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Points by Suns’ Devin Booker during 130-120 loss to Celtics

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the “struggling” 4-1 Eagles, the start of hockey season and the Union’s playoff chances.

The Kings and Spurs won championships after almost being eliminated in the first round. Eric Fisher also uses other examples to demonstrate the slim margin between success and disappointment.

Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez helps the Eagles defeat the Texans, 31-21, to move into first place in the NFC East, but the victory comes with a price. Quarterback Nick Foles, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and guard Todd Herremans leave the game with injuries. Ryans’ injury is reportedly a season-ending Achilles tendon injury.

Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

Flyers Notebook: Missed opportunity

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 12 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Flyers had a unique opportunity this past week. Because they were playing other teams in the wild card chase, they had a chance for four-point swings in each game. A win would gain two points for the Flyers and deny two points for the opposition.

Unfortunately, an opportunity for a four-point swing in a positive manner is accompanied by the chance of a four-point swing in a negative fashion. And that’s what happened in two of the Flyers’ three games last week.

After a 6-3 victory over the Sabres, who were trailing the Flyers entering the week, the Flyers dropped 4-2 decisions to the Maple Leafs and a heartbreaking 2-1 decision to the Bruins. Instead of gaining ground on the Maple Leafs and Bruins, the Flyers find themselves trailing by those teams by more points than they were when last week began.

After Saturday’s games, the Flyers trailed the Bruins by eight points. More importantly, they trail the Leafs, who occupy the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference, by six points with 15 games remaining in the regular season. Before they get to the Maple Leafs, the Flyers have to get past the Islanders and Lightning, whom they trail by five and three points, respectively.

The Flyers are rapidly running out of time to move up in the standings. To make matters worse, they only have one game remaining – March 30 against the Islanders – against teams in the wild card chase. That’s why it was imperative that the Flyers take advantage of this past week’s opportunity against the Sabres, Maple Leafs and Bruins.

It’s no longer enough for the Flyers to win games. Now they will need help from other teams.

That’s not the only bad news regarding the schedule. During the next two weeks, the Flyers play both the Blue Jackets and Penguins twice. There is one stretch later this month during which the Flyers play consecutive road games against the Wild, who have the best record in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets and the Penguins. The road games in Columbus and Pittsburgh are on back-to-back days.

It will be extremely difficult for the Flyers to overcome those obstacles and make the playoffs. But they have no one to play except themselves for being in this position.

The Flyers had an opportunity to gain ground last week. Unfortunately, they squandered that opportunity.

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IMPROVING GHOST: One positive development for the Flyers has been the improved play of Shayne Gostisbehere. He has been more effective at both ends of the ice. His shots are getting through from the point and, more often than not, they’ve been on target.

The second-year defenseman has also been better in the defensive zone. During the six games since the Flyers’ loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field, Gostisbehere hasn’t had a negative game in the plus-minus ratings. His plus-minus rating is still an ugly minus-23, but that makes the plus-1 rating during the past six games stand out even more.

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MOVING ON UP: In last week’s Flyers Notebook, we welcomed rookie forward Travis Konecny back from injury and I noted that, although he returned against the Capitals on the fourth line, we shouldn’t expect him to remain there very long. He wasn’t.

During the loss to the Maple Leafs, Konecny moved up to the third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. By Saturday’s game against the Bruins, Konecny was on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek.

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SCHENN’S STRUGGLES: When you’re a minus-1 during a game in which the Flyers score a season-high six even-strength goals, you know you’re struggling. That was the situation for Brayden Schenn last Tuesday during a 6-3 victory over the Sabres.

Schenn, who was supposed to be a prime beneficiary of the acquisition of gifted passer Valtteri Filppula, hasn’t scored a goal during his past seven games, including five since Filppula was acquired from the Lightning. Schenn has a minus-1 rating in five of his past seven games, and his failure to score has contributed to a decline in the Flyers’ power play.

