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Hits by Phillies in 3 of their last 4 games

The hiring of Sam Hinkie as 76ers president and general manager brings the analytics craze to Philadelphia. Eric Fisher questions whether the numbers will add up to success.

Other than their top line, the Flyers aren’t getting enough contributions on offense from their forwards. Eric Fisher also revisits the Flyers Hall of Fame ceremony for Eric Lindros (pictured) and John LeClair, cites problems with the penalty killing and examines the Flyers’ upcoming road-heavy schedule.

Sophomore forward DeAndre’ Bembry has been one of the few bright spots during a difficult season for Saint Joseph’s. Eric Fisher also highlights Damion Lee’s excellent free-throw shooting, Temple’s crazy schedule and a good omen for Villanova’s future.

Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

NHL playoff preview: Can Sens stop Pens?

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 11 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season, their second Cup in eight seasons, and are heavy favorites to return to the final again after dispatching the Capitals in seven games.

The Ducks won the Stanley Cup 10 years ago, defeating the Senators in the finals. The Senators need to upset the Penguins to create a rematch from 2007. The Ducks must get past the Predators to keep up their half of the bargain.

The Senators will attempt to slow down the high-scoring Penguins. Keeping the scores low is the Senators’ only chance to pull off the upset.

The Ducks may have more depth than the Predators, but the Predators, who are in the conference finals for the first time, have the playoffs’ best goalie in Pekka Rinne, and they may have the best defensive corps..

Let’s take a peek inside the crystal puck, analyze the two conference finals and try to predict which teams will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

SENATORS vs. PENGUINS

How the Senators got here: They eliminated the Bruins in six games in the first round, and then eliminated the Rangers in six games in the second round.

How the Penguins got here: They defeated the Blue Jackets in five games in the first round, and then eliminated the Capitals in seven games in the second round.

Senators: The Senators rely on a lower-scoring style under head coach Guy Boucher. Ottawa gave up two more goals than they scored (212) this season, the only playoff team to allow goals than it scored. Seven of the Senators’ eight playoff wins have been by one goal, with five of those victories coming in overtime. The only two-goal victory came in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Rangers, and that margin was created by an empty-net goal.The Senators’ top player is defenseman Erik Karlsson (17 goals, 54 assists), might by the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy at midpoint of the playoffs. Karlsson leads all remaining players the postseason in ice time and has 11 assists, second only to the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin. Because of the Senators’ style, few players usually have eye-popping statistics. Kyle Turris (27, 28), Mike Hoffman (26, 35) and Mark Stone (22, 32) were the only Senators with more than 17 goals during the regular season, but they’ve been relatively quiet during the postseason. Fortunately for the Senators, other players have stepped up. Derick Brassard had eight points (2, 6) against the Bruins. Bobby Ryan, who scored just 13 goals during the regular season, scored four during the Bruins series and added three assists. Against the Rangers, Jean-Gabrial Pageau scored six goals after only scoring 12 during the regular season. Goalie Craig Anderson (25-11-4, 2.28 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) must not allow bad goals or else the Senators may be forced to abandon their conservative style. Former Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf provides physical play and leadership on defense.

Penguins: Penguins are all over the offensive leaderboard for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Evgeni Malkin leads postseason participants in assists (13) and points (18). Sidney Crosby and rookie Jake Guentzel are tied for fourth with 14 points, one ahead of Phil Kessel. Guentzel leads all players in the postseason with nine goals. Crosby missed one game during the series against the Capitals due to a concussion, but played in the final three games. The Senators must watch the Penguins’ stars closely, but they can’t look past Conor Sheary (23, 30),  Justin Schultz (12, 39), Patric Hornqvist (21, 23) and third-line center Nick Bonino (18, 19). Bryan Rust continues to produce important playoff goals, scoring the first goal in the 2-0 triumph over the Capitals in Game 7. Without defenseman Kris Letang (herniated disc in neck) during the postseason, the Penguins are relying on solid team defense to compensate for his absence. The biggest surprise has been goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. An emergency start after goalie Matt Murray was injured during warmups before Game 1of the Blue Jackets’ series, Fleury has been terrific (.927 save percentage), which has not been his postseason reputation in recent years.

