Are You Even a Fan, Bro?

Are You Even a Fan, Bro?

Twigs crunch under the Timbos on my toes, and this is how it goes.

Blindfolded, I’m following. Following forever. For years, for decades. And then, just when I start to think, when I really start to think about why I’m wearing a blindfold in the first place, and why I’m following someone that I didn’t even choose as the leader, a person who has led me into a number of trees already, I tumble off the cliff.

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Yesterday on Twitter, Fran and I were giving the Flyers front office a good old-fashioned ribbing as the natural result of a pending contract that is largely perceived as a joke by everyone outside of Philadelphia. No official poll has been undertaken by the mayor’s office, but I would venture to guess that most of Philadelphia met the news of Mark Streit’s impending signing with an exacerbated groan. He has a great offensive upside but our defense is not good defensively, and he’s not good defensively. Throw that in a pot with the fact that he’s 35 and mix in $22 million and you’ve got a stew, baby.

So it was in the middle of a streak of some clever and some not so clever 140 character odes to Paul Holmgren that a masked avenger felt the urge to share his own commonplace, knee-jerk retort to someone making fun of his team. I honestly don’t feel like scrolling back to Ctrl+V it verbatim, but it was something along the lines of “are you even a fan? shut up jerk.”

Back when we used to publish what Philadelphia Magazine never called One of the Top 100 Flyers Blogs of 2008, this kind of stuff used to really get under my skin. Am I a fan??? I write 1,000 words about this flipping team every flipping day and then spend 2 hours photoshopping Handzus hair on Patrik Thorensen!! Are you flipping kidding me?!?! But now I’m old and my balls are old and I prefer Dadspin to the Funbag and ain’t nobody got time for that. But from a more philosophical point of view, it is an interesting question.

When I was younger, growing up in South Jersey, dry humping my bed while staring at my Legion of Doom poster, I used to italics-hate when my dad would criticize the Flyers. He was an idiot, he wasn’t a true fan, and what did he know about hockey anyway. But time always proves the youths ignorant, or at the very least naïve. And I’m not reaching into the Pedestrian Complaint Box to let you know that “I’m paying good money to watch this product” or that I think I personally could do a better job. The simple fact of the matter is that I am a fan and, like Will Smiff but certainly not his long jacket wearing son, was born in Philadelphia and have rooted for the Flyers my entire life – living in MA, then ME, then NY and now back in MA. I want the Flyers to be good so that in the tiny escapism opportunities I actually partake in, I can feel a sense of reserved pride. I can wear a Flyers cap while I steer my riding mower around (never grow up) my 30k feet of America, and when my neighbor Masshole Paul comes over to tell me about the Bruins he knows that like Wu-tang, I am nothing to F with, as indicated by the Flyers logo on my forehead. And for 30 years this has not been possible.

And now that I look at the club with a more critical eye it is disconcerting that the ONLY consistency in the organization since 2007 is the front office – specifically Paul Holmgren. That doesn’t smell right. That smells like a double beef Doritos Loco fart in the mouth. And while we’re on the subject of beef and beefing, my main beefs with Holmgren all result from his failed strategic vision. Please note the following comedy of errors:

-       Holmgren brought in Pronger with too little concern for the current chemistry of the room, or otherwise understanding of the possible repercussions this move would have

-       Holmgren then dug that hole a little deeper by off-loading Mike Richards to right his own wrong

-       Which was tied to bringing in Bryzgalov, who we are now going to pay 10’s of millions of dollars to not play for us.

Paul Holmgren brought in two captains that lived on polar opposites of the Captain Spectrum, and when it caused a rift in the locker room he chose a horse that marked a dramatic shift in the long-term outlook of this team. And I already know where you’re going with this, but Marc Savard averaged 83 points per season before his career was ended and the Bruins still moved forward. Do you want a GM that hasn’t won because of injuries or one who has built such a strong organization that he has won in spite of them?

All the other Modrys, Emingers, Parents, Alberts, Boyntons, Fritsches, Sloanes, Fitzpatricks, Krajiceks, Liljas, Bartuliseseses, and Shelleys, I can forgive. All the silly “low risk, high reward” signings that have turned out to be “low risk, no reward” don’t bother me.

Shoot, I can even forgive the Bobrovsky thing. Holmgren chose a strategy again. It was wrong. Again.

And that is the point, exactly. Paul Holmgren has been holding the reins for almost 6 years, and the Flyers are not discernibly better than they were on July 2, 2007. If anything, their bell-curved success over this time period proves that Holmgren’s time is over – he built a supernova and now none of it remains. Holmgren had his miracle run and now the sun is set. But everyone in that front office is just too busy basking in the warm glow of the Bullies’ Cups to notice.

The Flyers are broken. Paul Holmgren had a strategy and it didn’t work out. And the wake continues to grow more dangerous, by the day apparently. The residual impact is leaving us the laughing stock of the league. Every $5M piece of duct tape this guy buys sets us that much further back. We don’t need a short-term fix anymore. We need a new architect and a new engineer.

In the end, I think the organization’s lack of patience, embodied in the always-externally-praised “win now” mentality, has actually done the Flyers a disservice. Do you want to “always be in the discussion” or to have missed the playoffs 5 out of the last 10 years but also had a cup to show for it in that period? That’s the future of the game. Build the core. Keep the core. Add parts. Win one or two. Rinse and repeat.

No matter which of the above options you choose, as evidenced by last season and his continued incompetence, Paul Holmgren is not your man. And as a proud fan of the team and city, I believe they need a change. Someone in that organization needs to get it together, and see what’s happening.

You can follow FlyersGoalScoredBy on Twitter here.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."