Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mason recovered enough to start in Game 4

Steve Mason's return from his still unspecified "upper-body injury" is apparently complete.

The erstwhile starter will return to his rightful place in the crease when the Flyers take on the Rangers in Friday night's Game 4.

Mason, who had been sidelined since April 12 due to what was speculated to be anything from whiplash to a concussion when Pens forward Jayson Megna crashed into him, played in the final 7:15 of New York's 4-1 victory on Tuesday in Philadelphia in relief of Ray Emery. He stopped all three shots he faced.

Emery went 1-2 with a 3.49 goals-against average and .888 save percentage over the first three contests in the best-of-seven set.

For Mason, it's his first taste of the postseason as a starter since his rookie campaign of 2008-09, when he was in net for all four games of a Detroit Red Wings sweep against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason racked up a 4.27 GAA and .878 save percentage in that series.

Eagles announce 2014 schedule

PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles announced their 2014 regular season schedule Wednesday night.

The Eagles kick off their 2014 regular season at a newly-renovated Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2010 as the team plays host to Jacksonville on September 7. Philadelphia then travels to Indianapolis in Week 2 in the first of two Monday Night Football matchups during the season, before returning home to kick off their division slate of games as they square off against the Washington Redskins (Sunday, September 21).

In Week 4, the Eagles get their first look at Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, September 28). Following a trip to the west coast, Philadelphia returns home for two weeks, as they host the St. Louis Rams (Sunday, October 5) before facing off against the New York Giants (Sunday, October 12) on Sunday Night Football.

Following the bye in Week 7, the Birds will hit the road for back-to-back weeks, traveling to Arizona (Sunday, October 26) and Houston (Sunday, November 2). The Eagles will return to primetime in the ensuing week as they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Lincoln Financial Field for a Monday night matchup on November 10.

For the sixth time in franchise history and the first time since 2008, the Eagles will take part in the NFL's Thanksgiving Day festivities as the team travels to Dallas in a nationally-televised division showdown. The following week, Philadelphia will host the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Philadelphia will finish the season with three-consecutive games against their NFC East rivals, squaring off at home against Dallas (Sunday, December 14) before hitting the road for the final two contests of the season at Washington (Saturday, December 20) and at the New York Giants (Sunday, December 28).

"We are all looking forward to this season and getting the schedule finalized today makes it all the more exciting for all of us and the fans," said Jeffrey Lurie Chairman/CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles. "We have six scheduled nationally televised games this season and of those, two are on Sunday night and two are on Monday night. And for the sixth time in franchise history the Eagles will be playing on Thanksgiving – this time in Dallas. We even finish the season with three NFC East rivals in a row. I can’t wait."

Other scheduling notes:

Monday Night Matchups: In 2014, the Eagles are one of only eight teams in the NFL to have multiple appearances on ESPN (Week 2 at Indianapolis, Week 10 vs. Carolina). Additionally, the team will open its road schedule on Monday Night Football for the second-consecutive season.

Primetime Players: Philadelphia has four prime-time games on their 2014 schedule, including two on Sunday Night Football (Week 6 vs. New York Giants & Week 15 vs. Dallas) and two on Monday Night Football (Week 2 at Indianapolis & Week 10 vs. Carolina).

Under The Lights: Lincoln Financial Field will play host to three games under the lights in 2014 (Week 6 vs. New York Giants, Week 10 vs. Carolina & Week 15 vs. Dallas).

Opening Day: With a home matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, the Eagles will open their season at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2010. The Birds have won each of their last three regular-season openers and five of their last six.

Thanksgiving Tradition: The Eagles will travel to Dallas for a Thanksgiving Day showdown in Week 13, the team’s first Thanksgiving Day game since 2008. Philadelphia is 4-1 all-time on Thanksgiving and has won its last three turkey day matchups.

Division Down The Stretch: Philadelphia finishes the 2014 season with three-consecutive contests within the division, including two nationally-televised games (Week 15 vs. Dallas & Week 16 at Washington).

Something New: The Birds will make their regular-season debut at two stadiums in 2014: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, September 15) and Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco, September 28).