Analysis: The Penguins scored the most goals in the NHL this season, and have continued that trend by leading the NHL in postseason goals per game (3.42). The Senators can’t afford to play run-and-gun with the Penguins. All of those one-goal victories over the Bruins and Capitals will be more difficult to achieve against the high-scoring Penguins. The Rangers only had three power play goals during the postseason. It’s almost a guarantee the Penguins will score at least that many during this series. Karlsson gives it his best shot, but the defending-champion Penguins appear headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals. Penguins in 5

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

PREDATORS vs. DUCKS

How the Predators got here: They swept the top-seeded Blackhawks, and then beat the Blue in six games.

How the Ducks got here: They swept the Flames, and then needed seven games to dispatch the Oilers.

Predators: Pekka Rinne (31-19-9, 2.42 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) was outstanding during the first-round sweep of the Blackhawks, allowing just three goals while registering an NHL-best .976 save percentage. His numbers dropped during the Blues series, bt he still leads the NHL, by far, in postseason goals-against average (1.37) and save percentage (.951). The Predators don’t have many superstars, but they have plenty of depth. Twelve Predators scored in double figures during the regular season, including defensemen Ryan Ellis (16), Roman Josi (12 goals) and P.K. Subban (10). Ellis, with four goals and five assists, is tied for the team lead in points with Ryan Johansen (2 goals, 7 assists). Johansen led the Predators in assists during the regular season with 47. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg led the Predators in goals during the regular season with 31 apiece, but they haven’t been piling up points during the playoffs. That doesn’t mean, however, that they haven’t been effective. Forsberg is second in the postseason in plus/minus rating at plus-11, and Arvidsson is plus-10. Veterans Mike Fisher (18 goals, 24 assists) and James Neal (23, 18) provide experience and depth, with Fisher being particularly valuable shorthanded and on defensive zone face-offs. Auston Watson provides a physical presence. Mattias Eckholm joins Josi, Subban and Ellis in forming the backbone of a terrific defensive corps in front of Rinne, who shut out the Blackhawks twice.

Ducks: If you asked a casual fan who led the Ducks in goals this season, the likely answer would be Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler or Corey Perry. All three answers are incorrect. Rickard Rakell led the Ducks in goals (33). The aforementioned trio wasn’t even second. Jakob Silfverberg was second with 23. But it was Getzlaf, who led the Ducks in points (15 goals, 58 assists) during the regular season, who leads the Ducks in postseason goals with eight. Silfverberg has seven goals, and Rakell has six. During the regular season, Getzlaf was followed in points by Kesler (22, 36) and Perry (19, 34). Defensemen Cam Fowler (11, 28) and Sami Vatanen missed games with injuries during the first round against the Flames, but both should be in the lineup at the start of this series. Right wing Patrick Eaves scored 11 goals in 20 games after being acquired at the trade deadline. John Gibson (25-16-9, 2.22 goals-against average, .924 save percentage) and Jonathan Bernier (21-7-4, 2.50, .915) form a formidable goalie tandem, but Gibson’s .280 goals-against average and .908 save percentage are the worst of the remaining starting goalies in the playoffs.

Analysis: The Ducks have more scoring, but the Predators have a potential game-stealing and series-stealing goalie in Rinne, who finally seems to be putting together a spectacular postseason. He certainly gives the Predators an advantage over the Ducks’ John Gibson in goal. better goaltending. The Predators have good scoring depth and an excellent defense. On the other hand, the Ducks, in addition to their stars, also have scoring depth. They also have grit and determination, scoring three times with the goalie pulled for an extra skater to force overtime in one of their wins over the Oilers. Predators head coach Peter Laviolette, the former Flyers head coach, likes to roll out four lines in an attempt to wear down the opposing defense. Predators in 6

Penguins vs. Capitals is marquee matchup

Posted by Eric Fisher On April - 25 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Capitals have a difficult obstacle in their path as they try to advance past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1998. The obstacle is the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions.

