Isles Fry Froese And Flyers Slump Continues In 7-3 Loss

Posted: January 22, 1986

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It wasn't completely against their will that the Flyers were dragged into the time machine last night.

They went passively, almost sleepily, and awoke uncomfortably sometime between 1980 and 1984. Mike Bossy was knocking down two goals, Bryan Trottier was having a five-point night, Denis Potvin was making those crisp outlet passes, Billy Smith was making all the required saves and the Flyers were

helping to beat themselves.

And the four-time champion Islanders were taking apart Philadelphia and All-Star goalie Bob Froese, 7-3, exactly as they did last night. You would suggest that it was an old story, except that:

(a) The Islanders' 20-17-9 record vouches for the fact that they don't play this well very often anymore.

(b) The Flyers, remember, reversed roles with these guys last April, beating them in a five-game quarterfinal series.

(c) You don't use the word "old" around senior citizens.

"We're not old," said Trottier, only half-kiddingly. "People think we are and that's how we fool them."

The Isles still fool some of the teams all the time, and all the teams some of the time, and twice in five days now they've fooled the Flyers. In between they lost, 3-0, in Montreal Saturday night. So when they talked last night about getting that old concentration back, were they only fooling themselves?

"We are playing better, there's no question about it," Smith said. "That wasn't a bad game in Montreal, we just didn't capitalize on chances.

"We are playing smarter, making the easy play instead of the dumb one. One time tonight (defenseman) Paul Boutilier made a smart pass, turned around and said I was right. They're starting to listen to what I'm telling them."

When it was over, it was the Flyers' turn to hear somebody out. Coach Mike Keenan gave them a brief, but fully deserved, postgame blistering, then let the press in and turned the whip on himself.

"We were not prepared to play the hockey game for whatever reason," he said. "And that's the coach's responsibility."

And while sometimes such admissions are so much take-the-pressure-off-them bunk, Keenan probably was sincerely second-guessing himself for treading lightly after the two weekend losses. He gave the Flyers Sunday off and then had an optional workout Monday, hoping it would freshen his team up.

It didn't work. Bob Froese had his worst game of the year and now is clearly battling a slump, but he wasn't much more to blame than about 15 other Flyers. The Sutter twins did some good forechecking and contributed a goal, and the Flyers probably equaled the Islanders' amount of scoring chances in the first two periods.

But Smith was playing well, and that meant to beat him the Flyers had to dig harder to get to the net for rebounds. Alas, there were none. Keenan used the term "lack of commitment" and that pretty well summed it up. The Bossy- Trottier-Duane Sutter line, going head-to-head most of the first two periods with Dave Poulin, Brian Propp and Tim Kerr, completely dominated the Flyers' top unit.

After the score had reached 5-1 and Kerr had fanned on a gimme power play setup from Ilkka Sinisalo, Keenan juggled the lines and left the Flyers' 38- goal scorer on the bench.

"He hasn't played well in a few weeks," Keenan said. He said this in very matter-of-fact tone that suggested he will begin rolling up his sleeves today and go to work.

"We'll start with the little things that we haven't been doing," he said.

It might be strictly a coincidence that the Flyers' two slumps - this one and a three-game job in early December - are occurring at almost exactly the same times as two slumps did a year ago. And it might not be. Keenan realizes he can't push a team to the floor for 80 games. Although he certainly isn't trying to lose, there are points where losses are seen as inevitable and even, to a point, tolerable.

"There might be a psychological (mind)set of not seeing the beginning of the year and not seeing the end and that may be involved here," Keenan said. ''You are dealing with the same athletes as a year ago, so maybe (there is a connection), but it's hard to say. I'll let you know when the season's over.

"You are trying to keep an overall focus on the season. Whether or not at this point there should be a different emphasis, well, obviously there should be. The three straight we've lost have been to Patrick Division teams and we certainly don't want that. We're not getting the right response."

Four of the next five games are on the road, so this could get worse before it gets better. And then again, sometimes the more difficult challenge of a road trip brings back a focus. So might Washington's knocking six points off the Flyers' lead in three games over five days.

The Flyers will need better goaltending to shuck this slide and Froese is fully capable of giving it to them. After Thomas Jonsson rang one up over the goalie's glove and off the crossbar only 44 seconds into the game, Froese, handling very few shots cleanly, spent much of the rest of the game looking behind him.

His worst fears were often realized when he found the puck in the net, such as with Duane Sutter's 30-footer on a power play 4:17 after Jonsson's goal ticked off Froese's pads. Rich Sutter got that one back by leaping into the air over Smith to knock in his own rebound early in the second period, but Daryl Stanley failed to get good defensive position on Bossy, enabling the Islander gunner to walk off the boards and beat Froese between his pads.

Potvin, taking a diagonal pass from Trottier, put another one off Froese's pads to make it 4-1. In the third period, John Tonelli beat Doug Crossman wide and Froese got his stick out to stop the Islanders' whirlwind coming across the crease. But Tonelli kicked the puck away from Froese and put it into the empty net.

The final two Islander goals were sandwiched around Brad McCrimmon's point blast and Don Nachbaur's breakaway. Bossy scored when he pounced on a shot blocked by Stanley, and Trottier put in a rebound after Froese had made his best save of the night, a blocker job on Duane Sutter.

"There's no question the Flyers are bringing out the best in us," Trottier said. "Then again, the right save at the right time and maybe it's a different game. Froese was fighting it tonight. I know he's a much better goalie than that."

Keenan said he gave some thought to switching to Darren Jensen, but the Flyer effort was so otherwise aimless that he didn't see the point.

"It's difficult when you're down 2-0 almost right away for the second straight game," the coach said. "But I think our team has progressed to the point where it can handle that."

He assumed too much and he took the blame. His and the Flyers' penance begins with an 11:30 back-to-basics practice this morning.

ICEBERGS: Denis Potvin's goal was his 270th, tying Bobby Orr's career NHL record for a defenseman. Potvin broke Orr's assist record - 915 - earlier this season . . . Ron Sutter and Murray Craven returned to the lineup after missing two games with knee strains.

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