Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stamkos, Lightning subdue Flyers; Hextall announces Colaiacovo signing

Tampa, FL -- Steven Stamkos collected two goals with one assist, Jason Garrison added a deciding power-play tally late in the third period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning escaped with a 4-3 decision over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

Vladislav Namestnikov also lit the lamp and Valtteri Filppula contributed three assists for the Lightning, winners in four of their last five. Ben Bishop aided the effort with 24 saves.

Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl picked up a goal each for the Flyers, whose three-game win streak came to an end. Claude Giroux netted two assists and Ray Emery stopped 28 shots in the loss.

Those who witnessed the opener of the club's Florida road trip barely had time to shake off the cobwebs from seeing another Sunshine State defeat, before news broke that free agent defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was under contract.

The 31-year-old, oft-injured rearguard appeared in just 25 games for the Blues last season, his 10th NHL campaign, and is essentially coming in cold. It remains to be seen just how quickly he can be brought up to speed, but with the Phantoms' roulette in full swing between Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere, there's a temporary solution to the temporary solution.

Despite a rare positive officiating move where Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas was called for roughing Giroux at the close of the second period, the Orange and Black failed to draw even with a full two-minute power play at the outset of the third.

Stamkos eventually put the Lightning up by a 3-1 count with 5 1/2 minutes elapsed in the third, waiting in the left circle for Filppula to skate behind the enemy cage and slip a cross-ice pass for a blistering one-timer.

Voracek, however, pulled his team back within a goal on a rebound attempt atop the crease 68 seconds later. The shot came from Manning, who picked up his third career point with the primary assist.

Garrison's laser from the point on a late Tampa man advantage gave it a 4-2 edge but Raffl's shot in close with 53.5 on the clock and Emery pulled made it a one-goal contest again.

Bishop had to be sharp down the stretch, turning away open chances from Giroux and Mark Streit in the late going to preserve the winning margin.

Namestnikov's tip of an Anton Stralman point blast found the back of the net just 3 1/2 minutes in. Though the goal was not reviewed, certain replays seemed to indicate the puck rolled just outside the zone before the shot was taken.

Simmonds evened the score as the clock ticked down to seven minutes left, potting a Pierre-Edouard Bellemare rebound from the right post.

After failing to click on two chances with the advantage in the second period, Stamkos whipped a shot through traffic from the outer portion of the left circle to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead with 45.7 seconds left.

Notes: The Bolts improved to 8-0-1 in their last nine at home against the Flyers and have outscored Philly 35-16 during that stretch ... Stamkos recorded his 47th career game of two-or-more tallies ...  Voracek became the first Flyer to record four consecutive multi-point games since Simon Gagne recorded five
consecutive multi-point games from Feb. 8-17, 2007 ... Colaiacovo had 144 points in 401 NHL appearances for the Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Blues.

Phils bid adieu to Adams

The Philadelphia Phillies have decided to part ways with reliever Mike Adams, choosing to decline his 2015 $6 million club option on Thursday.

Adams, who was a reliable presence with the Texas Rangers, spent much of the last two seasons on the disabled list and pitched in just 18 2/3 innings this year, posting a 2-1 mark with a 2.89 earned-run average.

His option would have vested automatically at $6 million with 60 innings pitched in 2014 or at $6.5 million with 120 innings in 2013-14, but he tossed only 43 2/3 innings in his two seasons.

In addition, Starter A.J. Burnett has until Monday to accept or decline his $12.75 million player option, while starter Kyle Kendrick and catcher Wil Nieves became free agents Thursday.

Baby Pens slip by Phantoms in OT



By Rob Riches
Phanatic Hockey Correspondent
Twitter: @Riches61

ALLENTOWN, PA. -- Despite 43 shots on goal Wednesday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were handed their first PPL Center loss in overtime on Wednesday night, 2-1 to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, thanks to a score from Jean-Sebastien Dea.

The Penguins (5-4-0) capitalized twice on five power-play opportunities, including Jean-Sebastien Dea’s tally with just over two minutes remaining in the seven-minute overtime period. Dea scored on a one-timer from a Brian Dumoulin pass at the lower-left circle on a 4-on-3 man advantage, with Nick Cousins serving a holding penalty.

Their victory was a measure of revenge for a season-opening 5-2 loss to the Phantoms back on October 11. 

