Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Extra Points: Rating the NFL coaching candidates - Football Wires - MiamiHerald.com

Extra Points: Rating the NFL coaching candidates - Football Wires - MiamiHerald.com

Canada escapes USA with one-goal victory, wins Pool A

Zachary Fucale made 24 stops, while Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar netted power-play scores in the early portion of the third period, and Canada came away with a 3-2 victory over Team USA on Tuesday to win Group A.

The Canadians (3-0-1-0) ended up being saved by their shootout loss to the Czechs, as that loss beyond regulaton gave them an extra point that vaulted them over the defending champions. Taking a page from their American counterparts, eight different players recorded at least one point for the victors.

Nic Petan scored late in the second to erase a 1-0 deficit.

Riley Barber opened the scoring just shy of the 3 1/2-minute mark of the middle stanza, and Stefan Matteau tallied with 2:45 remaining.

But the swift Canadians, playing at a pace and with a skill that the Red, White and Blue had not seen thus far in the tournament, began to take control and eventually penalties which result from such speed on the rush and in transition came their way.

McDavid gave Canada the lead for good with 3:54 played in the third and Lazar provided the crucial insurance tally at 6:13.

Fucale got some help as an American chance with 9 1/2 minutes left trickled behind him, but did not cross the goal line. He then made a superb stop on a Connor Carrick breakaway with 5:20 to play.

Jon Gillies, who stopped 20 shots in defeat, was pulled for an extra attacker with roughly a minute to play, but his countrymen (3-1-0) couldn't push the contest to an extra session. The Americans finished with 21 goals in group play, tied for second-most among all nations.

The quarterfinal matchups are set, and they will kick off Thursday morning. Team USA faces Russia at 6 AM Eastern time, while Canada plays Switzerland five hours later.

Other quarters are Czech Republic vs. Finland and Slovakia vs. Sweden. In addition, Norway and Germany begin their best-of-three relegation round series.

Monday, December 30, 2013

MO Radio Show on Sports Live w/NFL Insider John McMullen 12/30 by Mo Radio Show | Sports Podcasts

MO Radio Show on Sports Live w/NFL Insider John McMullen 12/30 by Mo Radio Show | Sports Podcasts

Beyond Thunderdome, Pittsburgh and Boston deeply connected through the college ranks

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

The attention, ire, and outrage of fans, broadcasters, writers and league leaders was directed towards TD Garden on the night of December 7 and in the days afterward.

On that Saturday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins literally did battle in the first period of an eventual 3-2 B's victory. The undercard was a clean, hard hit from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik on Bruins forward Loui Eriksson -- one which left the ex-Dallas Star concussed and out of action since -- along with a rolling knee to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who was laying on the ice unsuspecting of James Neal's impending circumvention of The Code.

The main event was Orpik's payment for his collision. In a scrum shortly after Marchand was gonged, Bruins forward Shawn Thornton skated behind Orpik, grabbed him by the shoulder, turned him around and punched him twice. The second blow bounced an unprepared Orpik's head off the ice, knocking him out momentarily.

Orpik, a bruising player who has tread the line and gone over it multiple times in his 11-year NHL career, was strapped to a stretcher, sent to the hospital, but later released that night without any other damage than a concussion which landed him on injured reserve. He missed three weeks before returning to action this past Friday in Carolina.

Neal, who had felt the sting of supplemental discipline before, was hit with a five-game suspension.

Thornton, on the other hand, was slammed with the biggest suspension the Department of Player Safety has handed out in the first half of the season -- 15 games. He has already lost a first appeal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and has one more shot to have his case heard in front of an independent arbitrator. If nothing is done, Thornton will be eligible to return on January 11 and is set to lose almost $85,000 in salary for his efforts.

Nobody could have envisioned this when ROOT Sports sat down with Boston College head coach Jerry York when the Penguins visited Boston for the first of two appearance this season on November 25.

Before the midway point of the 2013-14 season, the Penguins have featured at least 17 different players with major Division I college hockey experience. Craig Adams (Harvard), Joe Vitale (Northeastern), Beau Bennett (Denver), Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), Paul Martin (Minnesota), Matt Niskanen (Minnesota-Duluth), backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff (Miami of Ohio) and recent call-ups Harry Zolnierczyk (Brown), Andrew Ebbett (Michigan), Zach Sill (Maine) and Chris Conner (Michigan Tech) have featured for the Metropolitan Division leaders. In addition, free-agent goalie Eric Hartzell, who backstopped runner-up Quinnipiac in last year's Frozen Four, signed with the organization.

But there's a crop of six...that's right, six players either on the NHL roster or in the system who have been part of the Millennial dynasty on Chestnut Hill. What's more unlikely, is that three players were teammates on one particular BC team -- its 2000-01 championship squad that was the first in a string of four NCAA crowns this century.

Orpik, two-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman Rob Scuderi and offseason signee forward Chuck Kobasew were integral parts of York's first national title at his alma mater, in a year where BC swept through every title and tournament laid out on the schedule. It culminated in a final push where the Eagles beat the three programs which halted their hopes in the previous years: Maine ('99), Michigan ('98) and North Dakota '00). Following that season, Orpik (a junior) and Kobasew (freshman) departed for the pros while Scuderi graduated and began his rise in the organization.

Orpik has been with the organization ever since stepping on ice in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the following October, while Scuderi, a 2009 Cup winner in the Steel City, returned this Summer armed with a lucrative free-agent deal and a Cup won with Los Angeles in 2012. Kobasew, the pride of Osoyoos, British Columbia, played for the Flames, Bruins, Wild and Avalanche in varying roles before landing in the city of three rivers. 

The Three Amigos were joined at various times by forward Brian Gibbons and blueliners Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson.

Gibbons, 25, went undrafted despite helping BC claim titles in 2008 and 2010. Dumoulin is also a two-time winner (2010, '12) taken in the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes four years ago but dealt to the Penguins in the Jordan Staal bonanza, while Samuelsson was a frosh on the 2010 squad, one year after the Pens plucked the Son of Ulf with the 61st overall selection.

“It’s crazy how many players from there are here, especially that I played with,” Samuelsson said to his parent team's site last season. “They must like the Eagles. I think they do (laughs). Coach (Jerry) York has done a great job producing high-end players. I don’t know what the connection is exactly, but I love it.”

One connection is that Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma is a Michigan native and a product of the American college system, having plied his trade at Bowling Green State under -- one guess -- Jerry York from 1988 to 1992.  That also accounts for both schools participating in this weekend's Three Rivers Classic, along with newbie Penn State and host Robert Morris.

Another is team GM Ray Shero, taking his father's advice and choosing education over a rough transient life in the sport, spent four years at St. Lawrence where he served as captain and averaged around a point-per-game. What's more, Shero assistant Tom Fitzgerald's son plays on the current BC team, while ex-Pens Bill Guerin, Ian Moran, Joe Mullen, Kevin Stevens and Doug Brown spent time in Maroon and Gold.

“Coming into a new organization, you’re obviously nervous,” Gibbons said. “You want to make a good impression. I think it helps when you know a few of the guys before you come in. I came in with Phil Samuelsson, so that helped. We kind of went through things together and leaned on each other, so that definitely helps.”

What also might help is the bond of shared memories, like this year's Eagles team, ranked seventh in the latest USCHO poll, who topped Penn State in the Three Rivers Classic finale Saturday night by an 8-2 score after taking out Bylsma's Bowling Green on Friday night in a dominating 5-0 victory.

"All of those moments create memories,” Dumoulin said a couple weeks back. “Fortunately I was able to win most of them. That creates a lifetime memory. It’s something I’ll share with my class and teammates forever. Playing in those big tournaments helped us as a team come together.”

Fitzgerald clocked in with a season high three points on a goal and two assists in the rout, while undrafted junior Destry Straight picked up a hat trick. Pittsburgh native Travis Jeke added an assist in the title game, bringing his two-game total in front of the home crowd to a score and two helpers.

The Penguins and Bruins have already completed their three-game regular-season slate, and may only play each other in the second or third round of the playoffs if both clubs remain atop their respective divisions. BC does not return to Pittsburgh and Robert Morris most likely won't be on the Eagles' full dance card in the next few seasons. Yet, Shero's wisdom, York's guidance and some luck from the hockey gods will likely conspire to keep the BC-Penguins bond intact.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stolarz gets the shutout as USA rips Germany; Canada awaits

Team USA heads into its New Year's Eve matchup with Canada on a roll, having dispatched Germany on Sunday morning by an 8-0 count.

Vince Hinostroza led the parade with two goals and two assists, Matt Grzelcyk netted a goal and two assists, and twelve other players managed to record one point for the 3-0 Americans, who are the highest scoring nation thus far in the tournament with 19 goals.

Anthony Stolarz, pride of the London Knights and Jackson, NJ, made his first start in the Worlds count with a 15-save shutout.

Any hopes of Germany staying in the contest were blown apart in a four-goal second-period burst by the defending champions.

Will Butcher tallied at 2:21 for a 3-0 edge, then Hinostroza picked up his first of the game 66 seconds later for a four-goal spread.

Riley Barber and Grzelcyk also lit the lamp before the period was through, scoring in a 2:11 span to make it 6-0.

BC's Steve Santini and Hinostroza produced red lights in the final 20 minutes.

Patrick Klein and Kevin Reich combined to stop 45 of 53 shots in the rout.