Flex Scheduling Update: For the first time, flexible scheduling may be applied in Weeks 5-10. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by shifting a Sunday afternoon game into primetime and moving the Sunday night game to an afternoon start time.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bagnoli to retire from Quakers after next season

PHILADELPHIA - Al Bagnoli, who has served as the George A. Munger Head Coach of Football at the University of Pennsylvania since 1992, announced on Wednesday that he will retire from the position following the 2014 season. Effective December 1, the head coaching duties will transfer to the Quakers' current defensive coordinator, Ray Priore, who will enter his 28th season along the Franklin Field sidelines in 2014.

“It is with mixed emotion that I announce my resignation as Head Football Coach, effective at the conclusion of the 2014 season,” said Bagnoli. “It has been an honor and privilege to be part of the tremendous tradition and success Penn has enjoyed throughout its long, storied history. I remain appreciative of having the opportunity to work with an exceptional group of student-athletes; a tremendous coaching staff; an active, caring and generous alumni group; and a supportive athletic administration. I want to offer my sincere appreciation to all for making my job so enjoyable during the past 23 seasons.

“I am eagerly looking forward to this upcoming season and feel we have the potential to be an excellent football team,” he continued. “I also remain optimistic about the long-term health of the program. I am confident Ray and his staff will work exceptionally hard and build upon the past success we have enjoyed.”

Said Priore, “I am honored to assume the duties as head football coach at the University in December. Since joining the staff as a young coach in 1987, it has been my dream to follow in the footsteps of the legendary coaches who have walked the sidelines of historic Franklin Field. I wish to thank Coach Bagnoli for allowing me to be a part of his staff for the last 23 years. As a mentor, he provided me the guidance and support to grow as a coach. His knowledge, leadership and ability to manage have earned my deepest respect.”

“I am pleased to announce this transition at the head of our football program,” said Penn’s Director of Athletics, Steve Bilsky. “Obviously, Al will leave big shoes to fill, putting together arguably the finest coaching career in the history of Ivy League football. However, Ray has been there every step of the way alongside Al, and I am confident that he will take the lessons he has learned and forge his own path as he tries to keep that tradition of success going over these next several years. Before this transition takes place, of course, I look forward to watching Al add to his amazing legacy with one more run at the Ivy League title this fall.”

Bagnoli is clearly one of the living legends in his sport. The nine-time Ivy League champion is the active wins leader in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), owner of the second-highest winning percentage in Ivy League history, the only Ivy coach to ever capture nine outright titles, the winningest coach in Penn’s 137-year football history and is one of just six coaches in FCS history to record 200 career wins.

In 32 years as a head coach, Bagnoli's 232 career wins are eighth-most all-time among FCS coaches and are oppossed by just 91 losses. His career winning percentage (71.8%) is third among active FCS coaches. The Central Connecticut State alumnus has accumulated 146 of those wins at Penn (school record) and 110 against Ivy opponents (second all-time). His .714 winning percentage against Ivy opposition is second-best in the history of the league.
Penn’s dominance under Bagnoli, who holds a winning record against all seven Ivy League opponents, is no more evident than at Franklin Field, where the Red and Blue hold two winning streaks of 16 games or greater under the current head coach. The Quakers rattled off 16 victories at home from Oct. 17, 1992 to Oct. 21, 1995 and won 19 games in a row from Sept. 23, 2000 to Nov. 22, 2003. Bagnoli is 80-32 (.714) all-time at Franklin Field.

Entering his 23rd season at the helm of the Quakers in 2014, Coach Bagnoli lays claim to more outright Ivy titles (nine) than any other program has in its entire history. Most recently, Penn won three of four Ivy League outright titles between 2009-12 -- the second time the Quakers have pulled off that feat under Bagnoli, while no other program has done it once during his tenure. In addition, Bagnoli has logged back-to-back undefeated Ivy League seasons three separate times—no other coach has ever accomplished the feat on even one occasion.

Following three straight losing campaigns, Penn went 7-3 in Bagnoli's first season, and then rattled off an NCAA FCS-record 24 consecutive victories with undefeated campaigns in 1993 and 1994. The Quakers then posted another pair of undefeated Ivy seasons in 2000 and 2001 before most recently repeating that feat during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. During those title campaign's Bagnoli's Quakers accumulated the three longest Ivy winning streaks in league history, including a 20-game Ivy unbeaten streak from 2001-04 and more recently, a string of 18 straight Ancient Eight wins from 2008-2011.

