3 Stars: Flyers push win streak to five with statement win over NHL-best Blues

3 Stars: Flyers push win streak to five with statement win over NHL-best Blues

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-1 victory over the league-leading St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center from the perspective of two players and one whistle-happy referee.

You guys smell that? That smells like a five-game winning streak, all against some of the best the NHL has to offer.

3. Francois St. Laurent

If you didn’t know that St. Laurent is a NHL referee before Saturday afternoon’s game, you certainly do now because it seemed like he was blowing his whistle every 10 seconds to call another penalty.

All told, St. Laurent and his partner Gene Hebert called 18 minor penalties – four of which were on Flyers captain Claude Giroux alone. But St. Laurent was the ref making most of the calls and skating over to the penalty boxes to announce them.

Two of the best and hottest teams in the NHL met on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center. Let ‘em play, ref.

That said, the Flyers’ penalty kill units were great yet again as they held the Blues, who entered the game with the seventh-best power play in the league, scoreless on six chances with the man advantage. That’s now 27 of the last 28 power plays against that the Flyers have killed off.

2. Steve Mason

There have been times this season when Mason hasn’t been great but his teammates picked him with some offense. And there have been times this season when Mason has had to stand on his head to help his team hang on to a lead.

Saturday was an example of the latter.

Mason made 32 saves to earn the victory. He came up especially huge in the third period when his team clung to a slim lead.

First, he made a great glove save on a shot from the point by St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as the teams played 4-on-4. Then, with St. Louis on the power play, Mason stopped forward Derek Roy on the doorstep three times, the last of which may have been the netminder’s best save of the day as he snatched Roy’s opportunity out of the air while sprawled across the goal line.

The Flyers really needed Mason on Saturday as they were outshot 33-19 for the game and smothered by the Blues for the better parts of the first and third periods. In that third period, the Flyers were outshot 11-3 but Mason had every answer for those 11 third-period shots. It doesn’t hurt that two of the Flyers three third-period shots found the back of the net courtesy of Jake Voracek and an empty-netter by Wayne Simmonds.

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1. Scott Hartnell

Much like this past Tuesday when the Blackhawks were in town, the Flyers needed a spark after a lackluster start to the game. And much like this past Tuesday, Hartnell was there to provide it.

After the Flyers were swamped by the Blues for most of the opening stanza and found themselves down at intermission, Hartnell took a centering pass from Voracek and beat newly-acquired Blues goalie Ryan Miller for a power-play goal to knot the game at one just 57 seconds into the second period.

It was a goal that allowed the Flyers to get their feet back under themselves and get some confidence that would show throughout the rest of the period. They carried play in the second period and would eventually get another goal from Brayden Schenn that would stick as the game-winner.

With the Blues pressing again late in the third and the Flyers holding onto a 2-1 lead, Hartnell got in on the forecheck, caused a turnover and then sent puck over to Giroux, who fed Voracek for a huge insurance goal on one of the Flyers’ rare shots in the third. Without Hartnell’s hard work and forechecking, the goal likely never would have happened and who knows where things would have gone from there with how hard the Blues were pressing?

It was a hard-nosed, physical game so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Hartnell made an impact on Saturday afternoon.

That’s now six points – four goals and two assists – for Hartnell over the team’s current five-game winning streak. He’s stepping his game up at the right time.

 

In a week of statement wins, Saturday afternoon’s win over the NHL-best Blues may have been the biggest statement the Flyers have made. It may not always be pretty, but this team is getting the job done against the best teams in the league. The rest of the NHL is officially on notice because the Flyers look like they are for real.

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

For family days at the University of Tennessee, former defensive line coach Steve Stripling's wife Gayle would make cookies for the crowd. And every time she did, it didn't go unnoticed by the Vols' best player. 

Every time, without fail, Derek Barnett would make a point to seek her out and say, "Hey Mrs. Strip, thank you for the cookies." 

It's a small thing, thanking someone for cookies. But it's something that seems to exemplify the type of players the Eagles are focused on bringing into the organization, especially with new VP of player personnel Joe Douglas leading the draft charge. And it was the one of the stories that stuck out most to Steve Stripling on Friday morning, 12 hours after the pick was made. 

"He's got that in him," Stripling said to CSNPhilly.com on Friday morning, just before boarding a flight from Philadelphia back to Tennessee, "and then on the football field, I've seen him just be a monster. 

"He has that ability to be quiet, unassuming, polite, respectful, all that, and then on the football field, he's a warrior. When he walks on the football field, he's different, totally different." 

Barnett, 20, is a pretty quiet and reserved guy. Some fans thought he didn't look pleased to be picked by the Eagles with the 14th pick on Thursday night, but that's not true. That's just his demeanor — off the field. 

