Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Biron Denies Habs Again! Flyers Win!

Martin Biron stopped 36 of 38 shots and RJ Umberger contributed 2 more goals as the Flyers downed the Habs by a score of 4 - 2 in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series. The Flyers now lead the series 3 games to 1 and can end the series on Saturday in La Belle Provence.

There was a huge surprise revealed before the game as the Canadiens chose to start rookie Jaroslav Halak in goal over rookie franchise goalie Carey Price. I have to think Price is hurt, because the Habs put all of their eggs in Price's basket when they traded away Cristobal Huet.

This game closely resembled the last couple of games, with Montreal maintaining territorial control of the ice, only to have Biron turn them aside time and time again. The first period was completely dominated by Martin Biron, who stopped 14 shots in the period. Halak was tested early, on a Jeff Carter breakaway, which he turned aside rather confidently.

The second period began much the same way as the first, but after Umberger scored on the power play for the 1 - 0 lead, the Canadiens seemed to sag and you could make a credible argument that the Flyers established themselves much better in the Montreal zone.

The third period was played fairly evenly and the Flyers increased their lead to 2 - 0, when Scott Hartnell rammed home a rebound off of a Vinny Prospal shot that hit the intersection of the post and the crossbar. It was Hartnell's first goal in what seemed like forever.

With about 7 minutes left to play, Marty Biron's luck changed for the worse. A shot from the point was deflected past Biron by Derian Hatcher to cut the Flyer lead to 1 and just 37 seconds later, Saku Koivu potted the tying goal. Instead of playing tentatively, the Flyers picked up the pace and eventually, earned a power play in the form of a stupid interference penalty taken by Steve Begin.

Danny Briere made Montreal pay by scoring on the power play on one of those goals from the side of the net, where he elevates the puck in a tight space past the goalie. You know the type of goal....the type he scored against the Flyers like a billion times over the course of the past couple years when he was with Buffalo. The Flyers made that goal standup and eventually, RJ Umberger added an empty netter to put the icing on the cake.

You have to hope that the Flyers learned from the Washington series and will put all of their effort into finishing this series in Game 5 in Montreal this Saturday.

Did you notice?

- Mike Knuble returned and looked like he didn't miss a beat. So much for catching up to the pace of the game.

- Good to see Vinny Prospal show up tonite....2 assists for Prospal and that line had a little more energy tonite than earlier in the series.

- Mike Richards pasted one of the Kostitsyn brothers behind their own net in the 3rd period?

- Derian Hatcher looks pig-dog slow out on the ice and it especially showed in the 37 second stretch where Montreal scored their two goals. Like Jason Smith in the last series, Derian Hatcher is not helping this team right now.

- Anyone catch that cool picture of Jim Dowd that was shown during the Flyer broadcast that showed a team picture where every player picture was Dowd in one of the 10 or so uniforms he's worn in his NHL career? Dug around on the net for the picture, but couldn't find it. If I can post it, I'll will.....just like if I can find the Dave Mustaine vid.

- Alexei Kovalev stick his leg out and cause a knee-on-knee collision on RJ Umberger that went uncalled in the 3rd?

Big Flyers Game Tonite (and other hockey stuff)

- Habs coach Guy Carbonneau hasn't announced a starter, but I'd be stunned if it weren't Carey Price. The Habs made their bed with Carey Price when they traded Cristobal Huet for a virtual bag of peanuts.

- "Obi-wan" Knuble should be back in the lineup for the Fly-boys tonite. I wouldn't put him back on Carter's line right away, but I think he's definitely been missed on the power play.

- We haven't seen the best game from either of these two teams yet. Need the Flyers to assert themselves offensively and stay out of the penalty box. Saw on Bill Meltzer's pre-game report on that respected veteran official Bill McCreary will be on hand tonite officiating the game. I wonder if that assignment has anything to do with the Flyers carping in the press about the officiating. From Mike Richards on anti-Flyer bias from officials:

“We know the circumstances we're in,” he said. “We know if we go into a scrum, the odds are we're not going to come out on top of it. We just have to know that and get out of there. That's the mindset we have; we can't take that extra jab ... we'll get called for it.”

- File this under "I totally saw this coming".....Former Flyer Joni Pitkanen, pending restricted free agent, is apparently looking for WAAAY more money than he's currently worth. Sorry, Flyer-bashers.....Paul Holmgren will be vindicated for this deal (if the play of Joffrey Lupul hasn't done so already). I wonder if the light will ever go on for Joni. For a stark comparison on Joni's play, one only needs to look at the way fellow countrymen Kimmo Timonen and Lasse Kukkonen play....both play with passion and grit....two things sorely lacking in Pitkanen's game when he was in Philly. The sad thing is that Pitkanen has more raw talent than both of them.

Pistons Pound Sixers in Game 5

The only word I can think of to use to describe what happened to the Sixers last night was "outclassed".

The Sixers got pasted by the Pistons by a score of 98 - 81 in a game that got out of hand rather quickly. The loss puts the Sixers down 3 games to 2 in their best of 7 series and means the game on Thursday night is do-or-die for the upstart Sixers.

After being tied 10 - 10 in the 1st quarter, the Pistons went on a run from which the Sixers never recovered. The Sixers got within 12 points a couple of times, but the Pistons were dead on in their shooting last night, going 58% from the field and 46% from 3-point land.

Even during those stretches where the Sixers played flawless defense or did all the right things, loose balls always seemed to end up in the hands of a Piston or the Sixers couldn't get an easy shot to drop. The play that summed up the Sixers' night for me, was the play in the 3rd quarter, when Thaddeus Young made a nice play on a pass into the paint by Detroit, only to have the ball deflect off of Young's hand and into the net for a Detroit bucket.

If there is a silver lining to be pulled from this game, it's that Andre Iguodala seemed to find his way offensively, scoring 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. This game, it was Andre Miller who thrown off his game, as he missed 9 straight shots during one stretch of the first half. Miller ended up with 13 points on the night and, more telling, only 3 assists.

Did you notice?

- Rasheed Wallace was dominant once again in this game. He had 6 blocks and shot 3 of 4 from 3-point seems every 3 he makes is a back breaker and occurs when you think the Sixers may have been creeping back into the game.

- What the fuck did Samuel Dalembert do to his head? That haircut was brutal.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Samuel Dalembert: Demolition Man

Sammy, Sammy, Sammy. Did you lose a bet? What's up with that haircut? (Photo from (Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images))

Flyers, Biron Best Habs in Game 3

For all of those years, I saw the New Jersey Devils come into Philadelphia and kick the Flyers' asses with a French Canadian goaltender named "Martin", I always wondered what it would be like to have our dominant French Canadian goaltender named "Martin".

Well, last night, I found out, as the best player on the ice for both teams was none other than Flyers goaltender Martin Biron, as the Flyers beat the Habs 3 - 2 to take a 2 games to 1 lead in their best of 7 series.

Biron's performance could not have been more timely. The Flyers gave up 8 power plays, including a solid 2 minutes of 5 on 3 power play time and a full 5 minute power play assessed to Derian Hatcher for boarding.

At the other end of the rink, Habs rookie goalie Carey Price was shaky to say the least. Scottie Upshall beat him pretty clean on his goal, but the Mike Richards shorthanded goal was one Price should have had and the goal seemed to suck the life right out of the Canadiens. When a fat rebound kicked out to RJ Umberger for the 3rd goal of the game, you had a feeling that maybe the Canadiens were considering pulling Price, which they eventually would do.

Let's be clear: This was, by far, not a perfect game by the Flyers. I thought the officiating was a bit one-sided, but the Flyers need to play a little smarter. The Derian Hatcher play is a perfect example. While I don't believe the play warranted a full 5 minute major (should have been a double minor for boarding), Hatcher should have never put himself in that position to begin with. Lasse Kukkonen took two bad penalties in the latter stages of the 2nd and 3rd period. Because of all the penalties, the penalty killers saw a lot of ice time and you can never get into an offensive rhythm when you're killing penalties the whole game.

Did you notice?

- The play where Steve Downie allegedly tripped goaltender Carey Price was a good example of how Downie cannot catch a break of any sort from the officials. Price clearly flopped and threw his own mask off in embellishing the call and it should have been called a dive. The penalty calls should have been evened out on that play, but it was just another example of shaky officiating.

- Montreal definitely had a territorial advantage as the game wore on. The Flyers were outshot 17 - 2 in the 3rd period. Yikes. They need to tighten that up going into Game 4.

- Has any Flyer been the recipient of more good bounces in the first 3 games of this series than RJ Umberger? That second period rebound, after a Jeff Carter shot, came right onto his stick for the eventual goal. Carter couldn't have passed it to him that well.

- Another strong game from Braydon Coburn.

At the game:

- Don't know how it sounded on TV, but the "Marty! Marty!" chants were real loud in the arena. After Upshall scored, you couldn't hear Lou Nolan announce who scored it was so loud.

- Not a ton of Montreal fans, but a few. A couple of idiots in my section brought a sign with them all the way from Montreal, which was in French, so none of us knew what it said. To bring a sign down to a hockey game in another country, it had better say something pretty damned profound. After they put their sign up a couple of times, the fans behind them (most of which are regulars in that section) yelled for them to keep the sign down.