That wasn’t the first time the Pens scored with Cousins in the penalty box. Andrew Ebbett tallied his second of the season during a 5-on-3 advantage at the 11:17 mark of the first period, as Cousins and Scott Laughton served minors for slashing and cross-checking, respectively. They were the only penalties both players took all game.

“Obviously, you can’t be taking penalties in overtime,” Cousins said. “That’s my fault. I took two penalties, and they scored on both. I’ve got to be more disciplined.”

Phantoms hoach Terry Murray followed up with the organizational belief towards discipline: “That’s been a key word from the first day at the gathering at Voorhees [N.J.], right at the start of training camp,” Murray said. “The message was very clear from the organization.”

Cousins also finished with a point, however, as he set up Zack Stortini’s first goal as a Phantom with 4:01 to go in the second stanza. Stortini beat Matt Murray on a 2-on-1 opportunity, and already has a quarter of his goal total from last season, with Norfolk. Cousins’ assist gives him seven this season, and is tied with six other players (including former Phantom Kris Newbury) for second in the league.

The Phantoms failed to produce on the power play, despite getting nearly twice as many opportunities as the Penguins (nine). Subsequently, they’ve fallen from the second spot and now boast the league’s sixth-ranked power play, clicking at 22.2 percent.

Zepp made 30 saves on 32 shots, and his record now stands at 4-0-1. He’s posted 29 or more saves in four games this season. Murray, a 20-year-old rookie, posted an astounding 42 saves, thanks in part to the Phantoms’ shot selection and lack of presence in front of the net.

“Quite a few of those shot numbers came from the blue line without any net presence,” Murray added. “When you start shooting the puck from 60 feet out without any screens, you’re going to catch the puck, which he did.”

With the overtime loss, the Phantoms (4-2-1) earn a point, and fall to third in the East Division standings. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton moves into a tie with Hershey, with 10 points.

Notes:  Recalled defenseman Brett Flemming and Baby Pens winger Scott Wilson engaged in a spirited fight at 16:28 of the second period, after a Wilson hit on Cousins. … With Brandon Manning called up Wednesday morning by the Flyers, the Phantoms recalled defenseman Maxim Lamarche from Reading (ECHL). … Manning’s call-up means Lehigh Valley is without their top three defensemen, after Shayne Gostisbehere’s call-up last week and an upper-body injury to Mark Alt, who is expected to miss weeks with a suspected shoulder issue … The Phantoms and Penguins next meet on Nov. 14. … Murray also said that Brett Hextall is out day-to-day with an upper-body injury, after being scratched Wednesday. … Saturday’s matchup against Hartford will be the first of a four-game series. … Jay Rosehill was scratched once more to serve the second of his three-game suspension for an illegal check.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sixers drop road opener in Indy

Indianapolis, IN -- Roy Hibbert had 22 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks in the Indiana Pacers' 103-91 season-opening win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

The Pacers were the Eastern Conference's best team last season and lost for the second straight year to the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals, but things took an ugly turn this summer.

Lance Stephenson bolted Indiana in free agency and landed with the Charlotte Hornets. To make things worse, All-Star Paul George broke his leg at a scrimmage for Team USA before this summer's FIBA World Cup. George is expected to miss the season.

Donald Sloan had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Pacers, who went 56-26 last season. Rodney Stuckey added 16 points and five assists in his Pacers debut.

C.J. Miles and Chris Copeland donated 15 and 11 points, respectively. The Pacers also played without starters David West (sprained ankle) and George Hill (knee contusion) and backup point guard C.J. Watson (foot).

Tony Wroten ended with 22 points, eight boards, seven assists and three steals for the Sixers, who went 19-63 last season. Alexey Shved tallied 18 points.

Nerlens Noel had six points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in his NBA debut. Noel was acquired on draft night in 2013 and sat all of last season to heal from a torn ACL.

Michael Carter-Williams, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is on the shelf after offseason shoulder surgery. Joel Embiid, taken third overall in June, has a foot injury and will most likely miss the season, and Dario Saric, who the team traded for on draft night, has a two-year contract overseas.

After Indiana started the fourth quarter on a 13-5 run to build a 91-78 lead, the Sixers responded with an 11-1 surge. Wroten capped Philadelphia's spurt with a slam to make it 92-89 with 4:18 to play.
But the Pacers scored the next 11 points to put the game away.