On the field, Barnett is a relentless technician with an exceptional motor that powered him to 33 sacks at Tennessee, breaking Reggie White's long-standing record. 

"If you get to know him, he doesn't say much," Stripling said. "He's very quiet, but on the football field, when he says something, everyone pays attention. He just has that built into him, to play hard and he's a grinder and focused and all those things."

Stripling joined the Volunteers' coaching staff as an associate head coach and defensive line coach for the 2013 season. That was the year spent recruiting Barnett out of Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee. After Barnett's 2016 season, Stripling, 63, took a job as the director of football program development, but he was Barnett's position coach for all three years of his college stay. 

And from the time Barnett arrived on the Tennessee campus in 2014, it didn't take long for the coaching staff to realize something was special about him. 

Stripling recalls a play that the coaching staff has shown "a thousand times" since it happened back in 2014. During the first or second day of Volunteers' two-a-day camp, Barnett, then a freshman, showed that relentless style for which he's now become known. Barnett lined up as the team's right end as the ball broke to the left and the carrier jetted down field. From out of nowhere, Barnett chased him 40 yards downfield and delivered a sideline hit. 

Before that play, Tennessee knew Barnett was good. After that play, it knew he was special. 

"Usually when a freshman gets to camp, they're just trying to fit in, learn their way," Stripling said. "But it was from Day 1." 

The Tennessee defensive line room tried to live by an acronym: EAT — effort, accountability and technique. Barnett represented all of those facets. 

But perhaps more than anything, the technique part of his game is what really stands out. The use of his hands and his ability to bend as a pass rusher are the traits that vaulted him into the top half of the first round. 

And Barnett credits "Coach Strip" for a lot of it. 

"I’ll you what, he was hard on me," Barnett wrote about Stripling in the Players' Tribune. "From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player."

In addition to working with Tennessee coaches, Barnett has also spent time in the offseason working with former NFL defensive lineman and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith. 

Barnett (6-3, 259 pounds) didn't perform well at the 2017 combine in Indianapolis. Even though he was dealing with the flu, he wanted to show more. But on Thursday night, that lackluster performance didn't seem to bother Douglas, who raved about his technique and even dropped some scouty lingo with the phrase "ankle flexion." 

Stripling, meanwhile, compared Barnett's bend as a pass rusher to former Colts great Dwight Freeney. 

"I think that's athletic ability to me, even though it's not a 40-yard time," Stripling said. "It's the ability to get low, reduce the surface and turn the corner. And I think that's one of his strong suites."

And then there's something Barnett has that simply can't be coached: instincts. Barnett, according to Stripling, has the unique ability to leave his gap responsibility at exactly the right time, when necessary to make a play: 

"I would say, 'Derek, how did you know the ball was going there?' He'd say, 'I just knew it.'"

For Stripling, Thursday night at the Ben Franklin Parkway was quite a thrill. A college coach since 1977, this was the first NFL draft he had ever attended. Hours after the Eagles used their 14th pick to take Barnett and hours after the hoopla surrounding the event had faded, Stripling sat up late with Barnett, his mother Christine and the rest of the family, reminiscing and reflecting. 

A little earlier in the night, when Barnett's name was called, Stripling happened to be seated near a group of inquisitive Eagles fans. 

"They were saying, 'who is this guy?'" Stripling recalled. "And I said, 'you're going to love this guy. He's going to work hard, he's going to be tough, he's going to make plays, you're going to love him.' I'm excited for him, it's going to be a good fit."

Record-breaking crowds flood the Parkway for NFL Draft Experience in Philly

Record-breaking crowds flood the Parkway for NFL Draft Experience in Philly

Who needs to the Pope when you have Ginger Jesus?

The NFL Draft Experience joined a long list of wildly popular events in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and all along the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The NFL announced today that nearly 100,000 fans enjoyed the experience, the most-ever for a draft-related event, on day 1 of the draft alone.

Fans flooded into the Experience with people from all across the country in town to support their respective teams. Eagles fans clearly dominated the crowd, however, as you couldn't go a few minutes without hearing an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. 

ESPN also showed some love all night long. SportsCenter's Scott Van Pelt called the story of the night in Philadelphia the city of Philly itself. Adam Schefter called it the "wildest, most raucous crowd in draft history." Jon Gruden called Philly "one of the greatest football towns on the planet."

Aside from not being totally in love with their first pick Derek Barnett upon first blush, Philly fans showed off wonderfully. Even the booing of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came off as cute.

The Draft Experience is open again on Friday from noon until 11:00 pm and on Saturday from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. It's free for all fans.

Try the games, avoid the cheesesteaks. And bring some sunscreen (ugh).