Group A play concludes two days from now against a Canadian team (1-0-1-0) which should be sufficiently humbled by its 5-4 shootout loss to upstart Czech Republic on Saturday.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

USA doubles up Slovakia in Canada tuneup

Team USA showed no signs of slowing down in their Saturday morning conquest of Slovakia.

Twelve different players scored at least one point, and six different skaters hit the back of the net as the Americans won their final contest before a showdown with Canada, 6-3.

Matt Grzelcyk, Jack Eichel, Ryan Hartman, Nic Kerdiles, Andrew Copp and Will Butcher each posted two points for the defending champs, who received 27 saves from Jon Gillies.

It wasn't as easy as the final indicated.

Slovakia cut into Team USA's 3-0 lead with goals 1:53 apart late in the second period by Milan Kolena and Martin Reway, but the Americans didn't gain equilibrium until the middle stages of the third period.

Grzelcyk scored at 9:33 to give them a two-goal cushion, then Stefan Matteau and Riley Barber pumped home two more against Richard Sabol in a 2:19 spread in the late stages to finally put their foes to rest.

Reway capped the scoring with 2:08 left in regulation. Sabol ended up with 41 saves in defeat.

The Americans peppered Sabol throughout the opening period, but didn't break through until late, when Eichel opened the scoring at 16:53 and Dan O'Regan beat the buzzer by one second.

Hartman pushed the edge to 3-0 with 4:22 elapsed in the second period.

The schedule-makers give the 2-0 Americans one more game in preparation for the New Year's Eve clash against the rival Canadians -- playing Germany tomorrow. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

McCoy, Peters earn Pro Bowl selections

The NFL's Pro Bowl selections are in the process of being released, but it's already known that a pair of Philadelphia Eagles will be represented.

Running back LeSean McCoy and tackle Jason Peters have earned a spot in the league's All-Star contest, Sunday, January 26 in Honolulu, which pits all chosen players against each other in a fantasy-style draft as opposed to NFC-AFC as in all years previously.

With one game remaining in the regular season, McCoy can set the Eagles' all-time single-season rushing yardage record and lock up the NFL rushing title. The Pitt product currently has 1,476 yards, needing only 37 more to eclipse Wilbert Montgomery's mark of 1,512 which has stood since 1979.

Peters picks up his sixth Pro Bowl nod, and fourth since coming to Philly -- more than any other offensive lineman in franchise annals.

"If I’m playing well, the guys besides me are playing well, as a team we’re going to play well," said Peters when he learned of his selection.“This one's special because I had two surgeries and people thought I wasn’t going to be able to play football again." 

Other Birds who could have earned a berth but did not receive consideration were quarterback Nick Foles, wideout DeSean Jackson, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and offensive lineman Jason Kelce.

Around the Rink: Everything you always wanted to know about the Flyers on the Holiday Road, but were afraid to ask

Rick MacLeish in action and Haaaarold Snepsts in repose
by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Later tomorrow evening, the Flyers will hit the ice at Rexall Place against Edmonton to start a six-game holiday road trip which will take the team into calendar year 2014.

It's the first time in three years that the Orange and Black will have a prolonged road swing which takes them into the Pacific Time Zone, and believe it or not, will mark the first time since 1998 turned to 1999 that the three Western Canadian clubs -- the Oilers, Flames and Canucks -- will be featured on a single sojourn between Christmas and New Year's.

Despite the fact that the Kings began play in 1967 and the Canucks in 1970, the original Western road swing as most fans know it began in 1972, when Fred Shero guided his pre-Cup champion team on a trip which included Vancouver, California and Los Angeles in the midst of a six-game run. Those three teams were included in the 1974-75 schedule (Jan. 1-5), but the long road trip which included west coast clubs in both the US and Canada that bridged both years in a given season didn't return until the Flames relocated from Atlanta to Alberta, setting up a potential doubleheader.

The 1980-81 season kicked off a succession of holiday trips over the next two decades where Flyers teams would have some combination of Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and LA included. The NHL brain trust first hit the quinella from December 28, 1984-January 3, 1985, giving Mike Keenan's first Philadelphia squad a crack at, in order, the Canucks, Kings, Oilers and Flames. On that trip, the Flyers finished 3-1-0, losing only in Calgary in the second of back-to-back.

It happened again the next season, another 3-1 clip with the two Alberta games interrupted by an odd three-day break after B2B in Vancouver and Calgary -- another set of scheduled anomalies which made these road trips a bit more difficult to navigate.

Two years later, the Canadian portion of the holiday trip brought a screeching halt to a 14-game unbeaten streak which pulled the Flyers from the depths of the Patrick Division to the top of the heap. Coming into a December 30 game at Northlands Coliseum, the Flyers were 12-0-2 and looking to erase the memory of losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals seven months later. The reality was a blistering 6-0 defeat, and the next night, New Year's Eve in Calgary, was a 5-4 loss where the visitors lost on a power-play goal by Gary Suter with eight seconds left before overtime.

As the new decade of the 90s dawned, the Alberta double was interrupted by games in Vancouver and LA, an even rarer quirk of scheduling in the middle of a seven-game trip which happened to be the start of a then-franchise-record 10-game winless streak that defined a season which began a five-year run out of the playoffs.

With the dawning of the newest era of expansion, a second team in California arose in San Jose, and the Sharks were featured in holiday trips during both 1991 and 1992 before not showing up until back-to-back Silicon Valley placements in 1996 and '97. Philly managed to win all but the first meeting, in typical fashion for the era when even expansion teams were scoring points on home ice against the once-feared opponent.

Western Canada came back around as a feature in 1997-98 with another rare Canadian run of Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa to kick off a seven-game trip and in the final Prairie Run mentioned above, was part of a 15-game unbeaten string which sent Roger Neilson's club to the top of the Eastern Conference standings right after Bob Clarke played Indian giver with Chris Gratton and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

More recent seasons which contained the same long-distance road games this time of year tended to include Colorado, and all three California-based franchises. The Granddaddy of all Road Trips occurred in 2005-06, an 11-game suicide course which only managed to escape the Eastern Time Zone for a single matchup with Chicago.

Beaten like an Alberta Liberal...

In the 33 seasons since the Oilers and Flames have occupied the same Canadian province, only one Flyers team -- the 1996-97 club which rolled to 17 games without a loss (14-0-3) in December and January -- has ever completed the Alberta sweep, whether the games were scheduled consecutively or simply included on the same trip. The full results are as follows:

12/27/80 at Calgary (L 1-2)
12/28/80 at Edmonton (W 2-1)

12/28/81 at Calgary (W 7-4)
12/30/81 at Edmonton (L 5-7; Wayne Gretzky scores five goals to reach 50 in 39 games)

1/2/85 at Edmonton (W 5-2)
1/3/85 at Calgary (L 3-4)

12/28/85 at Calgary (W 6-5)
12/31/85 at Edmonton (L 3-4; Gretzky nets a hat trick as Oilers erase 2-0 first-period deficit)

12/30/87 at Edmonton (L 0-6)
12/31/87 at Calgary (L 4-5)

12/27/89 at Edmonton (L 1-2)
1/2/90 at Calgary (T 4-4)

1/2/93 at Calgary (L 3-7)
1/3/93 at Edmonton (T 2-2)

12/27/95 at Edmonton (L 2-3)
12/29/95 at Calgary (W 3-2)

12/27/96 at Edmonton (W 6-4)
12/29/96 at Calgary (W 4-2)

12/27/97 at Calgary (L 2-5)
12/30/97 at Edmonton (W 3-1)

12/29/98 at Calgary (W 4-3 OT; Eric Lindros left game with concussion, Valeri Zelepukin with OT winner)
1/3/99 at Edmonton (T 3-3)

Since then, additional expansion, constant tinkering with the master schedule which included de-emphasis on inter-conference matchups, multiple lockouts and the inclusion of the Flyers into multiple Winter Classics has deprived school kids, late-night workers and holiday revelers alike of their "staying up as late as possible to catch a glimpse of hockey in the wee hours."

The most successful road trip which included the two major end-of-year celebrations had little to do with Canadian teams.

Under Bob McCammon in 1982-83, the Cooperall-clad club went 6-for-6 to kick off what was eventually a 10-game win streak which vaulted the Flyers past the three-time defending champion New York Islanders to the penthouse of the Patrick. They toppled New Jersey, Washington, Detroit, Calgary, St. Louis and Chicago in succession, prompting future Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler to quip "I never won six games in a row in my life" after the run was completed. 

Other successful road trips have gone as follows:

1996-97: 4-0-2 (Chicago, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, Colorado)
1998-99: 4-0-2 (Boston, Chicago, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton)
1979-80: 4-1-1 (Hartford, Winnipeg, Colorado, NY Rangers, Buffalo, Minnesota)
1984-85: 4-2-0 (Washington, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Edmonton, Calgary, St. Louis)
1992-93: 2-1-2 (Washington, San Jose, Los Angeles, Calgary, Edmonton)

Breaking out the hats and hooters..

When the Flyers arrive in Calgary on the last day of 2013, it will be their first New Year's Eve game at the Saddledome since their only other one there, the aforementioned last-second loss to the eventual Smythe Division winners in 1987.

Despite playing on December 31 just twice in their first 17 years, a burst of 11 such games followed in the next 17 seasons, all but three of those in one of the three aforementioned Western Canadian locales.

Between 1995 and 2001, the Flyers were scheduled to play in Vancouver five times, with the visitors winning four times and tying once. 