This is the third time in the past eight season that the Capitals have had the most points in the NHL, but that won’t mean a thing if they can’t get past the Penguins. And how hard is it to believe that Alexander Ovechkin has never advanced past the second round?

The presence of the Rangers in the second round is a testament to the power of the Metropolitan Division, which had four teams exceed 100 points. Of those four teams, only the Blue Jackets have been eliminated, and that was done by the Penguins.

In the Western Conference, the Ducks looked terrific while sweeping the Flames, but can they fend off the Oilers with their top defenseman recovering from a knee injury? I wasn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Predators beat the Blackhawks, but I was shocked that they swept them. The Predators battle the Blues in a matchup of terrific goalies.

I was correct in six of eight series in the first round, missing only on the Senators and Blues. Let’s take a peek inside the crystal puck and try to predict what will happen during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PENGUINS vs. CAPITALS

How the Penguins got here: They defeated the Blue Jackets in five games.

How the Capitals got here: They defeated the Maple Leafs in six games, with five games going into overtime.

Penguins: Sidney Crosby led the NHL in goals (44) and was second in points (45). Evgeni Malkin (33 goals, 39 assists) and Phil Kessel (23,47) are also dangerous, and opponents can’t look past Conor Sheary (23, 30),  Justin Schultz (12, 39), Patric Hornqvist (21, 23) and third-line center Nick Bonino (18, 19). Malkin, who hadn’t played since March 17 due to an “upper body” injury, returned with a vengeance in the first round, registering 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists) and a plus/minus rating of plus-11 in five games with the Blue Jackets. Kessel contributed 2 goals and 6 assists, and Crosby added two goals and five assists. Rookie Jake Guentzel led the Penguins with five goals and Bryan Rust was next with four, which demonstrates the Penguins’ scoring depth. The Penguins will not have defenseman Kris Letang (herniated disc in neck) during the postseason, which means the Penguins will have to play solid team defense to compensate for Letang’s absence. Marc-Andre Fleury, an emergency start after goalie Matt Murray was injured during warmups before Game 1of the Blue Jackets’ series, will have to be as good as he was against the Blue Jackets to beat the Capitals.

Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin’s goal-scoring dropped to 33, but the Capitals have much more scoring depth this season than last season, when they were eliminated by the Penguins in the second round. T.J. Oshie matched Ovechkin with 33 goals, and Nicklas Backstrom (23 goals, 63 assists) led the team in points. Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams chiped in with 24 goals apiece, giving the Capitals five players with at least 23 goals. Evgeny Kuznetsov (19 goals, 40 assists) is another key player on offense, but the real difference for the Capitals might be the scoring from lower-line players such as Brett Connolly (15), Jay Beagle (13 goals) and the trio of Lars Eller, Daniel Winnick and Andre Burakovsky (12 apiece). The Capitals didn’t get quite that much from the third and fourth lines during their first-round series against the Maple Leafs, but Oshie, Ovechkin and Willams scored three goals apiece, with physical forward Tom Wilson adding a surprising three goals. Marcus Johansson scored both of his goals, including the series-clinching in overtime, during Game 6. Oshie led the Capitals in points with seven. Backstrom chipped in with six points (2 goals, 4 assists).The addition of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline didn’t pay off right away, but he helped the power play improve late in the season. Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Nisakanen, John Carlson and Karl Alzner round out a solid defense in front of the often-overlooked Braden Holtby (42-13-6, 2.07 goals-against average, .925 save percentage). Alzner’s status for Game 1 is uncertain after being injured against the Maple Leafs.

