Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sixers beat Pistons, won't challenge own NBA record

Philadelphia, PA -- Robert Covington made four 3-pointers en route to 19 points for the Philadelphia 76ers, who snapped a six-game losing streak with an 89-69 win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday and managed to officially avoid a dubious part of their history.

With their ninth victory of the season, Philly equaled the win total which stands as the fewest in NBA history at nine, set during their still-standing worst record of 9-73 in 1972-73. Since there are 36 games remaining in the current season, the 76ers will apparently not come close to challenging that benchmark for futility.

Michael Carter-Williams returned from a one-game absence to finish with 14 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Sixers, who improved to 4-18 at home this season.

JaKarr Sampson added 13 points and eight boards for Philadelphia. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute tallied 12 points and Henry Sims and K.J. McDaniels each scored 10 points.

"We're getting better," said Sixers coach Brett Brown. "We try to teach these young guys to never take their foot off the pedal. We have no right to be complacent at any point, so we try to wind these guys up all day, every play, every day."

Greg Monroe ended with 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, who have lost four in a row. Jodie Meeks had 19 points on 4-of-16 shooting against his former team.

Holding a 6-4 lead, the Sixers went on a 22-4 run to take control. The Pistons missed 12 straight shots during the stretch that resulted in a 28-8 margin.

"Obviously, it was very difficult. We weren't ready to play. I don't think I've ever coached a game where one team's effort was that much better than my team's effort," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said of his team's start.

Detroit responded with the final eight points of the first quarter to get within 12. The Pistons then outscored Philadelphia by a 21-20 margin in the second to make it 48-37 at the half.

But the Sixers led by at least nine throughout the second half.

Notes: Carter-Williams missed Monday's loss to the Pelicans with an illness ... The Pistons have dropped four straight on the road ... Philadelphia shot 47.4 percent from the field, while holding Detroit to 30.7 percent ... Jonas Jerebko had 10 points for the Pistons, who went 2-of-20 from beyond the arc.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Monty back in old slot with Phillies

Pat Gillick will continue as the Philadelphia Phillies' president and David Montgomery, the club's longtime president who had been on a medical leave of absence, will return as the team's chairman, the Phillies announced Wednesday.

Gillick assumed the role of president back in August when Montgomery took a leave of absence. He has served as a senior advisor to the president and general manager for the Phillies since handing over the reins to Ruben Amaro, Jr. shortly after the club won the 2008 World Series. He told Todd Zolecki of that he hadn't planned on remaining with the club in 2016, but changed his mind.

"I am fortunate to be healthy enough now to resume some of my previous responsibilities," Montgomery said in a statement. "I am very appreciative that Pat Gillick is willing and available to remain as the club's president. Pat and I have become very close since he joined us in the fall of 2005. I look forward to returning to work as Phillies chairman."

Montgomery was named president of the Phillies in 1997, succeeding Bill Giles. He first joined the Phillies in 1971 at an entry-level position and advanced through the sales and marketing departments to become the executive vice president in 1981 when a group including Giles bought the franchise from the Carpenter family, then was named chief operating officer in 1992.

Giles, the team's current chairman, will take on the role of chairman emeritus.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

La Salle caps Big 5 slate by downing SJU

Philadelphia, PA -- Jerrell Wright finished with a double- double of 19 points and 10 rebounds as the La Salle Explorers knocked off their Big 5 rival, the Saint Joseph's Hawks, 53-48, in Atlantic 10 Conference play at Tom Gola Arena.

Cleon Roberts netted 14 points for La Salle (11-9, 3-4 A-10) while Steve Zack led the Explorers in rebounding with 12, but shot only 1-of-7 from the floor. Khalid Lewis contributed to the victory with eight points, five boards and five assists.

DeAndre Bembry led the Hawks (8-11, 2-5) with 20 points, seven rebounds and five steals. Isaiah Miles finished with 10 points and seven boards in the loss.

Phil Martelli's squad finished City Series play 2-2, while Dr. John Giannini's charged ended up with the same record after beating Penn prior to Tuesday.

The Hawks held a 27-18 advantage going into halftime after they limited the Explorers to just 6-of-24 shooting from the field in the opening period, which included a 1-of-8 mark from 3-point distance. Saint Joseph's netted 35.5 percent of its field goal attempts, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.

La Salle turned it around in the final period, as it connected on 48.2 percent of its field goal tries. The Hawks were held to a 33.3 shooting percentage in the second half, a mere a 1-of-10 mark from 3-point range.

The Explorers, who trailed by as many as 15 late in the first half, outscored the visitors at the free-throw line, 11-2.

Home fans added some spice to the long-time rivalry by staging a mock funeral for the iconic Hawk, who is a fixture at all SJU games and is known for his constant wing-flapping during play.

Mason returns to lead Flyers to 4-3 shootout victory over Coyotes

Image courtesy Amy Irvin -
by: Hal Greenblatt
Phanatic Hockey Writer

Philadelphia, Pa -- Wayne Simmonds scored in the shootout for the Flyers as Steve Mason made all three saves, as the Flyers beat Arizona, 4-3.

Wayne Simmonds, RJ Umberger and Michael Del Zotto all scored for the Flyers. Mark Streit, Claude Giroux, Andrew MacDonald, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare all recorded assists. Steve Mason entered the game in relief of Ray Emery after Emery allowed two goals on four shots. Mason finished the night with 24 saves. The Flyers have now won two in a row, and three of their last four.

Connor Murphy, Martin Erat, and Tobias Riedzer were the goal scorers for Arizona. Erat also had an assist. Shane Doan recorded two assists while Andrew Campbell, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Antoine Vermette each notched an assist. Mike Smith was strong in net for Arizona, making several highlight reel saves, en route to stopping 39/42 Flyer shots. Alas, the Coyotes have now lost seven straight.

In typical Flyer fashion, the Orange and Black jumped on the ice without a care in the world. Arizona would quickly jump on the lackluster Flyers, chasing Ray Emery to the bench, just 5:50 into the game.

"You feel for Razor," Mason said of Emery being pulled. "These games after long layoffs are real difficult for goalies. It was my job as the backup tonight to try and salvage something."

Connor Murphy got the scoring started, potting his third goal of the season at 3:33. Martin Erat would score on a big rebound, and severe defensive overplay by the entire team, as he shot the puck passed Emery.

Despite head coach Craig Berube's quick trigger on pulling Emery, he did not feel the team came out flat.

"I didn't think the team was flat, really," Berube stated. "I felt we needed something to boost us, give us life."

Steve Mason quickly entered the game, and the tide immediately turned. Rarely tested, Mason was up to the task saving all six shots he saw in the first period.

"It's almost probably easier not to expect anything and get thrown in," Mason spoke of his first game back since injury. "With the long layoff, there is obviously room for improvement."

Philadelphia would finally get on the scoreboard, as Wayne Simmonds notched his 17th of the year, a power play goal, off a rebound from a Mark Streit shot.

The Flyers, despite losing 2-1 after the first period, controlled the final twelve minutes and would carry that momentum into the second period.

Philadelphia dominated the early part of the second period, and if it were not from some spectacular saves by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith (particularly on RJ Umberger), the Flyers would have had an insurmountable lead.

"Since early December, I've accepted my role and understood it more," Umberger said, while discussing his improved play.

Despite getting rejected on three separate one-time opportunities, Umberger continued to attack, as he tied the score at two a piece with 6:05 remaining in the period. Umberger took a pass from Andrew MacDonald and roofed the tying goal passed Smith for his ninth of the year.

The Flyers would continue to attack, leading to a beautiful snipe by Michael Del Zotto at 18:59. Del Zotto came in along the left wing, took a pass from Jake Voracek and skated in towards Smith. As Smith attempted to take away the near side angle, Del Zotto beat Smith up high to give the Flyers a lead, albeit, a short one. Just 24 seconds later, Coyotes winger Tobias Riedzer took a Shane Doan stretch pass to beat Mason on a breakaway, leaving the teams knotted at three, entering the third period.

