Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Flyers blogger weighs in
A Round 3 Q&A with The 700 Level's Matt Pesotski

The Flyers are not a team with a ton of active blogs, but the one I've been checking out lately is a general Philadelphia sports blog, The 700 Level, where Matt Pesotski is the resident hockey nut. And he knows his stuff.

What's The 700 Level? Wikipedia does the honours here: "The 700 Level referred to the cheap seats in the upper deck of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Usually the most rowdy fans were there, especially at Philadelphia Eagles games and to a lesser extent Philadelphia Phillies games."

Here's what Matt had to offer on the conference finals:

Q. What's the level of interest around the team like in Philadelphia? I know there was a bit of unrest after last season — has that disappeared given the playoff run?

The interest level is as high as I can remember it being in my 28 years. The die-hards are elated, and the casual fans are upping their support and getting to know the team, which includes a lot of new faces this year.

Regarding the unrest after last season: I think the fans showed tremendous support by still packing the building during the worst season in franchise history, and most of them had faith that the team would rebound quickly. Owner Ed Snider is known around here for doing whatever it takes to support an NHL contender, even if we haven't seen a Cup since before I was born.

At the trade deadline and in the season's aftermath, Paul Holmgren moved incredibly fast to fill the gaping holes he saw, which showed the fans that the franchise would not endure another sub-par year. That went a long way to keep the fans interested, and the performance of the players Homer acquired, as well as those who have come up through the farm system, has attracted a lot of attention from the many four-sport fans in this city who don't rank the Flyers as their favorite Philly team.

Nearly everyone in town lauds Holmgren as the best GM in a city that sent three of four teams to the playoffs this year, and deservedly so. Under his direction, the Flyers went from the worst team in hockey to the conference finals, only the second team in the modern era to do so.

Running my site, I really get the sense that Flyers fans, and the team in general, aren't all that popular around the league. In fact, outside of Philadelphia, I'm not sure the Flyers have any fans.

Is that accurate? Unjustified? And is there a bit of an us-against-the-world mentality in the city when it comes to the team?

I agree the Flyers are incredibly unpopular among other teams' fans, and there's definitely a belief that the powers that be in Toronto have it out for our organization. I'm not sure if the latter is true, but it certainly feels that way at times.

However, I think the Flyers do have a lot of fans outside of Philly, both pilgrims and transplants. Before the Caps got hot down the stretch, you'd see orange all throughout the telecasts of Flyers games in D.C. Ditto in New Jersey, and even some of the west coast and Florida games. Last night, with the Phillies in Arizona to face the Diamondbacks, you could hear "Let's Go Flyers" chants.

But fans of other NHL teams love to hate the Flyers and their fans. Few things are more apparent to me after covering them for The 700 Level this year. I guess it all started before my time, when the organization won two Stanley Cups while still in their infancy, and there's just been a trickle-down effect. Original Six teams (especially the Rangers) had to despise the Flyers' fast success (little did they know, there'd be a biblical drought to follow). But the rough style they brought to the table was probably what truly made them hated. I guess the suspensions early this year awakened that hatred, because I don't remember there ever being so much leaguewide anti-Flyers sentiment. That could be a myopic view though, because (1) I wasn't around for the Bullies, and (2) we've never had as much access to the opinions of opposing fans as we do now.

A lot of this also comes from Philly being a four-sport, major-market town. We're a passionate and rowdy fanbase, and we have different primary rivals in every sport, as well as countless sub-rivalries, and that breeds contempt around the country.

However, I also think we appreciate some other teams and players more than we're given credit for. We got a lot of attention for booing (and worse) Alex Ovechkin in the first round, but I think most fans in this town have a lot of respect for him and love to watch him play. The same is true for Evgeni Malkin. From the Maple Leafs, I've always liked Mats Sundin's game, and although I obviously rooted against the team growing up, I was a Felix the Cat fan.

I'd be interested to hear Canadians perspective on why the Flyers are so hated up north.

Very few people are picking the Flyers to win in this series: What makes you optimistic they can pull it out?

The first thing that comes to mind is that both the Caps and the Habs were favored by most experts, and the Flyers beat them despite not having the home-ice advantage. Add to that the fact that the Flyers won the season series against the Penguins — although it was pretty close, and the Pens took their foot off the gas in the season finale. You can go further back and see that the Flyers have an overwhelming edge in the overall history between the teams, including never having lost to the Pens in the playoffs, but I don't believe anything that happened before the last 5-10 years has any bearing on this series, since most of these guys weren't even playing then.

Other than that, the Flyers have an abundance of guys who can light the lamp, including R.J. Umberger, who spanked his hometown Pens in the regular season and is on a Conn Smyth-caliber tear in the postseason. The Flyers also have the most important element of a winning team in the playoffs: a hot goalie who is flat out stealing some games for them.

