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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Friday, February 20, 2004

Reject-Sean

Sean Burke was announced as the Flyers starting goalie last night to a chorus of boos from the Philly crowd, and he sure didn't help his case with Flyers fans during the game.

Burke, who was picked up in a trade from Phoenix along with my man Branko Radivojevic (more on him in a minute) for Mike Comrie, is off to a start worthy of former Cornell football coach Tim Pendergast. In other words, he can't win.

Burke has started his second stint with the Flyers with three straight losses (those two wins over the Rangers don't count, because a good AHL team might be able to take the Rangers with a couple lucky breaks). That comes after rookie Antero Niittymaki went 3-0 in his first three NHL starts, allowing just one goal in each of those games. So naturally, Burke had a tough act to follow. Another strike on him is that he was the goalie when the Flyers got bounced from the '98 playoffs in the first round.

So back to last night's game. Burke let in a pair of goals in the first period - the first wasn't his fault at all - but the crowd was on him from the start, and so when you let in two after 20 minutes, you're not going to get much love. By the end of the game, Burke was getting sarcastic cheers from the crowd every time he played the puck.

I don't think he was deserving of that - his defense gave him no help at all - but I also don't think Burke is going to be the help in net that Bobby Clarke thought he would be when he traded for him. When you face 41 shots in a game, you don't deserve a W, and it's not because of the goalie. In fact, Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about how brutal 41 shots are.

The Flyers should be giving Niittymaki more of a chance to succeed. After all, he's done nothing but win since they called him up. After a goalie like Jean-Sebastien Giguere comes out of nowhere to win the Conn Smythe last season, there's no reason the Flyers can't give their stud Finn rookie more of a chance to show that he can protect the nets this season, especially after he did such a good job with the little opportunity that he did get.

Back to my man Branko. About midway through the second period, he lines up on the right wing opposite the Bruins' Andy Hilbert. Even before the linesman drops the puck, he turns to the pair and tells them to knock off their jabbing at each other. So when the puck dropped and the two kept facing each other, you knew they were going to throw down. But you didn't know how cool it would be.

They dropped the gloves a good 20 feet from each other, leaving them plenty of time and space to gear up for the fight. And that's just what Branko did. Not only did he lose the gloves, he took off his own helmet and rolled up his sleeves. Is that badass or what? Then, to back up his brash actions, the Brank-man (yes, I just called him that) landed a couple of punches and then threw Hilbert to the ground. Chalk up a victory for Branko.

Now, in all fairness, I should say that Radivojevic wears a half-shield on his helmet, so fighting with that on wouldn't be too fair. I suppose it's only hockey fight etiquette to allow your opponent the opportunity to land a punch between the eyes. But come on, he took off his helmet! That's just cool. And then he backed it up.

The Brank-man is looking like he was the best part of that deal that sent him and Burke to Philly.

Another new Flyer who impressed me last night was Kirby Law. I was hoping he'd fight and win so the PA guys could play that "I Fought The Law And The Law Won" song from the Pepsi commercial, but that didn't happen, unfortunately. Law was called up recently due to the slew of injuries that has beset the Flyers, and this was my first look at him. I thought he played very well, especially on the forecheck. He played on a line with Claude Lapointe and fellow recent callup Boyd Kane, and I thought that line played a lot better than it could have been expected to. Props to Kirby.

Aside from Burke, there was one other thing that disappointed me tonight, and that was the crowd. Yeah, it was listed as a sellout, but I had to wonder how many people were paying attention or knew anything about hockey, because in the first period, they flashed on the scoreboard the Flyers' trade of the day: They picked up Alexei Zhamnov for Jim Vandermeer. And nobody cheered.

That would be a guy who scored 20 goals in each of his first eight years in the NHL, and all the Flyers gave up was a minor league defenseman. I started clapping, and I thought at least the people around me would notice I was clapping for a reason. But I guess not. Dammit, don't make me think the fans in Detroit deserve a Cup more than we do!

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