Trailing 24-14, the Pacers scored the final 12 points of the first quarter. Stuckey tallied five points during the surge which Miles capped with a three- point play.

Stuckey helped Indiana build a 38-30 lead early in the second, but Hollis Thompson scored five points during Philadelphia's ensuing 10-0 spurt. The Sixers took a 51-48 edge into the locker room.
Ahead 68-66 late in the third stanza, the Pacers went on a 10-1 run. Sloan and Miles made 3-pointers during the flurry to help the home team take a 78-67 margin with 1:12 to go.

Shved responded with a pair of 3-pointers to get the Sixers within 78-73 heading to the fourth.

Notes: Brandon Davies and Chris Johnson each had 12 points for the Sixers ... Luis Scola ended with 10 points and six rebounds for the Pacers, who turned the ball over 18 times ... Philadelphia visits Milwaukee on Friday, while the Pacers host the Grizzlies on Friday.

Point/Counterpoint: Splitting up G and Jake

Welcome back to a third season of Point/Counterpoint, where the Phanatic's main hockey man tackles all sorts of pressing issues with a rotating cast of guest argumentators.

For the first of the year, I've brought on Michael DiNicola, head of Orange and Black Pack, who wants to argue whether or not Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek should be split up when the club struggles offensively. 
 
Point, by Mike DNic: The Flyers are closing out the month of October on a good note. Granted, we still have two more games before November rears its moustached head. But escaping the opening block with at least three wins and two overtime tallies is enough to hang your skates on, especially when you consider the strength of schedule. With what this Philadelphia defense looks like on paper, and the injury bug swinging an early-season scythe in some sensitive areas, it’s almost a miracle the club has gained any traction at all.

Never mind how the points have been harvested, as the late Al Davis once said, “Just win, baby.” And this past Saturday’s victory over Detroit is the epitome of that expression. Victories don’t come without their share of lessons, though. Despite climbing out of October’s barbed wire with at least three straight wins, the Flyers still have a few glaring issues -- many of which cannot be realistically amended immediately and mainly defensive personnel issues. But our problem scoring at even strength can be alleviated with adjustments or, as I call them, experiments. Assuming our players continue building on the backcheck, I propose that Craig Berube starts testing our offensive chemistry by splitting up Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek at even strength.

Counterpoint, Bob H:  The Hell you say, sir. John, Paul. Page, Plant. Mick, Keith. Peanut Butter, Chocolate. Some things just go together and have to stick together forever, like linemates on the dedicated No. 1 source for scoring. In the NHL of the 21st Century, dips in production across all lines, including that of your top producers, is an accepted part of life, early season, mid-season and late season. Terry Murray used to split up the Legion of Doom two-thirds into a 2-1 game where the shots and action were stunted as a hasty reaction to the Panthers' restrictive road trap, but now we just call that an in-game adjustment. Two straight years the Flyers have gone cold out of the gate, and for the second straight year, the tide is turning, albeit much quicker than last.

"Exparagus" or not, the training of professional hockey players leaves them about two steps away from slabs raw meat, so why not actively prevent confusion or lack of chemistry and keep 28 and 93 on the same line even when the going gets tough? They understand each other. They can look deep into each other's eyes and know. Total ESPN. You ain't getting that with Michael Raffl or Pebbles Bellemare.

Mike D: If you treasure advanced statistics, then you know this forward duo combine for top-flight possession metrics. Together, these skaters bring the Orange & Black’s pinnacle scoring threat. Their puckhandling, their creativity, their general hockey IQ draws the best efforts from their teammates like salt sucking the moisture from raw meat. Voracek’s puck-management and ability to create space has produced Jaromir Jagr-like plays. Giroux’s awareness and stick work could turn an ECHL call-up into a scoring threat at the point. Both skaters can gain the blue line and carry the puck into the offensive zone with precision.

But there’s something missing to this dynamic dyad… A pure goal-scoring cornerstone.

Acquiring this piece in the immediate future is not likely, mostly because of immovable financial obstacles left over from the Paul Holmgren era. And the answer is not in-house, either. Our best chance is to try to create balanced possession down our lineup. Berube took a step closer by icing four skill lines this season, but the 5-on-5 production is still lacking. If depth gets you far, if possession gets you goals, and if goals get you wins, then it’d be in our best interest to strengthen our depth’s attempts at increasing puck possession.

