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Consecutive games in which Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. has hit leadoff home run

The NCAA has lifted all penalties against Penn State’s football program, including restoring 112 victories, that were imposed as part of the sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Joe Paterno is once again the all-time wins leader in major college football. The move came as part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit.

Claude Giroux moves to wing this season in hopes of improving upon the 14 goals he scored last season. The Flyers will be fielding a relatively young lineup, with three centers 24 or younger and most of the defensemen in that range or younger.

Gordon Glantz analyzes the Eagles’ draft, explaining why they made the picks they made and what he would have done instead.

Archive for November, 2017

Don’t fire Hakstol — yet

Posted by Eric Fisher On November - 30 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The diehards who stuck around for the end of the Flyers’ lackluster 3-1 loss to the Sharks had every right to express their displeasure.

And general manager Ron Hextall was on the mark in his comments after the game.

I wish that Hextall had not said the Flyers aren’t playing poorly on a night on which they clearly played poorly, but that’s my only quarrel with his postgame comments.

The loss to the Sharks was ugly. Claude Giroux scored 48 seconds into the game. The Flyers didn’t score again. The Sharks can make a lot of teams look bad – they’ve allowed the fewest even-strength goals in the NHL – but there’s no excuse for only getting one shot on goal during the first 17 minutes of the third period when you’re trailing by two goals.

No wonder the fans were frustrated. The awful performance against the Sharks was the Flyers’ ninth straight loss, their longest losing streak since 2008.

The fans took out their frustration on head coach Dave Hakstol during the third period. Chants of “Fire Hakstol!” echoed throughout the emptying Wells Fargo Center.

A few more performances like Tuesday’s listless outing and those fans may get their wish.

Yes, I know that Hextall said, “Dave Hakstol’s our coach. He’s going to remain our coach.” But Hextall didn’t say how long he’ll remain the coach.

In defending Hakstol, Hextall emphasized that the Flyers aren’t playing as poorly as their record indicates. He is correct. Five of the nine straight losses came in overtime (four) or a shootout (one). Although it’s distressing that the Flyers keep losing games in overtime, often due to crucial mistakes at critical times, they played well for most of those games. There were, at most, three stinkers during this losing streak.

Hextall was also correct in noting the youth of the Flyers’ defense. With Andrew MacDonald sidelined until this week by a “lower body” injury and Radko Gudas being suspended for 10 games after the third game of the losing streak, Brandon Manning has been the only veteran defenseman on the roster for the entire losing streak.

Shayne Gostisbehere is in his third season. Ivan Provorov is in his second season. Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin, who was returned to the Phantoms when MacDonald returned, are rookies.

“(The young defensemen are) probably playing more minutes than they should play, a little higher in the lineup than should play,” Hextall said in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Michael Barkann, “and they’ve done a good job.

“… Have they stumbled a little bit? Of course they have. They’re young people. They’re young players, but they’re getting better every day.”

Hextall’s comments indicate that he bears some responsibility for Hakstol’s predicament. Although he couldn’t predict MacDonald’s injury or Gudas’ suspension, he’s the one who chose to start this season with so many young players – don’t forget center Nolan Patrick and forward Travis Konecny – on the roster. But would you rather take some lumps while Sanheim and Hagg gain NHL experience or win a few more games by re-signing Michael Del Zotto?

The “getting better every day” is the key part of the quote. As long as the young players are getting better, the Flyers are willing to suffer a little bit in the standings. This isn’t analogous to the 76ers, where the franchise was going young so they would lose. The Flyers are trying to win, but it’s difficult to win with so many young players in the lineup, especially on defense.

But youth doesn’t give the head coach a free pass. As I wrote in my most recent Flyers Notebook, the special teams have been bad during this nine-game losing streak. The responsibility for special teams fall partially on the coaching staff.

The other two major reasons I cited for the slump were the lack of scoring depth and growing pains, particularly for the young defensemen.

Hextall’s message was that there isn’t any reason to panic. If the Flyers continue to play at their current level of play, notwithstanding Tuesday’s awful effort, they will win close to half of their games. If the young players continue to progress, this team could win more than half of its games.

Last week Hextall tried to shake things up by bringing up Morin, who replaced Mark Alt, and Danick Martel. Both are back with the Phantoms. With Morin added to the already young defense, the Flyers are too inexperienced on the blue line. Martel added energy and excitement, but the bottom line is that his plus/minus rating was minus-1 for four games, and his playing time diminished.

Sometimes there isn’t a quick fix. Sometimes you have to stay the course.

If the Flyers trust that they’re moving in the right direction, then firing Hakstol would be a mistake. The same is true of a trade designed to shake up the team, which is what the Flyers likely would have done in the past.

But one thing the organization won’t tolerate is a lifeless team. Current Kings head coach John Stevens’ final game as Flyers head coach was a lifeless affair. It was the kind of game that gets a struggling coach fired. It was the kind of game the Flyers played Tuesday.

Hextall said that Hakstol is going to remain the Flyers’ head coach, but a few more lifeless performance like Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks will result in the disgruntled fans being granted their wish.

