Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

EDITOR'S UPDATE, 05/13/12: Recently it was brought to our attention that we may have offended some readers when we made a reference in the post below from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." For that we humbly apologize. The700Level acts as a separate independent voice from our parent company and often uses movie and other pop culture references. The author was focusing entirely on the scene from the "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" movie that is linked to in the post and never intended to offend anyone or any group. He was previously unaware of the actual religious significance. Steps have been taken to prevent this in the future. We want to ensure our readers that we hold all religions and all views with the utmost respect and would never intentionally be insensitive to their beliefs. We hope you understand and continue to frequent The700Level. Watching game 3 between the Flyers and the Devils in a New York bar that didn't have the telecast's audio was a surreal experience. The Knicks were playing, so the best we could do was get one of the TVs set to Flyers-Devils. Sometimes we say we'd rather not have announcers distracting from game action, and the sounds of the game alone would be ideal. But in this one, I really could have used a few outside opinions on just what the hell the Flyers were trying to do. 
They seemed to be in slow motion at times. They looked stunned, dazed. Like they'd been forced to drink blood of Kali Ma out of a skull chalice and whipped into a lifetime of Thugee service in the dark underground bowels of Pankot Palace. The Black Sleep of Kali Ma… Alive… but… like a nightmare. 
The important question today is, on the brink of lowering themselves into a swirling, fiery pit, will the Flyers feel the flames and suddenly come to life in time to salvage the series?
Storylines including new-look forward lines and the probable return of Sean Couturier, below. 
LINESIn an attempt to jumpstart the offense and get more out of his top line players, Peter Laviolette has broken up the trio of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr. Hartnell moves back alongside Danny Briere with Jake Voracek on the other wing. Giroux will center JVR and Wayne Simmonds. Brayden Schenn and Matt Read will have the 40 Year Old Veteran, Jagr. Tim Panaccio bets the house that Sean Couturier will play tonight, which is great news given the scare of an injury last game. If so, he'll stay with Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood. (Lines courtesy of Adam Kimelman)
Hopefully JVR's jump will help get the best out of Giroux again, and/or get the Wayne Train back on track. G looked ready to rock when he started the game with a big hit on the faceoff, but struggled to generate much in the way of dangerous attacks. He needs to play with the confidence of being the best player on the ice while resisting the idea that he must carry the team if they're going to win. 
Now, with these new lines... Let's not forget when and how to change on the fly...
WIN THE PUCK BATTLESThe Flyers beat the Penguins in part by being very effective in getting behind their defense, dumping pucks deep and winning the battles along the boards or behind the net. It's not that they haven't tried against the Devils, but Jersey has been much more successful in peeling away pucks either in the neutral zone before the Flyers can get through, or in the battles along the boards. Winning those is obviously an advantage the Flyers need to gain, but there's no simple answer as to how they can. 
GET THE POWER PLAY MOJO BACKAgain, obvious, and far easier said than done. Why isn't the power play clicking anywhere near the historic pace it set in the first round? Why couldn't the Flyers score on either of two man advantage opportunities in the overtime period of game 3. Unfortunately, the answer isn't necessarily fixable. The Devils are outstanding on the kill, stifling nearly 90% of all opposing power plays in the regular season while scoring 15 shorthanded goals. They're tenacious against the puck carrier, and they force mistakes that range in costliness from a simple clear to a shorty. 
The coaches have no doubt popped in the game tape from the Devils' first round series, when the Florida Panthers were surprisingly effective when up a man. The Flyers did tally once on the power play in game 3, but they may need to double up if they want to get out of the Rock with a win tonight. 
What would you do differently if you had to draw up the PP for tonight?
BLOW OUT MARTY'S CANDLESMartin Brodeur turned 40 years old today. Rather than letting him celebrate with a win, let's see if he'll cry at his own party. The Flyers can get bodies in front and frustrate Marty. Arming Giroux with a Simmonds or JVR screen could be lethal. 
Brodeur is another reason the dump-in isn't working. Acting like a third defenseman, cutting off wheel-arounds and firing crisp passes, he can nullify the tactic entirely. The game 1 puckhandling jitters could be over, meaning the Flyers will have to be more effective gaining the zone and setting up from the top down, rather than from behind the goal line. Either way, it'll take strength along the boards and some ownership of the low slot. 
DON'T RUIN SUNDAY NIGHT FOR EVERYONEIf I'm going to have to watch Game Of Thrones on DVR at like a million o'clock on a school night, it had better be after tossing up a celebratory recap and not some head-hanging, brink-of-elimination sob story. Ya better show up on your dire wolves and quit acting like you're up against the White Walkers. 
The Devils have made it clear that they're no underdogs. But despite the lackluster efforts of the Flyers in games 2 and 3, I find it hard to believe that Jersey is the better overall team. That doesn't mean they won't still advance. The Flyers have played well below their potential, and they need to adapt their game to a completely different opponent than the one they beat in the opening series. 

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

The Sixers will be without their starting point guard for the time being, as T.J. McConnell has left the team to return to Philadelphia to receive treatment for a right wrist strain and will miss Monday's game vs. the Bucks in Milwaukee.
 
An MRI taken on McConnell’s right wrist came back negative, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
“He has a strain,” Brown said. “There’s no structural damage. In relation to what that means with regards to his return to play, I don’t know that yet.”
 
McConnell is averaging 4.8 points and 5.4 assists in 38 games. He has started Philadelphia’s last seven games, a stretch during which the Sixers have gone 5-2.

With McConnell out, Sergio Rodriguez will start at point guard Monday against Milwaukee.

Rodriguez started 29 of the first 30 games he played this season, his first in the NBA since 2009-10. The 30-year-old is more of an offensive threat than the defensive-minded McConnell, averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 assists.  

“You immediately go to losing that defensive energy T.J. is known for,” Brown said. “Sergio is a more gifted scorer. T.J. is a more gifted defender. To have Nerlens (Noel) and Joel (Embiid) behind the scenes, we can make up some ground with Sergio.
 
“People understand Sergio’s pedigree. He’s a 30-year-old legend in Europe. He has a wealth of experience. He’s a medalist and an MVP of the Euro league. He also was our starting point guard for a while. We’re happy to give him back that responsibility.”

No Noel
In addition to McConnell, the Sixers on Monday will also be without the services of Nerlens Noel, who is dealing with a left ankle sprain. Noel came down with a season-high 12 rebounds in Saturday's loss to the Wizards.

Still restricted
Sixers center Joel Embiid will still be on a 28-minute restriction Monday against the Bucks.

Embiid sat out Saturday’s 109-93 loss to Washington after playing 28 minutes in a 102-93 win over Charlotte on Friday. He has reached 30 minutes just once in his 27 games this season.

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL entering Monday.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Michael Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”