- Saw a good number of Montreal fans leave before the end of the game. Weak!

- The heavy rains before the game put a damper on the pregame tent activities, which was a shame.

- PLEASE stop booing the Canadian national anthem! The Flyers anticipated this, and had Danny Briere record a message asking the fans to respect both anthems, but a bunch of knuckleheads booed anyway. It makes no sense to boo that anthem, considering the majority of the Flyers are, in fact, Canadian. Also -- the "USA, USA" chant when the officials were sorting out the penalties when Price flopped like a fish was sort of infantile. We aren't fighting WWIII our there. This isn't the Iranian national team. You want jingoism? Go rent "Miracle".

- They did the "God Bless America" thing with Lauren Hart and Kate Smith again last night. They are in danger of making it not so special.

- Harkening back to the last series, where a Washington Post reporter said the orange clad Flyer fans all looked like security at a Megadeth concert, the Flyers got Megadeth's Dave Mustaine to record a little speech to rile up the crowd. It worked...and you can probably expect to see it again in Game 4 if you're going.
(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Winter Sports Teams All Tied

The Sixers

The Sixers lost game 4 of their best-of-7 series with the Detroit Pistons by a score of 93-84. As a result, the series is tied at 2 games apiece, and it's heading back to Detroit.

This outcome could have been avoided, as the Sixers had a 46-36 halftime lead and were buzzing.

But the veteran Pistons came out of the lockerroom in the 3rd quarter, and overwhelmed the Sixers, outscoring them in the quarter 34 - 16. The sleeping Piston defense looked as if it had been poked awake in the lockerroom at halftime, as the going was a little tougher in the 3rd period offensively for the Sixers. Rasheed Wallace poured in 3 3-pointers during the quarter to punctuate the Piston comeback.

While all 5 Sixer starters posted double figures in points, Andre Iguodala continued to struggle, shooting 4 of 16 from the field and ultimately ending up with 12 points. Rookie Thaddeus Young posted 15 points and 9 rebounds in a losing effort.

Also of concern, is that somehow, someway, the Sixers might want to figure out how to stop Tayshaun Prince. Prince has now missed only two shots in his last two games, shooting 19 for his lat 21 and averaging a little over 20 points in those games.

Pivotal Game 5 is tomorrow night in Detroit.

The Flyers

The Flyers tied up their best-of-7 series at 1 game apiece by beating the Montreal Canadiens last Saturday by a score of 4 to 2.

The story of Game 2 was the goaltending of Martin Biron, who shut down the Habs when they were buzzing in the 2nd period. His best save, of many good saves, was a breakaway by Hab Tomas Plekanec that he snapped up with the glove. When Marty Biron is starting to get confidence on breakaways (he was TERRIBLE in penalty shots this year), he's clearly on top of his game.

RJ Umberger added two more fluky goals to go with the fluky goal he scored the other night. Danny Briere and Jeff Carter also added goals; Briere's 7 goals ties him for the NHL playoff lead with Red Wing Johan Franzen.

A side story from this game was a sucker punch delivered by alleged purse thief Tom Kostopoulos. After the Flyers scored a goal, Kimmo Timonen smiled at Kostopoulos and skated away from him. At that point, angry I guess, because Timonen had no purse to steal, Kostopoulos sucker punched Timonen from behind causing a scrum.

Apparently, according to Guy Carbonneau, Timonen deserved it. Flyer coach John Stevens had it right the first time, when after the game, he called it "cowardly".

Think about this for a second. What if the tables were turned, and it was uber-pest Steve Downie slugging Alexei Kovalev in that same fashion? I doubt Carbonneau's opinion would be so laissez-faire and I REALLY doubt he would suggest Kovalev "deserved" it.

Furthermore, the Canadian press would be all over Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell to suspend Downie is such an incident were to occur. The NHL never even considered sanctions against Kostopoulos.

This is just another example of a hypocritical Canadian press for not taking Carbonneau and Kostopoulos, members of a team playing in Canada, to task for this incident in the same way that the Flyers and Steve Downie were taken to task over their incidents with the Jason Blake and the Leafs earlier this year. At least Downie had the guts to face the guy he sucker punched; Timonen didn't even know it was coming.

Game 3 is tonite at the Wachovia center. I'll be in the house and have a good report tomorrow AM.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

2008 Draft: The Eagles pick....

NOBODY! NO ONE! Because, clearly, a team as fine as this one that was in last place in the NFC East doesn't need any help from the NFL draft. Obviously, they weren't paying attention to the Giants, who got to the Super Bowl with a lot of help from their rookies. They must not understand that the Cowboys have added a bunch of immensely talented players to their roster in the last 48 hours between obtaining Pacman Jones and todays draft.

If there is a trophy to be handed out for out smarting yourself in the draft, the Eagles are the clear front runner in this draft.

The Eagles traded out of their first round pick, trading it to Carolina for Carolina's first round pick next year, plus two more (a 2nd and 4th round) this year.

On top of this trade, they traded out of their first pick of the second round with Minnesota and received Minnesota's 2nd and 4th round pick.

Unless there is another shoe to drop here, the Eagles' front office has some serious explaining to do.

Sixers Get Revenge; Crush Pistons

It would have been easy for the Sixers to curl and die in this series after the whooping they took from Detroit the other night. Detroit played suffocating defense and frankly, Andre Iguodala hadn't been distinguishing himself on the offensive end.

Well, apparently, the only the thing the Sixers quit doing was playing passively, as they smoked the Pistons last night by a score of 95 - 75. There is no way I saw this coming after the way the Sixers got beat the other night.

The scene at the Wachovia center was exhiliarating, with the fans in their "white out" gear and screaming and cheering their asses off. If there is a Sixers team that deserves that kind of positive fan output, it's this one.

The key to the game was that the Sixers played relentless defense and the Pistons gave up the ball to the tune of 23 turnovers. Andre Iguodala may not contributing much offensively right now (10 points on 2 of 9 shooting), but he did manage 4 steals to lead the Sixers defensively.

Offensively, the Sixers were powered by Andre Miller with 21 points and "Slammin" Sammy Dalembert, who had 22 points and 16 rebounds. This was a startling turnaround for Dalembert after getting schooled by Rasheed Wallace for the first two games of the series.

Speaking of Wallace and the Detroit big men, they had sort of a rough night. Rasheed Wallace finished with 2 points, which is only 1 more point than he had technical fouls last night (he picked up a "T" jawing with Reggie Evans). Antonio McDyess had his nose broken and finished with only 2 points.

How bad was this game for Detroit? The Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg called it one of the worst playoff games ever for this particular group of Pistons. It's clear that the Sixers' athleticism and energy were either underestimated by the Pistons or that this Pistons team is just not as good as everyone thinks they are. Either way, we should be in an exciting reminder of this series.

Game 4 is at the Wachovia center at 7pm.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The 2008 NFL Draft and Your Eagles

It's funny, but this time of year, there is alot of back and forth about the NFL draft such that some folks like it (like me) and some folks don't (like Michael Wilbon).

The NFL draft is when your team shows their hand as to their eventual strategic direction as a franchise, so I question your NFL fanhood if you're not into the NFL draft on some level.

That said, I'm not Ron Jaworski or even his lesser known cousin, Wasyl Jaworski. I don't have some draft board with names of players and teams. I don't watch miles of tape and hunker down in the warroom with Ray Didinger furiously scribbling notes (although it sounds like a good gig if you can get it).

No, I pretty much rely on the hours and hours I sit on my fat ass, drink beer, and watch college football during the season and a fairly obsessive amount of thinking about NFL football. Cliche alert: the NFL is now a year round sport. When is the first Iggle OTA (if you don't know the acronym, you ain't a fan)?

My shot at prognistication will proceed as follows: First, what I would do if I were the Eagles' GM and then, what the Eagles will probably end up doing.

What I would do:

1.) Trade Lito Sheppard and a draft pick for a front line receiver. I know I'm not alone here. There are several either disgruntled receivers (Ocho Cinco or Anquan Boldin) or receivers for whom it may be best to just move on because of a new kid in town (Detroit's Roy Williams). Take Lito and get one of these three receivers and we're pretty much back in the NFC East picture. Somehow, you need to counteract the Dallas acquisition of Pacman Jones. Throw in a pick as well if you have to. To be told by Eagles management that this group of receivers is championship calibre is insulting.

Furthermore, if we're seeing this year as Donovan McNabb's last year as an Eagle (highly probable), they MUST get an elite receiver to play with or I believe they're setting him up for failure. Unless that's the goal or something.

2.) With the 19th pick......I'd take either Miami's Kenny Phillips or find a way to get Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both would fill a big need for the Eagles, defensively. Phillips would become your eventual Brian Dawkins replacement (although no one can truly replace Dawk....a HOFer in my book) and Rodgers-Cromartie would be the young, up-and-coming future shutdown CB, in addition to solving your problems in the shortterm in the return game. Either of these moves fit short to near term needs the Eagles will need to address to ensure success.

What the Eagles will probably do:

1.) Trade Lito Sheppard for a draft pick and a box of hammers. At least that's what Jay Glazer is already reporting.