The first game, on 12/31/85, saw #99 fuel a comeback with one of his zillion hat tricks. Catch Pastor Bob Froese basically give him one of the goals in the second period. Edmonton's victory snapped a nine-game winless streak (0-8-1) against the Flyers which stretched back to 1982 and was yet another sign post of the emerging dynasty.

In 1988 and 1990, the road trip took weird turns to the North and the Orange and Black split a pair in Buffalo, winning in the former and losing in the latter.

The Flyers and Bruins played one of their two seasonal neutral-site games in, of all places, Minneapolis in 1993, with the "visiting" Philadelphians getting behind 3-0 and then mounting an unbelievable comeback in the final 25-plus minutes of regulation on goals from Lindros, Mikael Renberg, Rod Brind'Amour and Mark Recchi.

Two years later, the string of games with the Canucks commenced with the first contest inside what was the new GM Place. Philly blew leads of 3-1 and 5-2 before Vancouver pulled out a late (but exciting for them) tie.

In 1997, we recall the infamous brawl-filled 8-0 blowout against the Mark Messier-captained Orca-clad Canucks, and the following season, it was a 6-2 victory which was a glimpse of life to come without the concussed Big E. Simon Gagne won the final NYE in British Columbia with a goal in the final seconds in 2001, and that was the last time the schedule makers provided a Canadian New Year until this season.

The Washington Capitals took a 4-3 decision in DC in 2005, thus far the only time the Flyers have seen a Dec. 31 game end in a shootout, and three years ago, Anaheim welcomed our team back to the West Coast with a 5-2 defeat.

Overall, the Flyers carry an 8-5-2-1 record on the 365th day of the calendar year and look to improve upon that in Calgary four days from now.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

USA tops Czech Republic in WJC opener

The defending champion United States opened up their 2014 World Junior Championship slate with a solid 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic on Thursday in Malmo.

It was locked up by the 2:02 mark of the opening period, when Riley Barber and Will Butcher beat Daniel Dolejs with the first two shots of the contest -- both coming on power plays.

Hudson Fasching, Jacob Slavin and Vince Hinostroza also lit the lamp for the Americans, while Jon Gillies made his WJC debut by making 23 saves.

In all, 13 players recorded at least one point in the contest.

Michal Plutnar picked up the lone score for the Czechs, and Dolejs stopped 28 shots in the setback.

Fashing converted an Andrew Copp rebound just prior to the midway point of regulation, and USA led 4-0 at the second intermission thanks to a Slavin rebound try inside of three minutes left.

Hinostroza's backhander on a breakaway accounted for the final margin with 2:11 remaining in the contest.

Team USA squares off with Slovakia on Saturday morning.

Earlier in the day, Russia slammed Norway by an 11-0 count, while Anthony Mantha's hat trick fueled Canada's 7-2 rout of Germany. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tales of a Second-Grade Something

On the morning of Friday, May 15, 1987, some time in between homeroom and first period, I stood in the hallway of Waldron Academy with one of my former second-grade teachers, eagerly awaiting the spoils of a winning bet.

The take was only a dime (because Catholic grade schools frown on wagering, wink wink), but the thrill wasn't just in the transaction: it was the pleasure of not only having seen the Philadelphia Flyers win and gain a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals the night before, but it was a triumph of the Patrick Division over the Adams Division, of good over evil and most importantly, managed to shut up a die-hard Hartford Whalers fan while providing two die-hard Flyers fans with thousand-watt soul glow.

Sole loser of this monumental wager was my primary second-grade teacher from the previous year, a Connecticut native and overall tough cookie, Ms. McGeehin. She taught by the maxim of raising up with one hand and knocking upside with the other, never one to let the kids under her control get out of hand, but quick with praise when warranted.

She also provided me with my first glimpse of the hockey world outside the insular kingdom of Philadelphia.

It's been highlighted in multiple posts here, at Flyers Faithful and on social media over the years, that my introduction to the game occurred during the transformative 1984-85 season. That was first grade. I'm sure Sister Patricia had no idea how to deal with a 6-7 year old whose moods changed with the seasons along with the next day's box score, and I don't know if any of that experience was shared in the teacher's lounge in preparation for the next school year, but something must have stuck by the time second grade rolled around. Maybe it was taking notice of as much devastation as a second-grader could show at the loss of Pelle Lindbergh just two months in, and probably the pure whimsy of a mandatory Pollyanna gift I gave a classmate that was simply a re-print of the Inquirer's NHL stat leaders on the morning before the last day of classes.

Whatever, it finally stuck that I was, like, totally into hockey.

So, when we came back from Christmas break more than two weeks later, imagine my surprise when I was presented with two gifts: a Goal magazine (not unlike the one depicted above) and Whalers logo pin.

I wore the pin proudly on my school-issued blazer -- but on the opposite side of my other hockey-related Christmas gift, a Flyers logo pin -- should anyone question my allegiance. The magazine is what opened my eyes to the hockey world beyond the issues of why Dave Brown is so quiet off the ice but so fierce on it. Sure, Flyer Magazine was ahead of its time in production values and information compared to other in-house entities, but the only non-Flyers news or advertisements contained within, were a half-page explaining referee's body signals for penalties and the color half-page for the 21 NHL team logos.

"Goal" was devoted to the rest of the league. I learned that the other teams weren't just cannon fodder for the unstoppable orange and black force under Mike Keenan. There were feature stories about Hartford players who talked about their approach to playing, which was a total contrast to how they pretty much failed to show up in Flyers games. I learned about the culture shock of the then-relatively-new influx of European players like Ulf Samuelsson, in a more literate, engaging and permanent format than Bobby Taylor attempting to lob softball questions in simple English at a shy and reticent Ilkka Sinisalo during intermissions.

I received another Goal after the Easter break was through, though this one, I think, had a Washington Capitals player featured prominently on the cover, fighting through a Whalers check in front of the net. The end result of that gift was my staring at it blankly during the long Spring which followed the Flyers' shocking defeat to the hands of the fourth-place Rangers in the first round of the 1986 playoffs.

Despite nurturing a child's interest in a sport which had a greater resonance in her native territory than in his own, it wasn't all heart-warming bonding moments between teacher and student. At the same time the Ron Sutters of the world were planning what to do with four extra weeks of unplanned rest, the Whalers were announcing their arrival after seven years in the NHL by knocking off first-place Quebec and then taking the Montreal Canadiens to overtime of a Game 7. I can recall her reaction as more elated than heartbroken, because her favorite team finally won a playoff series and put a scare into the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Being a young, naive and idealistic kid with a short memory, I thought I could bank on that good will when the time came. 

When the Wales Conference Finals arrived the next season, I was shocked that she flat-out refused to cheer for her "hometown" team. Even after the Canadiens derailed the Whalers' run the year before, she remained rooted in her principles, and using the logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," was confident enough in her choice to make not one, but two separate wagers on Montreal to win that pivotal Game 6 at the Forum. I'm sure that Hartford winning the Adams Division and then being dumped by the fourth-place Nordiques in the first round had something to do with it, and I could sympathize, but other than that it was a shock not to receive support in my hour of need.

As we all know, destiny was on the side of good, and the Flyers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3, and make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Me and Miss Nicolella (surely a very happy Mrs. with a great house and multiple kids and a great life at the moment) were completely in cahoots and "rich" the next morning.

The Flyers pin and Whalers pin are gone. So are the Goal mags, and so are the Whalers themselves. The dime wagers have ballooned to 20-dollar handshake agreements with people in Rhode Island. And the dozen or so Flyer publications had to be chucked to ease clutter in moves throughout my life. Thanks a lot, eBay, why couldn't you exist in 1996? Waldron appears...smaller...every time I go back to visit, but I can still remember which homerooms were which. All I have to do is go through the lunchroom, hang a left at the foyer and it's the third door on the left if I want to peer back into 1985.

I only saw Ms. McGeehin one other time since leaving Waldron after fourth grade, and, without foreknowledge of where that love of hockey could lead, never got to properly thank her. I hope this will do, along with the knowledge that I've turned that childhood obsession into something of a career.

I also hope she's not trying to root against the Carolina Hurricanes -- unless she decided to settle in Philadelphia and finally adopt our team -- though I know she's gotta be one of the thousands who wish the Whale would be allowed to come back home.

Here's further proof that the gift of hockey, once bestowed, can be eternal when placed in the right hands.

Last year at Christmas, I wrote that parents and siblings shouldn't deprive kids of the joy of the game no matter how they viewed the greed of millionaire players and billionaire owners during the last lockout.

This year, a call for hockey-loving adults to pass on the wonder to a youngster who's not from your city. Give the gift of another team's history. They might grow up wanting to travel to the towns that stoke the fires of the sport like Johnstown and Kingston, or try find the backwaters like Macon and Mobile, heeding advice to gain as much experience and knowledge you can before thinking you're ready for the big time.

I'd advise against bets, though. And sour grapes.

Union finalize transfer of Farfan

Chester, Pa.– The Philadelphia Union confirmed that midfielder Michael Farfan has been permanently transferred to Mexico’s Cruz Azul of Liga MX.

The deal is subject to finalization of agreement with Cruz Azul. 

“Michael has been an important member for our club both on and off the field over the past three years,” said Team Manager John Hackworth. “We thank him for his contributions to the Union and wish him the best of luck as he continues his career in Mexico.”

