Years since a Phillies catcher batted leadoff before Andrew Knapp did so Sunday

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 18

Competition and youth. Those are the buzzwords for Flyers training camp.

There will be competition to make the team, competition at all positions, and competition for playing time.

Let’s start with the goaltending, where there will be competition but little youth. Barring an injury, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will form a veteran tandem. Elliott was signed as a free agent. Neuvirth, who has a lengthy injury history, returns after an unimpressive 2016-17 season during which he split time with Steve Mason. But will they split time evenly or will one goalie emerge as the No. 1 guy?

With Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto gone, there are two openings on the blue line. The top contenders for the openings are former first-round picks Samuel Morin (2013) and Travis Sanheim (2014), 2013 second-round pick Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, whom the Flyers had signed as a free agent, so there should be plenty of youth in the defensive corps. Don’t count out Mark Friedman and T.J. Brennan. The returning defensemen are Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Brandon Manning, with Manning being the only one without reliable job security.

The forward lines should also receive an injection of youth, with the potential for young players to be sprinkled throughout all four lines. Nolan Patrick, the second overall pick in the NHL draft, is competing to be the No. 2 center. That would send Valtteri Filppula to a wing. Claude Giroux is the top-line center and Sean Couturier is slotted for the third line. Patrick probably would not be the fourth-line center, a position that usually goes to player without Patrick’s offensive skills.

The top candidates to be the fourth-line center are 2012 first-round draft pick Scott Laughton and former Union College center Mike Vecchione. Laugthon, who has had difficulty scoring at the NHL level, has reinvented himself as a defensive specialist. A look at the Flyers’ roster shows plenty of depth at center, including 2016 first-round pick German Rubtsov, 2014 sixth-round pick Radel Fazleev and 2015 fourth-round pick Mikhail Vorobyov.

Young forwards who could play significant roles include second-year player Travis Konecny, the 24th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and left wing Oskar Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014. After making an immediate impact after joining the team late last season, Jordan Weal also figures to have a regular role. Speedy Taylor Leier is another young player who might break into the lineup.

With young players arriving and pushing for playing time, and with veterans Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Filppula locked into roster spots, there will be pressure on Jori Lehtera, acquired from the Blues in the Brayden Schenn trade, and holdovers Matt Read, Michael Raffl and Dale Weise to earn playing time.

The competition for roster spots and playing time should make this year’s Flyers training camp and preseason more interesting than usual.


NEW BALANCE: I know the NFL has become a passing league, but calling 50 passing plays and only 13 running plays, as Eagles head coach Doug Pederson did during Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Chiefs, is ridiculous. If defenses know the Eagles aren’t going to run the ball, the play-action pass won’t be effective. More importantly, defenses can focus their attention on attacking Wentz, which makes it more likely that he will suffer an injury.


WEST IS BEST: There are a lot of unknowns this early in the NFL season, but one thing seems clear: the AFC West is the best division in football. The Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders are all 2-0. The Chiefs beat the Patriots by 15 points, the Raiders beat the Titans by 10 points and the Broncos blasted the Cowboys, 42-17. The Chargers, the fourth team in the division, have lost their games to the Broncos and Dolphins by a combined five points.

By the way, the NFC East is matched up with the AFC West this season. That’s one reason you might not see an NFC West team with 10 or 11 wins. The Redskins get the Raiders and Chiefs on back-to-back weeks, hosting the Raiders next Sunday night (8:30 p.m.) and then, eight days later, visiting Kansas City.


OWLS TAKE STEP UP: Temple takes a step back up in competition Thursday (7:30 p.m.) when it travels to South Florida to battle the 21st-ranked Bulls. After an unimpressive 29-21 win over Massachusetts – the Minutemen missed three field goals – the Owls (2-1) will need to improve dramatically to compete with the Bulls.

Thank goodness the Owls don’t have Penn State on their schedule this season. The Nittany Lions obliterated Georgia State, 56-0, on Saturday and have moved up to No. 4 in the national rankings.


FROM THE HEART: There was good news about former Eagles center Jon Dorenbos this past week, with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announcing that the surgery to repair Dorenbos’ aortic aneurysm was successful.


DEAD ZONE: The Bengals failed to reach the end zone in their first two games, both of which were played at home. They have nine points, all on field goals. No wonder offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired. You have to wonder how much longer the Bengals with stick with head coach Marvin Lewis.


SUNDOWN ON THE UNION: After failing to gain ground during Sunday’s 0-0 tie with the New York Red Bulls, the Union’s playoff hopes are barely flickering. They trail the Red Bulls, who occupy the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, by nine points with five games to play. Even if the Union could catch the slumping Red Bulls, who have played two fewer games, they must also leap frog over Montreal, New England and Orlando City to reach the postseason.


NAME GAME: Philadelphia has been awarded a franchise in the National Lacrosse League. The franchise, owned by Comcast-Spectacor, is letting the fans choose the team nickname. The Wings, the name of the longtime lacrosse franchise in Philadelphia, would be the best choice.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 29 years, was credited with as many rushing attempts as LeGarrette Blount on Sunday.

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