2.) Take some of the surplus draft picks they get from the Lito Sheppard deal and move up and get one of the top offensive linemen. My guess? Ryan Clady from Boise State. Face it; this draft has a ton of linemen and if we know anything about Big Red, he loves him some offensive linemen (Max Jean-Gilles, Winston Justice, Todd Herremans, Scott Young, Shawn Andrews, and I could go on and on).

3.) The Eagles, throwing a bone to the fans, will draft this year's Jason Avant or Hank Baskett, whoever that happens to be.

Other predictions, both for some PSU guys and prominent college players:

- Dan Connor will slip to the late 2nd, early 3rd round. He's not as good as Poszluzny was, and Poz was an early 2nd rounder.

- Justin King will go much earlier than expected, making people like me who think he should come back to PSU for his senior season look stupid....I'd even say 2nd round. For the record, I can see King being a pretty good pro, despite never fulfilling some of the promise at PSU.

- Matt Ryan will end up in Atlanta and my head will explode when the Cowboys find a way to end up with Darren McFadden.

Useful Link: Eagles draft history

Flyers Lose Opener to Habs

Sometimes all it takes is a couple of bad breaks, a bad call or two, and before you know it, you've got some adversity to overcome that is not of your own doing.

The Flyers lost an eminently winnable game in La Belle Provence against the Canadiens by a score of 4 - 3 in a game that had to be decided in OT. This was definitely a squandered opportunity, where a couple of questionable calls by the on and off-ice officials definitely played a role in the outcome.

The game started well enough for the Flyers as they grabbed a 2 - 0 lead after the first period on the strength of goals by Jim Dowd and a fluky goal credited to RJ Umberger. The Dowd goal was especially sweet, because it came from the fourth line, which might have been the Flyers' best line all night.

The second period saw the Canadiens warm to the task as they got both goals back to tie the game. The first goal was the result of a horrid neutral zone giveaway by Jeff Carter and a lucky bounce that Andrei Kostitsyn was able to make count. Just before that goal, Kostitsyn was stopped on a penalty shot on a fantastic pad save by Martin Biron, whom I felt played well in defeat.

The second Canadien goal was somewhat controversial in that Alexei Kovalev used a high stick to tap in a goal that was already going into the net and should have never counted. Somehow, the replay officials could not see what everyone else saw in that Kovalev's stick was higher than the cross bar when he made contact with the puck. Furthermore, Kovalev's downward followthrough actually hits the crossbar, confirming that his stick was, in fact, too high. Apparently, the laws of physics do not apply in Canada. Nonetheless, the goal counted. It probably would have gone in anyway and as a Flyers fan, it annoyed me because the Flyers had the power play at the time and to passively allow Montreal to get a shorthanded rush in that situation was simply unacceptable.

The third period opened the right way if you're a Flyers fan. Joffrey Lupul had a puck go in off of his skate to open up a 3 - 2 lead. This is two straight games Lupul has scored in and you hope this is one of those goal scoring streaks we've seen Lupul go through during the regular season, because the Flyers need that go-to guy offensively right now.

I felt that the Flyers were doing a pretty decent job of holding down the fort in the 3rd period and even challenging at times for that 4th goal to salt the game away.

With little over a minute to go, Mike Richards took out Alexei Kovalev on a nice shoulder check that closely resembled a trip because of the way Kovalev fell to the ice. The referee believed that Richards put out his knee to hit Kovalev, but replays conclusively show that Richards' lower body never made contact with Kovalev and that Richards hit Kovalev with a clean shoulder check. This gave Montreal a power play in the last minute of play and, with their goaltender pulled, gave the Habs a 6 on 4 power play.

About 15 seconds later, the Flyers had a defensive zone draw with Jeff Carter facing off against Saku Koivu. Carter had been getting his ass kicked in the face off circle all night and he ended the night winning only 5 of 18 faceoffs. Conversely, Koivu was owning the Flyers in the face off circle, winning 17 of 24. You could almost guess what was going to happen.

Carter went on to lose the face off, breaking his stick in the process. He layed on the ice sprawled out next to the loose puck when Alexei Kovalev collected the puck, and deposited it over Martin Biron's left shoulder to tie the game.

The whole sequence of events was sickening and the game went to overtime, where noted alleged purse thief accomplice and alleged troublemaker Tom Kostopoulos ended the game just 48 seconds into overtime. It almost seemed anti-climactic.

Game 2 is on Saturday at 7pm.

Did you notice?

- Derian Hatcher's bone crunching check on one of the Kostitsyn brothers behind the Flyers' net? I thought Hatcher was going to end that kid's life on that hit.

- Martin Biron stacking the pads towards the end of the first period to maintain the Flyers' 2 - 0 lead? Biron was real good in the first period, but should have had the shorthanded goal that should have never counted.

- Steve Downie played pretty well in his fourth line role. Playing Downie instead of Cote on the fourth line? I wish I had thought of that.

- Mike Richards appeared to get a beer thrown on him in the penalty box. Not to beat a dead horse, but if that happened in Philly, we'd never hear the fucking end of it.

- Was it me or did the Canadiens' players attempt a lot of hits up high, bringing their hands and arms up to the Flyers' faces when they attempt a check? Isn't that roughing? I counted about 5 such hits and then I stopped counting. The only one that got called was the one on Upshall by Mike Komisarek, but there were at least a few others that could have been called.
Photo: AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Ryan Remiorz

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Flyers-Habs Round 2 Preview

Round 2 of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs begin tonite for two teams that had to go to a Game 7 in order to meet up.

Montreal defeated a plucky Boston Bruin team in 7 games and were led by rookie goalie Carey Price, who turned aside 25 shots to lead his team. The Flyers, as we all know, had it a little tougher, going to OT, before Joffrey Lupul ended matters with his first goal of the playoffs.

At first blush, this matchup doesn't look good for the Flyers. They were swept in the season series with Montreal, losing all 4 matchups by a combined total of 15 - 6. In the games with Montreal, the Flyers just looked slow and flatfooted. The interesting thing about the losses to Montreal is that everytime the Flyers seemed to be facing the Habs, it was during a period of time when the Flyers weren't playing well. They lost twice to Montreal, back to back, during that 10 game losing streak they had in February that almost blew the Flyers' season. The first time they lost to the Habs, it was their 3rd loss in 4 games and their second loss against the Habs came after they had just blown out the Pens by a score of 8 - 2 in an emotional game. It wasn't as if the Habs saw the Flyers at their best this year.

What does that mean? I think it means this series will be closer than many of the pundits realize.


Unlike Washington, Montreal does not have that one sniper who can single-handedly carry the team like Ovechkin. Also unlike Washington, Montreal is a deep and talented team at forward. Alex Kovalev has rejuvenated his career this year and is the statistical leader of this team. Captain Saku Koivu, though oft-injured nowadays, is still the heart and soul of this team and can still play a little bit (40 assists in 77 regular season games) when he's out there. Montreal also has good young talent, featuring the flying Kostitsyn brothers, Sergei and Andrei. Both have developed nicely, with Andrei being the more prolific scorer with 26 regular season tallys. Both centers Tomas Plekanec and Christoper Higgins scored over 25 goals this year. Overall, Montreal is very, very fast at forward.

The Flyers will not hold the dominance in the center position that it did in the Washington series. Briere, Richards, and Carter are going to all have to hold their own against the center combination of Plekanec-Koivu-Higgins. In a way, not having to worry about Ovechkin may free up Mike Richards to be more aggressive offensively. Danny Briere seems immune to the boos that he will certainly receive from the Montreal faithful, and I'm sure the Flyer faithful will find someone to hate (I nominate Kovalev). For the Flyers to be successful, they will need more offense from Upshall, Lupul, and Hartnell, as power play specialist Mike Knuble will be unavailable for the beginning of this series. By the way: Riley Cote should never see the ice in this series. Slight edge: Montreal


Get to know the name Mike Komisarek. He is an American born player and he reminds me more of Scott Stevens than any other young player since Stevens left hockey. He is a shutdown d-man and Danny Briere will probably see alot of him. Montreal also has two more offensive-minded defensemen in Andrei Markov (16 goals) and Mark Streit (13 goals). Roman Hamrlik (remember him? first pick of the NHL draft about a billion years ago?) also lines up on the blueline for Montreal and it's good to see he's alive.

The Flyers are definitely at a disadvantage on the blueline, speed-wise, against Montreal. Fortunately, one of the goats from the regular season in the games against Montreal, Jim Vandermeer, no longer plays here anymore. But that doesn't mean the Flyers aren't going to have trouble with the speedy Montreal forwards when Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher are on the ice. As such, those two older, but tougher Flyers will need to punish the faster Montreal forwards when they get the chance. Especially Hatcher.

On the other side of the coin, as with Mike Richards, I think you'll see a little more offense from Kimmo Timonen, as he's not going to have to be inside of Ovechkin's jersey for 7 games in this series. Not that he won't have his hands full defensively, but the assignments cannot be compared. Someone from the blueline like Lasse Kukkonen or Randy Jones will need to play a little over their heads to make this matchup even. Edge: Montreal.