"Those are goals you can't give up," Mason said regarding the tying goal with under one minute remaining in the second. "We can't have those opportunities and they can't be scoring goals at that time."

The Flyers and Coyotes played to a scoreless third period, but it was not without its action, as both teams had their chances. Alas, sixty minutes was not enough, as these two teams would head to overtime.

An extra session would not decide a winner, so the dreaded shootout waited for the Flyers, who entered with a record of 1-5.

But tonight would be different for the Broad Street Bullies. Despite battling the flu all weekend, Mason would deny the Coyotes on their three attempts, and the fans screams reaching a crescendo, it would be the "Wayne Train" scoring to send the Flyers faithful home happy.

Notes: The Flyers improved to 2-5 in the shootout while the Coyotes dropped to 3-4. . .Claude Giroux led the Flyers in hits with 9. . .Petr Straka had 13 shifts and 10:08 of ice time in his NHL debut...Ryan White won three of eight face-offs in his Flyer debut. . .Jake Voracek improved his league leading point total to 57 with a second period assist. . .

Monday, January 26, 2015

NHL pins 8-game suspension on Rinaldo

It's officially Ryan White's turn to give the organization what he's got after recovering from surgery due to an offseason training mishap.

On Monday, the National Hockey League levied an eight-game suspension to Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo for his unprovoked hit from behind against Penguins defenseman Kris Letang in the first period of last Tuesday's 3-2 overtime victory.

For Rinaldo, it's the third time he's felt the sting of league discipline since being called up to the NHL during the 2011-12 season and the first in only nine months since his four-game rap for elbowing Buffalo's Chad Ruhwedel.

It's also the most severe punishment dealt to any member of the Philadelphia on-ice product since Jody Shelley was hit with a 10-game ban (five in the preseason and five in the regular season) for exhibition shenangians in September of 2011.

As a repeat offender, the decision from NHL Player Safety head Stephane Quintal was made quite easily, and even more so as Rinaldo declined an in-person hearing which ensured at least a 6-game issuance. We can continue to speculate if the punishment should have been harsher.

Under the terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on his average annual salary, Rinaldo will have to fork over $73,170.72 which automatically goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

He will not be eligible to return until Feb. 17, when the Orange and Black kick off a four-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Rinaldo's offense is tied for the sixth longest handed down to a Flyer in their history. Jesse Boulerice was given a 25-game ban -- one which effectively ended his career in the NHL -- back in October of 2007 for doing the dirt to Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. That occurred several weeks after Steve Downie was presented with a 20-game absence and one which was honored in the AHL, for acting like a cruise missile during a hit on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond.

Dave Brown was slammed with a 15-game suspension in November of 1987 for breaking the jaw of Rangers forward Tomas Sandstrom with a cross-check. Hextall himself was sent away for the first 12 games of the 1989-90 season for his revenge attack on Habs defenseman Chris Chelios in the previous year's Wales Conference Finals, and Rick Tocchet was forced to sit out 10 games for gouging the eye of Islanders defenseman Dean Chynoweth during an October 1988 fight. 

Shelley was mentioned above and Hextall's original disciplinary action from the league stemmed from his two-handed slash to the back of the legs of Edmonton's Kent Nilsson in the 1987 Finals. That earned him a seat for the first eight games of the 1987-88 season.

White was officially recalled from a conditioning stint with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The 26-year-old, who shares a birth city with Flyers GM Ron Hextall, totaled a goal and two assists in 11 games for the Phantoms. He picked up six points in 50 games for the Montreal Canadiens last year.

Wildcats hold Sunday feast on Bluejays

Villanova, PA -- Darrun Hilliard scored a season-best 24 points and fourth-ranked Villanova blitzed Creighton on Sunday, holding the Bluejays to 37.3 percent shooting in a 71-50 win at the Pavilion on Sunday afternoon.

Ryan Arcidiacono added 10 points as five players had between five and eight for the Wildcats (18-2, 5-2 Big East), who shook off a rare 20-point loss against Georgetown on Monday.

James Milliken scored 13 points to pace Creighton (9-12, 0-8), which remained winless in league play and has matched a program record with nine straight losses.

The Jesuit program based in Omaha beat 'Nova twice last season and produced the Wildcats' last true home loss, a 96-68 drubbing on Jan. 20, 2014. 

"I've got good kids on my team and we've got a good culture in our locker room," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "I think that's allowed us to stay relatively together through some challenging times."

Villanova locked down over the first 20 minutes and just about put the game out of reach by halftime. Creighton had nearly as many turnovers (12) as points (14) at the break, and would have had more if it wasn't for Avery Dingman's 3 just before the buzzer. No Bluejay had more than one field goal or three points at halftime.

"Tonight was a really good defensive effort for us," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "I think Georgetown exposed (us) so that is what we really focused on this week."

The Wildcats scored the game's first 15 points. Creighton countered with the next six, then went cold again. Hilliard hit a pair of 3s during a 10-0 run late in the half that made it 29-11 before Dingman's trey cut the deficit to 15 at intermission.

Creighton was within 11 points following Milliken's three-point play early in the second half. Villanova scored nine of the next 11 points, however, and the lead was back to 18.

Notes: Hilliard was shooting 7-for-25 over his last three games. He hit 9-of-15, including 6-of-10 from distance, in this one ... Villanova has won 29 of 30 home games against unranked opponents ... Creighton's only previous nine-game losing streak came in 1995.

Voracek, in same breath as Lemieux, jobbed for ASG MVP

Columbus, OH -- The charmed season of Jakub Voracek continued in the resumption of All-Star festivities this weekend in Ohio's capital.

Already the league's leading scorer with 56 points as the National Hockey League paused for the first time in three years to put its top players on display, Voracek returned to the city he originally called home in North America and managed to perform a feat no other Philadelphia Flyer had accomplished previously.

In Team Toews' record-setting 17-12 victory over Team Foligno, he recorded a hat trick and became just the second player in the history of the sport to finish with six points. The other, Mario Lemieux -- though not in his powerful performance in Pittsburgh 25 years ago -- instead did it in a 6-5 overtime win by the Wales Conference over the Campbell Conference in St. Louis back in 1988.

And now that Voracek will be permanently matched with the Hall-of-Fame Penguins owner when we talk about All-Star scoring records, what was his reward? The satisfaction of his feat being exaggerated by future generations of hockey fans from the Delaware Valley and beyond. Because it certainly wasn't dominating enough to overcome the fix that was in once Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen gained MVP honors despite playing on a losing team.

"I think it's a little different, Voracek and Lemieux, right?" Voracek said. "No, but I had three secondary assists so I wouldn't get too excited about that. We had so many good players on each team. There was going to be a lot of goals.

OK, Jake. You go play like you have to play over the next 34 games, and the rest of us can do it for you. We'll also be screaming from the rooftops that you got jobbed. 

Things weren't much different back in 1980, the one and only time a member of the Orange and Black was voted the best player in an All-Star Game.

At Joe Louis Arena, the last mid-season classic appearance by Gordie Howe and the first for Wayne Gretzky, the Wales Conference took out the Campbell Conference by a 6-3 count thanks to six different players scoring. But it was Reggie Leach, on his way to recording his second and final 50-goal campaign, who somehow stole the spotlight with a goal and assist for the losing side.

No such luck for Mr. Hockey, then the NHL's all-time leading scorer, to gain extra recognition in his home arena. C'est la vie say the old folks. Goes to show you never can tell.