NFL Mock Draft version 4.0

By John McMullen

PHILADELHIA - If this were a typical NFL calendar year, the draft would be kicking off later this week.

Instead a scheduling conflict with the event's long-time home, New York's
famed Radio City Music Hall, pushed the draft back a couple weeks to May 8-10.

The absence of the traditional late April time frame has resulted in a bit of
draft overkill, giving the second-guessers -- be they actual NFL personnel
people or the thousands of self-titled scouts now polluting the Internet --
more time to second-guess their original second-guesses.

Just ask former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, once the No. 1-rated
prospect on many boards and a player who may now want to consider adopting Tom
Petty's "Free Fallin'" as his new theme music.

Bridgewater is among a record 30 top prospects confirmed to attend the 2014
draft in Midtown Manhattan, but it's now a legitimate question to ask
whether he will be greeting Roger Goodell on Thursday night or spending an
extra day milling around Times Square.

Here's The Sports Network's latest stab at predicting where Bridgewater and
everyone else lands on May 8:

1. Atlanta Falcons (trade with Houston Texans) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South
Carolina - The majority of the 10,726 searchable mock drafts on Google now
have the Houston Texans coming to their senses and selecting the most gifted
prospect in this draft, Clowney.

Understand, however, that Bill O'Brien was brought to south Texas to fix the
quarterback position. It's conceivable the Texans could go chalk and take
Clowney to team with J.J. Watt, while looking for the answer at the game's
most important position at No. 33 overall (Bridgewater, Zach Mettenberger, Tom
Savage?). That said, Atlanta desperately needs and wants a difference maker
off the edge so it makes more sense for both sides to work out a deal.

PREVIOUS PICK - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida to Houston

2. St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn - St. Louis also wants to move
down, but the Falcons' jump to the top will hurt those chances, meaning the
Rams are likely to play it safe with one of the top left tackles in the draft,
either Robinson or Jake Matthews. The Auburn star has the bigger ceiling, so
you have to believe he will be the choice.

PREVIOUS PICK - Clowney to Atlanta

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo - Obviously, Chad Henne is
just a bridge, but Mack is one of the four legitimate blue-chip prospects in
this draft and Gus Bradley obviously is going to default to defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Bridgewater

4. Cleveland Browns - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M - A quick look at the
Browns' current depth chart revels one gaping hole: the quarterback position.
Journeyman Brian Hoyer and the nondescript Alex Tanney are the only players
under contract right now.

Manziel is the most polarizing figure in this draft with some scouts believing
he will turn into a superstar and others thinking he belongs nowhere near the
first round. He flashed a better arm than advertised at his pro day, embraced
the big stage and has already improved on what were some shoddy mechanics at
times. That should be enough for Ray Farmer and Cleveland to pull the trigger.


5. Oakland Raiders - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - The Raiders are always a
wild card, but you can tell the pressure is building on both general manager
Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen in Oakland. And that means the Raiders
will take the more conventional approach by snaring Watkins to help bolster
the receiving corps for veteran QB Matt Schaub.


6. Houston Texans (trade with Atlanta) - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida -
The trade down will enable the Texans and O'Brien to take the prototypically
sized Bortles without the pressure of passing on the real top prospects in
this draft.

PREVIOUS PICK - Robinson to St. Louis

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M - Keep an eye on Bortles
if he's still on the board because it's clear the new regime in Tampa does not
believe in Mike Glennon and veteran Josh McCown is just a stop-gap. That said,
with Bortles in Houston, the Bucs will shift to receiver after moving on from
the troubled Mike Williams. The lengthy Evans would team with Vincent Jackson
to give McCown a similar set-up to what he had in Chicago last season (Brandon
Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).


8. Minnesota Vikings - C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama - Minnesota clearly needs a
franchise quarterback, but after swinging and missing badly on A.J. Feeley
while in Miami and reaching for Christian Ponder back in 2011, general manager
Rick Spielman simply doesn't have the political capital to roll the dice on
any signal caller this early. Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is
the new coach in Minneapolis and defense is the obvious direction here.

