3 Stars: Lethal special teams strike again as Flyers complete weekend sweep of Penguins

3 Stars: Lethal special teams strike again as Flyers complete weekend sweep of Penguins

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers' 4-3 victory over the hated, intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh from the perspective of three players.

Let’s get this out of the way now: Man, did the linesman ever dodge a bullet when Sidney Crosby’s tip-in the waning seconds hit the post and didn’t tie the game. Evgeni Malkin was so far offside on the play that he was basically in Ohio.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury

The Penguins netminder didn’t have his best performance of the season on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia but had the chance to rebound on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

A peek at Fleury’s stats from Sunday show he made 12 saves on 15 shots. Not bad, right? The thing is those 12 saves on 15 shots came in the first 13:41 of a first period the Flyers dominated.

Fleury was pulled at that point after giving up Wayne Simmonds’ second power-play goal of the game but the score wasn’t the netminder’s fault. It was a mercy pulling by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. The Flyers were running roughshod over the Penguins and Bylsma had to do something so he but backup Jeff Zatkoff in to try and turn things around, which almost happened.

Fleury actually played pretty well for Pittsburgh when he was in the game. He let up three goals but made numerous A-plus stops that kept Pittsburgh in the game at the time. He had no shot on Brayden Schenn’s opening tally off a scramble and bad things happen when Mr. Simmonds is in his office.

2. Matt Read

A second game this weekend against the Penguins, a second impressive performance Read, who punctuated his weekend with Sunday’s game-winning goal.

With the Penguins on a power play midway through the second period, Luke Schenn hopped on a turnover and sprung Read and Sean Couturier on a two-on-one break. Instead of forcing a pass to Couturier, Read sniped the top corner of the net over Zatkoff’s glove for a shorthanded goal.

Not only was it the game-winning goal, it was Read’s second shorthanded goal of the weekend and his third goal of the weekend overall.

Goals are always nice, but the work Read and Couturier did against the Penguins’ top-ranked power play over the last two games was as good as it gets. The Penguins’ vaunted power play went 0-for-9 over the weekend thanks in large part to Read and Couturier, the Flyers’ special teams aces.

Also of note, Crosby and Malkin combined for – wait for it, wait for it – zero points on the weekend.

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1. Wayne Simmonds

As mentioned above, bad things happen to opponents when Mr. Simmonds is in his office in front of the net.

On Sunday, Mr. Simmonds set up shop in Pittsburgh and his office was open for business.

Simmonds tipped a point shot from Kimmo Timonen through Fleury’s legs for a power-play goal to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead midway through the first period. Just under seven minutes later, he spun in front of the net and powered the puck through Fleury for another power-play goal, gave the Flyers a 3-0 lead and ended Fleury’s day.

The goals were Simmonds’ 20th and 21st of the season. His career high is 28 in 2011-12. He now has 12 power-play goals on the year, which ties him for third most in the league.

Simmonds also assisted on Schenn’s opening tally to round out a three-point day.

Know any bitter Penguins fans?  There are a lot of them out there.

Be sure to remind them that the Flyers are now 10-2-1 (including playoffs) in Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center since it opened in October 2010.

Can’t stress enough how you should rub that fact in the faces of any Penguins fans you see at school or work on Monday.

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies rallied for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Tommy Joseph won it with a single up the middle with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The hit scored Aaron Altherr, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.

The Phils have won just six of their last 27 games. Joseph has had a walk-off, game-winning hit in the last two wins.

In addition to Joseph, who also homered, the star of the game was the Phillies' bullpen. Four Phils' relievers combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff exited. The Phillies' bullpen is riding a 19 2/3-innings scoreless streak.

Starting pitching report
Eickhoff allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a bunt hit and a two-run homer to the first two batters of the game but took a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff single and a one-out RBI double in that inning as the Reds tied the game at 3-3.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, back in action at age 40 after recovering from surgery the last two seasons, gave up three runs — all on solo homers — over five innings.

Bullpen report
Good work by Edubray Ramos to get two outs in the sixth to strand a runner in scoring position and preserve a 3-3 tie. Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each followed with a scoreless inning. Neris struck out dangerous Joey Votto on a splitter with a man on base to end the top of the ninth. He got the win.

Austin Brice pitched two scoreless innings for the Reds. Michael Lorenzen took the loss. He gave up two hits in the ninth. Joseph's game-winning hit came on a 97 mph heater.

At the plate
Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all clouted solo homers for the Phillies. Joseph has six homers in his last 21 games.

Zack Cozart smacked a two-run homer against Eickhoff in the first inning. The Reds tied the game on a one-out double by Scooter Gennett in the sixth.

Remembering Bunning
Jim Bunning died Friday night. Larry Bowa recalled the impact that the Hall of Famer had on his career (see story).

Up next
The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) and Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99) are the pitchers.