Farfan was drafted by the Union with the 23rd overall selection of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. In three years with the club, he made 82 MLS appearances and notched four goals and nine assists.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gustafsson out with sprained left knee

The strange twists and turns on the injury front keep on coming for the Flyers in the first half of the season.

On Sunday, the club announced that defenseman Erik Gustafsson will be out up to two weeks with a left knee sprain.

The fourth-year pro apparently suffered the injury during the deciding third-period surge by Columbus in the Jackets' 6-3 win on Saturday night.

Look for more Hal Gill, or perhaps more Oliver Lauridsen in Gus' absence as the Orange and Black prepare to embark on a six-game holiday road swing. Gill returned from a 20-game banishment after Nick Grossman was a late scratch due to the flu.

Blue Jackets lose Gaborik, win Saturday against Flyers

Columbus, OH -- Even after blowing a three-goal lead on Thursday and then losing the services of Marian Gaborik after the first period, the Blue Jackets persevered.

David Savard, Boone Jenner, Ryan Johansen and R.J. Umberger picked up third-period goals to help Columbus claim a 6-3 victory over the Flyers in the back end of a home-and-home set Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.

Corey Tropp and Nikita Nikitin each recorded a pair of assists for the hosts, who responded well after surrendering five goals in the final period in a 5-4 loss in Philadelphia in the opener two days ago.

Curtis McElhinney was strong in the crease with 33 saves.

"It was a gutsy win for a lot of reasons," Columbus head coach Todd Richards remarked. "Curtis played very well. He responded, as well."

Wayne Simmonds tallied twice and Sean Couturier once for the Flyers, who have a home game on Monday against Minnesota before embarking on a six-game holiday road trip.

"I don't think we were flat," Flyers head coach Craig Berube said. "We made mistakes on their goals that will be easy to correct. They didn't have to happen."

Ray Emery was shelled for five scores on 28 shots in defeat.

Savard lofted a shot over traffic and past Emery for a 3-2 Blue Jackets lead with 3:36 played in the third, and the hosts went up by two a short time later.

McElhinney was on his back in the crease, but still managed to get enough of a Vincent Lecavalier chance to keep it from crossing the goal line. The puck went the other way on an Artem Anisimov rush, and his pass to Savard found Nikitin at the point for a successful shot inside the right post tipped there by Jenner.

Johansen's rising shot from the right circle off a 2-on-1 break made it 5-2 for Columbus with 7:38 to play.

In a surprise move, Emery was pulled as the clock ticked down to three minutes remaining, and Simmonds finally capitalized for the visitors with 1:41 to go.

Umberger tapped a shot into the empty net 24 seconds later to seal it.

Columbus picked up the game's first goal with 9:17 left in the first. Emery turned away a contested  Gaborik shot from the left wing, then Nick Foligno took the rebound, curled around the net and fed Johansen for a shot under the crossbar.

Gaborik, who was hit up high by Philly's Zac Rinaldo just prior to the score, left the game and did not return. He was later diagnosed with a broken collarbone and is out indefinitely and the club announced his placement on injured reserve after the contest.

It was a two-goal lead for the hosts just 10 seconds into a power play created after Mark Streit was sent off for hooking, as James Wisniewski cranked one home from the right point for an Umberger redirection with 5:31 remaining in the second period.

Brandon Dubinsky rocketed a short-handed chance off the crossbar and far post at the tail end of a Flyers power play, and on the next rush up ice, Simmonds managed to slide a shot through McElhinney with 2:20 left.

Couturier batted in a cross-ice pass from Matt Read only 20 seconds later to tie the score.

Notes: Columbus improved to 3-2-2 against Philly on home ice ... Gaborik and Wisniewski made their returns to the lineup after both were activated from injured reserve late Friday ... Jackets forward Matt Calvert left the game at the end of the second and did not return due to an upper-body injury ... Simmonds posted his eighth career two-goal effort, while Umberger recorded his 24th career multi-goal contest ... Prior to the contest, the Flyers announced that forward Steve Downie will miss the next 7-to-10 days, but Vincent Lecavalier returned after a nine-game absence ... Defenseman Nick Grossman was a late Philly scratch due to the flu, and Hall Gill appeared for the first time since Nov. 7.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Downie on the shelf 7-10 days, Lecavalier returns

For the second time since his acquisition from the Colorado Avalanche, Steve Downie will be out of the lineup for a while.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren revealed on Saturday afternoon that Downie is expected to miss the next 7-to-10 days with an unspecified upper-body injury.

If you recall, Downie was on the sidelines for 11 days after absorbing a punch to the face in a November 1 fight in the third period of a 7-0 home loss to the Washington Capitals.

He has proved his worth in a third-line pairing along with Sean Couturier and Matt Read since then, totaling two goals and 10 assists in 20 games since his arrival on Oct. 31.

Good news tonight to cap the second part of a home-and-home series with the Columbus Blue Jackets is that Vincent Lecavalier will return to the lineup after missing only nine games.

Lecavalier, who has been on injured reserve, was diagnosed with a non-displaced back fracture after participating in a game at Nashville on November 30 and was expected to miss at least 3-to-4 weeks.

But the healing waters of the organization's medical staff worked their magic once again, and the man who only slipped into a second-place tie for total goals with nine, will skate again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Video: Tom Wilson will not be punished for Schenn hit

The NHL's Department of Player Safety has reviewed the tape from Tuesday's Flyers-Capitals game and there will be no supplemental discipline handed out to Caps forward Tom Wilson for his charge against Brayden Schenn.

Brendan Shanahan explains why:

Capitals GM George McPhee -- who adamantly defended Wilson -- released a statement after the ruling was handed down: “We agree with the league’s position that it was a clean hit.  There should not have been a penalty on the play. It was a punishing hit, not predatory or otherwise illegal. Under our current rules, punishing but clean hits are permitted. We are happy that Tom Wilson was vindicated and Brayden Schenn is not injured.”

The decision runs counter-intuitively to the way previous suspensions have been doled out by Shanahan, namely a hit did not have to have been penalized to draw supplemental discipline.

In this case, a three-minute long breakdown and explanation was not necessary to explain either side. Played in real time and seen in real time, Wilson approached Schenn with ill intent and appeared to injure him on a hit that was rewarded with a major and game misconduct. It calls for supplemental discipline reviewed at any speed.

What mystifies even more is that Schenn is back in the lineup tonight as the Flyers start a home-and-home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If the tweeted report from the Courier Post is true, that a concussion diagnosis would have led to a two-game suspension at minimum, the club itself caused part of this furor by not disregarding Schenn's own prognosis and providing concussion testing anyway.

Bank on the fact that Schenn will leave the game after taking a hit that doesn't seem as harmless as the one he received from Wilson -- and that will trigger the symptoms that apparently remained hidden in Tuesday's post-game.

Outrage has begun to spread beyond the bounds of the Delaware Valley, as this brief missive came from Buffalo News Sabres beat man Mike Harrington:  "Everyone loving Shanahan's transparency. Golf claps to him. Do it for all of the hits, not just ones on NBC games."

Point/Counterpoint: CD-R as top line

Welcome to another spirited and irregular edition of Point/Counterpoint, a resurrected series first found over on Flyers Faithful and now transplanted to the Phanatic.

This time around, Bob and Nick spar over the question of whether the Couturier-Read-Downie line should be given top billing over the struggling first line and how that determination should be made.

Nick: The line of Sean Couturier, Steve Downie, and Matt Read has been downright excellent in the last month and they deserve to be promoted to at least second-line minutes. First of all, let’s look at some "real-time stats" as NHL.com calls them. Between the three of them, they have 51 takeaways and 176 shots and 17 goals, while giving the puck away just 30 times total. Their average time on ice at even strength per game? All of them are playing under 14:25 per game.

Since the Downie acquisition on Halloween, the three have combined for 35 points (14G, 21A) in 18 games. That’s 18 percent of the team’s goals.  If you take away the lone short-handed goal scored by Couturier, that’s 13 goals, which means these players are responsible for roughly 28% of the team’s 46 goals scored at even strength. If we take it a step futher, and look at 5-on-5 goals, they’ve scored 10 of the team’s 45 goals, or 22%. All while skating just 13.3 minutes per game at 5-on-5. That’s a pretty big deal, wouldn’t you say?

Bob: Of course it is. But why would you want a bottom-six pairing, which is used to 45 second shifts every third change, logging more minutes in any situation?

Sure, without all the fancy stats, you can see that this new line, darling of the masses, has been key to the Flyers pulling themselves out of their first-month funk. Still, third lines by their very nature are built to do fairly specific things: provide a checking antidote to the opposition's first line, kill penalties, and provide an energetic spark when needed. If you try and stretch that any further, you risk physical breakdown and the mental mistakes which accompany that. And unlike the top two lines, which are supposedly built to give scoring punch, third-liners don't have that automatic snap-back if they're on for a goal against.

In an old-school sense, you can't make a soldier into a general very easily, so attempting to stretch those three guys beyond their assigned roles in their assigned minutes can invite disaster. The Flyers' margin of error this season has been pretty slim, and this is not the way to tip the scales.

Nick: This line’s production is even more interesting when you take into consideration where the play begins most of the time for them.