There have been a few good efforts since then that failed to draw sufficient notice. Mark Recchi netted a goal and four assists in a 16-6 Wales victory at Montreal in 1993, and John LeClair (2G, 1A) helped the East win 11-7 in San Jose four years later. Neither of those locations were of a particular comfort to either player.

Voracek looked comfortable in rolling out a career night in a place where he spent his first three seasons, and the man he was dealt for, Jeff Carter, was nowhere in sight.

"I saw people who I haven't seen forever," Voracek said. "Obviously I still have a lot of friends here. Even at the rink, when I walk in there was a lot of people I know. Hockey-wise, you're around the best players in the world. It's pretty special."

Despite the hidden symbolism and awkward positioning of Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau when he was plucked from the waiting line to essentially be Voracek's shooting proxy during Saturday night's skills competition, it was clear that the Czech native was intent on soaking up every last second of the good times.

"The last few days," Voracek said, "have been a lot of the most fun in hockey that I've ever had."

Once he returns to Philadelphia, the scenario is familiar, but less amusing.  Voracek and Claude Giroux (1G, 2A) are the leading 1-2 punch in the NHL with a combined 107 points but the lack of scoring depth has the club operating at 2.71 goals per game.

Giroux has been passed over twice for Hart Trophy consideration in each of the past two full seasons, and Voracek was left hanging after a performance which goes in the record books. You wonder what it will take for either player to be given his proper due with some hard-earned hardware.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Patience personified...Flyers collegiate prospects

Ladies and gentlemen, accept no substitutes.

Anyone can steal a piece of the glory and attention by retweeting or repackaging stats which they've found by grazing certain site from one or two nights before.

I assure you, as long as I'm active on social media and writing, my interest and knowledge is backed by 25 years of following the college game which encompasses four years as a student at Boston College plus 15 additional years of observing and attending games as a broadcaster and writer across multiple conferences.

The final of my three wide-ranging columns this weekend focuses on an almost-intentionally ignored part of the Flyers' development game: draft picks who have decided on personal and professional development through Division I hockey.

While there's little flash and dash and less of a sure thing than Shayne Gostisbehere -- who is already climbing up the ranks from the American Hockey League -- the Flyers currently have six draftees who are plying their trade in the American collegiate ranks.

The following is a breakdown of each player, ranked by seniority, along with the status of their respective teams. 

Michael Parks -- Senior forward, North Dakota: The 22-year-old native of St. Louis and fifth-round pick of the Flyers in 2010 finished this past weekend with a goal and two assists as the Fighting Sioux swept Colorado College at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

On Friday, Parks set up Mark MacMillan's tying goal before netting the game-winner while his club was short-handed at the 6:37 mark of the third period. In Saturday's 5-3 victory against the Tigers, Parks added another helper on a MacMillan tally. For the season, he is tied for the team lead with 26 points along with Drake Caggiula, tied for the most assists (17) with Jordan Schmaltz and third on the club with nine goals. If you believe in its efficacy, he's also second on the squad with a plus-12 despite logging significant minutes at times on both ends of the special-teams work. He's picked up four game-winning goals, two power-play and two short-handed markers.

Why you should watch: North Dakota, which lost a painful Frozen Four semifinal to Minnesota last April in Philadelphia, is riding a 6-1-0 streak and picked up the nation's No.1 ranking in the first USCHO poll of the new year and looks to remain in the No.2 spot when the new poll is released tomorrow afternoon.

Projection: At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, he's clearly an undersized forward. However, with good speed, good hands, and ability to perform successfully in nearly any situation on ice, he's going to be a valuable asset. Ron Hextall would definitely be wise to dump one of either Jay Rosehill or Zack Stortini in order to make room on the first/second line with the Phantoms next season.

Nick Luukko -- Senior defenseman, University of Vermont: The player taken one round later than Parks, the Catamount defenseman is a bottom-pair blueliner for Kevin Sneddon's stingy defense. Over the weekend, he was limited to two shots on goal, was a minus-2 and did not record a point as UVM was blitzed in two straight (4-2, 2-1) by Jack Eichel and his merry band of Boston University Terriers at Gutterson Field House.

During his final collegiate campaign, the West Chester, PA native ranks third amongst team defensemen with eight points in 25 games -- on a club whose leading scorer at present is 2011 Blackhawks draftee and senior Mike Paliotta.

Why you should watch: Basically, you should do your part to increase the visibility of college hockey in the eastern part of the Commonwealth by attending next Saturday's Penn State-Vermont contest. Luukko is a key cog in the wheel of the third-best overall team defense in the country (1.88 goals per game) taking on the Nittany Lions, who are now tied for sixth in the nation in offense (3.48 goals per game). Beyond that, Vermont is part of a hugely competitive top level in Hockey East, and can finish anywhere from second to eighth depending on how they fare in their late-season conference slate which includes four total games against Boston College and UMass-Lowell.

Projection: Though not on the order of when Russ Farwell decided to take Ryan Sittler seventh-overall in the 1992 draft, it was clear that Paul Holmgren's selection of Luukko was a favor to former Comcast employee, his father Peter. If the younger Luukko decides to continue his professional career, he'd do well starting out with Reading in the ECHL.

Reece Willcox -- Junior defenseman, Cornell University: Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft and a product of the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League, the 20-year-old left-handed shooter has posted just four points (1G, 3A) in 18 games this season for the Big Red, last season's ECAC champs who won't be repeating this year thanks to an 8-9-0 overall record. He was held off the scoreboard in Friday's 3-2 win over Harvard at Lynah Rink, exiting early with an undisclosed injury and then did not dress for Saturday's 5-2 home loss to Dartmouth. 

Why you should watch: Willcox and his fellow Cornellians entered the weekend operating at a 90.6 percent success rate on the penalty kill -- third best in the country. Also, as shown in this video from earlier in the season, he can move the puck with confidence and his shot has some weight and speed to it from distance.

Projection: With the way Hextall has stocked the minors with Division I talent, no reason why Willcox couldn't remain with the franchise on a minor-league deal to start. If Cornell could generate more offense through either a better recruiting class next year or a shift in philosophy from head coach Mike Schafer, Willcox's game can bloom where he may be compared to a Mark Alt. 

Merrick Madsen -- Freshman goaltender, Harvard University: Taken in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, this lanky, 19-year-old Idaho native finds himself gaining valuable experience simply by soaking up what incumbent senior Steve Michalek (12-4-2, 2.12 GAA) has been doing for the fourth-ranked Crimson. He's only appeared in one game so far, in relief of Michalek, giving up two goals in 43 minutes in a 5-1 loss to St. Lawrence last weekend.

Why you should watch: Not for Madsen himself, but for the esteemed denizens of Cambridge themselves, who knocked off then-No. 1 Boston University in late November and currently rank second in ECAC Hockey with an 8-3-2 record. There's a local connection here, as junior forward Kyle Criscuolo is a native of South Jersey and attended St. Joseph's Prep in North Philadelphia before heading north to New England prep hockey in order to secure notice from top tier colleges.

Projection: Madsen simply needs more work, and Crimson head coach Ted Donato hasn't been shy about riding his upperclassman in the crease. With Michalek set to move on, it will be incumbent upon Madsen to keep an even keel through his frosh campaign and then train vigorously in the offseason so that he'll come back to campus with gaining the starting spot clearly in mind. There's always juniors if he feels he won't get a fair shake in the Ivy League.

Mark Friedman -- Freshman defenseman, Bowling Green University: Philadelphia's third-round pick in this past June's draft has been a significant factor in his new team's rise to the upper echelon of the WCHA (11-3-2) and inside the top 10 national rankings (No. 6 at 15-5-4). Friedman has scored a point in five straight and nine of the last 11 games (1G, 10A). Over the weekend, he contributed three assists and a blocked shot as the Falcons split with Lake Superior State (1-3, 3-1). His 14 points ranks second to Pierre-Luc Mercier among BGSU blueliners.