Analysis: The Capitals have won the Presidents’ Trophy for most points for the third time in the past eight seasons, but they have not advanced past the second round since 1998, which is the only time they reached the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins, of course, won the Stanley Cup last season. The Capitals allowed the fewest goals (182) in the NHL this season. The Penguins scored the most goals in the NHL this season. The Capitals had more trouble than expected with the Maple Leafs, needing six games, five of which went into overtime, to prevail. The Penguins had an easier time than many expected in dispatching the Blue Jackets in five games. But that doesn’t mean the Penguins will win the series. The absence of Letang may hurt the Penguins more against the Capitals than it did against the Blue Jackets. The Capitals will attempt to wear down the Penguins’ defensemen. The Penguins will try to pressure the Capitals’ defensemen with their speed. Goaltending may be the difference, and I trust Holtby more than Fleury. Capitals in 7

RANGERS vs. SENATORS

How the Rangers got here: They rallied from a 2-1 series deficit to eliminate the Canadiens in six games.

How the Senators got here: They eliminated the Bruins in six games.

New York Rangers v Montreal CanadiensRangers: The Rangers, as always, are led by goalie Henrik Lundqvist (left). Although “King Henrik” wasn’t lights out this season (31-20-4, 2.74 goals-against average, .910 save percentage), he led the Eastern Conference with a 1.70 goals-against average and .947 save percentage during the first round. The Rangers’ other strength is their depth along the forward lines, which prevents other teams from being able to focus on one line. Ten forwards scored in double figures this season, with four scoring at least 22. Chris Kreider led the team with 28 goals, with Michael Grabner, whom I wanted the Flyers to sign last offseason (no, I won’t let this go), right behind him with 27. Rich Nash and J.T. Miller were next with 23 and 22 goals, respectively. Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers with 44 assists, followed by Derek Stepan (38) and Miller (34). But Kreider and Miller were scoreless during the first-round series against the Canadiens. Mike Zibanejad, acquired from the Senators for Derick Brassard, led the Rangers in points with four (1 goal, 3 assists). Zuccarello led the Rangers in goals with three. If the Rangers have a weakness, it’s the quality of their depth on defense. After Ryan McDonough, the defense is fairly pedestrian, with Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein the best-known of the other defensemen. The lack of quality depth on defense makes Lundqvist’s performance even more important.

Senators: The Senators rely on a lower-scoring style under head coach Guy Boucher. Ottawa gave up two more goals than they scored (212) this season, the only playoff team to allow goals than it scored. The Senators’ top player is defenseman Erik Karlsson (17 goals, 54 assists), who was sixth in the NHL in assists and registered six assists during the Senators’ six-game series with the Bruins. Because of the Senators’ style, few players usually have eye-popping statistics, but Derick Brassard had eight points (2, 6) against the Bruins. Bobby Ryan, who scored just 13 goals during the regular season, scored four during the Bruins series and added three assists. Mike Hoffman (26, 35), Kyle Turris (27, 28) and Mark Stone (22, 32) were the only Senators with more than 17 goals during the regular season. Goalie Craig Anderson (25-11-4, 2.28 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) must not allow bad goals or else the Senators may be forced to abandon their conservative style. Former Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf provides physical play and leadership on defense.

Analysis: The Rangers will roll out four lines and try to wear down Karlsson and Phaneuf, especially after Karlsson revealed after the Bruins series that he is playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel. The Rangers, despite finishing fourth in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division, finished with more points than the Senators. The Rangers’ depth on defense could be a concern against a team with more scoring, but it might not be a significant factor against the low-scoring Senators. Lundqvist and the scoring depth along the Rangers’ forward lines could be the difference in this series. Rangers in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

How the Predators got here: They swept the top-seeded Blackhawks.

How the Blues got here: They eliminated the Wild in five games.

PREDATORS vs. BLUES

Predators: Pekka Rinne (31-19-9, 2.42 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) was outstanding during the first-round sweep of the Blackhawks, allowing just three goals while registering an NHL-best .976 save percentage. The Predators don’t have many superstars, but they have plenty of depth. Twelve Predators scored in double figures during the regular season, including defensemen Ryan Ellis (16), Roman Josi (12 goals) and P.K. Subban (10). Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg led in goals with 31 apiece. Forsberg had two goals and three assists during the first round; Arvidsson had two goals, two assists. Ryan Johansen led the Predators in assists with 47, 10 more than Josi, and he registered five assists in four games against the Blackhawks. Veterans Mike Fisher (18 goals, 24 assists) and James Neal (23, 18) provide experience and depth. Mattias Eckholm joins Josi, Subban and Ellis in forming the backbone of a terrific defensive corps in front of Rinne, who shut out the Blackhawks twice.