Adam Hall starts more often in the defensive zone than any Flyer forward at 51.5% of his even strength ice-time. He also averages just 6.0 minutes a game at even strength. Sean Couturier and Matt Read are the next closest forwards at 36.5% and 35.9% respectively and they see 13.8 minutes per game at even strength. Steve Downie starts in the defensive zone 27.3% of the time during his 13.3 minutes of even strength play per game, but he also starts just 25.2% of even strength plays in the offensive zone, while Sean Couturier starts 25.7% of the time in the offensive zone, and Matt Read is slightly higher at 27.4%. To put all of that in perspective, Claude Giroux starts 31.2% of his even strength play in the defensive zone, Jake Voracek clocks in at 27.8%, and Scott Hartnell is currently at 28.2%. Their offensive zone start percentage? 37.5%, 38.5%, and 40.5% respectively. They have comprised the team’s top-line for much of the season, but have much less ice to travel from the faceoff on most occasions.

What all of this means is that the Couturier, Downie, Read line starts more of their even strength plays in the defensive zone than any other line not counting the fourth line. It’s important to note though, that this line plays considerably more minutes at even strength as a unit than the fourth line. It’s pretty impressive that they’ve been able to generate as much offense as they have over their last 18 games considering they’ve had to travel the length of the ice more often than any of the other lines that see regular ice time in even strength situations.

Bob: Amazing that the above pretty much proves my point. Conditioning of a typical NHL player aside, you don't want to put added pressure to produce offense and wear out a line which, by necessity, starts inside its own defensive zone more often than it does in the offensive zone.

You constantly hear about coaches wanting players to work two ways and in all three zones, but that does tend to get tiring if time is collectively consumed having to work an extra 100 feet, and given more time per shift and more shifts, means that's collectively more than 1000 feet per game traversed in order to be both offensively proficient and defensively sound.

The best way to maximize the third line's effectiveness if given more ice time and given more scoring responsibility, is to work the line changes to their advantage, i.e. start CD-R only after the puck is frozen inside the offensive zone or somewhere else on their side of center ice.

Nick: What about how this line is used? This trio usually gets deployed against the top line of the opposing team. Courtesy of ExtraSkater.com, Sean Couturier and Matt Read both see 27.1% of their ice-time at 5-on-5, and Steve Downie is seeing 26.9% of his ice-time against the toughest forward competition of the other team. Those are the highest percentages of any forwards on the team. In terms of the top competition of the other team, including both the best forwards and defensemen, Braydon Coburn is at the top of the list for the Flyers at 29.6%.

The next three names? You guessed it: Matt Read (29.5%), Steve Downie (29.4%), and Sean Couturier (29.4%), right in a row. So this line sees the toughest competition, with the most ice to travel to create offense, and scores 28% of the team’s goals at even strength. If they faced lesser competition occasionally, and started in the offensive zone more frequently, maybe they’d be able to generate even more offense. Doesn’t it make sense to reward them with top-six minutes as a unit?

Bob: Nick, you ignorant slut.

As soon as Craig Berube makes the decision to bump the third line up to greater status and responsibility, they're not going to be matched as intently to cancel out the opposition's best line. That can only mean better things going forward for all three guys, who are more likely to skate against counterparts who wish to use speed and skill rather than dump-and-chase, bump-and-grind in the corners.

In that sense, you're going to have a better chance for impact than the historical Sutter-Sutter-Tocchet, Klatt-Otto-Podein, Kapanen-Radivojevic-Somik lines. But what made them so special is that they were given a set role, certain times to execute that role, and did so to the best of their abilities to provide supplemental scoring. The thought of any of these four lines being above the Kerr-Propp-Poulin, Legion of Doom, Blackhawk Down or Ginger Lines is unconscienable.

Whatever struggles are happening on this year's #1 pairing, they must be worked through in the natural course of the season, and the third line needs to play within itself for maximum effectiveness.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CBS Philly: St. Joseph's Prep football voted Team of Year

Courtesy of CBS Philly and Joe Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—All season long the thought was the same: Get to Hershey and win the state championship. All season long there were obstacles, some placed there on purpose, and others were there inadvertently.

All year long, St. Joseph’s Prep stayed the course. There were pratfalls, like the 42-0 spanking the Hawks took their second game against national power Don Bosco Prep, and the 27-14 stumble against a good Archbishop Ryan team (which beat two state champions and didn’t make the Catholic League playoffs). But in the end, the goal everyone envisioned came to fruition—and then some.

No one thought The Prep would be able to beat state juggernaut—and undefeated—Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the PIAA Class AAAA (large school) state championship. No one, that is, with the exception of the Hawks and their coaching staff. Then The Prep went out and devoured the Vikings, 35-10.
To get there, Prep quite easily stopped Parkland, another team it was also not supposed to beat, 21-10. Then the Hawks ripped through a very good Neshaminy team, 37-21, in the state semifinals. The Hawks finished 12-3—capturing the first state title in school history, and in doing so, they are the 2013 Team of the Year.

Archbishop Wood and Imhotep Charter had amazing seasons. Wood won the Class AAA state title for the second time in three years, becoming the first District 12 team in history to win multiple state championships, and Imhotep became the first Philadelphia Public League team to reach the state championship.

But the grand design that Hawks’ coach Gabe Infante put into motion four years ago couldn’t have had a better finish than this year. Infante challenged them. He made sure nothing came easy. And when he ran out of tests, he conjured up some more, always working, cajoling to get the utmost from his young team.

Each time, they responded. Each time, they were able to navigate over the rocky terrain their coach placed in front of them.

It got the Hawks their first state championship.

“This was a special team; it was special in how we all came together as a group and we developed leaders,” said Hawks’ unflappable senior quarterback Chris Martin, who wound up becoming a force this year. “We had young guys across the board that stepped into key roles and it was how everyone bought into the process coach Infante always talks about.

“Coach always says those games in the beginning of the year are a gift to us because we learn. We saw what the young guys could do against Dallas Jesuit and we saw how to deal with adversity in losing to Don Bosco Prep. The Bosco loss helped us grow and helped the leaders on the team begin to emerge. That was a tough loss, but without learning from that, I don’t think that we would be here as state champions.”

The season was marked by the emergence of freshman tailback D’Andre Swift, who scored a touchdown in the state championship, and junior Jon Daniel Runyan, who blossomed into a beast, playing both ways in the state title game with three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

The Michigan-bound junior is going to have an interesting dilemma on his hands, as to whether he’ll play offensive tackle for the Wolverines, like his father, former Eagle All-Pro Jon Runyan, or defensive line.
Add the play of senior linebacker Ryan McNulty, junior defensive end Jake Strain, junior defensive back Tom Johnson and sophomore defensive back Shawn Harris and the Hawks were suffocating in the title game.

What’s more is expect Prep, a program it has to be noted that was long dormant before Gil Brooks resurrected it and set it on its path early this decade, to be back as the state’s preseason No. 1 again in 2014. The Hawks have arguably the best player in the state returning in junior defensive back John Reid, along with Runyan, Strain, Swift, Harris, Johnson and talented junior tailback Olamide Zaccheaus all returning.

Losing Martin will be a gaping void to fill, as will McNulty’s departure, but it was a young group that took a major step into a realm it appears St. Joe’s Prep will be maintaining for a while.

Extra Points: Leadership lacking in Dallas | Dallas Cowboys (AP) | Latest news and video on t...

Extra Points: Leadership lacking in Dallas | Dallas Cowboys (AP) | Latest news and video on t...

Schenn OK because he says so, Wilson faces hearing

The Philadelphia Flyers are not treating Brayden Schenn with kid gloves.

That's because Schenn declared himself near 100 percent after absorbing a hit that would leave many dazed and confused. Paul Holmgren stated on Wednesday afternoon that he was not subject to concussion protocol in the wake of the collision, whose video is below.

"I feel I got really lucky," Schenn said. "I don't think I have ever gone head-first into the boards without even getting my arms up or anything like that. I don't remember much of the play. All I remember was how hard the top of my head actually hit the board. And I don't remember trying to get up or anything bad. But the good thing is I don't have a headache or any symptoms today, so that's a positive sign."

Never mind that the onset of concussion symptoms can manifest as late as 72 hours after contact, the Flyers are an old-school organization with old-school thinking, and if one of their players deems himself fit enough, who is anyone with a degree or expertise to interfere?

With 4:43 remaining in the second period of an eventual 5-2 Flyers win against Washington on Tuesday night, Caps forward Tom Wilson issued an illegal check to the back of Schenn, sending Schenn crashing to the boards and out of the contest.

Schenn was later told to have an "upper-body injury" which may result in a concussion, and his status for Thursday night's home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets seems to no longer be in doubt.

The National Hockey League's office of Player Safety has been notified of the incident and Wilson will face a hearing (not in person) tomorrow afternoon.

Wilson, the 16th overall selection in the 2012 draft, made his pro debut in three playoff games last season. He has posted one goal and four points in 34 games this year.

If supplemental discipline is necessary, look for the 19-year-old Toronto native to be hit with a penalty near the low end of the spectrum as a first-time offender.

Last night, I called for something in the 3-to-5 game range, dependent upon Schenn's condition and prognosis.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Flyers take advantage of bad situation, down Caps to end home-and-home series

Thanks to RMNB
by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Matt Read's even-strength tally kicked off a run of three straight goals to end the second period and four unanswered overall, leading the Flyers to a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals to earn a split in the final game of the home-and-home set Tuesday night.

"That was one of the funnest periods of the year," said Read, who chalked up his team-leading 10th goal. "The guys talked about not letting that (coughing up Sunday's 4-1 lead) happen again. We were amped up."

