Ray Emery fights Braden Holtby as part of a line brawl during the Flyers 7-0 loss to the Capitals on Friday. Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com
The second period between the Flyers and Capitals seemed to be rock bottom for the struggling Flyers. A 1-0 deficit grew to a 6-0 in 20 minutes.
The entire franchise’s current state came to the forefront of the game from the second intermission through the final horn. During the second intermission, fans called for Paul Holmgren’s head, chanting “fire Holmgren!” Holmgren himself made an appearance in the Flyers locker room in between periods.
That is what likely sparked the events that showed the Flyers classic, worn-out playing style.
In the midst of Washington’s five-goal second period, the Flyers pulled Steve Mason for Ray Emery. When the game was now up to 7-0, with the scoring complete, an altercation between Wayne Simmonds and Tom Wilson broke out.
It seemed to be your traditional fight. Simmonds delivered a slightly late hit along the boards and Wilson took exception. In a matter of seconds, it was anything but normal.
Ray Emery charged down the ice and challenged Capitals netminder Braden Holtby. Holtby wouldn’t commit to a fight with Emery, but Emery persisted and grabbed hold of the goalie, throwing punches to the back of his head. While that happened, three more fights started in the line brawl. One between Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Oleksy ended with Lecavalier being assessed a game misconduct.
A second-period fight between Steve Downie and Aaron Volpatti ended with Downie suffering a concussion. The fight between Lecavalier and Oleksy ended with Lecavalier losing some teeth and also being ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Devils.
Before breaking down the brawl itself, it’s worth a look at what led to it in the first place.
How did the Capitals get a 7-0 lead and eventually win? The Flyers turned the puck over at will. After a fairly dominant first period that ended with Washington’s first goal, the Flyers lost all energy. If you didn’t know any better, Emery and Mason might as well have been the only players on the ice for the Flyers against five Capitals shooting at will.
The lack of energy led to a restless crowd. Many left between the second and third. The ones that stayed chanted for Holmgren’s release as Flyers GM. With frustration mounting in the stands and on the ice, the Flyers resorted to their culture.
The Flyers are honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Stanley Cup Champions at the Flyers Wives Carnival this season. 40 years ago, the culture that Ed Snider defended after three games this season on the day Peter Laviolette was fired, helped the Flyers win a Stanley Cup.
40 years later, and 39 since the Flyers last Stanley Cup title, that culture is employed in the general manager, the head coach and a host of other positions within the franchise. It is the same philosophy on the ice too. If you can’t beat ‘em, beat ‘em up.
The Flyers have two things to be embarrassed about. The 7-0 loss was the worst shutout loss in franchise history since 1994. The response, fully approved by Holmgren, was also embarrassing.
There are line brawls that are fully warranted. When a team creates havoc on the ice, the way the Flyers did, teams like the Capitals have no choice but to respond. If you need a reference to a warranted line brawls, look at Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals for the Flyers against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As Sidney Crosby, Craig Adams and James Neal enticed and instigated the Flyers, they had to respond. The Penguins response to a lopsided loss that day was the same as the Flyers was on Friday.
Fans will always cheer for it. In Friday’s case, it was probably the only moment in the game when the Flyers showed real energy and the only thing to get the crowd involved. But if that is the culture, that is embarrassing.
The response of the Flyers frustration completely encompasses what the culture is. Since 2004, when the NHL received a makeover in the wake of the lockout, the game has been about speed combined with skill. You can’t play a stationary game. You can’t out-hit and win the game on physicality alone, especially in Broad Street Bullies fashion. That’s old school.
The Flyers have always failed to adjust to the new school mentality. You can’t win by beating up the opponent. You have to be better in all aspects.
The NHL cracked down on the physical game in the NHL. You can still hit. You can still fight. But it still isn’t embraced, just as the NHL frowned upon the Flyers success in the 70s. And when things aren’t going your way, that response is no longer acceptable.
For the Flyers to resort to that because it’s their culture is asinine. It classifies the team as goons – but then again, when your GM and head coach played the same way, why would you expect things to change?
Moreso, Holmgren said that Downie was brought in to “stir the pot” while helping boost the offense. If stirring the pot meant causing mass riot, then the Flyers succeeded.
To make matters worse, by stirring the pot and resorting to such a response, two players are left injured and out for the foreseeable future at the very least. Downie ended up on a stretcher and en route to the hospital within a half hour of the game ending.
Forget about this season. That reaction shows immaturity, lack of heart and lack of class. At this point, talk is cheap. Ignore the quotes about how unacceptable it really is. It’s not going to change any time soon.
So as the Flyers re-enacted "Slapshot" on the ice and chants of “fire Holmgren” bellowed from the stands, the Flyers culture was on full display. It proved once and for all that the Flyers are not only the farthest thing from a contending team, they are a franchise in disarray because of what their culture dictates.