Minnesota has already addressed the front four and cornerback in free agency,
but the Vikings have been quiet on the linebacker front, save for bringing back
the limited Jasper Brinkley on a make-good deal. Mosley turned a few people off
at the NFL Combine by not running the 40-yard dash and refusing to address the
media, but if he checks out medically, he could be the type of seek-and-destroy
player who could be a terror in a Zimmer scheme and the first real surprise in
the top 10.


9. Buffalo Bills - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M - It's all about building up
around E.J. Manuel in Buffalo, so securing a franchise tackle who was once
regarded as a potential No. 1 overall selection is tremendous value here.


10. Detroit Lions - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh - The secondary is the most
obvious need in the Motor City, but something is going on in general manager
Martin Mayhew's mind when it comes to the interior of the defensive line.

The Lions won't be picking up the fifth-year option on Nick Fairley while
Ndamukong Suh had been a no-show at "voluntary" offseason workouts. Donald,
although undersized, is the best and most athletically gifted three-technique
tackle in the draft.

PREVIOUS PICK - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

11. Tennessee Titans - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State - A lot of people
have Tennessee looking at UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr because new defensive
coordinator Ray Horton will be shifting to a 3-4 attacking defense. Physical
corners, though, also are needed to pull off what Horton wants and that
position is a need in Nashville after the Titans lost cornerback Alterraun
Verner in free agency. Meanwhile, the Titans picked up veteran Shaun Phillips
to help on the edge. That makes Dennard a better fit here than Barr.


12. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan - The signing of Josh Freeman
has many speculating the Giants believe Eli Manning is on the descent as a
player. Whether that's true is up for debate, but what isn't is the fact that
Manning performed awfully in 2013, and if "Big Blue" wants that to change
quickly, it needs to protect Peyton's baby brother a whole lot better. Lewan
proved to be nearly as athletic as Robinson at the combine and could be a
long-term answer in north Jersey.


13. St. Louis Rams - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State - The Rams need plenty
of help in the secondary and could look to add a safety like Alabama's Ha Ha
Clinton-Dix or a corner like Gilbert, who some believe is a top-10 talent.
Gilbert's size-speed ratio is the prototype of what NFL teams want on the
outside these days and if he proves to be tough enough in run support the
Oklahoma State product would give St. Louis the type of presence they were
once expecting from Cortland Finnegan once upon a time.


14. Chicago Bears - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama - Rebuilding the defense is
paramount in the Windy City and additions at all three levels make sense. With
Mosley and Donald out of the conversation, however, safety is the most logical
direction and Clinton-Dix has the range and ball skills to be a playmaker
early in his career.


15. Pittsburgh Steelers - Zack Martin, OT/OG, Notre Dame - Many have penciled
in Martin as a Pro Bowl-level guard at the next level, but he was a darn good
left tackle at the college level. With former seventh-round pick Kelvin
Beachum currently penciled in at the starter at LT in Pittsburgh, it makes
sense to bring in a safe pick with a ton of position flexibility like Martin.


16. Dallas Cowboys - Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame - Jerry Jones probably
doesn't even know what the Cowboys are going to run defensively this season,
but if they stick with a Kiffin-Marinelli Tampa-2 amalgamation, getting a
potential impact player at the three-technique and a solid run-suffer at the
zero-spot is important. The 'Boys think they filled the hole at under tackle
by signing former Chicago star Henry Melton, who is coming off a serious
injury. Nix would be the load in the middle they need and a prototypical nose


17. Baltimore Ravens - Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville - The Ravens wanted to
upgrade the safety position opposite Matt Elam anyway, but James Ihedigbo's
exit to Detroit will only expedite things. Clinton-Dix is the better fit but
Pryor is a nice consolation prize, an instinctive player with solid range and
a nose for the football.


18. New York Jets - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State - Michael Vick and or Geno
Smith will want a playmaker, but it's hard to imagine Rex Ryan going into a
season with Dimitri Patterson as a possible starter on the outside, Roby is
the kind of big, press corner who could excel in a Ryan defense.