Montreal goalie Carey Price gets a lot of attention for his accomplishments at the junior level. He is much bally-hooed. However, he is still a rookie with only 41 NHL regular season games under his belt and 7 playoff games. He hasn't won a thing at the NHL level and did not play minor league hockey. He is good, but he's still young.

Martin Biron held the Flyers in during the tumultuous game 7 against Washington and broke through with his first playoff series win. He's playing his angles well and is controlling rebounds, which will be important in this series.

I'm going to go against some of the conventional wisdom and say this matchup is Even. I understand Price's pedigree, but he's not even old enough to drink yet. I understand that folks want to annoint this guy as the next Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden (two rookie Montreal goalies that led them to Stanley Cups), but I have a little more respect for history than that. He may well be the next one in that great line of Montreal goalies, I don't know. Let's see this kid do it first before we put him in the hall of fame.


Former captain of the Canadiens and current coach Guy Carbonneau is widely respected in hockey circles. He is considered one of the greatest defensive forwards to have ever played the game. In his second year as coach, his team won the Northeast division and had the best record in the conference after completely missing the playoffs last year. He is almost definitely a coach of the year candidate.

John Stevens didn't have anything close to Carbonneau's on-ice career, but as a coach, Stevens definitely has more experience when you consider his minor league success. Like Carbonneau, Stevens' team missed the playoffs last year. Unlike Carbonneau, Stevens' team almost missed the playoffs this year and if they did, he probably would have been fired. His players like him, which is good or bad, depending on how important you think such things are. Slight nod to Montreal.

Intangibles/Conspiracy theories:

Wouldn't a Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Eastern Conference final make an excellent story? Or how about Montreal's drive for another Stanley Cup? As the last Canadian team, will the officials have a say in this affair? Doesn't Montreal have some sort of kharma deficit for burning out police cars after their Game 7 win in a FIRST ROUND playoff series? I'd say this is Even.

The Prediction:

Some are predicting either a Montreal sweep or Montreal winning in 5 games. Me? I think that Montreal will have at least one game where they make the Flyers look just plain bad and blow them out. I also think that the Flyers will have at least one game where they just punish Montreal physically. This series will be closer than some think. Unlike most, I think the Flyers can win this series if they assert their physicality and get a break here or there. However, just looking at the two teams, it's hard to pick against Montreal here, despite that I'm a huge Flyer fan and season ticket holder (see you at the game on Monday!). Montreal in Six tough games.

Pistons Crush Sixers

In a case where it appears the Sixers awakened a sleeping giant, the Detroit Pistons came out last night and blew the Sixers' doors off by a score of 105 - 88. Watching this game, it felt as if the Pistons simply squeezed the life out of the Sixers defensively. Sometimes, you see a score like this one and wonder if the game went as badly as the score indicated. In this case, the game went every bit as bad as the score.

Andre Iguodala had another rough night, shooting 1 for 9 from the field. As a team, the Sixers shot a shade under 40%. Just a bad night all around and really, not much to discuss.

In contrast, 4 of the 5 Piston starters scored in double figures, led by Rip Hamilton's 20 points. Antonio McDyess scored 16 and added 12 boards. Tayshaun Prince played very well defensively, despite constantly looking like he could blown over any minute by a stiff breeze. Someone get that kid a couple burgers or something.

Further underscoring how dominant Detroit was in this game is the fact that the Sixers only got out and scored 10 fast break points. If there is any prayer of the Sixers pulling the upset here, they must get out and run. On the other hand, it's tough to run, when the other team shoots 55% from the field.

The Sixers return home to play games 3 (Friday night) and 4 (Sunday night) and will need every bit of the energy the home crowd can give them. In support of this, I believe I heard on the telecast last night that the Sixers are doing a Penn State-style "white out", where everyone in the crowd wears white and it looks real cool on TV. I was working on my mother-in-law's computer at the time when I heard it, so I may have heard it wrong.....if I see anything else on this, I'll post it.

Also: Did anyone see the interview with Comcast suit Peter Luuko? The same jack ass who runs both the Sixers and the Flyers apparently doesn't know the name of the team's point guard, referring to PG Andre Miller by the name "Reggie Miller". Lord knows we could use Reggie Miller right now.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Burrell Propels Phils; Sixers Play Game 2 Tonite!

There is just WAAAY too much going on right now with the local squadrons. I'll do a Flyers playoff preview for lunch tomorrow......

The Phils

The Phils pulled out another late inning, come from behind win, this time against the Colorado Rockies by a score of 8 -6, giving them a record of 1 game over .500 in the season to date. The turning point in the game came with Pat Burrell's bases loaded double in the top of the ninth. Burrell's game winning hit came after Rockies' manager Clint Hurdle made the mistake of walking the slumping Ryan Howard to get to the hot hitting Pat Burrell. Brad Lidge put the Rocks away in the bottom of the ninth for the save.

The Phils will be in Milwaukee tonite at 8:05pm; CMH vs. Dave Bush.

The Sixers

The Sixers, after pulling a stunning upset of Detroit in game 1 of their best of seven series, get back at it tonite against the Pistons in Auburn Hills.

Will the Game 1 victory be seen as a wakeup call for the Pistons or a portend of things to come for the Sixers? Listening to Stephen A. Smith on the Mike Missanelli show yesterday, Smith thinks the Sixers are already done in this series. It is easy to forget that Stephen A. is pretty knowledgable about basketball and has real good NBA access when he's not screaming at us or overgesticulating like my drunk uncle on Christmas Eve. I've never been a huge fan of his writing after he became a columnist; I felt on items other than the NBA, he was practically unreadable. But in that interview, he sounded cogent and measured to the point where I thought he may have been drugged.

Anyway, I don't know if the Sixers will win tonite, but I do believe they are a little better than they are given credit for. As bad of a game as Iguodala may have had shooting in game 1, it's not as if Rip Hamilton had a good game either, shooting 5 of 17. If they can somehow limit Rasheed Wallace, (24 pts, 9 boards, 7 blocks in game 1), they should have a punchers chance tonite against what will probably be an angry group of veteran Pistons.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lupul Scores! Flyers Win!

Joffrey Lupul, seen recently on the side of milk cartons for his lack of offense in this series, potted the game winner in OT (on the PP, no less) as the Flyers beat the Washington Capitals by a score of 3 - 2.
In a game that featured an ebb and flow similar to Game 6, where the Flyers got the better of the early going and the Caps pressed the action late, Martin Biron stood tall for the Flyers. He made 16 saves in a tightly-contested 3rd period, where there were no penalties called, despite several infractions committed. As the Caps were coming at the Flyers in waves, the Flyers managed only 5 mostly ineffectual shots on goal. This team was clearly gassed going into the overtime period.

As OT began, it was obvious that the Flyers had regained some jump and, after a couple of incidents where a Flyer was pulled down by a Cap (the Sami Kapanen play was a pull down in plain sight), one of them was finally called (against Cap Tom Poti) giving the Flyers a rare OT man advantage.

It was incredibly important for the Flyers to score on that power play. The "make up" call giving the Caps the power play was going to occur; it was just a matter of time. Fortunately, Lupul put in his first goal of the series such that the Flyers didn't need to worry about the make up call.

Did you notice?

- Holy Crap, was that Steve Downie on the ice in a Game 7? He committed two minors and looked a little lost, but I blame none of that on Downie. Stevens saw fit to play Downie, a 20 year old who never played in a playoff game, on Mike Richards' line. Sure, he saw some success with Richards during the regular season, but that was before Stevens buried the guy. He should have been in the Riley Cote role, where he wouldn't have seen nearly as much ice time as he would playing on Richards' line. Eventually, Kapanen took Downie's place on that line.

- I don't know how many shot Lasse Kukkonen blocked, but I'd bet it was alot.

- Despite Alex Ovechkin finding his stride somewhat in this series, kudos must be given to Kimmo Timonen. If you noticed, Ovechkin's points were not coming because he simply overpowered or juked and jived the puck around some hapless d-man (see the goal he had in game 1 versus Lasse Kukkonen). The goals were coming off of home run passes, broken plays, and being set up on the power play. All those goals count, but Timonen sublimated some of his offensive game to contain Ovechkin and it worked. The same goes for Braydon Coburn, who is making himself into a star in this league.

- All of the Washington pub is about Ovechkin and rightly so, but Nicklas Backstrom is an emerging player. In a year where Chicago's Patrick Kane got all of the rookie publicity, maybe some folks better get a look at Backstrom, who some hockey writers compared to a young Forsberg.

- Finally, the Flyers' second goal, where Patrick Thoresen knocked a Caps d-man into Huet, enabling Sami Kapanen to score into an empty net was controversial, but the fact that Huet was out of his crease and was bowled over by his own guy, who was back checking hard, was just an unfortunate circumstance. That said, I thought for sure they would review that and it would magically get overturned. Once in a while, maybe the Flyers do get a break from the refs.

Game 7 Update: Melrose Likes the Caps!

I feel better about the Flyers' chances tonite already

Flyers Face Game 7

I missed a ton of stuff to talk about over the past few days as we threw a party for my son, who turned two, and I had to play Mr. Mom yesterday and didn't have time to post anything.

