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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Flyers miss Carter

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 25

The Flyers miss Jeff Carter.

This might seem like I’m jumping on the bandwagon after Carter’s outstanding performances in Games 2 and 3 of the Western Conference Finals, but I’ve been banging this drum ever since the Flyers traded Carter and captain Mike Richards on that fateful June day in 2011.

When the Flyers traded Carter and Richards, most of the shock was reserved for Richards being sent to the Kings. Carter’s name had been mentioned previously in trade rumors. Richards had not.

Richards’ problem was that being captain clearly had become a burden for him, and there wasn’t a graceful way to remove the “C” from his jersey. He needed to be a third-line center, playing a role similar to Sean Couturier’s role with the Flyers today or his current role with the Kings, where he’s centering the fourth line. Although surprised by the Richards trade, I thought the Flyers could replace his contributions.

I was less confident the Flyers could replace Carter’s contributions. Carter, who led the Flyers in goals the three seasons prior to being traded, has unique attributes. He’s big (6-foot-4), skates extremely well, is responsible in the defensive zone and, of course, has one of the most lethal wrist shots in the NHL.

Carter can score from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. That’s what the Flyers miss.

The Flyers have very few players who can beat an unscreened goalie from beyond 15-20 feet. Claude Giroux can do it. Danny Briere could do it, but he’s with the Canadiens now. Matt Read and Vincent Lecavalier are the only other current Flyers you would even consider placing in this company, but Read’s quick shot doesn’t have Carter’s power – he must be closer to the net to beat the goalie – and Lecavalier only has time to wind up and blast away on the power play.

The Flyers have a few players, such as Jakub Voracek and Giroux, who can beat goalies with fancy moves. They have numerous players, most notably Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell, who score the bulk of their goals banging home rebounds around the net.

But the Flyers don’t have a true sniper. Carter is a sniper.

For those who haven’t been paying close attention, Carter registered a hat trick during the third period of the Kings’ 6-2 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Despite the final score, Carter didn’t pile up points during garbage time. The Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead until the final two minutes of the second period, and they still led entering the third period.

Carter evened the score 1:37 into the third period by deflecting Drew Doughty’s shot home while stationed in front of the net on a power play. Carter is big enough to work around the net and get “dirty” goals.

Then the Blackhawks got to see Carter’s fearsome wrist shot. With the Kings holding a 3-2 lead, Carter rifled a wrist shot. Goalie Corey Crawford stopped the shot, but couldn’t handle the rebound, which popped high in the air. Tyler Toffoli pounced on the loose puck and gave the Kings a 4-2 lead.

There was no rebound on Carter’s next shot. He broke down the left wing and fired a laser from the face-off circle that whizzed past Crawford on the short side as he flailed at it in the same way Ben Revere would flail at a Nolan Ryan fastball.

Carter completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal, but it wasn’t meaningless because of the way it happened. Carter cut off the Blackhawks’ attack along the left boards in the neutral zone. When they tried again, he scooped up the puck, took two strides and fired it into the net.

Defense has always been part of Carter’s game. He killed penalties when he was with the Flyers, and continues to do so today with the Kings.

Carter created a shorthanded breakaway during the first period of Game 3, only to have Crawford stop his backhand. But Carter beat Crawford with a quick shot after a centering feed from Tanner Pearson to tie the score 8:08 into the second period. Then he chipped a perfect pass ahead to Toffoli, who split the defense and put the Kings ahead and seemed to break the Blackhawks’ spirit with a goal 14:19 into the second period.

If you combine Games 2 and 3, Carter registered four goals and three assists – all primary assists – in less than 60 minutes. During a portion of this stretch, Carter had a point on six straight Kings goals.

Carter has eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points, only one behind teammate and postseason leader Anze Kopitar. That’s quite an achievement for a player who used to be criticized, unfairly in my mind, for coming up small in the playoffs.

Carter has 22 goals during the last three postseasons. That’s five more than the next closest player, Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell. That’s an emphatic response to those who said he didn’t play well in big games.

We’re not going to go back and dissect Carter’s past with the Flyers. We’re not even going to go back and pick apart the trade that sent him to Columbus. Voracek and Couturier, whom the Flyers selected with the first-round pick they got from the Blue Jackets, are good players and are younger than the 29-year-old Carter (Voracek is 24, Couturier is 21). Center Nick Cousins, selected with the third-round pick the Flyers got from the Blue Jackets, is 20. The salary cap was also a factor because the Flyers were trying to clear cap space – Carter and Richards had signed long-term contracts – so they could sign goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a long-term deal, which turned out to be a colossal mistake.

Regardless of the positives and negatives of the trade, the undeniable truth is there aren’t many players with Carter’s combination of size and skill. One of the major factors in the Kings’ playoff surge was head coach Darryl Sutter’s decision to place rookies Pearson and Toffoli on a line with Carter during the first-round series with the Sharks. The Kings made history by becoming the fourth NHL team to win a series after losing the first three games.

Characteristically, Carter gave his linemates the credit.

“(Pearson and Toffoli) are working and they’re having fun,” Carter said after Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. “They use their speed and their skill to create opportunities, kind of dragging me along with them.”

In some ways, Carter has changed since he was a Flyer. He has matured, as has his game. Maybe this would have happened with the Flyers, or maybe it took the shock of being traded from an organization with which he wanted to spend his entire career to spark the change.

In some ways, however, Carter hasn’t changed. He’s still the big center with the lethal shot who also plays well in the defensive zone and excels on the power play and shorthanded.

Since being traded by the Flyers, Carter has won an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup. He wasn’t a bystander on that Cup team. Many have described him as the missing ingredient needed to put the Kings over the top.

Carter’s unique skills may have the Kings on a path to their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

The Flyers have won one playoff series since trading Carter.

The Flyers miss Jeff Carter.

 

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