Head coach Dave Hakstol replaced Schenn with Travis Konecny on the Filppula line, trying Schenn with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Schenn, who has a team-worst minus-24 plus-minus rating, hasn’t fit in well for any length of time on any line this season. At some point, Schenn and the Flyers have to realize that, rather than the line he’s on, the problem might be Schenn.

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WEAL MAKES HIS MARK: Jordan Weal, who registered a goal and an assist during Tuesday’s 6-3 victory over the Sabres, has three goals in 10 games and a plus-minus rating of plus-4. Despite being relatively small (5foot-10, 179 pounds), Weal gets a lot of his goal in the “dirty” areas in and around the net. His speed also has been effective in bringing the puck into the offensive zone.

Weal has been playing on a line with captain Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. Here is a remarkable statistic: Weal has as many goals in 10 games with the Flyers as Giroux has scored since Christmas.

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OH, WHAT A NIGHT: Defenseman Radko Gudas had quite a night Tuesday during the Flyers’ 6-3 victory over the Sabres. He scored a goal, assisted on two goals and registered a plus-5 in plus-minus rating. Defensive partner Michael Del Zotto was also plus-5 against the Sabres.

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HEARTBREAKER: The game that may have broken the Flyers’ backs in terms of the playoff chase was Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Bruins. The teams seemed head for overtime until Drew Stafford’s shot from the right boards deflected off defenseman Brandon Manning’s stick and past goalie Steve Mason, who almost certainly would have stopped the shot if Manning hadn’t made an ill-advised attempt to block it with his stick, with 5.6 seconds remaining. Instead of picking up a point or two, the Flyers left without a point while falling further behind the Bruins.

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FLAMES ARE SMOKIN’ HOT: What do the Flyers need to make the playoffs? They need a streak like the Flames are on right now. Entering Sunday, the Flames are on a nine-game winning streak. The streak has elevated them into second place in the Pacific Division and, at the very least, comfortably in wild card position.

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TOUGH WEEK: The Flyers’ week could get off to a rough start, with home games Monday (7 p.m.) against the Blue Jackets and Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) against the Penguins. If the Flyers are able to emerge from those two games with two or three points, they could find an opportunity to gain ground Thursday (7 p.m.) at New Jersey and Sunday (7:30 p.m.) at home against the Hurricanes.

Flyers Notebook: Opportunity knocks

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 6 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

By picking up five points in three games last week, the Flyers presented themselves with a unique opportunity this week. They have closed the gap in the race for the second wild card berth in the Eastern Conference, and all three of their games this week are with teams in the wild card hunt.

Entering Monday night’s games, the Flyers have 68 points. They have 18 games remaining. They are three points behind the Islanders, who currently occupy the second wild card position. The Maple Leafs (70 points), Panthers (69) and Lightning (68) also have 18 games remaining.

The Flyers open a three-game road trip Tuesday (7:30 p.m.) against the Sabres. The Sabres (66 points) are two points behind the Flyers, but have played two more games. A Flyers victory on Tuesday would open up a four-point lead on the Sabres while drawing closer or keeping pace with the team ahead of them.

The Flyers move on to Toronto on Thursday (7:30 p.m.). A victory over the Maple Leafs could put the Flyers ahead of Toronto and move them into prime position for overtaking the final wild card position.

The road trip wraps up Saturday (1 p.m.) against the Bruins. Although technically not in the wild card race, the Bruins (74 points), who have 17 games remaining, could fall back into the wild card pack if they’re overtaken by the Maple Leafs.

Looking at the three games, Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs seems the most important. The Flyers need to catch the Leafs. But putting the Sabres further back in the standngs or bring the Bruins back to the pack would also be important. And, of course, the Flyers need as many points as possible, regardless of the opponent.

This week provides a unique opportunity for the Flyers because these are all four-point games. The Flyers won’t get an opportunity to play teams in the wild card hunt again until the final week of March, when they host the Senators and Islanders.