But today, let's stick with the Flyers, who put themselves in just a brutal hole by dropping a 4 - 2 decision in front of their home crowd in one of the most frustrating games of the year. This was after they got up 2 - 0 on the strength of their seemingly rejuvenated power play.

At about the midway point of the game, it was as if the Flyers stopped skating and hoped the Capitals would simply quit. Not only did the Caps not quit, but I wonder if that game gave Alexander Ovechkin the confidence he may have been missing and would possibly propel him to carry his team to a Game 7 win tonite. Ovechkin finished with 2 goals, including the backbreaking goal on a breakaway near the start of the third period. This was the same segment that saw the Flyers put a ton of pressure on the Caps, to no avail, and included Braydon Coburn solidly ringing one off of the post.

I'm not so sure about how the Flyers will even come out tonite and to be honest, I'm not feeling terribly optimistic. There is much to be concerned about with this team right now. Specifically:

1.) Can Martin Biron handle back-to-back starts? He has not done well with these situations through the regular season.

2.) Can John Stevens make the necessary adjustments? Last night marked the second time this series his team coughed up a lead.

3.) Will any of the Flyers secondary scoring show up? Hartnell, Upshall, and Lupul have 1 goal combined. Last night, Lupul finally posted an assist to give him 1 point for the series, which is only one more than I have. Also, the Flyers d-men currently have 1 goal in this series and that belongs to Derian Hatcher, of all people. I can't call out Kimmo Timonen here, as his task has been to keep an eye on Ovie, but the rest of the guys on the blueline (*cough*Randy Jones*cough*) need to pick up the slack offensively.

4.) Can the Flyers sufficiently hide Jason Smith? He's a -6 in this series so far. Love his heart and grit, but he is not getting any faster in this series.

The puck drops at 7 tonite down in DC.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Knuble Propels Flyers in 2 OT

Mike Knuble scored a typical Mike Knuble goal in the second overtime period and the Flyers took Game 4 of the best of 7 series with the Caps by a score of 4 - 3.
The victory enables the Flyers to take a commanding 3 games to 1 lead in the series as it heads back to Washington for game 5.

This game featured the Washington Capitals coming out with much more of a snarl than in recent games and it felt like they pressed the action much more than in either Game 2 or 3. In particular, the recently demoted Niklas Backstrom played with good intensity and scored the Caps' first goal.

As for the Flyers, they seemed to play a little tentatively in the first period and through most of the second. While they were enduring their period of being somewhat off-kilter, Jeff Carter held down the fort offensively, scoring the first two Flyer goals. The first Carter goal was on a nifty backhand just 42 seconds into the game that really got the already juiced up crowd in a frenzy.

That the game even went to overtime is thanks to Danny Briere, who seems to be coming up big every night in this series. Briere scored the game tying goal half-way through the 3rd period, and after that goal, you could feel that the Caps were sagging and starting to doubt themselves a bit. Every foray down the ice by the Flyers after the Briere goal seemed like that could be the rush that ended the game and sent everyone home happy.

When the game went into overtime, play seemed a little tentative in the beginning, which you would expect of two relatively young teams. The Flyers got the best of the shot total in OT (18 - 12), but the Caps definitely had their opportunities in the OT, but Martin Biron made the saves when he had to. Biron's clutch saves set the stage for Carter-Upshall-Knuble line to work their magic.

Random Thoughts on the game:

- Kimmo Timonen is an ANIMAL! Another good game of containing Ovechkin, who did notch 2 power play assists, but did nothing at even strength.

- I'm sorry, but the hockey gods owe Patrick Thoresen a goal.

- Danny Briere trying to get Nik Backstrom to drop the gloves in the first period?

- Having not seen much of Mike Green, it appears he is going to be a truly elite player when he learns to control his emotions. In game 3, it was the Upshall fight. It this one, it was a roughing call after Derian Hatcher (legally) pasted him into the boards. While the roughing call he took in the 2nd period was ticky-tack, he shouldn't have put himself in that position to begin with. As Ed Van Impe used to say, you have an entire career to get revenge on a guy.

- The Flyers' power play appears to be having issues, going only 1 of 7. If their power play had clicked at all, this game would have never gone to OT.

- The Caps took 2 too many men on the ice penalties. Not good.

Seen at the game

- I was in attendence at the game last night....the crowd was rowdy and energetic. The weather was BEAUTIFUL outside before the game.

- I wish the Flyers wouldn't whip out the "God Bless America" montage in the playoffs until a Game 7 situation or the Cup Finals. A game 4 in a first round series is not when you need "God Bless America".

- The thundersticks have GOT to go. No more thundersticks. Since when does a Flyer crowd need thundersticks? Save the thundersticks for hockey markets like Anaheim and Nashville.

- Hatred for thundersticks aside, I like the orange paper helmets. They look goofy, but my kid seemed to enjoy his this morning. Definitely a good, original idea.

- If you went to the game, and you hung out by the Bud Light pavillion, you may have seen this one BIG FUCKING LOSER with a Rangers jersey on. You have tickets to the game and are not a fan of either team, that's fine. But to show up to a Flyers-Caps playoff game in a Rangers jersey? On top of that, it was a Jagr jersey. Did this asshole not have anything else in his closet to wear? Big. Fucking. Loser.

- On the other hand, two enterprising guys had a couple of pretty cool homemade shirts. One referred to Mike Knuble as "Obi-wan Knuble", a Star Wars reference, which the geek in me really sort of dug. The other, had a "Kukkonen for Cocoa Puffs" shirt, replete with Lasse Kukkonen's picture with the Cocoa puffs logo.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quickie Roundup - 4/17/2008

The Phils

The Phils got beat by the Astros by a score of 2 -1. The Phillies were completely shut down by Astros' starter Roy Oswalt (who, frankly, was due to punk some team....he was 0 - 3 coming in), who allowed 1 run in 7 innings of work. Kyle Kendrick did a fine job of matching Oswalt's effort, going 7 innings and giving up only 2 run, but unfortunately, he did not get the stellar offensive support that he normally enjoys. Former Phil Michael Bourn came back to hit a home run; something that must have made Astro GM Ed Wade feel good about himself.

Jimmy Rollins missed another game with the same ankle injury he had the Mets series and he apparently won't return until this weekend. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Ruben Amaro thinks it's a good idea to have kept Jimmy off the DL.

They close out the Astros series in a day game at the Cit House. Myers vs. Backe.

The Flyers

The Flyers play Game 4 of their first round series with the Caps tonite. Kimmo Timonen will be ready for action tonight and you can bet the Caps (especially Ovechkin) will poke and prod Timonen on that injured arm/shoulder/wrist to see if they can get the injury to recur.

The puck drops at 7.

Also, please keep the Modry family in your prayers as Jaroslav Modry lost his father to colon cancer. In all liklihood, he will be flying out for the funeral in the coming days and will be missed.

The Sixers

The Sixers lost a meaningless game to the Charlotte Bobcats last night to end their season with a record of 40 - 42. More meaningful is the release of the NBA playoff schedule.

Game 1 - Sun April 20 Philadelphia at Detroit 6:00PM ET
Game 2 - Wed April 23 Philadelphia at Detroit 7:30PM ET
Game 3 - Fri April 25 Detroit at Philadelphia 7:00PM ET
Game 4 - Sun April 27 Detroit at Philadelphia 7:00PM ET
Game 5 * Tue April 29 Philadelphia at Detroit TBD
Game 6 * Thu May 1 Detroit at Philadelphia TBD
Game 7 * Sat May 3 Philadelphia at Detroit TBD

I'll have a Sixers playoff preview up by Friday night.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Briere Pots Two; Beats Caps

Danny Briere scored two very big goals and Vinny Prospal had 3 assists as the Flyers thumped the Washington Capitals by a score of 6 - 3.

With a charged Wachovia center crowd completely berzerk, the Flyers came out strong against the Caps in the first period, putting 11 shots on goal, scoring on 3. Briere's first goal featured two exceptional passes; first by Braydon Coburn on the breakout and then by Prospal, while Briere and Prospal were on the rush into the Capitals zone. The goal that really set the place on fire in the first period, however, was the third goal.

Occurring a mere 17 seconds after Scott Hartnell scored to make it a 2 - 1 game, Jim Dowd stole a breakout pass from Washington's Milan Jurcina, and left a drop pass to Kapanen, who made no mistake with the puck. The place was already going nuts from when Hartnell scored; after Kapanen scored, the Wachovia center exploded and you never really felt Washington had much of a chance after that.

There were a couple of anxious moments in this game; specifically, the injury to Kimmo Timonen. Timonen has done a great job in leading the charge of keeping Alex Ovechkin under wraps. Losing Timonen for any length of time will be costly to the Flyers and from the awkward and forceful way he plowed into the base of the Capitals' goal camera, I'd be surprised if Timonen didn't miss some time.

Another anxious moment was the Capitals' third goal, by Brooks Laich, which was almost definitely hit with a high stick. That goal, which should not have counted, made the score 4 - 3 Flyers, and coupled with the Timonen injury, made for some unwanted strang und durm.