Eagles-Seahawks: Road gets steeper

Posted by Eric Fisher On November - 29 - 2017 2 COMMENTS

The Eagles are supposed to be taking their season one game at a time, but we can be excused for combining the next two games.

The Eagles are facing their toughest stretch this season, with consecutive road games against the Seahawks and Rams. In addition to their importance in the battle for homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, these games will be important for the Eagles’ psyche as they prepare for the playoffs. A team doesn’t want to enter the playoffs with any lingering doubts about their ability to beat good teams.

There are challenges on both sides of the ball for Sunday’s game (8:30 p.m.) at Seattle. The defense must concentrate on slowing down quarterback Russell Wilson and tight end Jimmy Graham. Without much of a rushing attack to worry about, the Eagles defense should be able to contain the Seahawks offense.

The other challenge will be for the Eagles’ high-powered offense. Can the Eagles score at least 30 points for the sixth straight game? If they can, they should set a franchise record with their 10th straight win.

Here are 10 questions to consider prior to Sunday’s game (8:30 p.m.) between the Eagles and Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

Why does this game matter to the Eagles?

A victory would clinch the NFC East title. It also would keep the Eagles ahead of the Vikings in the battle for homefield advantage throughout  the NFC playoffs – even if the Vikings beat the Falcons in Atlanta. Perhaps most importantly, a road win in Seattle, a notoriously difficult to play, should be a psychological boost and further bolster the Eagles’ confidence.

Aside from winning in Seattle, why would Sunday’s game be a psychological boost?

The Eagles are 10-1, but only two of those games – both on the road – have come against teams currently with winning records. The Eagles lost to the Chiefs in their second game of the year and then beat the Panthers on Oct. 12. The Eagles’ home wins have been against an unimpressive slate that includes the Giants, Cardinals, Redskins, 49ers, Broncos and Bears. Losses against the Seahawks and Rams in the next two games would support claims that the Eagles’ excellent record is the product of an easy schedule, and that they have difficulty beating good teams.

Why is the game important for the Seahawks?

The Seahawks (7-4) are on the outside of the NFC playoff picture right now. They have to gain ground while the AFC South teams (Saints, Falcons and Panthers) beat each other up. The Falcons and Saints have two games remaining against one another. If the Seahawks beat the Eagles, they could move into playoff position. A win also opens the door to a double-digit victory season and keeps their hopes alive for catching the first-place Rams in the NFC West. (The Seahawks will host the Rams on Dec. 17.)

Which team has the better quarterback?

This isn’t as easy a choice as it is for most Eagles games. Russell Wilson has won a Super Bowl and somehow continues to succeed despite playing behind a mediocre offensive line and the absence of a running game to keep opposing defenses honest. Wilson (65 carries for 401 yards) is the Seahawks’ leading rusher. He also has completed 256 of 411 passes for 3,029 yards and 23 touchdowns. As good as Wilson has been this season, Carson Wentz has been better. He has 28 touchdown and just five interceptions (Wilson has three). Wentz has been the best quarterback in the NFL on third down and in the red zone.

Who is the Seahawks’ biggest receiving threat?

The Seahawks have finally figured out how to effectively use tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 49 receptions and eight touchdowns this season.

How will Carson Wentz fare against the Legion of Boom?

Injuries to cornerback Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor have reduced the Legion of Boom to the Legion of Bo. Safety Early Thomas is the only healthy remaining member of the original Legion of Boom.

Wait a second. Number 41 looks familiar. Who is he?

Number 41 is none other than cornerback Byron Maxwell, who returned to Seattle two weeks ago after being a bust with the Eagles and Dolphins. Although listed as a backup, Eagles fans would love to see Maxwell get burned by the Eagles this Sunday. And while we’re checking out familiar faces, No. 97 is former Eagles first-round draft pick Marcus Smith.

Is the defense backfield still the strength of the Seahawks defense?

Maybe not. The linebacker corps, led by Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, may be the strongest part of what is still a solid defense. It will be interesting to see how successful the Eagles’ running game, which has been piling up yards in recent weeks, will be against the Seahawks defense.

Will the Eagles have another 100-yard receiver?

Let’s not get carried away. It was nice to see tight end Zach Ertz catch 10 passes for 103 yards against the Bears, becoming the first Eagles receiver this season to reach the century mark this season, but don’t expect the Eagles to have a 100-yard receiver every week..

Aside from Jimmy Graham, do the Seahawks have a dangerous weapon?

They do if we include special teams. Tyler Lockett is a dangerous kick returner. He also returns punts.

Prediction: This should be the Eagles’ most difficult challenge since they defeated the Panthers on the road on Oct. 12. Even without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks still have a darn good defense. The Eagles’ streak of scoring at least 30 points might end at five games, but they could still prevail. The Seahawks may score a special teams touchdown, but the Eagles defense keeps the score relatively low. Prediction: Eagles 24, Seahawks 20.

Brian Dawkins' Hall of Fame speech