Why you should watch: The Toronto-area native has a two-game set against Matt Read's Bemidji State looming next Friday and Saturday. With 10 goals and 40 points in 51 games with Waterloo of the USHL last season, his offensive upside can only expand with time and increased responsibility. Like Parks for Dave Hakstol, Chris Bergeron is growing more comfortable playing Friedman in different situations.

Projection: Now that Gostisbehere's made the pros, Friedman is most likely the defensive prospect with the greatest potential even at this early stage of his development. The rest of the story should be filled in appropriately as long as he remains with the university.

David Drake -- Freshman defenseman, University of Connecticut: A testament to the Chicago-area native's path well under the radar after being taken in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, was that I didn't even realize UConn had a player on the Flyers' radar until I spied Kjell Samuelsson lurking in the underbelly of XL Center after the Huskies hosted Boston College back in the first week of November and won a hard-fought 1-0 decision.

Drake, 20, is coming off two years with Des Moines in the USHL. He posted five blocked shots as his team lost 6-1 and tied 3-3 against Notre Dame in a home-and-home series last weekend. He's tied for sixth on the club with 28 blocks, so he's got the basis for learning how to position his 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame. Connecticut has been a cradle rocker in its first season inside Hockey East, going 4-6-2 in conference with wins over BC, Vermont and UMass Lowell to its credit.

It may very well be that the prospect with the greatest potential to have an impact on the franchise has already left college.

Anthony Stolarz, if he had stayed where he was instead of jumping to juniors, would no doubt be the stud junior incumbent starter on Nebraska-Omaha. Who knows, he very well could have been the difference between the Mavericks being tied for the NCHC lead (9-4-1 along with UND) and blowing the likes of Parks and North Dakota out of the water for that automatic NCAA tournament bid. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quakers down Hawks in Big 5 action

Philadelphia, PA -- Tony Hicks scored 15 points as the Penn Quakers defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks, 56-52, in a Big 5 battle at The Palestra on Saturday.

Darien Nelson-Henry added 14 points and five rebounds for the Quakers (5-10). Greg Louis contributed 10 points and nine rebounds as Penn broke a two-game losing streak.

The hosts finished City Series play with a 1-3 record. 

As for the Hawks (8-10), DeAndre' Bembry scored 25 points and Chris Wilson added 10 rebounds in the loss, their sixth in the last eight contests. SJU completes its City Series slate on Tuesday against La Salle, having beaten Temple and lost to Villanova.

In a low scoring first half, the Hawks shot just 25.8 percent from the field and made only 1-of-10 from 3-point range. The Quakers connected on 42.1 percent of their shots and finished the half on a 12-4 run to take a 20-17 lead into the break.

In the second half Penn shot 50.0 percent from the field and recorded an 8-1 advantage on second chance points. Saint Joseph's shot 42.9 percent from the field but 4-of-14 beyond the arc after missing three 3-point tries in the final seconds.

Penn, which outscored the Hawks 16-7 at the free-throw line, survived 19 turnovers on the evening.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Phantoms and Royals: Minor League breakdown

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

As of this evening, with the Phantoms finishing up their pre-All-Star road schedule with a 4-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch, the Flyers' highest minor-league affiliate is scraping against respectability with a (19-16-5) record.

That's good enough for third place in the East Division, three points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and five ahead of Binghamton.

In the conference playoff race, Lehigh Valley sits tied for 11th place with Bridgeport and four points back of the eighth and final playoff spot. Problem is, the team which occupied that slot before tonight, the Albany Devils, have beaten the Phantoms handily three straight times in a four-game season series and have the primary tiebreaker wrapped up if it comes down to that. Worcester dropped to eighth, and the Phantoms have split two games already with only two more on tap.

Thanks to a beneficial early-season schedule with plenty of Wednesday matchups that preclude the dreaded three-in-three weekend sojourns common to the league, the Phantoms have two games in hand on the Devils and three each on the P-Bruins and Baby Pens whom they're chasing for playoff positioning. It's something Andrew Gordon cautioned against, the cushion and luxury of games in hand, which are only valuable with wins and points.

Next weekend, following the All-Star festivities in Utica, the club has a 3-in-3 with two at home and one on the road, but escapes for one week only before a two-road, one-home weekend set from Feb. 13-15. They've finished 4-3-2 over nine games in three previous 3-in-3s this season after dropping two of three last weekend (Albany, Binghamton, at Hershey).

Terry Murray has spent the bulk of his direction since taking over as head coach in 2012 concentrating on defense and puck pursuit inside all three zones to aid a transition game. Before last season's collapse, a mid-season run of stinginess had the club in the top 10 of fewest goals allowed and lowest average goals-per-game, before the bottom completely dropped out.

This season, it's been a similar story with veterans Brandon Manning, Oliver Lauridsen along with defensive prospects Mark Alt, Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere, Jesper Pettersson and including Steven Delisle with injury replacements Adam Comrie and Max Lamarche.

Gostisbehere suffered a torn ACL, Alt is working through a shoulder injury and a broken hand while Hagg is enduring some issues of game-to-game consistency, and the backline has yielded 116 goals -- third fewest among the East's non-playoff teams at present and ninth in the conference -- which is good, considering. In 17 of 40 games, the defense has yielded two goals or fewer, but just gave up a season-high seven scores to Hershey on Wednesday night.

Which leads us to the million-dollar question: who can help the Flyers soonest? It's a loaded one at that. Gostisbehere has the most tools in his arsenal but after ACL surgery, there are questions if he can fully regain form. Lauridsen has the size but little range. Manning holds the most experience in the Show and will also have a second All-Star appearance in his pocket, while Hagg sports the most raw potential. Of course, the only true measure is keeping all involved at the AHL level and letting them work the kinks out themselves in the course of this season and into the next.

The goaltending tandem of Rob Zepp and Anthony Stolarz, recently accompanied by ECHL call-up Martin Ouellette, have had to deal with an average north of 30 shots per game.

That was the case before Gostisbehere and Alt were felled by injuries and that's the case now. It has driven Murray so far up a wall that, last Friday after a 3-2 loss to Albany -- one in which the Phantoms led 1-0 after two but allowed the Devils a third-period comeback -- he declined to offer postgame comments, leaving it entirely up to the players to explain themselves. That never happened in the dark days of Glens Falls.

Zepp (11-5-4, 2.57 GAA), Stolarz (6-9-2, 2.91) and Ouellette (2-2-0, 2.41) all have save percentages well over .900, and that's a good sign. As long as it remains in the .920 range, they collectively have a shot to steal crucial games down the stretch. It will be needed to maintain a steady continuation of a 10-3-5 record in one-goal games.

That's why the question of offense hangs in the balance. Despite picking up two-time Calder Trophy winner and long-time AHL forward Gordon for scoring prowess, adding Brett Hextall from North Dakota and Kevin Goumas (2G in 33 games) from New Hampshire, and retaining both Petr Straka and last season's leading scorer Jason Akeson for a majority of the year, the club is still looking for a spark.

They are 10th in the East with 107 goals, and yes, the loss of Scott Laughton on what seems like a permanent basis to the Flyers will hurt, but Murray's club has passed through slightly more than half a season with Gordon, Cousins and Straka in double digits.

If any speculation about Cousins getting a look with the Flyers -- be it one game or an extended look -- becomes true, it will likely be a dagger in the heart of a playoff berth. The Phantoms may be able to survive defensive injuries and call-ups, but are still painfully thin up front. Taking the leading goal scorer on the club out of the mix and expecting the rest to pick up the slack appears to be a non-starter.

This club absolutely needs offense and to learn how to properly nurse leads, having racked up a 2-11-1 record when trailing after two periods.