PREVIOUS PICK - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

19. Miami Dolphins - Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama - The Dolphins could be
bluffing but seem to love Kouandjio and his aggressive nature. Plenty of
organizations have red-flagged Kouandjio (at least in the first round) for
potential knee problems, but others have compared his skill set favorably to
his former linemate with the Crimson Tide, D.J. Fluker, who the Chargers
eventually took 11th overall in 2013.

One thing that is certain is the Fish need help on the O-line. Miami allowed a
league-high 58 sacks and couldn't protect Ryan Tannehill with Jonathan Martin
and Richie Incognito or without them. The Fish started the rebuild up front by
giving left tackle Branden Albert a monster deal, but more needs to be done.


20. Arizona Cardinals - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State - The Cardinals have
quickly morphed into one of the more talented teams in football. Their biggest
weakness -- the offensive line -- was addressed in free agency when the team
brought former Raider Jared Veldheer in to play left tackle. That move along
with the return of the immensely talented Jonathan Cooper from injury should
solidify things in front of Carson Palmer.

Arizona should be able to sit back here and think about the future. Snaring
Carr as the heir apparent to the 34-year-old Palmer is a luxury the Cardinals
can afford.


21. Green Bay Packers - Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA - Yeah, the Packers brought in
Julius Peppers to play opposite Clay Matthews, but that is the definition of
pounding the square peg in the round hole. Barr is a much better fit as an
edge defender in the 3-4, and although the former running back is raw, Barr has
the ceiling of a top-five prospect. That's something Ted Thompson will not
be able to pass on.

PREVIOUS PICK - Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

22. Philadelphia Eagles - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State - Chip Kelly is
fond of saying big people beat up little people and this will be his answer
for DeSean Jackson. Benjamin is a 6-foot-5 monster who commands a double-team
in the middle of the field instead of the one Jackson created over the top.

PREVIOUS PICK - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

23. Kansas City Chiefs - Odell Beckham, WR, LSU - Alex Smith gets criticized
a lot for being a game manager and failing to push the ball down the field,
but one of the major reasons he didn't was the fact Kansas City had no threat
outside the numbers to pop the top on opposing defenses. Beckham is the type
of dynamic athlete who can stretch a defense and offers a little more size
than a Brandin Cooks.


24. Cincinnati Bengals - Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech - Leon Hall is coming
off an Achilles injury and Terence Newman will be 36 in September. That means
it's time to upgrade outside the numbers on defense in Cincy and Fuller is a
physical, instinctive corner who should push for a starting job early in his


25. San Diego Chargers - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU - The Chargers ranked
29th overall in pass defense in 2013 and dead last in the AFC, so the talent
level has to improve on the back end. Verrett is undersized at 5-9 but shapes
up as a Captain Munnerlyn-type, a player who battles enough to compete on the
outside during early downs before moving into the slot and becoming a
difference maker on obvious passing downs.


26. Cleveland Browns - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State - The Browns already
have a true No. 1 at wide receiver in Josh Gordon and a very good receiving
tight end in Jordan Cameron. The team also signed a solid slot option in free
agency (Andrew Hawkins) and finally addressed the running back position with
Ben Tate. Drafting a true burner like Cooks would give Manziel everything he
needed to be successful.


27. New Orleans Saints - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal - The Saints could use
a corner but most worthy of this pick figure to be off the board, so why not
take a look at perhaps the draft's deepest position and replace Lance Moore?
Lee projects as the best route runner in this year's draft and should give
Drew Brees yet another solid option rather quickly.

PREVIOUS PICK - Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

28. Carolina Panthers - Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia - The Panthers also are in
the market for corners and receivers as well as a tackle to replace the retired
Jordan Gross. The corner market will be picked clean by this point and the
receiver options are so deep Carolina can wait until the second round to
address that. Moses kicked off his offseason with a great Senior Bowl week
and has been rising ever since.

PREVIOUS PICK - Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal

29. New England Patriots - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina - Rob Gronkowski's
health has to be a concern moving forward, and even if Gronk can stay on the
field, New England would like to replicate the two-tight end offense it had
when both Gronkowski and the now-jailed Aaron Hernandez were at their peaks.
Ebron is the best TE in this draft, an athletic marvel in the mold of a Vernon
Davis. Some question his physicality and strength, however, so don't be
surprised if he falls a bit on draft day.

