Dropping the Gloves: Is power play or penalty kill more important?
Ray Emery fought Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby on Nov. 1, when the Flyers lost 7-0. (USA Today Images)
With just about 15 minutes left to play against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 1, Ray Emery left his crease and skated the length of the Wells Fargo Center ice to take out all of his frustrations on opposing goalie Braden Holtby. The Flyers lost that night, 7-0.
By all accounts, things have turned around since Emery’s fight and the melee it sparked. Hockey fights, it’s been well documented, have a tendency to change momentum.
But that fight was not the turning point of the Flyers' season.
If, in fact, we can connect the Flyers' recent reawakening to a single instant (if not a combination of a few instances), there are plenty of other places to look well before we get to the fight. The Flyers are still out of playoff contention, but there's no doubt they look a lot different from just three weeks ago. Let’s examine some other possibilities as to why.
Nov. 1: The 7-0 loss
This was actually Wayne Simmonds’ suggestion. The 7-0 loss to the Caps was the low point of the Flyers’ season (on the scoreboard, at least). It was an embarrassment.
Not only were the Flyers booed off the ice to end both the second and third periods, but fans in the Wells Fargo Center -– those that didn’t walk out, at any rate -– also began to call for the head of general manager Paul Holmgren. After the game, Holmgren said he didn’t blame them.
Let’s be clear here, though: If this game was the turning point, it wasn’t because of Emery’s fight –- or Steve Downie’s fight, or Vinny Lecavalier’s fight, or anyone’s fight. If the 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the Caps sparked the Flyers’ turnaround, it was because they were appalled by the effort put out on the ice and the way it was received by their fans, coaches and front office.
“That was embarrassing, especially in our own building,” Simmonds said. “You never want that to happen, and I don’t think it will ever happen again. I think it opened up a lot of guys’ eyes.”
Nov. 7: The Devils loss/team meeting
Plenty of people believe the 7-0 Caps loss was when the Flyers hit rock bottom. Others believe it got worse before it got better -– and that it got worse on Nov. 7, when the Flyers hosted the New Jersey Devils.
In a game that featured two of the three lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, it was the Flyers who were held without a goal. They lost at home, 3-0, and unlike the Caps game, had absolutely no fight in them. Only days earlier, the Flyers had traveled to Newark, N.J. and beaten the Devils, 1-0.
The Flyers called a players-only meeting after the home loss, though, during which they individually voiced their concerns. Captain Claude Giroux refused to speak to the media and left the Wells Fargo Center early, later admitting he did so out of frustration.
And then ... they started winning. Since the 3-0 loss to the Devils, the Flyers are 4-0-1. Giroux has two goals and three assists, Jake Voracek has two goals and four assists, and Brayden Schenn has three goals and three assists.
Nov. 8: The chairman speaks out
OK, maybe it wasn’t anything that happened on the ice that jolted some life into the Flyers. Maybe it was what happened the day after the loss to the Devils.
It was a Friday. Flyers chairman Ed Snider was at Skate Zone to take in the team’s practice and speak to the media about an upcoming happy occasion: Fred Shero’s long-awaited induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Instead, Snider vented some frustrations of his own.
“I’ve been in the game for 47 years,” Snider said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Snider had talked to the team, too, but there’s no doubt his harsh words that day in Voorhees, N.J., got back to the players. Coach Craig Berube's constant mixing and matching of the Flyers' lines ended that very practice. The lines (and, largely, the lineup) have remained unchanged since the practice at which Snider spoke up.
Nov. 9: The Oilers game
Still not convinced? Try this: On Nov. 9, fresh off that aforementioned loss to the Devils and Snider's decision to get vocal, the Flyers hosted the Edmonton Oilers –- owners of the NHL’s worst defense.
This was the game in which Giroux snapped his 21-game goal drought. It was only the second time all year the Flyers scored more than two goals. They scored four, in a 4-2 victory.
Maybe it seems trivial, but getting a goal or two and having the home crowd behind a team goes a long way. After hearing little besides boos and groans at the Wells Fargo Center, that Saturday afternoon the Flyers won their fans back. They have a chance to win their third consecutive game at home Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
“I think [scoring goals] gives you confidence,” Berube said. “It really does.”