Flyers Enter All-Star Break on Top of Atlantic


There was a lot of excitement among Flyers and Penguins circles leading up to last night's game, and understandably so. Their previous matchup saw a combined 10 goals (8 by the Flyers on the strength of two hat tricks) and a ton of rough stuff, including Pens enforcer George Laraque slew-footing goalie Martin Biron. On top of all the bad blood and the cross-state rivalry stuff, we can't forget that it's also potentially a four-point game in the league's tightest division.

During the pre-game skate, a respectful Riley Cote told Comcast Sportsnet of the mighty Georges Laraque, the NHL's heavyweight champion, and how he'd be honored to share a dance with him. On the other side of the red line, Laraque warmed up by shadow-boxing. They didn't wait long. Less than three minutes in, this happened. In short, Laraque dropped the overmatched Cote, but you gotta love the drive Riley showed to jump back up after being sent to the ice, hanging in there for a nice round with the giant.

For most of the game, the teams seemed pretty evenly matched. A quick look at the standings and both teams' records in January shows that they are. Pittsburgh native RJ Umberger scored, making it four of his nine goals this season against the team he idolized. Randy Jones, Mike Knuble, and even Jim Vandermeer also scored to give Ty Conklin just his second regulation loss of the season. Marty Biron was solid at the other end, earning a 4-3 victory. But the highlights of this game once again featured Steve Downie in a starring role. Videos and recap after the jump.

The league will certainly be spending some time reviewing tape from this game, as it's already been rumored that Laraque will be suspended for this boarding hit on Downie:

Laraque was issued a 5-minute major for the hit, and the Flyers scored on the power-play, something they've been doing a lot of lately (at least 2 PPG's in last 4 games). Downie returned in the third period, and apparently he was OK:

After the game, Downie said he didn't think Laraque intended to hurt him, downplaying the significance of the hit. The video shows that although Laraque did board Downie, who was in a terrible position heading toward the boards, he didn't finish the check, which would have been far worse. From what we've seen in terms of boarding suspensions this season, it's likely they league will suspend Laraque, and because he isn't skating at this weekend's All-Star game, it's going to be more than the one game that superstar Ilya Kovalchuk got this week. But don't count me among those calling for a lengthy suspension. The refs and players handled it on the ice, and the hit just wasn't that bad. Dirty? For sure. But the league is getting out of hand with all this excessive suspension stuff. A few games should be plenty.

One month ago, the Flyers sat last in the division, but today,
they share the Atlantic lead with New Jersey, although the Flyers
technically have the edge because they've played one fewer game. They now have the weekend off, except of course for All-Stars Mike Richards and Kimmo Timonen.

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