Mark Streit and Jakub Voracek also lit the lamp on a key five-minute power play in the middle frame, with Wayne Simmonds adding a goal and Kimmo Timonen chipping in a pair of assists.

Steve Mason did his part, making 24 saves as the Orange and Black came away with three points in this two-game set against a club ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division. 

Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr provided offense for the Capitals, who were caught flat in Philadelphia's four-goal second act.

Braden Holtby, who posted a 7-0 shutout and received a beating here on Nov. 1 in the teams' first meeting, was shelled for all five scores on 35 shots.

Even tied at 2-2, things looked to be going in Washington's favor until Tom Wilson unleashed a vicious check on a vulnerable Brayden Schenn along the end boards behind Mason with 4:43 remaining in the second. You could make a case for the young man turning his back to the hit, but Wilson was banished with a major for charging and a game misconduct once the post-hit scrum was cleared and the league will certainly review the play.

"On that play, there wasn't much respect. I saw the hit and the replay. He came from a pretty far way away and at top speed. Everything happens fast, but when you see a guy in a vulnerable position, you have to let up a little," said Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn. "When it's your brother it's pretty hard. I was rattled. Helpless is exactly the way I felt."

The Flyers went in for the kill, picking up a pair of goals to take a 4-2 edge to intermission.

First, it was Streit, who tested the patience of the faithful by playing catch at the point with Claude Giroux until cranking a hard, arcing shot from the right point through a screen and off the far pipe to give the Flyers the lead with 2:56 showing.

Then, Voracek snuck into space between the circles, took a back pass from Timonen and slid a seeing-eye shot past Holtby for a two-goal margin at 18:16. It did little to dampen the spirits of the Capitals' braintrust.

"I thought it was a clean hit. I watched it live. I don't think it's a penalty at all. It's a game-changing call…they call it the way they think they see it. I'm also mad they didn't get an instigator after that," said Washington head coach Adam Oates.

His GM, George McPhee, took things one step further, saying that it was "a great hit."

These teams don't see each other until March 2 down in DC.

Schenn was later deemed out for the contest with the ambiguous "upper-body injury," while Flyers head coach Berube later revealed he saw the young forward before he was taken away for evaluation and said he looked OK.

Simmonds then made it 5-2 with 7:29 elapsed in the third period, bringing Holtby to his rear end in the crease before stuffing home a shot from the right post. One shift earlier, the Caps netminder stopped chances in front from Michael Raffl and Giroux, both of whom could have hit the net if not for hesitation to shoot.

At the outset, both teams adopted a conservative approach, no doubt unwilling to engage in the kinds of momentum swings which defined Sunday's 5-4 Capitals shootout win which saw the hosts score first, get down 4-1 in the third period then rally to force overtime.

The deliberate pace called to mind the grinding nature of old-school Patrick Division hockey between these franchises, where space was precious and fought for in all three zones. 

Scott Hartnell had the best Flyers chance of a 10-shot opening period, sprung by a Luke Schenn pass through a seam up the middle on a breakaway -- but his shot was muted by the time it got to Holtby.

Mason was only tested twice as the Caps flung nine shots on net, his best save a long pad stop on Mike Green followed by a Nicklas Backstrom rebound in front.

That lack of action might have contributed to his misplay of a loose puck atop his crease during a Washington carry-over power play, with Ovechkin taking advantage on a backhander from a sharp angle on the left side with 40 seconds elapsed in the second period. The Russian captain posted his 399th career score, and if he hits 400 in the next game, he'll surpass countryman Pavel Bure for sixth-fastest all time.

It was tied 58 seconds later, when Voracek took a Braydon Coburn feed in the neutral zone and pumped a shot home from the right circle off a 2-on-1 rush.

"I even surprised myself," quipped the ginger Czech, referencing his normal desire to pass in those situations. 

The Capitals went back on top just after the 5 1/2 minute mark. Troy Brouwer chased a Martin Erat dump-in along the right-wing side untouched, and Fehr jumped into a seam on that side of the ice, took a pass from the rushing forward and beat Mason top corner to the far side.

Read pulled the hosts even with 8:54 on the second-period clock, as the puck found him during a goalmouth scramble to the left of Holtby for a successful low shot. Steve Downie did much of the work, tying up his Caps defender to allow his linemate a chance.

Notes: The Sunday-Tuesday set was the first home-and-home series between the Flyers and Capitals since Mar. 7-8, 1985, which the Flyers swept (9-6 and 4-2) en route to the division title ... Tuesday's victory meant Philly hasn't lost a home-and-home to Washington since Mar. 25-27, 1982 (4-3 loss and 4-4 tie) ... Voracek posted his second multi-goal effort of the season and first since netting a pair at Ottawa on Nov. 12 ... Mason has surrendered three goals or fewer in three of his last four appearances since giving up four each in losses to Dallas and Ottawa on Dec. 7-9 ... Capitals forward Mikhail Grabovski missed his second straight game with the flu which caused him to be a late scratch on Sunday ... The Capitals recalled forward Casey Wellman from Hershey of the AHL ... Chris VandeVelde, signed to a one-year deal earlier in the week, recorded his first point as a Flyer with a secondary assist on Streit's power-play marker ... The hosts have won seven in a row on home ice since a Nov. 9 victory over Edmonton.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ghost and the selfishness of need

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Look out, because I'm the latest to take off and leap onto the Ghost Train. Except I'm hanging on long enough to reach the lead car looking for the hand brake.

The ground swell to pump up Union College junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere as an elite college player, crossed with the Philadelphia Flyers' desperate need for a blueliner with puck-moving skills, is threatening to get silly.

Simply put, when a player commits to a Division I program, the expectation is that he is prepared to fulfill the terms of that scholarship and play all four seasons, barring unforeseen circumstances. I firmly believe any NHL team which holds a college player's rights has no reason to expect that player to leave the program early, and should hold no power to coerce a player to leave under the guise of molding that player to the club's philosophy. I also believe that, once a player commits to a program, he or she shouldn't bail for greener pastures in the middle of his first season or any season for that matter unless it's a can't-miss proposition for reaching the NHL within a year.

Therefore, whatever you might think of Gostisbehere's abilities at the moment viewed through the prism of the glowing praise he's received recently, he still presumably has a season-and-a-half remaining in Schenectady before he may be subject to the unique scrutiny of the Philadelphia Flyers front office and the laser-like perception of its fan base.

From April of 2009: 

“We are pleased to have James in the fold and look forward to monitoring his development more closely,” said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren upon announcing James van Riemsdyk was signed to an entry-level deal. “It was a difficult decision for James to leave school, but we both believed that it was in his best interest to do so. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the University of New Hampshire, and in particular, Coach Dick Umile and his staff for not only their understanding but their dedicated work with James over the last two seasons.”

(Ed note: italics used for emphasis mine)

Reading closely, it doesn't paint the organization as either patient or willing to accept that the Division I college game can be treated in the same way Canadian juniors is, regarding prospect development. The presumption appears that an NHL club can exert more influence and monitor a draftee better in Kitchener or Regina rather than say, Durham or Denver. But it's the Flyers, who have been late to the D-I party and are just catching up, so take it with a grain of salt.

UNH is an offensively-oriented program under Umile. It has been as long as he's been head coach. That's been a necessity ever since the Wildcats moved into the Whittemore Center -- an Olympic-sized rink (200x100) whose dimensions favor teams which can skate and transition well, rather than ones which can bump and grind in the corners on a regulation-size (200x85) sheet. That is in direct contradiction with the spirit of the Orange and Black and what the current regime demands of its skaters.

JVR put up 34 points in 31 games during his freshman campaign, then posted 40 points in 36 games in his sophomore course before the Flyers pushed for advancement, sending out mild complaints at how Umile handled his development. He spent all of seven games in the AHL with the Phantoms before being deemed ready for prime time at the ripe old age of 20. Changes were demanded of the Jersey native's game, from a skater and passer to one who makes his living at the edge of the crease -- something which he was ill suited in Philadelphia but found a balance in Toronto.

In that case Holmgren certainly felt more pressure to present the second-overall selection in the 2007 draft as NHL ready than feeling any particular displeasure with the college game, but the emerging situation with Gostisbehere -- only a third-round pick -- is in danger of going down the same path.

With 16 points (6G, 10A) in 18 games thus far for the Dutchmen, it's not hard to believe, if that pace is maintained, that Holmgren will push for the Florida native to leave the comfort of upstate New York for the professional ranks. Game by game, the glaring gaps in speed, skill, positioning and savvy from the expensive veterans grow, and the apparent solution is only five hours away by car. It's also just 45 miles from Glens Falls to Schenectady, so how hard could it be to coax the young man to the Phantoms?

The future is always now, or at minimum, four months from now. For those who are wondering "when will then be now?" Soon. We can only hope it's not too soon.

Leaving a college program early is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. For every Charlie Coyle and Alex Chiasson, there's a Stephane Da Costa and J.T. Brown. Holmgren is not a gambling man on this level, but he certainly feels the strong pull of need due to a defense which is simultaneously too old and well paid for their performance and young but unproven.

Anthony Stolarz left Nebraska-Omaha with the Flyers' "blessing," for the London Knights, but what if Ghost decides to stick around and haunt Achilles Rink for his senior season? Will the sweet turn to sour?