LV has totaled two goals of fewer in 21 of their 40 contests so far and topped out at six at St. John's two weeks ago. To even get over the 100-goal mark, the club had to use a recent run of success during which they tallied 21 times -- though they've only been shut out twice this year, at Portland and at Hershey within the first 11 games. 

Discipline has been an overall obstacle to success. Owing to the additions of Jay Rosehill (119), Manning (95) and Zack Stortini (78), the Phantoms became the first AHL team to trip over the 1,000 PIM mark last night (1,013). And that's without the return of fan favorite enforcer Zack FitzGerald, who signed in Scotland. The next closest team to four digits is Syracuse (876), while the Worcester Sharks are tops in the league with a paltry 396 PIM.

Special teams outlook: Not very promising. The power play stands 20th at 15.2 percent efficiency (29-of-191), while the penalty kill is slightly worse at 22nd in the league after giving up 36 goals in 194 chances (81.4 percent).

The brand-new building in Allentown and attendance which often scrapes records when not setting them, has been a clear advantage. Despite just 18 home dates, the Phantoms rank second in the league at an average of 8,036 fans and have repaid that with a 12-7-2 record where seven games have lasted beyond regulation which is more bang for the buck.

But unlike Glens Falls, Allentown is not a fan base versed in minor-league hockey, nor will PPL Center be filled near capacity simply by the Phantoms being there. Murray and Ron Hextall have their work cut out to develop talent but keep them winning in this brand-new environment. Can't see interest remaining constant if the playoffs aren't reached by this season or next.

In the ECHL, any team which tries to keep an even keel throughout the regular season has to be mentally
tough to deal with near constant roster upheaval. Injuries, in-season trades between clubs, emergency signings and call-ups to the AHL are a constant threat -- not to mention the brutal travel for a league whose imprint stretches from New York's Southern Tier to the Deep South and out along the West Coast.

Somehow, Reading Royals head coach Larry Courville has been immune to these pitfalls, through three different sets of NHL affiliations during his six-plus seasons guiding the club.

Through Boston, Washington and now the Philadelphia Flyers ownership, the soon-to-be 40-year-old bench boss has guided the Purple Lions to at least 30 wins in each of his five full seasons and to at least 40 wins in three of those years -- including a 46-win campaign two years ago which ultimately led to the franchise's one and only Kelly Cup championship.

Heading into Saturday's road contest with South Carolina, the Royals sport a 23-13-2 record, which places them in third place out of seven in the East Division and firmly in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. That's three points behind Greenville and a comfortable five ahead of Elmira and seven from their next opponent, and thanks to a 6-3-0 record in January with five games remaining.

Reading has reached the postseason a franchise-record five straight times and is in line for a sixth, yet the residents of Berks County has ignored the team for quite a while. And in a league where teams are essentially born to die by contraction or relocation, winning seems to be what keeps them afloat. Due to the last-minute absorption of the struggling Central Hockey League, all the Royals have to do is remain in the division's top four to keep their playoff streak alive.

This year, they're attracting 3,797 on average (20th in league of 28 teams) which is down from 4,087 last season and 4,023 from their championship season under the Capitals' banner. While it's true the Royals' home arena is a single-level anachronism and can't compete with newer, larger venues as in Toledo, Salt Lake City and Ontario, CA, the bloom is long off the rose. Once the losing sets in, not even healthy corporate sponsorship wouldn't likely save the team.

In contrast to their brothers up the chain, Reading has had little trouble putting the puck into the net, operating fourth in the conference with 131 goals in 38 games (3.44 per game) so far. Undrafted winger Olivier Labelle leads the way with 14 scores -- one of six players in double digits -- while two-time NCAA champion with Boston College, Pat Mullane, tops the list with 24 assists and 37 points. Mullane, a cast-off from Toledo, sits just outside the top 15 in scoring.

In addition, Courville has the entire team playing level-headed hockey thanks to a league-low 414 total penalty minutes. It's a far cry from the Royals teams I observed as a league stats official in the first three years of the club's existence, when Ryan Flinn, Remy Royer, Dave Stewart and Dean Arsene plied their trade and made the club interesting to watch despite their struggles in the standings.

Reading beat Jason Guarente will have a column tomorrow outlining just how mild the ECHL game has become in recent years.

Free-agent defensive prospect Lamarche leads all players with a plus-12 rating and is fourth among defensemen with 10 points. Mike Marcou leads the attack with 20 assists and 24 points, with Zach Davies adding 19 points and Comrie at 14 points in 21 appearances. As a unit, the offensive thrust has cost them on the back end, with 118 goals against (3.11 per game) ranking 11th out of 14 in the conference.

It's taken some toll on the goaltending. Though Ouellette (11-6-2) and Connor Knapp (11-7-0) and Joe Howe (4-3-2) all possess decent records, Ouellette's goals-against average is the only one below 3.00 while each man's save percentage is below optimal (.907, .896 and .889, respectively).

The Royals' power play sits dead in the middle of the league standings, ranking 15th at 17 percent (29-of-171 with seven SHG against) while the penalty kill has slipped to 19th place at 81.7 percent efficiency (24-of-131 with six SHG for), although they're currently in a second-place tie with Kalamazoo for the fewest times playing a man down. Toledo (121) tops the list. 

Reading finishes the month of January at Gwinnett Sunday, at Evansville on Wednesday, at Indianapolis on the 30th then Cincinnati on the 31st before finally coming back to Penn Street Feb. 4 against Wheeling. It's the first of four straight home dates, including three in a row against Florida, and then the Royals go back out on the road until Feb. 27.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ronnie's folly has run out of time

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was taken to task by someone who used to roam the Philly radio landscape, but has since been relegated to internet streams, about questioning the hockey intelligence of Flyers head coach Craig Berube.

Here is but one example of how Chief is constantly plotting against success: Zac Rinaldo's existence in the lineup and how often he's used.

In short, the naked stats tell one side. Since arriving in 2011, his overall point production has dropped from nine in 66 games, to five in 32, then four in 67 last year and now a sparse two assists in 36 contests.

This year, Rinaldo has seen double-digit total ice time in seven contests, including three in a row against the Devils, Canucks and Sabres. In fact, if he hadn't been kicked out of Tuesday's game for the hit on Kris Letang, his 3:53 TOI over the game's first 15:36 would have easily translated to another 10-plus-minute track.

At the time of his ejection, Rinaldo had logged more ice time than the NHL's leading scorer and super secret bad-ass, Jakub Voracek, against an opponent who might have dressed some bleep-stirring fourth-liners but who was running rings around the hosts with a heavy shot advantage until that hit knocked the Pens off kilter.

In Saturday's win at Buffalo, Rinaldo clocked in at a season-high 13:41, outpacing Vincent Lecavalier (10:22), P-E Bellemare (12:42), and Michael Raffl (12:59) in total TOI among all forwards. It should be noted that the Flyers were only engaged on special teams six times in the contest, three on the advantage and three times shorthanded, so refraining from using an even-strength player is no excuse.

The debacle with Vancouver saw everyone's favorite heart and grit skater appear on ice for 13:03 after sitting out 11 of the previous 12 games, more than Pebbles (11:28), Chris VandeVelde (11:48), and only eight seconds short of Lecavalier (13:11) and 48 seconds back of Michael Raffl (13:51). This, against a Canucks team which no longer employs the likes of Max Lapierre, Aaron Volpatti or Dale Weise.

Against Carolina on Dec. 13, in a 5-1 win against a team that couldn't intentionally stir up trouble if they wanted to provide a jolt, Berube chose to play Rinaldo what was then a season-high 13:01, again more than VandeVelde (12:46), Bellemare (12:50), and just 15 seconds less than Voracek, who posted a goal and an assist.

Jason Akeson spent 12 games here, admittedly miscast by Chief, and failed to record a point despite the old eye test proving he supplied better speed, puck movement and positioning. His top TOI was 11:27 in the Flyers' home-opening loss to the Devils, and he only hit double digits twice more, topping out against the Panthers at 10:16.