As of Tuesday morning, Philadelphia is ranked 15th in goals-for at 5-on-5. Our ratio in that department has us pegged at 26th (0.73) in the League – this means we average scoring 0.73 goals for every one yielded at even strength. Through eight games, Giroux and Voracek combined for 13 points; that’s 33 percent of the team’s production with all sides square. When you add Raffl’s contributions, then the first line accounts for 45 percent. I get it – the first line SHOULD be producing those types of percentages. But on a team like the 2014-15 Philadelphia Flyers, that may be too much to depend on through the whole season. Distributing our elite possession from the top 3-to-6 could reinforce our success. And with that in mind, here are my forward line suggestions:

Raffl – Giroux – Simmonds
Read – Couturier – Voracek
Schenn – Bellemare – Umberger
Rinaldo – (VandeVelde)Lecavalier – Akeson

Bob H: Ah yes, that mythical "one player" which can put the top line, and by extension, the Flyers "over the top" from playoff hopefuls to title contenders.  It's been a common theme ever since the Chris Gratton fiasco. Here's two things on which stat heads, old heads, progressives, geeks, sluts, bloods, sportos and motorheads can agree: the Flyers need one and it's not Vinny Lecavalier. Scott Hartnell wasn't the guy despite two above-average seasons. Raffl might be the guy in time, but playing checkers with skaters on each of the three lines to try and maintain that level of puck possession, without allowing proper time for players to reset and focus with new line mates, is not something I'd advocate.

Having trouble at 5-on-5 with virtually the same personnel -- and the same principal scorers as last year? Sounds more like a mental issue among those players, amenable more through a trade rather than something which can be solved with line shuffling. And as far as distribution is concerned, I really don't know what the answer is or if it can be solved with a look at metrics and/or simple matching as you've presented above. All I know is, it sounds like Ronald Reagan's "trickle down" theory of wealth distribution where there was, in fact, very little trickle.

I don't find anything particularly wrong with the lines as set above, so long as it's the only experiment or the one allowed to progress the longest.

Mike D: Keeping Giroux and Voracek together on a line is ideal in a perfect world. But without that uncontested, 30-plus goal-scoring winger to complete the trifecta, we could be missing out on more scoring chances from our bottom nine. Strengthening the possession factor for players like  Simmonds would absolutely help him continue breaking into that next level. For a defensive duo like Read and Couturier -- known for making so much out of virtually nothing -- Voracek could be just what they need offensively.

Looking at that top six, I see the potential for comprehensive reciprocation. Weaknesses are supported, and qualities are enhanced. The bottom six adds reinforcement with an offshoot blend of grit, skill, and offensive & defensive aptitude. Our opponents will be forced to stay honest by not focusing so much of their best defenders versus a singular unit. Even for a team that’s forced to stuff square pegs into round holes until Ron Hextall can right the mess from his predecessor, the Flyers have an ability to conquer more balance, more depth, and more balance by recalibrating what everyone figured to be untouchable.

We split up Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Bob H: Michael, you ignorant slut.

Simmonds can be left to fend for himself, all you need to do is recall his effort from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 7 of the playoffs a year ago -- he doesn't need either of the Ginger Nightmares to boost his overall game.

It's a neat idea to think Voracek is going to help unleash the offensive beast that rages within Read and Couturier, but with so many defensive zone starts and Jake's propensity for taking the puck to the boards instead of being creative like Giroux on the rush, all an opposing defense needs to do is erase  #93 on the boards and the line is effectively neutered.

Time and space are precious commodities on NHL ice, and that's what Giroux and Voracek need to work their special brand of magic that keeps the rest of the Orange and Black engine running. 




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Overtime thriller: Brayden Schenn's breakaway gives Flyers 3-2 win

Image courtesy Philly.com
by Hal Greenblatt
Phanatic Hockey writer

Brayden Schenn scored on a breakaway in overtime to lead the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Michael Raffl and Chris Vandevelde both scored for the Flyers. Jakub Voracek had a pair of assists while Claude Giroux and Nick Schultz each had one. Ray Emery was strong in net for Philadelphia, stopping 38 of 40 Los Angeles shots.

Tyler Toffoli and Mike Richards were the goal scorers for LA, while Drew Doughty and Kyle Clifford would both notch an assist. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick would begin the game shaky, but ultimately stand out while stopping 40 of 43 shots.

