What We Learned: Nice work with the Flyers, Paul Holmgren

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Ryan Lambert
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"This is the fire the Flyers have been looking for.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and few teams in the NHL today are or should be more desperate than the Philadelphia Flyers.

Paul Holmgren, embattled and running out of options after having already fired one of the more successful long-term coaches in franchise history, the team he put together was still a steaming turd. They still sit dead last in the worst division in hockey by far (to the point where the vast majority of the Western Conference would sit a comfortable second in it), having won just three of their first 11 games heading into Friday night's tilt with another disappointing club, the division-rival Washington Capitals.

In an effort to bring, in Holmgren's words, “hunger and energy,” to the lineup, this unfortunate general manager reacquired former Flyer Steve Downie. “I think he'll help us.”

Well, he helped someone, alright. The Flyers were already in the process of being disemboweled on home ice (again), 5-0, when Downie opted to fight Aaron Volpatti for what he considered an objectionable hit on Matt Read. One wonders, though, just how innocuously anyone at that point would have had to hit anyone else for a powder keg like Downie — who was by his GM's own admission brought in specifically for the purpose of providing “energy,” and who has been suspended for 21 games in his six-year NHL career — to actually find reason to object.

This was a team getting embarrassed in front of their own fans, and Downie likely felt as though he had to make an impression with his new-old team. Fighting Volpatti — which unfortunately led to his getting bloodied and concussed, with a facial fracture, and was later taken away in an ambulance — or really anyone was likely on his to-do list from the outset.

It was not very long after that, too, that the Capitals scored again to make it 6-0, and the “Fire Holmgren” chants started. Then they got quite loud. Then the Caps tacked on the extra point early in the third period, with Joel Ward of all people finishing off a hat trick. Then there was pandemonium.

Obviously no team likes taking a beating like that, particularly on home ice, and Wayne Simmonds came over the boards immediately after Ward's goal with marching orders. He ran over Steve Oleksy, then went in hard on Tom Wilson, as is his wont. This shift was intended as message-sending first and foremost, and Wilson got the thrust of it loud and clear. He started feeding Simmonds punches. That's when things got truly outrageous and dangerous, and poked holes in all the anecdotal sanctity-of-the-game malarkey Brian Burke was feeding everyone this week.

For some completely unjustifiable and borderline-criminal reason, Ray Emery got it in his head that he should skate 180 feet down the ice and try to fight Braden Holtby, for no good reason whatsoever other than he'd given up four goals on 15 shots and wanted to take it out on someone. There's The Code, you see, and then The Code For Goalies, and these are two Codes that are very different. So different, in fact, that the NHL rules treats infractions involving goaltenders differently than those involving skaters. There was no one, therefore, allowed to intercede on Holtby's behalf even if they hadn't been tied up by their counterparts on the Flyers. (Also, this incident shows once again that The Code isn't a thing; or it will unless some Capitals goon knocks Emery's teeth down his throat when these teams next meet on Dec. 15.)

In fact, and this is the truly disgusting part of all this, referee Francois St. Laurent warned any players against coming over and getting involved, even as he allowed Emery to pummel Holtby for no reason whatsoever right in front of him, and even as Holtby was clearly not interested in fighting in any way, shape, or form.

Holtby should have done what Kessel did and two-handed Emery. And St. Laurent should have stepped in, should have ejected Emery the second he crossed the red line, should have done something to stop what amounted to a straight-up jumping of a player who had done nothing to warrant the kind of frontier justice Emery seemed so eager to dish out, and who did all he could to avoid the aggression until it was visited upon him with significant prejudice.

After the game, what Emery — real proud of himself — had to say made it all the more apparent that the lack of supplementary discipline from the league is the result of a major hole in its ability to levy any kind of judgment against players who intentionally try to hurt others through fighting. Despite all the perfectly reasonable calls for a suspension, the rules as they're written don't give the league much leeway to suspend Emery here. These quotes are vile:

“He didn’t want to fight,” Emery said after the game. “I said, basically, ‘Protect yourself.’ He didn’t really have much of a choice.”

When asked if he thought the NHL might investigate, he said, “I'm not sure. There’s a penalty for fighting in hockey and I gave him a chance to protect himself.”

That “I told him I was going to punch him for no reason before I actually did so” is a reasonable defense in the NHL today tells you how awful The Code really is. How is this any different from if John Scott had attacked Phil Kessel in that preseason game? Kessel wouldn't have wanted to fight, Scott would have. Scott warned him that it was going to happen. Thus, by this — ahem — logic, he would have been well within his rights to break Kessel's jaw, put him in the hospital, and walk away smiling.

That's not an apples-to-oranges comparison, by the way. Ray Emery is the John Scott of goalie fights, a veteran of three scraps in the NHL, six more in the AHL, and five in the OHL. Most goalies in recent years don't even have more than even one in the NHL. He's also significantly worse at goaltending than Holtby, who should be recognized as one of the planet's best behind his career .923 save percentage. Emery's, meanwhile, is .908, which is almost as bad as Ondrej Pavelec. No one's asking if Emery really has a place in this league, but maybe they should.

However, none of that is to say that what Emery did wasn’t valuable to his team. That quote at the very beginning of this article was from Flyers TV flunky Steve Coates, about this being the kind of fire the Flyers need, tells you everything you need to know about the kind of nonsense the franchise values above all else. And if that didn't, the Philadelphia Daily News' resident embarrassing homer, Frank Seravalli, giving the No. 3 star to the goalie who posted a .733 save percentage on the night surely does.