And though his 75 combined PIM through 36 games amounts to 2.08 per contest -- the lowest average of his brief career despite usage -- he has drawn a mere fraction of penalties this season against 22 committed. It's a similar scenario from last year, when he was responsible for 3.0 penalties taken per 60 minutes while drawing on average just 1.7 on other teams.

Plus, you can't even put the puck in his hands to try and generate offense. According to a piece on Pattison Avenue released earlier today, Rinaldo fails to control the puck once entering the offensive zone in almost 22 percent of his carries -- a failure rate higher than his other line mates and the worst of any forward on the club. If it's obvious to stats people, and it's obvious to this "Neanderthal," then it must be obvious to the reclusive Ian Anderson -- and we're left to wonder how much influence he holds with the front office so early into his tenure with the club.

And, the kicker, as Craig Forsythe (formerly of Flyers Faithful) pointed out yesterday, Rinaldo is one of just 11 forwards in NHL history to have played over 200 games and produce 20 points or less. He is the only one still drawing an NHL paycheck. Others still floating around on professional contracts are Cam Janssen of the Albany Devils and Ryan Hollweg of HC Plzen of the Czech Extraliga.

Ultimately, Berube is doing what he is forced to do night in and night out: given the players on his roster in sickness and in health, he's trying to cobble together some semblance of order and match up as best he can with the opposition. Which isn't great, but there's one man at the top of the totem pole most responsible for keeping the Zac attack in Philadelphia.

General Manager Ron Hextall.

Among all the talk of patience and growth and development and the welcoming of analytics to the new front office era as he took over last Spring, Hextall's first actual contract addition was a slap in the face to all that rosy rhetoric.

When Rinaldo's two-year extension was announced on Sept. 2, it essentially hamstrung the club from a personnel standpoint. A guy on a multi-year deal can't just sit on the bench or be an excessive healthy scratch, but since Hextall already had Jay Rosehill on the second year of his extension buried with the Phantoms and Zack Stortini picked up off the scrap heap in Allentown, sending Rinaldo to the AHL would be a case of too many "energy" guys spoiling what was supposed to be a reformed and more dynamic roster than the one sported in Glens Falls.

While we wait and wonder and fans begin to speculate wildly on which Flyer is most likely to be jettisoned for cap reasons or performance and what value can be returned, Hextall's wait-and-see attitude on the development of the season is detrimental. No. 36 objectively and statistically the most useless regular player on this roster, and should be parted from the franchise -- not in a rush of bloviation the wake of an ill-conceived hit or repeat offenses which result in league discipline.

Forget about graceful explanations about emotion vs. stupidity, there is little defense in keeping Rinaldo for nebulous intangibles. Even if it's equally ridiculous to keep a Stanley Cup winner and owner of a multi-year extension in Lecavalier pinned to the bottom-most of the bottom six, the former Lightning captain's skill set is light years ahead of Rinaldo's.

Hextall can publicly justify the painful Hartnell-for-Umberger swap as one for cap relief down the road, but there's no accurate defense for re-upping Rinaldo. His first order of business in any roster reshaping is to undo that mistake. The sooner, the better.

And whether Rinaldo's gone or not, there's no sense in hand-wringing, soul searching and pointed questioning of team or league culture.

Two in a Million

Despite the satisfaction of beating the Penguins at home, the Flyers hit the All-Star break with a "losing" mark of 19 wins, 22 regulation defeats and seven losses beyond regulation. It's the first time since the disastrous 2006-07 season that they've been behind the eight-ball record-wise at this point in the schedule.

Only nine times in the club's 47-season history did they start slow enough that they stood below the .500 mark by the time the league paused to salute its best players. And only twice before have they emerged from that valley to reach the peak and snag a postseason berth.

The results are as follows:

1968-69: 11-23-11 finished 20-35-21, 3rd place West Division. Lost in first round.
1969-70: 10-17-15 finished 17-35-24, 5th place West Division. Did not make playoffs.
1970-71: 17-20-6  finished 28-33-17, 3rd place West Division. Lost in first round.
1971-72: 13-24-8 finished 26-38-14, 5th place West Division. Did not make playoffs*
1989-90: 18-23-7 finished 30-39-11, 6th place Patrick Division. Did not make playoffs &
1991-92: 14-21-9 finished 32-37-11, 6th place Patrick Division. Did not make playoffs.
1992-93: 18-26-8 finished 36-37-11, 5th place Patrick Division. Did not make playoffs.
2006-07: 11-31-5 finished 22-48-12, 5th place Atlantic Division. Did not make playoffs.

* - Lost in Buffalo on final day of regular season where a tie would have secured a playoff spot.
& - Eliminated on the second-to-last day of the regular season

The only two seasons in which the Orange and Black recovered enough to play beyond early April occurred in the aftermath of the NHL's expansion beyond the Original Six. In both '69 and '71, the top four teams in each division were guaranteed postseason spots. In the former year, eight of 12 teams made the playoffs and eight of 14 in the latter.

According to Hockey Reference, the Flyers currently have as much a chance to play beyond April 7 as Lloyd Christmas had to romance Mary Swanson. Their playoff-berth probability sits at 2.8 percent and their chance at a wild card is slightly worse at 2.5 percent. Of teams analyzed, only the New Jersey Devils (0.6%) and Arizona Coyotes (0.1%) had a lesser chance at the postseason.

Shorthanded Mass Murder

Before an unexpected 6-for-6 performance against Pittsburgh two days ago combined with Buffalo's futility, the Flyers' penalty kill was 30th out of 30 teams in the NHL. It was at such a loss of function that the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators started to creep into the conversation. Now, a potentially historic failure is simply terrible at 74.4 percent efficiency.

The Sens were a second-year club back then, while the Flyers are established. And besides, these two poor PKs don't compare with the worst of the worst in league history.

That distinction belongs to the 1979-80 Los Angeles Kings. They of the famous "Triple Crown Line" and donners of the all-gold home uniforms and all-purple road duds. LA actually made the playoffs that season (as 16 out of 21 teams were selected) with a 30-36-14 record before a four-game preliminary-round loss to the eventual champion Islanders, but killed penalties at a stupefying rate of 67.7 percent.

Next worst, the 1982-83 Kings, who fell from the upper echelon of the Smythe Division early in the season to last place (27-41-12) thanks to a 68.24 percent rate. Here's the rest of the worst:

1978-79 Washington Capitals (24-41-15) 70.25 percent 5th place, Norris Division. Did not qualify.
1984-85 Vancouver Canucks (25-46-9) 70.53 percent 5th place, Smythe Division. Did not qualify.
1978-79 Colorado Rockies (15-53-12) 70.62 percent 4th place, Smythe Division. Did not qualify.
1981-82 Los Angeles Kings (24-41-15) 71.29 percent 4th place, Smythe Division. Lost in 2nd round.
1974-75 Washington Capitals (8-67-5) 71.34 percent 5th place, Norris Division. Did not qualify.
1985-86 Los Angeles Kings (23-49-8) 71.7 percent 5th place, Norris Division. Did not qualify.
1977-78 Vancouver Canucks (20-43-17) 71.74 percent 3rd place, Smythe Division. Did not qualify.

The bolded year represents the season where the Kings lost one-third of the Triple Crown Line in Charlie Simmer for most of the regular season, got him back for the playoffs and beat the first-place Oilers in a high scoring five-game Smythe semi which included the "Miracle on Manchester." However, in that era, the top four clubs in each division gained playoff berths regardless of record.

Philadelphia's single-worst, season-long penalty-killing performance occurred during the 1981-82 season, when a team split between Pat Quinn and Bob McCammon behind the bench operated at 74.3 percent. Those first Cooperall-wearing Flyers surrendered a team-record 102 power-play goals in 397 short-handed chances during a super-charged era for offense.

