Bitter End to Brilliant Classic: Rangers Outlast Flyers

Bitter End to Brilliant Classic: Rangers Outlast Flyers

The 2012 NHL Winter Classic lived up to every bit of hype that has been piled on it over the past year. The teams represented one of the league's best rivalries, and each side was at the top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference for the period leading up to and including game. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, although the net result of participation in the event was positive, the finale was disappointing.

Despite a hard-fought 60 minutes, the Flyers wilted in the third period, and goaltending was—predictably—one of the deciding factors. It's also a clear difference between the Flyers and the team they trail in the division.

Below, a look at the best and worst the day had to offer.

Deep Rooted Atmosphere
There was little doubt that a Flyers-Rangers matchup on the field at one of baseball's new palaces would be met with tremendous fan response, and we've come to expect Winter Classics to be outstanding theatre no matter where they're played and who is on the ice. A crowd of nearly 47,000 surrounded a makeshift yet perfect hockey stage, and the weather behaved, with only wind providing any sort of issue. A light wave of flurries later in the game added even more to a gorgeous scene. Off the ice, the NHL, Flyers, Phillies, and Rangers did just about everything right in terms of putting on a memorable show for fans who shelled out big money for a unique experience.

The NBC announcers said it was hard for the coaches to communicate on their benches because of how loud it was.

The Roots were a highlight as well, putting on a great intermission show. All but Black Thought donned Flyers jerseys (at least he ditched his frequently worn Yankees cap), and they played "The Fire," replacing "Fire" with "Flyers." Great performance by Philly's top musical act:

Patti LaBelle... not the best anthem we've heard, and we'll leave it at that.

Flyers Are Subjects in King Henrik's Realm
Unfortunately, the result that counts is that the Flyers are still chasing a superior Rangers team in the standings and in bona fide contention for a Stanley Cup. One huge reason—although not the only one—is Henrik Lundqvist. Through a tight first period, Henrik turned aside everything sent his way, as did Sergei Bobrovsky. But a soft goal surrendered by Bob in the third will be hard to forget, whereas Lundqvist seemed to only get stronger.

The Flyers had the advantage in opportunities early, but most were not particularly dangerous. Lundqvist was square to nearly every shot, and didn't have to deal with much in the way of screens of second-effort attempts.

Through nearly half the game, neither side threatened too dangerously. Then, in a matter of 2:25, three goals were scored.

Schenn Opens His Account, Flyers Take Over
When the Flyers finally lit the scoreboard for the first time, it was a historic moment in what may become a brilliant NHL career. Brayden Schenn has battled injuries in his time as a Flyer, but earned every bit of his goal on Monday. Schenn won an offensive zone face-off, then made his way to the net as Matt Carle through the puck toward the cage. Lundqvist made the initial stop, but left the rebound at his feet, where an opportunistic Schenn put it home and celebrated exactly as you might expect.

[More on that here]
Schenn joins Danny Syvret in the realm of Flyers who have scored their first NHL goals in a Winter Classic. Hopefully that's all they'll have in common.

While we were all still high-fiving, Claude Giroux scored his 18th of the season, moving ahead of Henrik Sedin for the NHL points lead (46). Max Talbot was the playmaker who set it up, making good use of some open ice while G weaved into the slot. Talbot found him, and with two quick touches, put a great move on Lundqvist and beat him high.

Momentum Walls Out, Mike Rupp Chumps Out
Unfortunately, the Rangers got one back just 30 seconds after G's tally. Mike Rupp scored, then did a salute to mock Jaromir Jagr. One of these players will be remember for his greatness. The other will be remembered—if at all—for mocking him.

Andrej Meszaros didn't help his goalie out on this one, drifting into no-man's land and attempting to block a shot with his legs while standing straight up, stick nearly useless. The shot got past him, and a fully screened Bob had no answer for it. Probably won't need a translator to get the gist of any postage banter between the Flyers' two goalies tonight.

Third Period Hell
Short the aforementioned Jagr for part of the first, most of the second, and all of the third periods, the Flyers slowed down considerably in the final frame, appearing to lose their legs somewhat. The Rangers, meanwhile, sustained their attack. Rupp scored again less than three minutes into the third, a sorrowfully soft goal on Bob's part sure to draw more attention than it would in any other game.

Fans looking for revenge on Rupp for his disrespect of Jagr got just the opposite. Rupp scored his second of the game, just his third of the season. Lundqvist beating you is one thing… Mike Rupp is a whole lot tougher to stomach.

Brad Richards would score for the Rangers as well, putting them up by a 3-2 count. Giroux seemed to lose his man on the play, and Richards showed why he was a top prize in the off-season.

A Dramatic Finale
As the time got closer and closer to quad zeroes in the third, the Flyers kicked into a gear they hadn't seen in 20 minutes of ice time. Lundqvist remained in the gear he'd cruised in all day. The refs didn't help the Flyers out on one play in tight, blowing a very loose puck dead. But, they did award the Flyers a powerplay they didn't deserve, whistling Ryan McDonagh for delay of game after he was pushed into the Rangers' net, taking it off its moorings.

McDonagh played a key role in the final dramatic sequence as well, when, with Bob pulled, he was whistled for covering the puck in his own crease. The Flyers were awarded a penalty shot, which was taken by Danny Briere.

True to form in this one, Briere made his attempt on Lundqvist, but you could hardly say he challenged him. Briere skated straight in on net, and Henrik stayed square, not reacting until Briere made his move, going for the five hole. The shot was turned easily aside, and the game was over 20 seconds later. (Good stat by Devils beat Tom Gulitti: Including Briere's today, shooters are now 0-for-11 on penalty shots with a chance to tie game in final minute over last 15 years.)

End Result
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

The Rangers are now four points ahead in the standings, hardly an insurmountable margin. The Flyers hung with them for most of the game, but a few key lapses proved fatal.
The injury to Jaromir Jagr bears observing (though he downplayed it afterwards), as of course does the goaltending situation.

Overall, this was not a head-hanging loss, and the weekend on the whole was a great success for all parties involved. We certainly enjoyed it. And, like the players and coaches seemed to after the game, we're looking forward to life after the Winter Classic. The Flyers have an identity to cultivate and half a season to do it.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.