Only problem is, the Pens are playing at least as well as the Flyers, and Marc-Andre Fleury won't be anywhere near as soft as Carey Price was. The Flyers keep saying they haven't played their best hockey yet, and I tend to agree. But if they want to win this series, they'll need to unlock that potential in a hurry.

You mentioned Umberger: I'm curious — who would you pick as a few of the team's unsung heroes so far? Who are some players who have played really well for the Flyers who will have to come up big, guys that the average fan might not know very well?

Before he went completely off, Umberger would definitely have fit that criteria; he had seen time on the team's fourth line in these playoffs, and he's already well over half his goal total for the season. Briere, Prospal, and Richards certainly can't be considered "unsung," but after them, there's been tremendous output from Jeff Carter, and Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul are each young players who can now say they've scored a series-winning goal. We all know what Patrick Thoresen had to overcome to stay in these playoffs, and he's really earned his ice time despite not showing up on the scoresheet.

I'd be remiss not to mention the defense here though. True, they were maligned for stretches of the season, and they've left Biron high and dry a few times in the playoffs, but they've also blocked a ton of shots. Braydon Coburn has been outstanding, stopping offensive rushes in the Flyers zone and deftly sending the puck down ice to start a rush in the other direction. But the most unsung defenseman right now is probably Randy Jones, who has quietly put up a plus-8 so far (third best in the NHL).

I'd like to see Scott Hartnell be more of a presence in the Penguins series, both offensively and as a pest. He played that role well against the Caps, but was a little quieter versus Montreal. If Steve Downie dresses, he needs to stay out of the box (unless he can take someone with him), and display some of the scoring prowess that earned him a spot on two Canadian national teams. That's admittedly hard when you see as little ice time as he has lately though.

Keep an eye on The 700 Level for more from Matt as the conference finals get going. And stay tuned for blogger reports from the Penguins and Stars courtesy of The Pensblog and Mark Stepneski.

A Red Wings blogger weighs in
A Penguins blogger weighs in
A Stars blogger weighs in

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At 9:01 p.m., May 07, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Yes, a fair amount of the hate for the Flyers goes back to the 1970s. I've never seen it as being because they won quickly, but rather entirely because of their style of play. I thought that the mid 1970s NHL was a disgrace, and I put a large part, though certainly not all of it, on the Flyers organization.

I can't speak for anyone else, but, for me, that hate never went away. A lot of it was embodied by Bobby Clarke. Not only a participant in the Broad Street Bullies, he's also the guy who deliberately broke Valeri Kharlamov's ankle during the 1972 Summit Series.

At this point, the history has probably poisoned the Flyers for me permanently. In all other cases, New York teams rank at or near the bottom of the list of teams that I like. In the NHL, the Flyers beat the Rangers out for last.

At 9:21 p.m., May 07, 2008, Blogger I Have Kasparaitis said...

They have earned the hatred they get from other hockey fans because they have been dirty for so long.

This team isn't much better than the teams the have had in the past violence-wise. Derian Hatcher, the slower, younger brother brother of Kevin, seems to be a focal point of the hysteria. He's been known to be a less than likeable player especially after he broke ex-Flyer Jeremy Roenick's jaw, who is one of the few people who have played for Philly that I still like, and many more antics. The Flyers made me hate them more than I usually do after taking cheap-shots at players so they could have an advantage earlier this season.

There is no possible way that I could ever like the Flyers, but to each their own.

At 9:52 p.m., May 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

here is two more good flyers blogs

At 11:50 p.m., May 07, 2008, Anonymous dvc said...

IHK, you only remember dirty play by the Flyers? Even before they were Flyers? No recollection of Ulf Samuelsson and his knee-to-knee hit on Cam Neely in the '91 playoffs? It sort of turned the tide in that series. Neely had been a scoring machine in those playoffs and the Bruins in command in that series up to that point. That wasn't taking out a key player on the other team to give your team an advantage?

Or more recently, Ruutu's blindside hit on Jagr in the '06 Olympics? Took the Czechs' best player out of the lineup and helped Finland win. Ruutu's knee-to-knee hit on Kovalchuk, Atlanta's best player, in January? Oh I know, it was Kovalchuk's fault for trying to avoid the hit. Except it was after the whistle of an obvious offsides play and he clearly stuck his knee out to clip him. Ruutu's knee-to-knee hit on Briere late this season, that knocked Briere out of the Flyers' last two games? Orpik's vicious hit on Erik Cole two years ago that broke Cole's neck? None of that's taking cheapshots at other teams' best players to give your team an advantage?

The Pens are a chippy team and have been for quite some time (Barnaby, Kasparaitis, Tibbetts--played in more games for the Pens than the Flyers, sorry--etc.). I'm sure we'll see more of this chippiness on display in this series complete with entertaining descriptions, justifications and rationalizations of it by Pens' fans. Can't wait.