The only other seasons they dipped below 80 percent on the kill are 1978-79 (78.8), 1979-80 (79.3), 1983-84 (76.9), 1984-85 (79.8) and 1992-93 (77.4). Common denominator among these lean years is strong play while down at least one skater, with short-handed goals in those years being 16, 15, 16, 23 and 15, respectively.

By the way, the fewest SHGs in one full season occurred in 1990-91 (2) when the kill performed at 80.9 percent.

A Final Thought

After careful deliberation, I've decided to cement the partnership between myself, Tim Panaccio (CSN Philly), Rob Parent (Delco Times) and Sam Carchidi (Inquirer) -- heretofore known as the Four Horsemen of the Idiocalypse -- and hold monthly meetings of the Plus-Minus Club. We'll be in the press commissary for a combined 120 minutes from 6 to 6:30 yakking over spring mix, grilled salmon and blondies, topped off with Sierra Mist.

In case you're wondering, Randy Miller has applied for membership but he's under review.

If you recall, on Monday, the good folks who helmed the Broad Street Hockey account decided to waste time with an ultra-didactic post detailing why plus-minus is a bogus stat, lumping me in with the other three beats who may or may not have a grip on certain things, based on single tweets from each. 

The genesis of this firestorm was a completely sarcastic note, which they practically begged for after whining about a pretty awful set of circumstances for one player, and then manually RTed as if it I were completely serious. Bless you guys, and your pointed little heads. That "fact" had a long way to travel in a parabolic arc to zoom right over and past the noggin of whoever was the admin that day.

Collin, Travis, and to whom it may concern, you managed to do more for me in a span of several minutes than I've been able to do in weeks, which is simply amazing because neither of you nor the BSH account even hate follow anymore. I should be stupid more often. Give me some advanced warning next time, when in your humorless zeal, you decide to try and mock the mocker, so I can brace for the welcome spike in followers and well wishers.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flyers, Penguins provide taste of old-time hockey for pre All-Star crowd

Philadelphia, PA -- For just one night, we could forget that the Flyers are a team doing the dead man's float in the Eastern Conference and we don't know what awaits on the other side of the All-Star break.

A game which featured 93 penalty minutes, five goals, three fights and 10 shots from Claude Giroux, ended when the captain poked home a loose puck in the crease on a power play with 63 seconds remaining in overtime to produce a 3-2 victory over the Penguins which fans on either side could enjoy as the best this rivalry can offer.

In a 4-on-3 created when the Penguins were caught with too many men on the ice with 2:56 left in the extra session, Jakub Voracek unloaded from the right circle and Thomas Greiss made a spectacular save.

Only problem was, as he spun around, the puck became dislodged from his equipment and dropped into the crease. Brayden Schenn was unable to work it free, but Giroux came in and his poke hit the area under the crossbar a half-step ahead of Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi's lunge to block.

Giroux's fifth career OT marker moved him into a tie with Eric Lindros and John LeClair for second on the franchise list, one away from Simon Gagne.

"I think we need to find some motivation to play like that every game, every night," Giroux said with another in a series of nightly understatements. "It's not an easy thing to do but we need to find a way to do that."

The cross-state rivals play only twice more, in a five-day span in April. Trouble is, there are 32 other games where the emotion won't be so ready to burst forth.

Philly also received goals from Luke Schenn and Chris VandeVelde, while Ray Emery rebounded with one of his finest performances of the season by picking up a 33-save victory. They'll rest for an entire week having gone 2-3-0 on a Hellish track of five games in seven days.

Giroux and Voracek will hit Columbus this weekend still ranked atop the NHL list for highest-scoring duos.

Greiss, pressed into service to rest normal starter Marc-Andre Fleury, took the loss despite stopping 37 pucks. Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett lit the lamp for the Pens, who hit the break four points back of the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

Bennett atoned for a costly early mistake when he rifled home a hard shot from the left circle off a Malkin dish to give the Pens a 2-1 lead at 2:01 of the third.

But VandeVelde tied the game on a slick deflection from the left circle, as Michael Del Zotto let a visiting defender close off his lanes, except for a soft toss in front, which the North Dakota product chipped by Greiss on the short side 2:01 later.

Sidney Crosby could have given his team the lead back with roughly three minutes remaining, but his shot from the left side somehow managed to stay out despite rattling off the crossbar and right post at its junction point.

The visitors staved off an earlier negative result when they killed off a cross-checking minor to Zach Sill at the third-period buzzer.

The Flyers looked passive and pensive throughout a first period in which the Pens, who really didn't need to prove anything by winning tonight, still racked up a 17-3 shot advantage.

And yet, the hosts led 1-0 after 20 minutes thanks to a seeing-eye shot from an unlikely source. Bennett won a scrum to the left of Greiss, but somehow decided to send a blind, backhand clearing attempt up the middle. The puck was gathered by Schenn at the point and his ordinary-looking chance sailed through traffic at 13:11.

"Our forwards were doing a great job of forechecking and were able to create a turnover," Schenn said. "The puck just happened to come up to the top of the blue line and the only thing I was trying to do was to get the puck through and hopefully create a rebound, but luckily it was able to find its way to the back of the net so I'll take it."

It was the club's second shot on net, with the first in dispute between a Brayden Schenn dump from the neutral zone or a legitimate Claude Giroux offering a short time later.

Of course, you can't have a Flyers-Penguins game without a physical tipping point, and it was duly provided with 4:24 remaining in the first, as Zac Rinaldo drew a major for boarding and game misconduct for leaving his feet and hitting Kris Letang right in the numbers along the right-wing boards.

"I didn't hit him from behind ... the back side of the shoulder, that's how I saw it.  If you slow it down, any hit, dissect every single detail, you're going to see something that you can criticize," Rinaldo offered. "I'm not thinking that I'm going to hurt the guy, hit him like some people think I would hit them, but we play a fast game and things happen so quickly.

But here's the kicker: "It's the way the league is going right now ... it being Letang, a star player, me with some (suspension) history, and him getting hurt doesn't help me. I'm going to take it with a grain of salt. Yeah, I changed the game. Who knows what the game would have been like if I didn't do what I did?"

Rinaldo has been offered a chance to explain himself, via an in-person hearing for his actions, at a date and time to be determined. That means he's looking at a five-game ban at minimum. 

Though the Orange and Black drew lavish praise at the end of the period and at the end of the advantage for killing it completely, the Pens struck back on a Flyers power play when Kunitz and Crosby had a 2-on-1 and the former beat Emery high to the short side with the latter sealed off at 2:59 of the second.

Things began to get testy. Just before the midway point, Scuderi worked Voracek over in his own zone to the point where the NHL's scoring leader dropped the gloves and won the fight, taking a misconduct in the process for fighting with a visor.

"I saw 'Hammer' Schultz before the game. I wanted to show him that I got something," Voracek deadpanned. His 17 penalty minutes upped his season total to 47 and his career mark to 232, well short of Schultz's NHL record of 472 in one season and 2,294 career PIMs. "Sometimes you have to find a different way to win the games. I don't know why it's like that against the Penguins every time."

Then, at the opposite end of the ice, former Flyer Steve Downie roughed up Del Zotto with no call, before Luke Schenn had to tangle with his former teammate and win that scrap.

With just over three minutes before intermission, AHL call-up Bobby Farnham and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare were involved in a series of events on the left-wing boards in the Penguins zone, paired off, and somehow were allowed to contest their bout at center ice. It lasted all of two punches, with the Frenchman making a solid connection on his opponent's face which buckled his knees.