The anxiety was eased, however, when Mike Richards picked up a Capitals turnover and set sail towards Cristobal Huet. Richards was hauled down and was awarded a penalty shot by "Donut" Don Koharski. On the subsequent penalty shot, Richards used the "Forsberg Move", where subtle juking gets the goalie moving laterally, and deftly tucked the puck between Huet's legs for the back breaker.

Game 4 will be Thursday at the Wachovia Center.

Did you notice?

- Scottie Upshall goading Mike Green into a fight. It's obvious that the Caps have had enough of Upshall and as offensively talented as Mike Green is, he got his ass kicked in that fight.
- In what might taint Alex Ovechkin forever in the minds of Flyers fan, the flop that AO took in the 3rd period after the incidental skate contact with RJ Umberger. I'm stunned that he wasn't called for diving on that play. Also, did the lip readers catch what Stevens was yelling at Ovie from the bench?

- The Brooks Laich goal, coupled with the Sixers game on Monday night and some of the crap calls the Phillies have gotten lately, has me wondering if someone forgot to give a donation to the old referees and umpires home. As a Philly sports fan, I'm ready for some better luck with the calls.

- Sergei Federov played several shifts on defense in the game, and at some points, the Caps had 5 forwards out on the ice. The concept of putting 5 forwards on the ice is a move I have always been a fan of in the EA Sports NHL games, so I'm pleased to see an NHL coach use it in a game.

- Nice pass from ex-Flyer Donald Brashear on the Caps' first goal. Donald's got some skill and every now and then, he flashes it. Sometimes, he tries to flash it to the detriment of his hitting game, but Brash can play a little bit.

- Finally, just what in the hell was that celebration that Mike Richards did after he scored on that penalty shot? It was either a reference to the earlier Ovechkin dive or some obscure OHL goal scoring ritual I'd never heard of. Either way, I look forward to hearing some theories on it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The 2008 Eagles Schedule is Out!

Let the entirely-too-early prognostications begin! At least I know what Mike Missanelli will be talking about when I get in the car at 5pm.

Without getting into the full-blown analysis, I think the schedule looks pretty reasonable, but I will confess that the Eagles definitely get a bit of break with the game before their Thanksgiving matchup at home with Arizona. They will be playing on the road in Baltimore, which is about as easy of a road game as the Eagles will ever have. Not necessarily easy because I think the Ravens are bad (and they ARE bad), but because they won't have too much travel before the short week.

The NBA Doesn't Care About Sixer Fans

On Sixers fan appreciation night, the NBA officials showed their appreciation for the fans by screwing them and not in a good way.

In a play I've never seen happen before, a foul was called after play was determined to have been completed and confirmed via replay. Is there any other sport where an infraction is actually determined to have occurred via replay after the game was over? Regardless of whether this was the correct action, the execution of the whole matter was incredibly shady.

In any event, official Greg Willard called both teams out of the dressing room and had the Cavs' Devin Brown shoot two free throws for the win.

Regardless of whether or not the officials got it right, there was an unseemliness to the whole matter that doesn't sit right. Frankly, to cover their own asses, the officials could do that same thing at the end of every close game or close play at the end of the half. Why just pick this play and this game? Regardless of it's correctness relative to the rules, it reflects poorly on a league and a group of officials that just got over a scandal where one of it's official skewed the outcomes of games because of his gambling ties.

I'm not saying that that's what happened here. I'm just saying it doesn't look good.

It cost the Sixers any shot at the sixth seed in the Eastern conference and locked the Cavs into the fourth seed. This means the Sixers will open against the vaunted Detroit Pistons.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Phils: A productive weekend

Unlike me, the Phils actually had a rather productive weekend. The Phils took 2 of 3 games from the visiting Cubs last weekend, which currently puts them in second place in the NL East. They did this without the services of Jimmy Rollins, who is still out with a sore ankle.

Brett Myers looks like he is close to righting his ship on Friday, as he held the Cubs to 3 runs over 8 innings in what was his best outing to date in a 5 - 3 Phils win. Pat Burrell continued his hot start, with a homer and 3 RBI.

Saturday saw CMH keep the fuzzy Cubbies at bay with 7 innings of 1-hit ball. According to the game recap on the Phillies' official site, Hamels wasn't impressed with himself:

"It's a scary feeling, especially in this ballpark," Hamels said. "In the summer, those things will be five rows deep. I felt better after the third inning. It's part of the game. I lucked out. They hit a lot of balls hard that I left over the plate -- right at guys. I wasn't hitting my usual location. It's one of those things where I'm thanking our defense."

Geez, I can't wait to hear what he's got to say after a bad outing. Also, Ryan Howard and Peter Happy both went yard.

Yesterday was the only Phils loss of the weekend, but it was the second time in a week that they got jobbed by the umpires. This time, it was Adrian Johnson, who called fair, what everyone in the ballpark knew to be a foul ball. This comes on the heels of last Thursday debacle when Jose Reyes was called safe when he was very obviously out, giving the Mets the win last week. With any luck, we'll be collecting those make up calls sometime in September when we really need them. In a weird set of circumstance (which I'll elaborate on shortly), Geoff Jenkins batted lead off yesterday. He didn't do so bad, in going 2 for 6, while the most recent two hole hitter, Jayson Werth, had two steals to go with a home run.

Shane Victorino: Everyday Player?

I like Shane Victorino. I really do. He runs hard. He hustles. He does the neat little shaving pie stunts to this teammates. Seems like a good guy.

So, why can't I shake the sneaky suspicion that Victorino will never be anything more than a platoon player? Shane just cannot stay on the field as he is now on the 15 day DL with a strained right calf and a slight tear of his meniscus in his right knee. This comes after he was limited by a calf injury last year. It also occurs just as he was beginning to pick up the pace with the bat, going 4 for his last 7.

I'd love to be proven wrong in this assessment.

Did You Notice?

- Former Phil Gavin Floyd almost had a no-hitter on Saturday, in shutting out the Tigers 7 - 0. He lost it in the 8th inning and was lifted shortly thereafter.

- Karma is most certainly a woman, because it can be a real bitch. Don't believe me? Ask a Mets fan. If any of them were happy to see JRoll get hurt last week, they've got something else to worry about. Jose Reyes has been out with a sore hamstring. No word if a DL stint is in his future.

- I can't think of anything dumber than that story of the idiot who buried a shirt under the new Yankee stadium. Honestly, enough of the Red Sox and Yankee bullshit. It's completely played out.

Flyers Split in DC

Bleary eyed and undaunted after a LONG weekend (that lasted until I put down my last beer at 11:45 last night), I can tell you that I believe there is nothing like NHL playoff hockey for it's sheer drama and intensity.

Jeff Carter and RJ Umberger potted goals and Martin Biron closed all windows and doors, giving the Flyers a 2 - 0 victory down in DC. The win gave the Flyers a split in the first two games of the series. For the next couple of games, matters will be negotiated in South Philly. I can assure you that the Wachovia Center will be rocking on Tuesday and Thursday night.

In both games, the Caps came out buzzing in the first period and in both games, the Flyers not only withstood the fury of the adrenalized Caps, but responded in kind. On Friday, it was Vinny Prospal scoring on what could charitably could be called a soft goal. Yesterday, it was RJ Umberger's semi-breakaway.

You can't feel good about things if you're a Caps fan. The Flyers took the best the Caps had to offer in two games in their barn, and the Caps have held the lead for a grand total of about 12 minutes.

It's hard to overstate how well Martin Biron played yesterday. The Caps had some glorious opportunities, especially in the first period, only to be turned away by the immensely confident Biron. Alexander Semin, especially, must be shaking his head. He hit a cross bar in the first period, then just got flat out robbed by Biron in the second period. I don't think I've seen Biron play that well all season.

On top of everything he did on the ice yesterday, Marty Biron will become a father for the 3rd time today. By the time you have read this, Biron and his wife will have already checked into the hospital, and have probably had another child. Having your wife have a C-section on your off day during the playoffs means you have some big time political capital in your marriage.

- Watching Scottie Upshall buzz around in both games makes me even angrier that Stevens has sort of buried Upshall all season.

- Note to RJ Umberger: Hate to break it to you, but you deserve the 4th line assignment you have right now. You are not a top 6 forward on this team. Just get over it.

- Kimmo Timonen. Worth. Every. Penny.

Programming note: Phils post later.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Flyers-Caps 2008 Playoff Preview

I'm the first to admit that I'm slightly stunned that this edition of the Orange and Black made it to the NHL playoffs. I was all ready to accept the big picture assessment of "wow, they sucked so bad last year that getting close to the playoffs this year was actually an acheivement" appraisal of all things Flyers. I had accepted that the Caps would get the 8th playoff spot, at the Flyers' expense, and that I would spin out a bunch of post-mortems on the Flyers' season and what they should do to get better for next year.

Writing that post-mortem will have to wait for this playoff series, however. Unbelivably, as we saw last Friday, the Carolina Hurricanes choked like dogs against the Florida Panthers, guarenteeing the Flyers a spot in the NHL playoffs. The Pens then went on to hand them the sixth seed by virtue of their disinterested effort last Sunday.

So here we are, against an old Patrick Division rival. You do remember the Patrick Division, don't you? Worst thing that Gary Bettman ever did was fuck up those good old rivalries and rename the division. Washington, you may recall, was a big rival of the Flyers; especially, in the mid-to-late 80's.