Getting beat 7-zip at home? Doesn't matter. Because at least Ray Emery beat the crap out of somebody. At least there was a line brawl. At least Vinny Lecavalier missed a division game. At least Steve Downie put himself in the hospital and posed a major threat to his own career.

If the joyless fanbase can be distracted with this kind of bread and circus every once in a while, that's all the better. At least no one's chanting “Fire Holmgren” any more.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: When you can score five goals in a row in your game you are usually putting yourself in a good position to win. Especially when you're seven games into an eight-game road trip on the opposite side of the country.

Boston Bruins: Here's the number of shots Brad Marchand has recorded in his eight games: It's three. Total. He's been awful this year. Just awful.

Buffalo Sabres: The real reason to waive Patrick Kaleta is so that the next time he tries to put someone in the hospital it will only be an AHLer and maybe just maybe the hockey world won't care.

Calgary Flames: On the subject of waivers, Joey MacDonald cleared them. Imagine being a goalie so bad that the Calgary Flames, whose netminders have a save percentage of .890 over the previous 61 games, don't want you any more. Woof.

Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Murphy clipped Derek Dorsett in the second period of Saturday's game, and got a two-minute minor for it, but Alain Vigneault thought it should have been more.

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Sharp isn't the kind of guy you want lost in the shuffle on a line change. That's a free tip for the Jets going forward.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs have gone on two individual six-game winning streaks this season, which is simply amazing considering they've played a total of 13 games.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets were swept in a home-and-home weekend series against the Penguins, which seems to have come as a surprise only to the Jackets themselves.

Dallas Stars: Lindy Ruff finally figured out that maybe it's a good idea to put the kid whose third on the team in points on the first line and see how that goes. Regardless of whether he succeeds, at least you'll know.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings rumbled through Alberta on the first two games of a four-game swing through Western Canada, beating Calgary and Edmonton by a combined score of 9-3. Who saw that coming? Oh right, it was everyone.

Edmonton Oilers: Hey speaking of the Oilers, we're getting to “heads on pikes” time in Edmonton.

Florida Panthers: Pretty solid effort by Jesse Winchester to score on a breakaway with his feet going out from under him.

Los Angeles Kings: Hey, so, about that Jonathan Quick as the 100 percent for-sure Olympic starter thing...

Minnesota Wild: Jason Pominville, meanwhile, is now making it harder to leave off that same Olympic roster. He scored another two goals on Friday, running his season total to nine, tied with Phil Kessel and Matt Duchene. Which is good company.

Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk will, on Tuesday, get his first full-game runout as the center between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Galchenyuk, who might also make the U.S. Olympic team, has very quietly posted 11 points in 15 games.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The Preds are currently on the longest road trip in franchise history, and so far grabbed three of the four points available to them against Phoenix and LA. Just playing as a good, solid team right now despite not having Pekka Rinne.

New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider says he's up for getting into a goalie fight one day, but says he has to score a goal first. Better score soon, bud. They're gonna outlaw that kind of nonsense any day now.

New York Islanders: The Bruins lost to Kevin Poulin. Yikes.

New York Rangers: What a pass by Mats Zuccarello to set up the second of Derek Stepan's three goals. Boy oh boy.

Ottawa Senators: It took Clarke MacArthur more than 11 games but he finally got his first of the season on Friday. Not that it mattered much; the Sens still lost in a shootout to the Islanders, 5-4.

Philadelphia Flyers: You know what you did was gross and bad when the league is immediately considering changing the rulebook so that other people can't do it ever again. Good work, Ray Emery.

Phoenix Coyotes: Dave Tippett is now the winningest coach in franchise history with... 166. That's not really all that many.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Don't everybody look all at once, but the Pens have four straight wins. They're already up seven points on the rest of the Metro. Oh my.

San Jose Sharks: This shot by Dan Boyle was really nice. It was his first game back since mid-October, too.

St. Louis Blues: Hey you! No fun allowed when you score goals.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I don't feel like enough attention is being paid to how good the Lightning have been this season. First in the division? Exactly zero people saw that coming at any point.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dave Bolland has an ankle injury that is not dissimilar to the one Erik Karlsson suffered last season. Horrifying stuff. Call Eugene Melnyk's forensic team.

Vancouver Canucks: While we're talking about the Leafs, the Canucks absolutely crushed them on Saturday. Points in eight of their last 10? Why, it's almost like John Tortorella is a good coach. By the way, here's a crazy stat: Alex Edler had 12 shots on goal on Saturday. TWELVE.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are undefeated with Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup in these last two games. Now I bet all those writers feel silly about giving him the Hart last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Ondrej Pavelec on his team's performance after he was pulled for allowing four goals on 14 shots against Chicago: “The last two periods was just embarrassing.” Uhh, two? You might wanna run that math again. By my count you've played almost 687. Almost all of them were embarrassing.

Play of the Weekend

Good golly, James Reimer. I feel bad for you after that loss.

Gold Star Award

Shoutout to Alex Burrows for getting back on his pest game. High-quality stuff.

Minus of the Weekend

Oh great now we have to hear what a great market Columbus is for another two years.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “shogun99” is trying hard, at least.

To Edm:

To Phi:

Trying hard isn't the same as succeeding, though.


Is that all we are to you, Dad? Your children?

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.