of the Finals on Monday night, a perfect lift of a pass from
Richards to beat Martin Brodeur and seal what now appears to be a
certain fate.  

It began to truly feel like our club is cursed. In
just one season, barring a miraculous Devils comeback, Richards and
Carter in all their bearded glory will do what many of us have never
seen the Flyers accomplish outside of the grainy footage from before our
time. They're gonna drink from that Cup this summer. 

Let's Make ExcusesWhat may or may not be
lost in all of this is that the Flyers weren't expected to contend
immediately after the summer 2011 shakeup saw their forward lines
replaced en masse. Many young faces were added, and their greatest
veteran leader was lost for the season, probably longer. I can't
remember a team with more rookies contributing key minutes up and down
the lines. The Kings' end of the Richards trade was the more "win now"
move, exchanging a top prospect and a valuable young winger for a team
captain with playoff experience. 

There is also the line of thought that the
departures also allowed a superstar to emerge. Claude Giroux became an
MVP candidate and had Conn Smythe chatter after a first series showdown
with Sidney Crosby. But perhaps in large part due to injury, he faded
along with the rest of the Flyers to a reality that we probably wouldn't
have been too upset over if you offered it last October. And, there's
no way of knowing how his development would have been effected if 18
and/or 17 had stayed. 

Doesn't Ease the PainIf the Kings
continue on this path, and it appears they will, it will be a lot harder
to shrug off the rebuilding/reloading season. The two biggest stones
the builder removed became valuable pieces of someone else's castle.
That someone already had the most valuable piece when he started making
deals, as well as high-line forward talent and defense. Despite the
excellent efforts of the Flyers' rookie corps and other newcomers, we
still don't know whether the Flyers have a championship-caliber goalie
or a long-term road block, and . 

We may never know the full extent of the reasons
that Richards and Carter were dealt. Opinions will always vary. The need
for a new direction. The need for the elusive (and expensive) #1
goalie. A different look from the forward lines. Dry Island violations,
the stuff that made the papers and the stuff that didn't. 

Whatever the reason, they were deemed the players
who needed to go in order to make the Flyers into a Cup winner. For Los
Angeles, they were the pieces that needed to be added. That stirs some
worthwhile considerations about how both teams were built with and
without Richards and Carter, what their ideal roles are and were. 

I'm trying hard not to blame or second-guess Homer's
decision because again, we don't know exactly what led to it. And, if
the Kings lost last round, we wouldn't even be having this discussion,
instead focusing on whether one off-season will be enough to get the
Flyers over the hurdle they crotched up on while running at full speed. 

What Comes Next?Last season, the Flyers'
playoff run ended in embarrassment, and Ed Snider publicly decreed that
the goaltending carousel would end. At least in part, that set the
course for the summer's surprising moves. This year's departure was
frustrating, though I wouldn't say it was quite as embarrassing on its
own. But what happens after Richards and Carter win the Cup in an
emphatically short series during which the Flyers are painted as the
long-term ex who cheated on and then broke up with them, then in the end
was the one left behind while the jilted party moved on to better

Will that be an additional motivator toward
off-season moves (ie, the rebound), or will the Flyers primarily stay
the course and let a new, young core develop, tweaking only a few
One final question. Seeing what short work the Kings are
making of every team they face… If they were going to win the Cup, are
you glad the Flyers were eliminated early, rather than have to be
another stop on LA's parade route?

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers vs. Hurricanes
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

Another season, another slow start for the Flyers.

After dropping their home opener Thursday, the Flyers (1-2-1) welcome the Hurricanes (1-1-2) to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night looking to snap a three-game losing skid.

Here are five things to know for Game 5 of 82.

1. Slow starts
Through four games, there are a few areas behind the Flyers' lousy start.

The defense continuing to abandon the goaltending and the lackluster power play are near the top of the list, but look no further than the first period of games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in first periods through four games. Only Tampa Bay and Vancouver have scored fewer first-period markers with zero. The six first-period goals allowed are tied for the second most in the NHL. Only Calgary has more with seven.

It was an issue last season as well. In 2015-16, the Flyers were outscored, 62-50, in first periods, and the 50 goals ranked in the bottom five of the league. We've talked about slow starts in terms of wins-losses, but this issue extends to first periods too.

While the Flyers have exerted far greater efforts in second periods — leading the league with eight second-period tallies — getting behind so early results in playing from behind, and while resiliency is a trait of winning teams, it's ultimately cost them thus far.

On Saturday night, it doesn't get any easier for the Flyers, either. Carolina is an improved club from last season, which it, too, struggled scoring in opening periods.

That hasn't been the case this season. The 'Canes have outscored opponents, 5-2, in first periods, so it'll be important for the Flyers to come out of the gate with more authority.

2. Read-emption Song
One of the highlights of the early season for the Flyers has been the play of Matt Read.

Read scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season during the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Thursday, dusting off a play that brought back memories of years past.

The 30-year-old got behind the Anaheim defense on the backhand, drove to the net and deposited the puck into the net past John Gibson for a go-ahead score. It was very much a play we saw Read make a few years ago, but has been missing the last two seasons. Read came into training camp early this season hungrier than the previous two seasons, and on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall said Read knew he had to get back to the brand of hockey he was playing in 2013-14.

After the game Thursday, Read said his self-evaluation this offseason resulted in him realizing he has to get into the greasy areas to score and avoid playing the outside.

"I think that's something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player," Read said Thursday. "It's easy to be a perimeter player if you're going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you've got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks."

3. Not so special
Special teams so often decide hockey games and it should factor into Saturday's game, too. Carolina comes into the game with a power play and penalty kill both in the top five.

The Hurricanes' man advantage has found twine five times in 16 chances, and their penalty kill has killed off 15 of 16 power plays against. On the other hand, the Flyers have had their struggles on special teams in the early going.

On Thursday night, the Flyers’ PP played a huge role in their loss. They finished 1 for 7 on the man advantage against Anaheim but were 1 for 5 in the second period alone. With Anaheim asking to be beaten, the Flyers couldn’t make the Ducks pay. 

“I thought we had pretty good power plays, our first power play,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had a good power play during the second, scored a good goal. Had opportunities to stretch to 3-1. It’s disappointing we couldn’t.

“We had one poor power play at the end of the first, where we weren’t able to get set up at all. Our power play was OK. The bigger thing for me is the goal we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals that as a team we can’t give up.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: It hasn't been the smoothest transition to the NHL for Ivan Provorov, one of two 19-year-olds on the roster. Provorov has shown glimpses, but there have been hiccups, as expected. He had a nightmare of a game in Chicago on Tuesday, and followed it up with a not-so-great effort against Anaheim. But we have to remember he's a teenage rookie. Patience is important. Still, the spotlight should remain on him Saturday. How does he respond after a pair of games in which he's made visible mistakes?

Hurricanes: Carolina has a few young players that are a joy to watch, but let’s highlight defenseman Justin Faulk, who quarterbacks the power play. The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in four games, with two of the helpers coming on the man advantage. An extremely gifted blueliner, Faulk has scored 15 and 16 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough to get him on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. We all know how that panned out.

5. This and that
• Read has 14 points in 20 career games against the Hurricanes.

• Dale Weise was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim defenseman Korbinian Holzer. Roman Lyubimov will replace Weise in the lineup.

• Carolina has killed off its last 11 penalties and has scored at least one power-play goal in three of its four games and two power-play goals in two of its four games.

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened toward the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.