Much has been written about the Flyers' new image, the death of the Broad Street Bullies, but the fact remains that the Flyers are once again the most penalized team in the league, averaging over 20 minutes per game; the most penalized team in history, the 1975-76 Flyers, averaged only 24.75. "The old Flyers used to get called for spearing and slashing, but now they call us for hooking," says Quinn.
One of the reasons Quinn can't believe the hooking penalties is that the Flyers seem to have the puck all the time. The old Flyers won by throwing the puck in, working like crazy to dig it back out and then hustling back into their defensive lanes so Bernie Parent could post goals-against averages like 1.89 and 2.03, which he did the two years—1974 and 1975—Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup. These new Flyers have been giving up nearly three goals a game and have yet to score a shutout. That isn't bad defense, but it certainly isn't the spine of a record-breaking winning streak. The Flyers win by controlling the puck.
That's a concept the Canadiens and the Soviets have hammered home: if you control the puck 70% of the time, you will win at least that often. The old dump-and-grind style was based on giving up the puck and harassing the other team into giving it back, but both Montreal and the Soviets showed that with mobile, smart defensemen, the dump-it-in system could be beaten. Says Quinn, "Our management saw this, and we started drafting faster, quicker players who could move around. Once we had them, it would have been pretty stupid to stick with a static style of play. Now we believe that with our speed and our mobile defensemen, we shouldn't have to throw the puck in very often."
Instead, the Flyers skate in crossing patterns, five men on offense, five men on defense, always moving. "People can talk about systems all they want," says the Bruins' Peter McNab, "but nobody's willing to admit what hard work will do. Do you know how hard it is to keep skating in that rotating system?"
No one on the Flyers seems to notice. "They're playing like there are no stars on that team," Ranger Assistant Coach Mike Nykoluk said after Game 34. And Buffalo Assistant Coach Roger Neilson said, " Quinn's making everyone feel part of it, using a lot of different guys on the power play, three different penalty-killing units, giving Reggie Leach more defensive responsibility by having him kill penalties. Their big edge right now is they're playing as a team better than anybody else in the league."
Indeed, Leach, who scored 61 goals four seasons ago but has not had that many points in a season since, is the Flyers' leading scorer with 25 goals and 16 assists, but that doesn't put him in the top 15 in the NHL. Close behind him is Left Wing Brian Propp, who leads all rookie scorers with 40 points, and is the single most important addition the Flyers made over the summer. "After last year's playoff flop, we knew we needed a goaltender and a left wing," says Quinn. The goaltending, left in chaos when Parent had to retire as the result of an eye injury he suffered last season, was shored up when the Flyers acquired veteran Phil Myre from St. Louis and promoted 22-year-old Pete Peeters from their Maine farm club. Then they drafted Propp, a short, stocky speedster who scored 94 goals for the Brandon (Manitoba) Wheat Kings last season.
Centering for Leach and Propp is Bobby Clarke, the Flyers' assistant coach. He is one of the seven Flyers who are holdovers from the two Stanley Cup teams. There are also five Flyers from what Quinn calls "the lean years"—1975-77—and eight others who learned something about winning while playing for the Flyers' farm team in Maine, which has won the AHL championship the last two years. Philadelphia also has an underdog mentality on its side. No one can really believe the Flyers are for real. As one NHL coach said last week, "We'll see what happens after they lose a couple of games in a row."
If they lose a couple of games in a row. Says spiritual leader Clarke, "We had the same type of feeling when we won our first Cup. People thought we were good, but nobody really believed we were good enough to win the Cup. It's the same with this team. Even with the record we have, a lot of teams don't really think we have that good a club."
You see? Stop being a bully and, first thing, you don't get no respect.