Peter Laviolette practiced the shootout last week. Now, normally this nugget of information would not qualify as news, but the coach’s decision created a firestorm on the Internet, as Flyers beat reporters tweeted the stunning development.
What made this turn of events so surprising wasn’t that players were practicing something they are terrible at — worst in the history of the NHL at 20-39, and 1-5 this season. No, the fans were actually shocked that the team had not really bothered to work on the weakest part of their game all season.
It was at that precise moment, when Twitter went crazy last Wednesday, that I stopped being a house man for Laviolette. Now, granted, their losing efforts against the Rangers and Red Wings over the weekend cemented this change in direction, but I was already there anyway. After two years with no major complaints against a coach — a record for me — I’m seeing his flaws much more clearly.
And nothing is more ridiculous, more insane, than his ignorance of an essential part of the game, the shootout. What has he been thinking every time the game ends in a tie score? Does he have the same reaction we do — that the Flyers are cooked? If so, why did he wait until the first week of February to do something about it?
I asked these questions all last week, and the answers were not satisfying. Since the shootout isn’t used in the playoffs, Laviolette — and the Flyers organization, apparently — didn’t see any reason to work on it. The team is not in any danger of missing the postseason, so why waste time on something that will not decide its fate?
OK, well here’s one overpowering reason why: Ilya Bryzgalov. The Russian goalie’s psyche is fragile, at best, and Laviolette thought it was smart to embarrass him every time the game went to a shootout? Bryzgalov has stopped 2-of-10 shots so far and has lost all four shootouts. I no longer blame him. Laviolette never gave the troubled goaltender a chance to succeed.
After his most recent debacle, Bryzgalov said the net behind him looked like a soccer goal in shootouts. He ended a brief press briefing by singing “Oops, I Did It Again,” by Britney Spears. That’s not a joke, people. He really did that.
Despite the current slump, Peter Laviolette is the smartest coach in this city, by a significant margin. He has won a Stanley Cup. He treats people with the respect they deserve. He is a master strategist. All of these facts make his shootout philosophy even more outrageous.
The gloves are off now. The honeymoon is over. If the Flyers blow it again this season, the first person I’m going to blame is Peter Laviolette.
Don’t fear bogus Birds
Trent Cole said that the 2011 Eagles were “inches from being great, inches from being a dominant team.” Since there is no evidence that he was under the influence of hallucinogens when he made that comment, fans have new cause for alarm.
If there’s one thing we know about these Eagles, it’s that they are far better at talking about greatness than they are at reaching it. Fifty-two years without a championship can warp the perspective, and no team in sports harbors more delusions than our football club. It’s not every day (or any day) that a team starts a season “all in” and ends it declaring near-domination after finishing 8-8.
But it is becoming increasingly evident that the Eagles do not share the sober pronouncement of owner Jeff Lurie that 2011 was “unacceptable.” In fact, after some serious stat-twisting, the Birds are emerging — at least in their own minds — as a story of redemption.
The Eagles don’t want to deal with the truth, but here it is: They have a defense with no quality linebackers, a muddled secondary and an inept coordinator. They have a quarterback who is an injury-prone turnover machine and a petulant wide receiver who is one of the most overrated players in sports.
Cole also said teams are “going to be worried about playing us” next season. Opponents will fear the Super Bowl champion Giants, the runner-up Patriots, the Saints, the Packers, the 49ers, and another half-dozen teams before they worry about the bogus Dream Team.
Sixers still need star, sorry folks
Timing is everything and I was the victim of really hideous timing last week.
Because of my morning-radio hours, I do not have the luxury of banging out a column on deadline, or revising one when events warrant it. As a result, I came across in this space last week as the ultimate buzzkill, a drone who followed up the exhilarating Sixers win over the Lakers with words of dissent.
What I said in this space last week was the Sixers are simply not talented enough to challenge for an NBA championship, despite their incredible start. Normally, this would not be an unfair appraisal, but it became one after Kobe Bryant and his Lakers walked off the court after an unexpected loss in Philadelphia.
Since then, my cynicism has been reinforced, especially in consecutive losses to Tony Parker and Chris Paul. I mention the stars before their teams — San Antonio and the L.A. Clippers — because that was the premise of my remarks. The Sixers have no offensive option with the game on the line, no extraordinary player who strikes fear into the opposition.
Paul’s amazing fall-away jumper over bogus All-Star Andre Iguodala with three seconds left should have provided a wake-up call to the Sixers. It’s great to have a coach like Doug Collins and the true team concept he has developed, but stars win championships, not a bunch of good players playing hard.
In the past 30 years, only one NBA team, the Larry Brown Pistons of 2004, has won the championship without a superstar. The Sixers may have defied the odds for the first half of this abbreviated season, but they’re not going to change that reality. They need a guy who can make the shot Chris Paul made last Friday night.
Until they get one, they’re just kidding themselves.
– Angelo Cataldi is the host of 94 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.