Complicating matters further is the following excerpt from a mid-November interview from Penn State's Daily Collegian featuring Ken Schott, who covers Union hockey for the Daily Gazette:

"I would say he is one of the best players in the country. Gostisbehere certainly is the best defenseman in the country. He carries the puck with confidence. He isn't overhandling the puck as he had the past two years, which led to turnovers. And, for the most part, he has stayed away from taking the bad penalty ... I think Gostisbehere could make the jump to at least the AHL next season, if he chooses to forego his senior season. He does need the bulk up a little."

The up-sell here is obvious. Nonetheless, the future of the Flyers defense is precarious and important enough, and Gostisbehere enough of a treasured commodity, that the investment should be allowed to fully mature.

That means Holmgren will have to sit on his hands and bite his tongue as Union furthers his development as a player and person. It also means Gostisbehere will have to put up a strong front if any attempts at coercion are made. Keeping Gostisbehere anchored as the top d-man for the Dutchmen for his senior season can only further ensure the predictions can come true.

Abstract terms like "belong" and "deserve" have nothing to do with anything concrete, particularly if you're going to pin future hopes and dreams for a revamped back line on a single player. But if the praise is coming from all the right places, of course the Flyers will shelve the doubt and bank on the up side. That's the kind of thinking that has enraptured Ed Snider and entangled Holmgren in several messes during his Philly tenure. No reason for Gostisbehere to be caught in that web just yet.

Still, the college game is about the player and the person, not immediate prospects for NHL impact. The Flyers' front office must come to terms with that difference. Holmgren must realize that it's not about his team right now or next year. It's about Gostisbehere, and his opportunity to complete his commitment to his team and being given the chance to earn accolades without the noise of expectation. 

The 20-year-old's next appearance in Philadelphia should be this April, but as the Dutchmen's best player in the Frozen Four and not as a member of the organization.

St. Joseph's Prep knocks off Pittsburgh Central Catholic, wins Class 4A football title

On Sunday night in Hershey, PA, St. Joseph's Prep completed a miracle run to the Pennsylvania  football championship, striking several blows in favor of football from the region East of the Susquehanna River in the process.

The Hawks became the bellwether of the Philadelphia Catholic League in its fight to gain acceptance in the PIAA. They knocked off rival La Salle -- who steamrolled Prep four years ago en route to their own Class 4A championship, then took out 2001 champions and perennial powerhouses Neshaminy immediately after conquering 2002 titlist Parkland.

Saving the best for last, the Jesuit institution nestled in the heart of the Western portion of North Philadelphia knocked off previously unbeaten Pittsburgh Central Catholic, which was seeking its first state crown since 2007 as the top-ranked school in the Commonwealth.

It was a masterful performance, with 28 straight points in the second half against the top-ranked defense in PA, after being down 10-7 at intermission. Their 21 fourth-quarter points set a record for the Quad A title game, which had been 19 for Central Bucks West back in 1991.

Read the recap from the Inquirer, then get the scoop plus video highlights, from the Post-Gazette. 

According to several sites dialed into the high school game, the Prep endured the toughest schedule of any school, and passing through the gauntlet provided the greatest reward.

It marks the apex of a program which began its ascent towards relevance beyond the Delaware Valley with the 1997 Catholic League championship under Gil Brooks and culminated 90 miles West 16 years later with Gabe Infante at the helm.

The victory was so unexpected and monumental, that the school called its own number (218) and will not hold classes on Monday. Plans to officially celebrate the championship will be made shortly. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Flyers suffer late collapse in loss at Washington

Washington, DC -- Making history is not the way you want to go down in the opener of a key division home-and-home series.

But it happened on Sunday afternoon.

Nicklas Backstrom picked up the shootout winner,  capping  a rally  from a three-goal,  third-period deficit which sent Washington  past  Philadelphia, 5-4, in a Sunday contest from Verizon Center.

Each  team had  registered a  score  when Backstrom  beat Steve  Mason with  a forceful  forehander  to begin the  third and  final round. Sean Couturier was denied by Philipp Grubauer and the hosts gained the valuable extra point.

“It was unbelievable. Thanks to the guys…it was a good win, a good comeback," said Grubauer, who has begun to carve out a spot in the NHL after splitting last year between the ECHL champion Reading Royals and Hershey in the AHL. "We have a great offense. We can score, so every time you need a goal, it seems like we can put the puck in the net, which is good for us.” 

Only once before since the Eric Lindros era had the Flyers led by as many as three goals midway through regulation and failed to pick up two points. On December 26, 1992, the Orange and Black blew a 4-0 lead, fell behind 5-4 and rallied to tie on Lindros' penalty-shot in the final seconds.

Still, this one hurt and it was the first time in franchise history that Philly was up by three scores with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period at Washington and didn't at least tie.

“I’m not sure that we relaxed. I thought that we were in our end too much there at the end instead of making some plays and getting down in their end a little bit and killing time and getting some offensive chances,” said Flyers head coach Craig Berube, who lost his first crack at Washington in a 7-0 embarrassment on Nov. 1.

Mike  Green, Dmitry Orlov  and Alex Ovechkin tallied in a span of 7:52 late in regulation  to  wipe out a 4-1  margin for the  Capitals, who have won four of five.

Grubauer stopped 24 shots for Sunday's victors, who moved to 12-3-0 this season when scoring first and who also specialize in late-game comebacks.

The unexpected setback overshadowed the performance of Michael  Raffl as he posted a career-best three assists for the Flyers, who host the Caps  on  Tuesday having dropped  five of  their last seven. Couturier, Claude Giroux,  Mark  Streit and  Jakub Voracek  also lit the  lamp, while Mason made 29 saves.

The  Capitals produced  the game's first goal on their second power play, when Ovechkin  elected  to pass rather  than blast away from  his usual spot in the left circle and the pass was tipped in by Marcus Johansson at 11:17.

Giroux  evened the score  inside of a minute left in the first, taking Raffl's pass and one-timing it home from the right circle.

Raffl  picked up an  errant Washington pass in the neutral zone and fed Streit for a successful shot off the rush from the left wing at 7:37 of the second to put Philly ahead.

Couturier victimized Grubauer on a shot from a severe angle to the left of the Caps'  net, giving the visitors a 3-1 edge at 2:18 of the third period. It was a  three-goal  spread 74 seconds  later when  Voracek redirected a Raffl blast from atop the crease.

The Caps awoke from their slumber to force overtime.

Green got one back for the hosts with 8:40 remaining on a rising shot from the right  point, then  Orlov's floater from the point after a left-circle faceoff win brought the Caps within one as 3:31 showed on the clock.

“He’s playing with confidence…He’s good, maybe he’s going to be in future Olympics,” Ovechkin said of his compatriot.

Washington  skated 6-on-5 when Ovechkin's low, blistering drive from below the circles zipped by Mason with 47.9 seconds to go.

The  luck continued  to go the Capitals'  way. On the first shootout try, Eric Fehr  shot and  Mason appeared to make  the save, but the puck trickled inches over  the goal line  before being swept out. Giroux scored in the second round to keep Philly alive.

Notes: Ovechkin  passed Mike Gartner (397) for second on the Capitals' all-time goal-scoring list. Peter Bondra (472) ranks first ... Washington improved to 8-3 in shootouts and leads the NHL with 10 wins beyond regulation, while Philadelphia fell  to 1-3  in  the game-deciding  breakaway competition  ...  Streit's tally gave him 300 career points ... Prior to  the contest,  the  Caps recalled forward Michael  Latta from Hershey of the AHL -- since  Mikhail Grabovski  was a  late  scratch with  the flu  -- and  assigned defenseman Nate Schmidt to Hershey.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Extra Points: Trestman makes bold decision, bad mistake | Local 24 News | News, Weather and Sports for Memphis & the Mid-South | WATN-TV | LocalMemphis.com

Extra Points: Trestman makes bold decision, bad mistake | Local 24 News | News, Weather and Sports for Memphis & the Mid-South | WATN-TV | LocalMemphis.com

Union select MF Bone in MLS Re-Entry Draft

Chester, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union selected midfielder Corben Bone in Stage 1 of the Major League Soccer Re-Entry Draft.

Bone, 25, was selected by Chicago Fire with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 MLS Super Draft. At Wake Forest, the midfielder was named First Team All-American by the NSCAA in both 2008 & 2009. During his time as a Demon Deacon, he recorded 38 assists, which ranks second in school history. In 2008, he led the nation in assists with 17 on the year, setting a single-season record for Wake Forest. Bone was also a member of PDL side Carolina Dynamo in 2009.

"We like what Corben can offer to our team going forward,” said Team Manager John Hackworth.  “Our staff believes he has a lot of potential to contribute and we are happy to have the opportunity to add him to our squad as we continue to look to improve our roster this offseason."

In four seasons with Chicago Fire, the Texas native has appeared in 18 MLS games. In 2012, Bone scored two goals for Chicago in matches outside of MLS Play. He tallied the first goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to Michigan Bucks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup before notching the equalizing goal in a 2-2 draw during a friendly against Mexican side Santos Laguna.

Player: Corben Bone
Position: Midfielder
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 152 lbs.
Date of Birth: Sept. 16, 1988
Age: 25
Hometown: Plano, Texas
Citizenship: USA
Last Club: Chicago Fire
How Acquired: Selected in the first round of the MLS Re-Entry Draft

Schenn fined for Wednesday slash

It didn't get kicked all the way up to Brendan Shanahan's video review, but Brayden Schenn will be paying a penalty for slashing Chicago's Kris Versteeg.

