For a team pushing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, "discipline" is more than just some buzzword. It's a crucial trait that needs to start at the top and works its way on down — when younger guys see their team leaders buy into the concept, they will too.
The incentive to be disciplined is black and white: Power plays decide a lot of hockey games, and if you give up too many, it's only a matter of time before you have to dig the puck out of the back of your net.
Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Flyers' leaders seem to struggle with that simple concept.
While they haven't been bitten by the Boston Bruins more-than-feeble power play just yet, it makes me wonder how tough it must be for the young guys to follow the men who are supposed to be driving the bus.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Bruins and the Flyers, Chris Pronger went back on a puck to touch it for icing. Trying to negate the call, Daniel Paille got on his horse, lifted Pronger's stick and took him into the boards, almost accomplishing his goal, but taking a penalty in the process.
Then he got slashed in the side by a curiously wild-eyed Pronger, generously declining the penalty the Flyers had coming their way.
On the way to the penalty box, he seethed. He glared back at Paille and took a random shove at Shawn Thornton, risking putting his team down a man.
Just two periods later, Pronger was tripped by Brad Marchand — thinking the trip was dirty, young James van Riemsdyk skated over to have a word with the Bruins pest. But ever the disciplined player that he is, Pronger grabbed van Riemsdyk and escorted him away like a parent whose kid was touching too many things in the grocery story.
This is the same guy who negated a Flyers 5-on-3 in the first period of Game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres — a series the team was trailing 3-2 at the time, mind you — because he couldn't hold himself back from firing slashes at a Buffalo Sabres defenseman who had the audacity to try to, y'know, defend him.
I know if I were a player in that dressing room, his on-and-off style of discipline would make it near-impossible for me as a teammate to follow him, despite his Stanley Cup, despite his three trips to the Finals.
The guy has barely played, yet he's managed the type of cut and dried examples that demonstrate what appears to be the Flyers struggle with concept of committing to team first. Being hurt is no excuse for him to make those types of decisions, and when he comes back, I'm not so sure his teammates will trust him.
You never know what kind of effect that a lack of trust in leadership can have on a team as they try to push and pull together on their way towards a mutual goal.
There's a reason people consider men like Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic great leaders — being a leader is not a do-as-I-say role, it's do-as-I-do. Only coaches have the luxury of the do-as-I-say position. If you're wearing skates and the same team crest, you understand that your words don't carry weight if you don't practice what you preach.
To make matters worse for the dressing room, Mike Richards hasn't exactly been the picture of disciplined, clean play either, as I believe we've mentioned in the past.
It's not until the chips are down — a situation the Flyers now find themselves in — that you need that leadership, and suddenly you find out that those little selfish plays have eroded the team's belief that everyone is on the same page. Victory is supposed to be the best deodorant for a team's problems - when you're suddenly out of pit-stick, you realize how much some of these plays have really stunk.
Down 2-0 and heading to Boston, the Flyers are officially in a pickle. The skaters can't fix the atrocious goaltending, but they can switch to being a team that's capable of taking a spear from a player and making their opponent pay on the power play. They haven't shown that commitment yet.
But it has to start at the top. If I'm expected to take a painful hack on the wrist and not retaliate, I need to know that my teammates are doing the same too. If there's anything we've been told by those who've won the Cup before, it's that the road to glory takes sacrifice.
For the Flyers, it's time to grow up, or they'll find themselves listening to their eulogy, lying down.