VANCOUVER - The best thing about the Flyers' Western Conference swing is the chance to see teams not normally seen live in the East. I hope people are paying attention.
While it's true that the Flyers had a day from travel hell, getting into Chicago late Friday and then getting stranded at the airport after that night's game because of weather, what happened to them didn't have as much to do with the elements as it did the Blackhawks.
That is one young, fast, skilled team that will be a good bet to go deep in the playoffs. They have goaltending and young players who can fly, play with incredible energy and shoot from anywhere, and the city is eating it up.
The 22,712 fans, the largest crowd in the history of the United Center, were loud and into it. And why not? They have young stars in Patrick Kane (16 goals, 25 assists), Jonathan Toews (9, 19), and, of course, former Flyer Patrick Sharp, who has 19 goals and 11 assists, and, at 26, is a veteran in the group.
"Things are going well," Sharp said. "It's nice to have success here. We're sold out every game and it's a great place to play. I'm 26 and I'm one of the older guys on the team. It's a fun group to be around."
But not for the Flyers. Not only did they get pounded, 5-1, they limped out of the building with three guys injured from blocking shots.
The biggest injury was to
Kimmo Timonen, who suffered a chip fracture in his right ankle and could be out a week or more. The top defenseman could play again before the trip ends in Washington on Jan. 6.
"It will all depend on how Kimmo feels," said general manager Paul Holmgren.
Also injured was Scott Hartnell, with a broken big toe on his right foot, and Matt Carle, who bruised an ankle bone. Hartnell played in the 3-0 loss in Columbus Saturday night, but it was clear he was feeling the injury.
The worst thing
The other side of this road trip is the way the Flyers are playing. It will be worth watching to see what happens here tomorrow night because the Flyers look limp.
The lack of practice, the hard travel days, and playing teams that are rested and waiting for them is part of it, but they were shut out, outshot and outplayed in Columbus.
The play of their top line of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble was nonexistent and for much of the second part of the game, Knuble played on the third and fourth lines while rookie Claude Giroux took his place.
John Stevens is not a patient coach when lines start to flounder, and a reshuffle could be coming up.
Can you imagine what would have happened if someone like, say, Steve Downie, pulled what Sidney Crosby did in Atlanta on Dec. 18? During a melee at the net, Crosby jumped Boris Valabik from behind as he was fighting Kris Letang.
Not only was Crosby a third man in the fight but he punched Valabik repeatedly in the back of the head, and when the officials started pulling him away he continued throwing punches, upper cutting the chest and then punching Valabik between the legs from behind.
He got a 2-minute roughing penalty.
Are you kidding me? Roughing?
And to make it worse, there was nothing from the league office the next day.
I don't care who the player is and what he means to the league, no one should be allowed to do that and get away with it.
There was a small note at the bottom of the news report in which Crosby claims to have thrown only one punch, "but I didn't land it."
Call it up under "Crosby Cheap Shot" on YouTube and look for yourself.
Ryan Parent was reassigned to the Phantoms yesterday. It is rare that an injury can set someone back a year, but in Parent's case that might have happened.
The young defenseman was prominent in the Flyers' preseason plans, but when he needed surgery to repair a tear in a shoulder and missed the first 36 games, the Flyers were forced to make trades and readjust.
Now he is on the bottom looking up at a roster that is packed with defensemen and lacking any cap space.
Injuries being what they are for the Flyers, this could change again for Parent, especially if they move a defenseman to create space when Danny Briere comes back, possibly by next week. But for now it doesn't look like Parent will be a Flyer for a while.
Mats Sundin has scheduled his first "North American" press conference of the season tomorrow. No indication of when he will play yet . . . Kimmo Timonen remains out, while Matt Carle is day-to-day . . . Marty Biron should be back in net after Antero Niittymaki's showing in Columbus. To be fair to Niittymaki, the Flyers allowed him to be pushed around in his net. Can't imagine that would have happened if Derian Hatcher were playing. Then again, they are already taking way too many penalties. *
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