Philadelphia came out ready to play Tuesday night against the Kings. The Flyers attacked the Kings zone early and often, and were quickly rewarded as Raffl potted his fifth goal of the season.

As Philadelphia kept the pressure on, Voracek skated with the puck around the net and found Giroux in the slot for a one-timer that would be blocked by Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin. Raffl would be “Johnny-on-the-spot” as he spun around and beat Quick glove side to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

“He plays hard. He competes,” Coach Craig Berube remarked on Raffl. “He plays a straight forward game and again, he stopped at the net and got a goal. You want to score goals in this league, you go to the net.”

Los Angeles would strike back at the 13:08 mark, as Philadelphia’s inept second power play unit would allow Toffoli a breakaway opportunity on Emery. Matt Read sent a pass back to Michael Del Zotto, who had the puck hop over his stick, which allowed Toffoli to beat Emery high glove side to tie the game.

The Flyers, badly outplaying Los Angeles for most of the period, would not allow the Kings to head to intermission with the score tied. With just 44 seconds remaining, Voracek again found himself behind the net and saw Vandevelde in the slot for a one-timer that beat Quick.

For the first time all year, the Flyers dominated the first period. Philadelphia pumped 20 shots on net, but despite the dominance, Philadelphia only clung to a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

The second period would be quite different than the first. After outshooting LA 20-11, the Flyers were outshot 10-7, but with even fewer scoring chances. Despite being outshot and outplayed, the Flyers maintained their 2-1 lead with a solid defensive period, which saw both teams skate nonstop for more than seven minutes.

The Kings would not go quietly into the night, as the team from LA from comes out strong in the third period. Los Angeles would fight off two Philadelphia scoring chances before Richards, the former Flyers captain, would pump in a Doughty rebound passed Emery to knot the game at two with 14:59 remaining in the third period.

Emery would come up big time and time again for the Flyers, including a save on Toffoli late in the third period.

“You take things game-by-game,” Emery said. “It’s nice to contribute and get some points as well.”

The teams would battle hard until the final whistle, but a winner would not be come about without an extra period.

Los Angeles dominated the first half of overtime until a turnover in the offensive zone led to a Schenn breakaway. The fourth-year forward took the puck at the blue line and skated in all alone against Quick. The Kings goaltender made the initial save, but slipped back into the net for the apparent game winner.

The referees would initially declare no goal, but would ultimately go to the control center in Toronto for confirmation.

"Yeah I saw it go over the line," said Wayne Simmonds. "I think they said no goal because I pushed him over. But the puck was over the line far before I even got to the crease."

Simmonds would be correct and the Flyers found themselves on the winning side of a 3-2 game as well as a three-game winning streak to improve their record to 4-3-2.

“You got to stay with it, keep working, and competing,” said Berube.


Notes: Former Kings Schenn and Simmonds were both on the ice for the game-winning goal...Emery has recorded a point for the Flyers in every start this season…Voracek has recorded a point in 8 of 9 games…Shayne Ghostibehere played 12:40 and did not record a shift in overtime…

St. Joe's to honor Dr. Jack Ramsay

PHILADELPHIA - The Saint Joseph’s men’s basketball team will wear a “JR” patch on its uniforms for the 2014-15 season to remember Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay, who passed away in April.

One of the greatest teachers in basketball history, Dr. Ramsay, known affectionately throughout the basketball community as "Dr. Jack", made his mark in the collegiate and professional ranks, and more recently as a broadcaster, up until his retirement.

Coach Ramsay compiled a 234-72 record and guided the Hawks to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances and nine consecutive postseason bids from 1955-66, both of which are school records.

He went on to total 864 wins in the NBA and helped the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1967 championship as general manager, while coaching the Portland Trailblazers to the 1977 NBA title.

His combined total of collegiate and professional victories is 1,098, one of the highest ever in the sport of basketball. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

A member of the Saint Joseph's Athletics Hall of Fame (1999), SJU Basketball Hall of Fame (1974) and the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame (1974), Dr. Ramsay was furthered honored by the University in 2009 with the naming of the Ramsay Basketball Center.  The Ramsay Center, which is adjacent to Hagan Arena, houses the SJU men's and women's basketball programs with offices, locker rooms, study spaces and a film room.

The defending Atlantic 10 champion Hawks open the 2014-15 season on November 14 by hosting Fairleigh Dickinson at Hagan Arena.