Those old Caps teams had guys like Dino Ciccarelli, Don Beaupre, Bobby Carpenter, HOFer Mike Gartner, Bengt Gustafsson, Denis Maruk, Dale Hunter, Mike Ridley, and yes, even a young Scott Stevens. Those old Caps teams were probably one of the most underrated NHL teams from the 80s. Their only problem was having to go through dominant Flyer and Islander teams through the early part of the 80s, and later, the budding Mario Lemieux-led Pens were in their way.

With this in mind, you would be correct if you thought there was some good post season hockey violence in the history between the Flyers and Caps. I won't recount that here.....others have done a very good job of that already (like here, for example).

But what I will say is that that history won't matter when these two teams get together tonite. It's a new NHL and these two teams are in completely different divisions and really don't get to work up a good hatred for each other like in the '80s. As a matter of fact, outside of Ovechkin, I'd venture that most fans don't know the Caps very well at all.

So, how will this series go down? Let's go through the talent:

Forwards: Slight edge to the Flyers here. The Caps have the best forward on either team in Alexander Ovechkin; that is without question. They also have an excellent rookie forward in Niklas Backstrom (69 points; 55 assists) as well as the dynamic Alexander Semin (26 goals). The artist formerly known as Sergei Fedorov is on the Caps and is rejuvenated by all accounts.

The Flyers, however, go three deep down the middle with Briere, Richards, and Carter. The Flyers' centers are probably better than any center currently on the Caps' roster (with the possible exception of the injured Michael Nylander). Furthermore, the Flyers have 7 guys on their team with 20 or more goals. The Capitals? Just 3.

If there is one name that Flyer fans will come to loathe over the course of this series, it's that of Matt Cooke. Cooke is an agitator of the first order. I was listening to a podcast from TheFan 590, a radio station out of Toronto (mandatory listening during the hockey season), and Matt Cooke came up in conversation. The participants in the conversation were former players John Garrett and Nick Kypreos. Apparently, according to Garrett and Kypreos, Cooke isn't the kind of agitator to stick around and deal with the mess he'd created. This wasn't some pencil necked host saying that Cooke runs away from confrontations; this was two former players. I can see this type of player completely infuriating the Flyer fanbase. If any one factor will contribute to Steve Downie seeing ice time during this series, it will depend on how much Cooke gets under the skin of the Flyer players and how it affects the amount of penalties the Flyers are assessed.

Defense: Again, very slight edge to the Flyers here. The Caps have young Mike Green, who has blossomed under rookie NHL coach Bruce Boudreau to score 18 goals from the blue line. After Green, though, the Caps have a veritable list of journeymen. The most recognizable name is that of Tom Poti, former Ranger whipping boy.

The speed of the Flyers' D is actually not bad; where things slow up a bit is when you get to the topic of either Jason Smith or Derian Hatcher. The lack of speed of either Smith or Hatcher is negated, however, when you factor in that both players have probably forgotten more about playoff hockey than most players know firsthand.

The Flyers may not a defenseman as dynamic as Green (Timonen is still pretty good and an All-Star to boot), but they have more depth, top to bottom, on their blue line, than the Caps do.

Goaltending: Even. Between them, the Caps' Cristobal Huet and the Flyers' Martin Biron have played 6 total NHL playoff games (all of them Huet's). Huet was traded away from Montreal because Bob Gainey did not believe that Huet was a playoff goalie; so much so, that Montreal is going with a rookie in net. Huet has been rock solid since coming to the Caps, winning 10 games, including 8 straight.

Martin Biron has never played in a postseason game and I'm not sure his lack of experience will be a problem. Where Biron runs into issues, I believe, is in his concentration. The playoffs will have Biron's full attention and should have Biron highly motivated.

Coaching: Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, 52, is in his first year as an NHL head coach after laboring in the minors for what must have seemed like forever. He won the AHL championship, the Calder Cup, behind the bench coaching the Hershey Bears and has coached over 1000 games in the minors in places such as Ft. Wayne of the old IHL and in Mississippi in the ECHL.

Flyers coach John Stevens, 42, is in his 2nd year as Flyers head coach and his first full year after taking over last year's disatrous season from Ken Hitchcock. Like Boudreau, Stevens also won a Calder Cup, taking the 2005 AHL title. Before the Flyers job, Stevens had coached over 400 games, all in the Philadelphia organization.

I'd say this comparison is about even, because they both have comparable NHL coaching experience. All Boudreau has done, is coach lousy players in the minors longer than Stevens did (Note: If it ever came to a physical battle between the coaches, I'd take Stevens against just about any NHL head coach....he could fight a little bit when he played).

Intangibles/Conspiracy Theory: Slight edge to the Caps. The Caps are all the rage right now in the NHL. The national media has gotten up off of it's collective knees from in front of the Pens and Sidney Crosby and has now assumed the position in front of Alexander Ovechkin, giving him the kind of knob polishing Tera Patrick would be proud of. I don't think Flyers fans mind Ovechkin nearly as much as they do Crybaby Crosby, but all the same, don't think for one second that the potential of a 2nd round matchup between the Caps and Pens doesn't make Gary Bettman masturbate furiously.

The Prediction: I don't think the Caps will have enough depth to stay with the Flyers; Ovechkin will score and this will be a tough series. I think the longer this series goes, the more it favors the Flyers, because of their scoring depth. I don't think the Flyers can downright out-physical the Caps, but as the series goes forward, I believe the top-to-bottom difference in roster talent will show.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sixers Beat Pistons; Phils Show Iron Hands

Last night was another of those nights where the remote control got a workout. Going back and forth between the Sixers, Phillies, and even the Pittsburgh - Ottawa NHL playoff on Versus gave me a decent look at all three events.

Sixers Beat Resting Pistons

The Detroit Pistons definitely showed up at the Wachovia Center, but they way they used their players, it looked more like an exhibition game as Detroit played all of their players last night against the Sixers en route to the 101 - 94 Sixer victory.

Andre Iguodala had 25 points, which included 4 3-pointers, to go with 5 steals, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Samuel Dalembert also hung up dominant numbers with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Back to Iguodala momentarily: I'm sure this will come up more prominently after the season is over and we have time to reflect on the big picture, but I think it's time that Sixer fans come to the reality that the Sixers are going to have to give Iggy his money this summer. Iguodala is the heart of a team that has Andre Miller as it's soul. He fills up every statistical category every night that he plays. He plays defense as hard, if not harder, than anyone in the game.

The Sixer bench guys pitched in as well; Jason Smith had good energy scoring 8 points and 5 rebounds in extended minutes and Lou Williams managed a 12 point, 7 assist effort.

As of this AM, the Sixers sit in the 6th, 1 game ahead of Toronto, and would be poised to play the Orlando Magic, should the season end today.

Other items:

- Seemed like old times last night....Jimmy Lynam coached most of the 4th quarter, because Mo Cheeks apparently had to leave bench because he wasn't feeling well.

- I cannot think of a worse look than that of Pistons guard Walter Herrmann, who sports a Eurotrash style pony tail. I had thought that Flip Saunders was drunk and allowed one of the members of the WNBA Detroit Shock to get extended minutes.

Phils Lose

Despite the ambiguity around Rollins' injury, he did not play last night in the 7 - 2 loss to the hated Mets.

The game itself was miserable; the Phils committed 4 errors and of those, two were by Rollins' replacement, Eric Bruntlett, in the same inning. Combined with the Chase Utley error in the 1st inning that led to a run, that meant of the 7 runs the Mets scored, only 1 was earned. Yikes!

That doesn't let Kyle Kendrick off of the hook totally. He threw 71 pitches in only going 2 1/3 innings and walked 6. He struck out the same number of batters I struck out last night, which was none. That's not acceptable.

On the bright side, long reliever Chad Durbin (potential replacement?) went 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief to keep the Mets at 7 runs.

Offensively, some key Phils continue to struggle. Victorino, leading off in place of Rollins, needs to pick up the pace. He took an 0 - 5 collar last night and left 3 men on base. Shane Victorino's lack of offense in the early going should be a big source of concern for the Phils. Is this guy a top of the order player? Ryan Howard did pick up a base hit last night, but is still hitting only .188 and struck out twice.

Series continues tonite with Adam Eaton facing John Maine.

Misc. NHL Playoffs

Watched a little of the Pittsburgh-Ottawa game last night....the Pens just came out of the gate and just sucker punched Ottawa 4 - 0. It seemed like Gary Roberts growled at Ottawa and they all collectively backed down. Someone on the Sens needs to drop the gloves with Roberts. Also, despite getting the shutout, I didn't think Fleury had to do much to get it. The Sens just looked real passive.

Of concern to the Flyers, was that I thought the game was evenly called (5 power plays apiece). Consistent officiating will be a factor in the Flyers playoff success.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Phils Spoil Mets 2008 Opener

If you are a Phils fan and you were watching this game on Gamecast like I was, you certainly weren't pleased with the state of things after 6 innings. But fortunately, the play 9 innings in baseball, and the Phils tacked up 5 runs in the 7th and 8th inning, which was good enough for a 5 - 2 victory. In winning, the Phils took a dump on the last home opener in Shea Stadium history.