NHL's Department of Player Safety ruled on Friday that Schenn will forfeit $2,230.77 -- the maximum allowed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement -- for treating Versteeg like a mighty redwood in Wednesday's 7-2 loss to the Blackhawks.

No penalty was assessed on the incident.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Flyers go the distance to reward one military family

As they have done throughout the years during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Philadelphia Flyers honor returning veterans at each regular-season and playoff home game.

During Thursday's 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, the club went above and beyond to make sure one family received a holiday blessing. 

The club surprised the Windish Family of Wilmington, DE, with a homecoming of their son who is serving in the United States Army at tonight's game. The Flyers, along with Private First Class Matthew Windish, arranged to surprise his family during the second period of tonight's game. 

Having no idea their son had actually already returned from the service, the Windish Family believed the Flyers were honoring their son in a video tribute. Windish emerged from a giant, gift-wrapped box and surprised his family during the game. Windish is in his second year of service in the Army, serving a year-long tour of duty in the Republic of Korea as a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic.

Here's video of the moment:

Below is a transcript of post-game interviews, from the Flyers:

Matt Windish, Army Private 1st Class

Windish family- big surprise here tonight. Mom, what was your initial reaction?
Mom: I was surprised. First I thought he was coming home, but then I didn’t think he was going to. I just thought it was going to be a video, but when they opened up that box and I saw his face… we have missed him so much this past year. It was an awesome surprise.

Matt, what was your reaction to this whole thing? Did you have a hand in planning it?
Matt: My brother did the whole thing for me. I just think that this is insanely awesome. I want to thank the Flyers- I want to thank everyone so much, my family, anyone for serving right now. This is awesome. I just wish that everyone that serves gets the opportunity to do this.

Dad, how great of a memory will this be? Watching your hometown Flyers play, and now getting this surprise from your son.
Dad: This is just awesome because I am a big Flyers fan. Every night I get a chance I like to watch them. Being out here by the ice, and seeing my son for the first time in a year is unbelievable. It is an awesome situation. I want to thank my sons for putting this together. This is the best Christmas present that I have ever had in my life.

Brother, where did you get the idea for this whole plan?
Chris: I’ve watched YouTube videos of people coming home, so I thought I would email the Flyers website saying, “I think you should bring my brother home.” Jason called me back. You should have seen me in my office. I was flipping out, people wondered what I was doing. I called my brother and told him what we were doing. We brought him home a week early, and had to hide him for a week. It was the hardest secret to keep even though they were badgering me about it. It is just an awesome feeling. Thank you Flyers, thank you Matt for serving, and thank you family for being here. We made it.

In terms of a Christmas gift, how great of a gift is this for you?
Matt: This is probably one of the best things in the whole entire world. This is insanely awesome. I just wish that everyone could get to experience this. I feel very grateful right now. 

How did you feel when they started chanting USA out there?
Matt: It was amazing. My heart started beating so fast I really had no clue what was going on. I went blank for a little bit.

Were you ever worried they weren’t going to open the box?
Matt: No, I wasn’t worried about that.

Do you two usually play jokes like this on your parents?
Matt: A little bit, but nothing ever this big.

How did you manage to hide him for a whole week?
Chris: We went up to York, PA where I went to college. I have some friends up there that held him hostage for a little bit, then he came home.
Matt: I just hung out with a few friends, tried to keep it low, stayed off of Facebook.
Mom: It was a great surprise because when Chris first told us about this I went on to his friends Facebook profiles just to see if anybody said anything like, “Matt’s home”- anything to get an inkling about it, but there was nothing. Everybody kept it a really good surprise.
Aunt: I knew he was home though, I felt that he was home.

Did you just have a hunch?
Aunt: We all felt it. I just knew he was coming home. I missed him, and I love him so much. It’s a great feeling
Dad: We told her, “Stop it. He’s not coming home and you’re going to get your hopes up. We just have to wait for the 20th when he is supposed to come home.” Here it is, he’s home. I don’t know what to say. Its unbelievable. Nothing has ever happened to me in my life, like this.  It is just fantastic.

You’re staying with them [family], is his room ready?
Mom: No, its not. I said, “Do I need to get his room ready?” Chris said no, so his room is not ready.
Chris: I am glad to have this guy home, its been a year and a half.
Matt: I am happy to see my family, this is crazy.

Phillies to bring in Hernandez

On the last day of the Winter Meetings, the Philadelphia Phillies picked up a veteran presence to fill out their starting rotation, dealing for Roberto Hernandez.

The contract is only for one year, a source reported to the Inquirer on Thursday, and is contingent upon his passing a physical.

"It's more of a depth guy," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said. "This is not someone who is going to slide into the top of the rotation. He's in the bottom of the rotation. But we need some depth. Again, we're trying to get the best bang for our buck. In this marketplace, it's tough because the prices have soared pretty significantly."

Formerly known as Fausto Carmona, Hernandez finished 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 151 innings over 32 appearances (24 starts) during his lone season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013.

Since breaking into the majors under an assumed name during the 2006 season with Cleveland, the 25-year-old native of the Dominican Republic holds a lifetime mark of 59-82 with a 4.17 ERA in 216 career appearances.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Blackhawks use second-period blitz to rout Flyers

Chicago, IL -- There are ways to lose to the best team in the NHL at the end of a long road trip which zipped between time zones, but Wednesday's path wasn't the most optimal, by a long shot.

Goals by Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw 39 seconds apart in the opening 1:22 of the second period erased a strong first 20 minutes, and a five-goal outburst in the middle frame stoked the Chicago Blackhawks to a resounding 7-2 victory over the Flyers at United Center.

Michal Handzus, Kris Versteeg and Jonathan Toews also produced red lights in the deciding period for the Blackhawks, who were coming off a 6-2 win at Dallas on Tuesday and have won three in a row after dropping three straight.

Antti Raanta picked up the win with 28 saves, as Chicago boosted its NHL-best point total to 51 and its league-high goal total to 129.

"I don't think it's something we ever talk about, it's just that silent, quiet confidence knowing that we have the ability to score goals and generate offense," Keith said of the team's prolific scoring pace.

Thirteen different host players recorded at least one point, with Sharp posting three points and Marian Hossa chipping in three helpers.

Jakub Voracek and Steve Downie tallied for the Flyers, who finished 2-4-0 on their six-game road trip.

In his return to Chicago, Ray Emery was shelled for six goals on 18 shots in just over two periods of work to take the loss. Steve Mason made four stops in the third.

The top line of Claude Giroux, Voracek and Scott Hartnell finished a dismal minus-9, not what you wanted to see for a team which fell to 2-6-1 without the services of Vincent Lecavalier.

"It looked at times like they were playing against kids out there," said Hartnell in the understatement of the season so far.

In four of the last five games in the road swing, the Flyers gave up multiple goals in tight time spans, and the only time it didn't hurt them was in a 6-3 victory at Detroit one week ago. 

The barrage began when Patrick Sharp fed Keith for a successful left-point blast in the middle portion of Chicago's initial power play at the 43-second mark.

Shaw put the 'Hawks ahead to stay 39 seconds later, fooling Andrej Meszaros behind the Flyers' net and scoring on a wraparound at the right post.

Handzus finished off a 2-on-1 short-handed break with a shot from the left side of the crease which tipped off his skate and stick to make it 3-1 Chicago at 5:27.

Philly got it back while up a man 44 seconds later, with Downie being credited on the final push in a goalmouth scramble, only to see Versteeg convert a Brandon Saad pass on the doorstep just after the next advantage expired and give the hosts a 4-2 edge just prior to the midway point.

Emery did the splits facing the crease to stop Toews in close minutes later, but couldn't stop a screamer from Sharp that caromed off Toews atop the crease for a 5-2 game at 14:15.

"You can't make excuses," Emery said. "As a whole, we have to play better in the second."

Brent Seabrook managed to snap his stick in half on a right-point drive, which still knuckled its way past Emery for a 6-2 Blackhawks' edge at 1:05 of the third.

Raanta kept up his end of the bargain despite some shoddy play, as he casually gloved down a Brayden Schenn short-handed breakaway, then Michael Raffl failed on his chance alone on the Chicago netminder on the following shift.

Sharp's shot from the left post seconds into a Blackhawks two-man edge boosted the hosts to a 7-2 lead and the hosts took their collective foot off the gas.

Things were much different for Philadelphia early on. Voracek's low shot from the left circle zipped home inside the far post in the early stages of a power play with 7:29 remaining in the first period.

After a second advantage fell by the wayside, Raanta stood firm in his crease to stop a Downie breakaway, but the visitors led by one after 20 minutes and enjoyed a 10-6 shot margin.

Notes: Tuesday's five-goal margin marked the Blackhawks' largest in a win over Philadelphia at home since a similar 7-2 result on Feb. 11, 1973 at Chicago Stadium ... Chicago hadn't scored at least six goals in three straight games since doing so from Jan. 21-24, 1993 -- all 6-2 wins (vs. Washington, Hartford and Vancouver) ... The Blackhawks halted a three-game regular-season losing streak to the Flyers, since a 5-1 decision in Chicago on Dec. 26, 2008 ... Philadelphia fell to 17-28-19 all-time in Chicago, but 7-4-1 since October of 1993 ... The Blackhawks entered play ranked 28th on the penalty kill (74.7 percent) and gave up two goals on five chances.