Blues: Goalie Jake Allen (33-20-5, 2.42 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) was even better during the first-round victory over the Wild than he was during the regular season.  Allen’s .956 save percentage during the playoffs is second only to Rinne, and he stole one of the early games with 51 saves. Valdimir Tarasenko (39 goals, 36 assists) is far and away the most dangerous scorer for the Blues. When he’s not creating his own goals, he’s attracting defensive attention that opens up opportunieis for other players. Patrik Berglund is the only other player who had more than 20 goals during the regular season. But Jaden Schwartz produced two goals and three assists against the Wild, with both of his goals coming in clutch situations. Alexander Steen added two goals and two assists. The Blue receive some help on offense from defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (14, 34) and Colton Parayko (4, 31).

Analysis: The Predators are a dangerous team. They have good scoring depth, an excellent defense and a potential game-stealing goalie in Rinne, who finally seems to be putting together a spectacular postseason. The Blues don’t score a ton of goals, and that task should be even more difficult against the Predators. The Blues are a solid defensive team, but Predators head coach Peter Laviolette, the former Flyers head coach, likes to roll out four lines. Predators in 6

OILERS vs. DUCKS

How the Oilers got here: They beat the Sharks in six games.

How the Ducks got here: They swept the Flames.

Oilers: Second-year center Connor McDavid led the NHL with 100 points. He led the Oilers in goals (30) and assists (70). He continued to lead with two goals and two assists during the victory over the Sharks. But the Oilders also had scoring depth. Leon Draisaitl (29 goals, 48 assists), Jordan Eberle (20, 31), Milan Lucic (23, 27) and Patrick Maroon (27, 15) each registered more than 20 goals during the regular season. Adam Larsson, acquired from the Devils leads Oilers defensemen in plus/minus rating (plus-21). Goalie Cam Talbot (42-22-8, 2.39 goals-against average, .919 save percentage), the former backup to Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers, has carried a heavy load this season, and continued to play well during the first round.

Ducks: If you asked a casual fan who led the Ducks in goals this season, the likely answer would be Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler or Corey Perry. All three answers are incorrect. Rickard Rakell led the Ducks in goals (33). The aforementioned trio wasn’t even second. Jakob Silfverberg was second with 23. But it was Getzlaf, who led the Ducks in points (15 goals, 58 assists) during the regular season, who led them again during the sweep of the Flames with three goals and two assists. Rakell and Shea Theodore each registered two goals and three assists, and Nate Thompson added two goals and two assists. During the regular season, Getzlaf was followed in points by Kesler (22, 36) and Perry (19, 34), but Kesler’s main role in this series may be to try to contain McDavid. An uncertainty is whether defensemen Cam Fowler (11, 28) and Sami Vatanen will be ready for this series. Fowler missed the entire Flames series after a hit to his knee during the regular-season finale, and Vatanen (“upper body” injury) played just one game against the Flames. The Ducks overcame their absences against the Flames, but the Oilers are a more dynamic team. Kevin Bieksa is a steady hand on defense. Right wing Patrick Eaves scored 11 goals in 20 games after being acquired at the trade deadline. John Gibson (25-16-9, 2.22 goals-against average, .924 save percentage) and Jonathan Bernier (21-7-4, 2.50, .915) form a formidable goalie tandem.

Analysis: The uncertainty surrounding Fowler hurts the Ducks, but not enough to cost them a series with the Oilers. The Ducks are on an incredible roll, earning points in the final 14 games of the regular season (11-0-3) before opening the playoffs with a sweep of the Flames. The Oilers made a remarkable turnaround this season, improving by 33 points in the standings and then knocking off the more-experienced Sharks in six games, but the Ducks might have too much for the Oilers. Ducks in 6.

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