Lots of kudos to go around in this affair....Jamie Moyer going 6 innings, giving up only 2 runs comes to mind. The old man, after a rough first outing, came up big, keeping the Mets at arms length until the bats woke up.

But it was the MVP, Jimmy Rollins, who once again keyed the comeback, with singles in both the 7th and 8th inning that eventually led to runs. Rollins continues to come up big in big spots this season, but he did, unfortunately, incur an ankle injury when he was on the basepaths in the 8th inning. Reports are mixed as to his status today. On ESPN 950 yesterday on the way home from work, it was reported that Rollins walked with a noticeable limp and will ice the ankle down see if he can play on it today. The story on the Phillies MLB page has Jimmy Rollins not limping at all after the game. So who knows what to believe about the extent of the injury.

I can't believe it's too bad....from what I understand, when Rollins did it, he caught his cleat in the dirt going back into 2nd base on a play. He was healthy enough to eventually score a run in the 8th inning, so I'm not so sure how bad it really is, but the big fear I have is that it will linger all year.

Also of note:

- Chase Utley got hit 3 times in the game with a pitched ball. He got hit a fourth time while running the bases. You can't make this shit up. David Wright should not dig in at the plate for the rest of the series.

- Ryan Howard's average after this game: .179.

- Thankfully, no day game today to impede work productivity: Kyle Kendrick (1 - 0) goes tonite at 7:10pm for the Phils against Mike Pelfrey.
Photo from (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Phils-Mets 2008 - It Begins Today....

Thankfully, the Phils did manage to get their split in the 4-game set in Cincinnati by winning yesterday by a score of 5 - 3, on the strength of a 2 homer game from Pat Burrell and 7 strong innings of work from CMH. Jimmy Rollins led off the game for his second homer of the year and Geoff Jenkins hit his first as a Phil.

Now today, in yet another afternoon game that threatens to completely cripple my work productivity for the beginning part of this week, they go to very aptly named Flushing, NY to play the hated New York Metropolitans.

In case you didn't know, today is the home opener for the Mets, who have managed to compile a 2 - 3 record to date, and are fittingly tied with the Phils and Atlanta in the division in the very, very early going. This is supposed to be the last opening day in Shea Stadium history as that toilet will finally be relegated to history and the Mets (thankfully) will get a new ballpark next year and stay the fuck away from our ballpark.

I am actually very happy that the Phils are going to New York so early this year and will get the Mets back at our place next weekend. If the Phils are in any way nonchalant about the start of the season, that will end today. The Mets always seems to get the Phillies' attention and if any Phils are sleep walking right now (Shane Victorino, I'm looking at you), opening up the Mets' ballpark for a new season is the right way to wake up.

One player who has not been sleep walking has been noted Met-killer Pat Burrell. Burrell carries a lusty .435 avg. with 3 homers and 9 RBI into Shea Stadium. For his career, in 134 games, Burrell has hit 41 homers, several of the dramatic variety, and 102 RBI, while slugging .559.

The pitching matchups are just OK for the Phils (not in love with Thursday's matchup), but the Phils do miss Johan Santana on this trip:

Today (1:10pm): Jamie Moyer vs. Oliver Perez
Tomorrow (7:10pm): Kyle Kendrick vs. Doug Pelfrey
Thursday (7:10pm): Adam Eaton vs. John Maine

As for this being the last opener in Shea Stadium history, as I've never been to Shea, I don't really have any personal memories of the place. So, for every series we have this year in Shea, I'm going to try to come up with a shitty Mets memory to commemorate the closing of one of the worst ballparks in recent athletic history.

Today's memory is also Phillies related and comes up every year around Father's day...... the famous Jim Bunning perfect game against the Mets in 1964.

Monday, April 07, 2008

What a weekend.....

Last weekend is as about as busy as it gets when you follow the four major sports teams. The results were mostly good, especially for the winter sports teams, who with victories last Friday, both clinched berths in the playoffs for their respective leagues.

The Sixers clinched their playoff berth on the road, by beating the Atlanta Hawks by score of 109 - 104. Andre Iguodala led the way with 30 points and 10 assists. And while the Sixers did drop the backend of the home-and-home series with Atlanta, it shouldn't have dampened the palpable enthusiasm people are starting to acquire for this Sixers team.

The Flyers did not allow a goal all weekend and swept both games from their divisional foes. In doing so, they have earned themselves the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference and a playoff date with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Flyers' win against New Jersey last Friday night was nothing short of heroic, while their win yesterday against the Pens was nothing short of anti-climactic. Martin Biron collected both shutouts and seems to be peaking at the right time and Scottie Upshall, seemingly always in Coach Stevens' doghouse, picked up key goals in both games. A preview of the Flyers' playoff foe will come this week.

The Phillies have dropped two in a row to the Reds, but did win in convincing fashion last Friday on the strength of 2 Chase Utley homers. Brett Myers' adjustment back to the rotation was singularly unimpressive in yesterday's loss to the Reds, going only 5 innings once again. The Phils will have an opportunity to salvage a split with the Reds today, with CMH going up against Bronson Arroyo.

Other observations:

- Anyone catch Evgeni Malkin diving like Greg Louganis at the Olympics during yesterday's game? The Penguins are probably happy to be paired up with injury-depleted Ottawa in the playoffs, but if they try to employ their little diving techniques against a Canadian-based team, it will be trumpeted in the press all across North America.

- The last thing the Pens wanted was a playoff series against the Flyers. The Pens would probably win such a series right now, but they would come out of such a series beaten up a little. The Pens, like the Flyers, have shown a commitment to team defense recently, but they cannot hide that paper thin defense forever.

- Willie Green....1 for 11 last Saturday night against Atlanta. U-G-L-Y.

- Encouraging outing from Adam Eaton last Saturday....7 innings, 3 runs, all earned. He deserved a better fate than a ND.

- Hopefully, the league makes a big deal of it when Ken Griffey Jr. gets his 600th homer, which should be shortly the way he has swung the bat against the Phils. You tend to forget about Junior because of the inflated numbers so many other players have put up and the way he has been injured in the past few years. We should appreciate the type of player that Junior is while he is still playing.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Everyone Is Playing Tonite

Tonite could set a record for for most remote controls broken, most beers drank, and/or most divorces initiated during the course of TV sports watching. Playoff lives will be given or taken away tonite.

Three of the four local professional sports teams are in action tonite.....all at the same time! My head is going to explode thinking about it.

The lone slacker of the local teams, the NFL Eagles, claim there is such thing as an "off-season", which I guess is a time when no one plays football games. I say "bullshit".....typical lazy, overpaid athletes is what they are.

The Phils vs. Reds 7:10pm

The Phils managed to avoid the ignominy of getting swept by the Nats and scored a come-from-behind 8 - 7 win on a walk-off walk by Jayson Werth in the bottom of the 10th inning. The real credit for the game winning run goes to Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Rollins, hitless at that point of the game, led off the 10th with an infield singe. Victorino then sacrificed, but Jimmy Rollins managed to race all the way to third on the play. This put the Nats in a big hole, as they then decided to intentionally walk both Utley and Howard to load the bases with 1 out for Jayson Werth. Werth took 4 straight balls and the first victory of 2008 was clinched.

Chris Coste hit his first homer of the year earlier in the contest and the bullpen managed tp pitch 6 1/3 innings of 1-run ball to aid in the win.

The Phils will now be in Cincy tonite for the first of a 4 game set.....KK vs. Josh Fogg at 7:10 on CN8.

Flyers vs. Devils 7pm

As of this writing, the Flyers are in the 9th spot in the Eastern conference, which puts them out of the playoffs. They desperately need this win to keep pace or else they'll be playing golf this time next week.

Playing the Devils will prove a daunting task as they've only beaten them once this season and have, in general, not looked good against their rival from North Jersey.

Mike Knuble, on the Flyers web site today, is asking fans to get to the game early to gain some home ice advantage. I'm always a little cynical when a professional athlete spends any time worrying what the fans are or are not doing. If the players are focused and well-prepared and concentrating on what they're doing, the fans and their demeanor generally takes care of itself

Regardless, I would imagine that Marty Biron will be in net tonite, however, don't be surprised if Stevens' pet Niitty is between the pipes. The local tabloids are suspiciously mum on who the goalie will be in the biggest game of the year to date.

Hostilities start at 7pm on CSN.

Sixers vs. Hawks 7:30pm

The upstart 76ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Atlanta Hawks tonite down in Atlanta. The Hawks, themselves, can be considered upstarts at this point as they are also pushing for their first playoff berth in what seems like since I was in high school and Dominique Wilkins was still playing.

So, even if the Flyers choke up their playoff spot, at the least Wachovia center will not be dark this spring. This Sixers season continues to amaze all Philly sports watchers as they are now tied for the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference.

The last time the Sixers faced the Hawks, back in February, the Sixers lost by a score of 96 - 91 and that was before the Hawks had Mike Bibby. In that game in February, Josh Smith blocked 9 friggin' shots. Nine shots! If the Sixers want that playoff spot tonite, they'll have to earn it.

Tip-off is at 7:30pm on CW-Philly 57.