that's right, folks. former pensacola ice pilot (and current springfield falcons captain) ryan craig made his NHL debut with the tampa bay lightning on saturday night. seeing this led me to tivo the flyers/blues game rather than go watch it on the other tv while chad watched the lightning game. chad doesn't really remember ryan craig, but i do, and i was bouncing off the walls because a former pilot was playing in his first game in the NHL (along with another former pilot, evgeny artukhin, who has been playing with tampa bay for most of the season). it was a little strange that chad didn't even remember craig from the falcons/phantoms game we went to last year... and i pointed him out and everything (and of course, i have pictures - here, i'll post one). the only former pilot chad's gotten really excited about seeing in the NHL is brian eklund. him, chad remembers... but what pilots fan doesn't?
anyway, tampa bay ended up losing to the detroit red wings 6-3, but up until the 3rd period, it was a really good game (sounds familar, doesn't it, fellow pilots fans?). anyway, the best thing about it was that ryan craig scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game on the detroit red wings. how sweet is that? i was quite excited for him. he actually saw quite a bit of ice time, playing on several different lines throughout the game (including one with tim taylor, which was the line he was planned to be on, and he actually saw a couple of shifts with brad richards). his goal came in the second period when the game was tied 2-2, and it temporarily gave tampa the lead. of course, detroit is apparently just warming up before the 3rd period, and the wings came back big time in the final period of the game, but it was exciting just the same.
the flyers game turned out a little better for me, with philly beating st. louis 5-2 despite a long list of injuries, including one of their best rookies (and next flyer captain?), mike richards, who suffered a concussion in thursday's loss to vancouver. their only other rookie who isn't playing for the flyers right now due to injuries (jeff carter) was also injured in the game (he took a puck to the side of the head), but he just went and got stitched up and returned to the game. one more note from the vancouver game - ken hitchcock pulled robert esche (the goalie) and put in antero niittymaki about 8 minutes into the 3rd period. esche has really had some problems lately, and i hope he comes out of his funk soon. it's a good thing niittymaki is playing really well these days, first full NHL season or not.
with all of the important guys out of the flyers lineup, a couple of other notable rookies (called up from the phantoms due to injuries) stepped up to fill void. saturday night in st. louis, rookie r.j. umberger scored 2 goals... and it was the first game in which umberger scored a goal and the flyers didn't lose. umberger had 3 NHL goals prior to saturday night, and the flyers lost both of the other games he scored in (the one against tampa in which umberger scored his first goal, then another against the islanders, in which umberger had the flyers' only 2 goals). i can now officially end my "umberger must not score" campaign. he is a really good player with good speed and good moves, and i can now once again root for him to score. ken hitchcock put together a really good line saturday night, playing umberger with fellow rookie ben eager (whose name i absolutely love) and former dallas star jon sim. eager made an absolutely beautiful pass that resulted in umberger's second goal of the night, and his physical play and willingness to go to the net are quickly making him one of my favorite flyers.
mike knuble also tallied two goals against the blues, with sami kapanen (gagne's temporary replacement on that line) picking up a couple of assists. kapanen was denied a goal in the second period, due to a supposed (but completely bogus) goaltender interference penalty on mike knuble. how can it be called goaltender interference when knuble is backing up when the goalie dives into him? he was obviously trying to avoid contact, and it wasn't his fault that bacashihua flung himself into knuble. anyway, this extremely bad call negated kapanen's goal and the ensuing power play resulted in the blues' second and final goal of the game, much to the dismay of all flyer fans.
niittymaki saved the game in the third period, in which the flyers had all of 3 shots, while the blues fired on niittymaki 16 times in the 3rd. as anyone who reads this blog well knows, i am a huge niittymaki fan, although i am also rather fond of robert esche. but like i mentioned earlier, esche is having issues lately, and i think they're mental. but perhaps he's still hurting from the groin injury of a couple of weeks ago.
anyway, branko radivojevic (who i firmly believe has the best name ever) scored on st. louis's empty net to clinch the game, and the flyers picked up yet another win with a vastly depleted roster (though brian savage was back for the game).
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