'Togetherness' of 1973-74 Flyers unprecedented

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'Togetherness' of 1973-74 Flyers unprecedented

CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- Joe Watson was surveying the room at the Crowne Plaza, looking for Tom Bladon.

Bladon lives in Calgary and owns a Tim Hortons restaurant. He was last at a Flyers event a few years ago at Ed Snider’s Spectrum-closing bash.

“He’s pretty much the same size now he was then,” Watson said of his portly teammate. “He loves those donuts he sells. It looks like he’s eating most of the bloody profits for cripes sake!”

Always one with a quick one-line that Joe Watson.

Monday night at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s 110th annual banquet, membership honored the 40th anniversary of the Flyers' first Stanley Cup in 1974.

Bill Barber was also honored with the "Living Legend Award."

“There’s a large contingent of guys but they’re scattered around [North America],” said Barber, who played his whole NHL career here and never wanted to leave.

“I loved the city, the fans. I wanted to start and finish my career here and I did. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

Barber scouts for the Flyers.

Some things never change even after four decades.

“The character of the guys remained the same,” Barber said. “Their personalities are still the same as back in the heyday. Maybe we’re a little smarter.”

Watson had an answer.

“Our camaraderie never changed,” Watson said. “We’re happy to see each other and had a good time the last few days.

“We’ve had some good functions together and it shows the love and respect we still have for each other. You don’t see that very often in sports.”

Bladon said one thing still resonates from those Cup years.

“Our team was spelled with a capital 'T',” Bladon said. “If you fought one, you fought all of us. It was as simple as that. The togetherness we had as a team, I don’t know if you’ve seen that later.

“Maybe the closest thing to us was the Islanders after us. We were a lot better hockey team than people thought we were.”

Snider has heard such before.

“One of the things about our situation is that I’m still around,” Snider said. “The Islanders don’t have the guys who owned it when they won the Cups. So many of us are still around who were original at that same time.

“I don’t know what other teams do, but I hear we have the best alumni of all. I’m sure Chicago, Montreal, Toronto have great alumni. We take great pride in our alumni organization and we’re proud so many of our guys that played for us are working for us, still."

Snider presented former Eagles general manager Jim Murray with the "Ed Snider Lifetime Humanitarian Award."

Bernie Parent attends every Flyers game with Bob Kelly and Gary Dornhoefer. They eat dinner on the club level many games. Parent still lives on his boat in Cape May, N.J., but now writes a blog for Philly.com imparting his wisdom.

He hadn’t seen Bladon in a decade. Moose Dupont went back to Quebec hours before the event began, but Reggie Leach stuck around and showed up with Parent.

“Even if we haven’t seen each other in a while, when we get together it’s like we just saw each other a week ago,” Parent said. “The body changes, but the mind doesn’t.”

Parent seems to enjoy imparting his philosophy in his blog and even interviews.

“It’s what I believe in,” he said. “I try to bring across two things -- risk and fear. If you don’t take risks, you don’t face fear, you won’t enjoy life.

“You’ll always be hoping and wishing and nothing happens. Everybody in this room is a risk-taker. Doesn’t mean you’ll win every time. But you have a chance to do something.

“The Stanley Cups, you had to have a purpose or you go in circles. My purpose at the time was to win the Cup.

“Whatever is in front of you, to have that purpose, you have to plow through it. If you don’t have purpose and you face an obstacle, you will back away from it and miss great opportunities.”

Bladon says his biggest obstacle was the flooding in Calgary last summer that destroyed properties and closed his string of properties for a week.

“The flooding devastated the place but we survived,” Bladon said. “They shut down power or basically the whole oil and gas industry. Calgary is the heart of the industry.”

This weekend, the heart of those two Flyer teams made it possible for them to get together at the Bruins game, the Flyers Wives Carnival and at the Sports Writers banquet.

“We had a lot of fun this weekend, tell the same old stories and they get better each time,” Snider said. “Just great being with the guys. We’re like a fraternity, almost.

“We had a great affair at the Spectrum Grill. A lot of fans bought tickets for that. The guys said a few words.”

They said a few more on Monday night, too.

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).