PREVIOUS PICK - Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

30. San Francisco 49ers, Kony Ealy, DE/OLB, Missouri - Count me among those
who believe Aldon Smith may not be long for San Francisco. So why not replace
the troubled pass-rushing star with another Mizzou product who is a top-tier
athlete capable of playing with his hand down in the 4-3 or transitioning to a
3-4 edge rusher.


31. Denver Broncos - Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA - The loss of Zane Beadles in
free agency means the Broncos are thin at guard opposite Louis Vasquez. Su'a
Filo, the most experienced and NFL-ready member of UCLA's impressive O-line,
could step right in as a starter.


32. Seattle Seahawks - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn - The one real weakness in
Seattle is the offensive line, and the team lost Breno Giacomini and Paul
McQuistan in free agency. All of the big uglies worthy of a first-round grade,
however, should be gone by this point, so adding another pass rusher to replace
the departed Chris Clemons might be the better way to go.


Dropping out:

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

Ra'shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Flyers recall eight from Glens Falls

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers recalled eight players from their AHL affiliate, for the moment still stationed in Glens Falls, to augment the parent club's active roster.

Forwards Brandon Alderson, Nick Cousins, Ben Holmstrom, Petr Straka, defensemen Mark Alt, Oliver Lauridsen, Brandon Manning and goaltender Yann Danis are now officially in reserve.

Lauridsen appeared in 15 games for the Flyers, recording two goals and an assist to go along with 34 penalty minutes during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, and Manning appeared in 10 regular-season games with the Flyers over parts of two seasons, recording two assists.

None of the remaining call-ups have suited up at any point for the Flyers, though Danis is a veteran of 53 NHL appearances for four clubs, the last being the Edmonton Oilers.

Adirondack finished up its fifth and final season in Glens Falls with a 30-38-8 record, dropping a 3-2 OT decision Friday night to Bridgeport on home ice and ended its run for good with a 2-1 defeat at Hershey on Saturday. The club relocates to Allentown for next season. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Surging Sharks feasting on unsuspecting Kings

The Phanatic presents a perspective from the West Coast, for the surprising Western Conference Quarterfinal which pits the Sharks against the stunned Kings, who find themselves down 2-0 heading into tonight's Game 3 in Los Angeles. 

San Jose, CA -- If you predicted that the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings would play seven low-scoring games in their Western Conference Quarterfinal, many people would have agreed with you.

Of the eight first-round matchups in the 2014 playoffs, this one could have been voted most likely to be close. After all, last year's Western semifinal between the clubs featured only 24 red lights in a seven-game series.

Instead, it began with the Sharks veering wildly off course and defeating the Kings in two surprisingly lopsided home contests. Perhaps it is Los Angeles which went wildly off script, launching into a poorly-planned and even less well-executed improv performance. Either way, it has been a memorable start to the postseason for the South Bay predators.

After a 7-2 rout in Sunday night's Game 2, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan talked about his impressions of the opposition after taking a 2-0 series edge:
"After Game One, I talked about the fact that I don’t think we’ll be in this situation again and we ended up there. I don’t think that this series is going to play out in blowouts like this night after night. They’re a very good hockey club and they’re going to find their game."
In Thursday's opener, the Sharks jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two periods. The Kings rallied in the third with three straight markers, but fell 6-3 after a late empty-net goal for the hosts. Three days later, the Kings worked their way to a 2-0 lead in the first despite being outshot 15-10 by the Sharks. The Sharks responded in the second and third periods with seven unanswered goals.

You have to go back to the 2011 playoffs to find more than one game in a series between these teams (playoff or regular season) that ended with a difference of more than two goals. That series included a wild comeback from 0-4 down which eventually ended up as a 6-5 OT win for the Sharks. Now, the teams head south to Los Angeles, where history tells us the Kings will bounce back. That is putting a lot of stock in the past.

Before the series began, neither team expected any surprises. LA ehad coach Darryl Sutter said before the first game:
"What happens in playoff time, a lot of time what separates winner or loser is not the team part of it, it’s the individual part of it. So there’s somebody that steps up and goes to another level or somebody that doesn’t, that’s usually at the end, what … when you call it a surprise or whatever that is, that’s usually what happens."
The first two games have certainly featured some individuals stepping up, and some failing to play their part. The Sharks' fourth line, for example, has been uncommonly productive. That isn’t entirely surprising. As the final pairing up front, they are somewhat overqualified.