At 1:05 a.m., May 08, 2008, Blogger jefe said...

darn i shouldve went to the d-backs/phills game just to represent the pens, haha.

go pens! (and d-backs!)

At 4:13 p.m., May 08, 2008, Blogger Pensblog Staff said...

longest Q&A possibly of all time

At 4:21 p.m., May 08, 2008, Blogger I Have Kasparaitis said...

@dvc: I don't recall ever saying that the Pens haven't had any dirty players. Ever team has their fair share of their dirty players over their team's history but I'm pretty sure Philly takes the cake on having the most. I wouldn't go with that knee-on-knee collision as being the tide turning moment of the '91 playoffs, either. Hmm, let's see we had Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Jagr, Lemieux, and others. That team was filled with talent and didn't need any "help" to win the Cup. Ulf is by no chance a saint, but that action doesn't make him responsible for the win of the Stanley Cup.

Let's go to your next paragraph: Jarkko Ruutu's hit was completely legal. He didn't board, charge, or do anything illegal. Jagr took the hit because he held the puck. Finland has some of the most talented players around and are known for strong performances in the World Championships. To say that hit single-handedly took down the Czech's team is inaccurate and is insulting to the rest of the Czech team. Ruutu's knee-to-knee contact wasn't even on purpose. It was supposed to be a check (and Ruutu always finishes those) but Kovalchuk moved and ended up getting hit by the knee. You obviously have some bias against Ruutu ... I don't blame you all the time, but come on, the man doesn't do everything intentionally. Every sports commentator even said although it was after a delayed off-sides, the knee collision was unintentional, and that it was supposed to be a check. To be honest, I don't remember the knee-to-knee collison with Ruutu and Briere, but it was in one of the last games Pittsburgh played against the Flyers. And let's talk about Brooks Orpik shall we. Not only is Brooks Orpik a humble and nice guy but he also is a hard-hitting defenseman. If you knew anything about the guy, you would know he did not want to hurt Cole by any means. In fact, he made sure he apologized to Cole for fracturing a vertebra in his neck, which ended up not being serious, and Cole ended up coming back in Games 6 & 7 for the Cup won Hurricanes. Let's be real, dude, I know my information and coming on here with the intent to think I don't know the players who have been on the Penguins organization is slim to none.

To discuss those mentioned players in the last paaragraph of yours, just because the Pens have had a few "chippy" players doesn't make the entire team like such. When Kaspar played for the Penguins, he was known for his playing style, not the entire team. The Flyers are known to have their Broad Street Bully persona throughout the rooster. Of course there's going to be some interesting action (to say the least) in these games, but it's because these teams are so deeply rooted in their rivalry. And it sounds like you need me to justify my team's action while you still haven't explained why a player like Hatcher does things like charge at a player and break his jaw and why other players of your team took so many suspensions this season.

Thanks for the chat! This is proof that this series is heated.

At 6:45 p.m., May 08, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

And let's talk about Brooks Orpik shall we. Not only is Brooks Orpik a humble and nice guy but he also is a hard-hitting defenseman. If you knew anything about the guy, you would know he did not want to hurt Cole by any means.

This is clearly the writing of someone who hasn't watched Boston College hockey.

At 1:00 p.m., May 09, 2008, Anonymous dvc said...

IHK, I just want you and all Pens' fans to admit the obvious: You hate the Flyers because they've killed the Pens over the years, especially in the playoffs. This whining about dirty play doesn't hold much weight given the Pens' own recent history in this regard and some of the players they've employed over the years.

Because you've got the young, exciting superstars, the media conveniently overlooks what else is on your roster, just as it plays up the Flyers-as-thugs angle while ignoring the presence of seven 20+ goal scorers in their lineup, two more than the wondrous Pens have.

Yes, the Flyers are a physical team and they have crossed the line, some of which (Downie, Boulerice) is indefensible and few if any Flyers fans support that. But I'd say the Pens today generally share the Flyers' organizational philosophy of a team that initiates and hits before it gets hit. So yes, it will indeed be a physical series. Please try to keep an open mind about it and not just toe the Black-and-Gold line that the Flyers are dirty while the Pens just "finish their checks."

BTW, Ruutu got a double-minor for boarding on the hit on Jagr, in which he skated across the ice and led with his elbow to Jagr's head. That's your definition of a clean hit? Jagr was cut on the play so it almost certainly would have been a match penalty under NHL rules.

The Hatcher hit on Roenick happened years before Hatcher was a Flyer. I'm a JR fan too, but I believe it was retribution for a hit JR had laid on Modano that knocked Modano out with a concussion. Nasty yes, but in the NHL, it's called sticking up for your teammates. Sort of like Laraque does, he of the famous goalie takeout slide.

Enjoy the series!


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