Notes: The Flyers have won six in a row against the Penguins, their longest stretch since taking seven in a row from Feb. 18, 1985 through Dec. 22, 1985 ... Tuesday marked just the fourth time the Orange and Black unleashed at least 40 shots on goal this year, improving to 3-0-1 in such games ...  Rinaldo has tasted NHL discipline three times previously, two suspensions and one fine ... The league's last-ranked penalty-killing unit of Philadelphia was a perfect 6-for-6 against what became the sixth-best power-play unit for Pittsburgh ... Both Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen were recalled yesterday from Lehigh Valley (AHL), although only Manning played, credited with three hits and one shot in 17:20 of ice time. Both players will be returned to the Phantoms for Wednesday's home game ... The Flyers compiled 59 PIM, the most they've had in a regular season game against Pittsburgh since Feb. 16, 1992 (115 PIMs in a 3-3 T) ... Crosby was held without a point for the 13th time in 50 games against Philly. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Wizards practice for better competition by routing Sixers

Washington, DC -- Marcin Gortat had 20 points to lead seven Washington Wizards who scored in double figures during a 111-76 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.

The Wizards led the Martin Luther King Jr. Day game for the final 42 minutes and were ahead by double digits over the last 38 1/2.

Kevin Seraphin scored 14 points off the bench and John Wall had 11 points and 10 assists for the Wizards, who have won seven of their last nine. Nene added 12 points while Paul Pierce, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter each scored 10.

The Wizards shot better than 55 percent from the field, making half of their 14 3-pointers. They outrebounded the Sixers 53-30.

Henry Sims led Philadelphia with 13 points. Jerami Grant scored 12 and Nerlens Noel had 11 with seven rebounds, three assists and four steals, but Michael Carter-Williams shot just 2-for-13 for seven points.
The Sixers have lost four of their last five on the heels of a 3-1 stretch.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown called the game "a clunker" but said the Wizards deserve credit for making his team look so bad.

The Sixers shot under 33 percent overall and threw up 24 3-pointers, making just six, and their 35-point margin of defeat was the worst ever on the road against the franchise that began life as the Chicago Packers.

The Capitol Bullets recorded a 108-75 win over a weak Philly club on Feb. 9, 1974.

"There were times when you looked out on the floor and you saw a bunch of men. Big, physical, playoff-hardened men," Brown said of the Wizards. "They are strong at each position and physical at each position and there are times when you look out and realize the difference in maturity."

Brown said he can't tell when the Sixers, who have 25 double-digit losses this season, are going to play poorly.

"I live in a naive world," he said. "I really think we're going to steal wins every time we play. (Our players) allow me to think that because they have spirited practices ... (but) sometimes you have one of those games. I think you have to give (the Wizards) credit when you look at how bad we were. I think they forced that."

Philadelphia's last lead was 8-7 on a Noel tip-in with 6:48 remaining in the first quarter. Washington followed with a 20-3 run and led by double digits the rest of the way.

Notes: The Wizards have won four in a row against the Sixers ... It was the first of four meetings scheduled between the teams this season ... Washington hosts Oklahoma City on Wednesday ... Philadelphia hosts New York on Wednesday.

Surging Islanders pound obliging Flyers

Uniondale, NY -- Plus-minus may not be an accurate indicator of performance, but the final score definitely can't be ignored.

Nikolay Kulemin had two goals and an assist and the New York Islanders closed out a hugely successful pre-All-Star- break schedule with a 7-4 decision over the Philadelphia Flyers, in the final contest between these long-time rivals at the fading Nassau Coliseum.

John Tavares, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy each scored once and assisted on another in a game the Islanders led from start to finish, with Jaroslav Halak adding 25 saves in the win.

New York will enter the break atop the Metropolitan Division with 63 points and a 31-14-1 record, and the hosts did so by posting their most goals in a home win against Philly in more than two decades.

"It's no secret, our home record was a big disappointment last year and one of the reasons why we didn't have much success," Tavares said. "You play well within your division and play well at home you're going to have a pretty good chance to do some good things, and certainly we've done that so far this year. It's important to keep that going. We can't be satisfied."

The Islanders put up four of their goals just past the midway mark of the second period, resulting in the
Flyers pulling netminder Rob Zepp after he stopped just 16-of-20 shots.

Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Claude Giroux and Chris VandeVelde all had goals for the Flyers, while Ray Emery saved 18-of-20 attempts in relief of Zepp. The Orange and Black fell to 3-13-1 overall in eight-plus back-to-back situations.

Philadelphia completes this set at home against the Penguins on Tuesday.

Zepp,  the 33-year-old  rookie making only his fifth career NHL start, had his rough afternoon begin early. Grabner took in a pass from Kulemin and blew past Flyers  defenseman  Carlo Colaiacovo before  firing a  shot into the top right corner to put the Islanders ahead just 1:32 in.

Kulemin made it a 2-0 game with a little over eight minutes elapsed, as a long drive  from Johnny Boychuk was kicked out by Zepp right to the Russian forward for him to deposit into an opening.

The Flyers had a chance to cut into the deficit with a power play early in the second  period. However, Kulemin blocked a shot from Matt Read and embarked on a  breakaway  which he finished  with a short-handed tally  to put New York up 3-0.

Halak couldn't prevent a blast from Streit from trickling through on a Flyers' power  play midway  through the middle session, but Bailey restored the Isles' three-goal advantage less than three minutes later by putting home the rebound of Travis Hamonic's initial attempt and prompting Zepp's exit.

Philadelphia answered with 4:48 left in the second when Del Zotto snuck a shot under  Halak's pads off a centering feed from Jakub Voracek. However, New York entered  the intermission owning a comfortable 5-2 lead on a Tavares goal with 7.6 seconds to go in the frame.

After  receiving a give from Frans Nielsen from the left boards, the Islanders captain  moved in  and lifted a backhander over Emery's left shoulder with New York on a 5-on-4 situation.

The  Flyers  trimmed the margin to  5-3 when Giroux converted Halak's giveaway behind his own net into an easy tap-in 49 seconds into the third period.

Philadelphia  couldn't get any closer, however, with Leddy all but sealing the outcome  by flinging a  puck that got through a screened Emery with 14:15 left to play.

Both  teams registered  goals  in the  final  2 1/2  minutes  to complete  the scoring.  VandeVelde successfully  redirected Luke Schenn's point shot for the Flyers'  final marker, with Anders Lee tacking on an empty-netter for New York with 1:03 remaining.  

"I guess we gotta get ready before the game a little bit better, but we do a good job when they score a goal we don't let down," Giroux said. "I think we played hard [Monday], just didn't execute the way we wanted."

Just let that sink in for a second, your captain engaging in a clear denial of reality. 

Monday's defeat marked only the third time in 17 instances the Flyers scored at least four goals that they lost the game. It happened in the club's home opener, a 6-4 loss to the Devils on Oct. 9 and then in a 5-4 shootout loss at Anaheim on Dec. 3.

And while we can't point to specific instances of action or inaction which directly led to Islander goals, the fact that Sean Couturier, Matt Read and R.J. Umberger combined for a blistering minus-14 should tell us that they had a horrendous game individually and collectively -- regardless of the competition -- but calls for trading at least the first two given this one outlier are completely irrational. 

Notes: The  previous meeting  between the  clubs this  season went  scoreless through regulation and overtime, with the Isles claiming a 1-0 shootout win Nov. 24 at Nassau  Coliseum ... New York posted its most goals in a win over the Flyers at home since claiming an 8-4 decision on Jan. 23, 1993 ... Boychuk finished with two assists for the Islanders, with Voracek  and  Brayden Schenn  posting a  pair of  helpers for Philadelphia ... Islanders  forward Kyle  Okposo was named the  NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday  after scoring five goals in three games ... Philly  blueliner  Carlo Colaiacovo left  the game in the third period, and following the game, both he and Nick Schultz were proclaimed to be suffering from upper-body injuries.