In between this week and the final week of March, the Flyers will need to rely on help from other teams. This week it’s all up to the Flyers.

It’s imperative that they take advantage of this opportunity.

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NET GAIN: The re-signing of Michal Neuvirth to a 2-year contract before the trade deadline seemingly leaves Steve Mason as the odd man out for next season. Mason is an unrestricted free agent, as was Neuvirth before the signing.

That’s why it’s a little odd that the Flyers find themselves relying on Mason right now. After Neuvirth allowed two questionable goals during a 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field, Mason posted a 4-0 shutout over the Avalanche. The Avalanche have the worst record in the NHL, so it was more impressive when Mason made 39 saves during a 2-1 shootout victory over the visiting Panthers. Although the Flyers lost their next game to the Capitals in overtime, Mason looked good in making 22 of 24 saves.

Expect head coach Dave Hakstol to stick with Mason this week. If Mason can help the Flyers reach the playoffs, they might have to reconsider their goalie situation for next season. They could trade Neuvirth – if he’s not claimed by Las Vegas in the expansion draft – and try to re-sign Mason at a more cap-friendly number than his $4.1 million salary this season.

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INSTANT IMPACT: It didn’t take long for Valtteri Filppula to make a difference. In his first game after being acquired from the Lightning in a deal that also brought two draft choices to Philadelphia in exchange for defenseman Mark Streit, Filppula scored the tying goal midway through the third period. The Flyers eventually beat the Panthers in a shootout, 2-1.

During Saturday’s overtime loss to the Capitals, Filppula played on the second power play unit. You might see the veteran center on the penalty kill as well.

As I wrote in my column, the acquisition of Filppula shows that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall hasn’t given up hope for the postseason this year. Whether or not the Flyers qualify for the playoffs this year, it’s clear that Hextall thinks Filppula can help the Flyers next season as well, which is why he was willing to take on his $5 million salary for next season.

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RESPECT: The re-signing of Michal Neuvirth received most of the attention, but on that same day the Flyers re-signed fourth-line center Pierre Edouard-Bellemare to a two-year contract worth $2.9 million. Bellemare only has six points (3 goals, 3 assists), but the high regard with which he is held by the organization was obvious when he was named an assistant captain, replacing Mark Streit after he was traded away.

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WELCOME BACK: Rookie forward Travis Konecny returned to the lineup Saturday against the Capitals after missing nine games with a “lower body” injury. The return of Konecny and the addition of Valtteri Filppula gives the Flyers two additional playmakers.

Konecny was on the fourth line against the Capitals. Don’t expect him to remain there.

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HOME, SWEET HOME: The Capitals’ 2-1 overtime victory over the Flyers was their 15th straight win at home. They haven’t lost at home in 2017. No wonder the Capitals have the NHL’s best record.

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OUTDOOR FUN: Aside from the fact that the Flyers lost and that the wind made it extremely cold for fans, the game with the Penguins at Heinz Field was a huge success. As I wrote in my most recent Flyers Notebook, it would be wonderful if the Flyers-Penguins outdoor game became an annual tradition, perhaps at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, or with a rotation between Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park and Beaver Stadium.

If you want a reason not to have this become an annual tradition, it’s that the Flyers are 0-3 in stadium games, having lost Winter Classic games against the Bruins and Rangers.

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NO REST IN WEST: There aren’t quite as many teams involved as in the Eastern Conference, but there is also a tight race for the second wild card berth in the Western Conference. The Blues (69 points) are in the second wild card position entering Monday’s games, but the Kings are just one point behind. The Kings have also played one more game than the Blues, but the return of Jonathan Quick from injury and the acquisition of Ben Bishop from the Lightning give the Kings a terrific goaltending tandem. The Jets are three points behind the Blue, but have played two more games.

Jenkins' 3-pointer wins national title