That grouping includes Raffi Torres, Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown. Torres started on the fourth line this season primarily to limit his minutes as he came back from knee surgery. Prior to that, the feisty veteran who is never far from crossing lines of conduct could usually be found among the top six. Desjardins has proven to be more skilled than most grinders -- and showed it on his second-period assists two days prior -- and he's perfectly capable of filling in on other lines in a pinch.

Of the line’s performance in the second game, Torres said:
"I thought Brownie had one of the best games I’ve seen him play, and Desi tonight was great with the puck, you know, getting his head up. I’ve told Desi a bunch of times that he’s got a lot of skill. It shows in practice, he’s been working on it. So it’s good to see those guys get rewarded."
For these unlikely suspects to score two goals in the space of five minutes -- pretty goals even -- looks like a surprise but it was far from improbable.

Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl, freshly back from injury, was supposed to ease his way into the playoffs in a third-line role. It took him four periods to be promoted back to the top line with Joe Thornton, after scoring his first playoff goal in his first playoff game. For him, it was not so much a matter of stepping up as picking up where he left off before being injured by Kings captain Dustin Brown last November.

A second rookie in the Sharks’ playoff lineup is Boston University product Matt Nieto, who stepped in when Hertl was injured and never gave the club a reason to send him back. His tenacious and speedy style earned him a steady spot in the top six. He represents a change in playing style that the Sharks have been working on for some time now. Todd McLellan talked about the team’s emphasis on speed:
"It’s been a focus of our organization over the last few years to up the speed element. The Matt Nietos and those type of players come in, we want to play a fast game. We feel that that’s what we need to do to have success."
While sitting playoff veterans Martin Havlat and Tyler Kennedy, McLellan has used these rookies in the roles those two would normally fill. That will not necessarily be the case throughout the playoffs, but for now the Sharks are in the enviable position of having too many capable players. They are not asking anyone to do more than they have done before, but everyone has shown up ready to play.

Only three Sharks skaters have no points so far: defensemen Jason Demers, Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan. Five skaters have accumulated three-or-more points. Joe Pavelski leads the team with four. The Sharks have allowed five goals in two games. In the first game, the goals against came in a span of less than 12 minutes. In the second game, the goals against came in less than ten minutes. The Sharks have played a tight defensive game, with a few hiccups, so far. 

For the Kings’ part, the individual difference has been worse than failing to go to another level. Too many of their regulars have underperformed badly. The Kings do not have a history of scoring a lot, but timely goals are stock-in-trade and they are supposed to have a formidable defensive game. In the 2013-14 regular season, the Kings averaged  2.05 goals against, the fewest in the league. In these two games that average ballooned to 6.5. 

Despite that, the Kings still have a reputation as a good defensive team. After the second game, Brown alluded to that, saying:
"We have to play solid defense and not let any goals in because we know that they’re capable of not letting that many goals in."
One has to wonder if the club which won the Cup two short years ago can recall all that. They have only played two games, a mathematically insignificant number, unless the goal is to win four.

Of the lopsided scores, McLellan said:
"The scores are irrelevant. They’re over, these could have been two triple overtime wins for us. That’s all you get is a win. You don’t get goals for or goals against that count for anything."
Nonetheless, those goal differentials do tell us something about who has and who has not performed up to par.

In previous meetings, Justin Williams was the Kings’ points leader against the Sharks. The Kings top five in points this season were Anze Kopitar (70), Jeff Carter (50), Justin Williams (43), Mike Richards (41) and Drew Doughty (37). In the first two games, Kopitar, Carter, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis have two points each, Doughty has one, Williams and Richards have none. Just seven Kings have any points, only four have more than one.

Those numbers indicate that the Kings could very well turn this series around quickly. The Sharks expect as much in the next two games at Staples Center. Torres admitted the following:
"We’re kidding ourselves if we think that it’s going to be like this for seven games. We’ve been fortunate the first two games but then we’re really going to find out what kind of team they have going in to LA. It’s tough to win on the road, especially going in to LA."