Bob's Winter Classic Start: Latest Chapter in Flyers Goalie History, But for the Best

Bob's Winter Classic Start: Latest Chapter in Flyers Goalie History, But for the Best

Peter Laviolette showed us last season and playoffs that he likes to go with the hot hand, which is a turn of phrase that obscures a more important truth—Lavvy rewards effort and benches malaise. For whatever reason, Ilya Bryzgalov has lapsed into a second major slump of the first half of the season, and while he was solid in between them, he wasn't the show stopper the Flyers were seeking when they inked him to a 9-year, $51 million deal this summer.

The good news is, as much as Lavvy may be sending a message to an underperforming player, his decision to start Sergei Bobrovsky also rewards someone who is playing well. This isn't merely change for the sake of change, nor a wakeup call to Bryz. Based on recent play, Bob gives the Flyers the best chance to get two points today. He confirmed that in his win over the Penguins to close out 2011.

We'll find out today whether it was the right decision in the short term, but will the long-term implications be positive or negative? One thing's for sure, it drew a reaction from Bryzgalov. Not necessarily the one the coach was hoping for…

What will the short- and long-term implications be?

As you know by now, Bryz broke the secret to the media yesterday. He did it with some self-deprecating humor, which is a story in itself.

Part of the story of Bryzgalov's stay in Philly so far has been broken confidence, with his "Lost in the Woods" quote marking one of the defining moments of the season. While self-deprecation can be enjoyable and endearing, it's not really something you're looking for in a goalie. In the crease, confidence reigns supreme.

Confidence does not appear to be something Bryzgalov has right now. We've talked a bit about his on-ice body language lately, a topic I'm not too fond of overanalyzing but couldn't help but observe. Yesterday, it was his spoken language that grabbed attention. Bryz posted a picture of a thermos and joked with the media that that's how he was preparing for his time on the bench.

Deflection? Certainly. And Bryz has so far been deft at keeping fans on his side despite being the ultimate target for Philly hockey criticism—a highly paid disappointment. His off-ice persona is interesting, amusing, and seemingly sincere. But as the pages turn on the calendar and expectations ratchet up, no amount of HBO footage will save him if his on-ice play does not improve significantly.

Lavvy's decision to start Bob sends a consistent message to his team. Play well and you will be rewarded. It also sends a message to Bryz and others that a big contract doesn't mean they'll start. If both messages are received loud and clear, this could prove to be a turning point for Bryzgalov. This is the right time to have that happen, rather than in four months.

However, Bryz's initial reaction—breaking the story rather than allowing it to be released when Lavvy wanted it to be—would indicate that the message may not yet have been received. The coaches have some work to do in getting Bryz's head on straight, and the player has the most work to do of all. The later into the season we get, the less funny the jokes will be.

On the other hand, Bryz's reaction could have been far, far worse. Being
benched in the highest profile game of the season can't be easy, and
joking about it is a much better response than complaining or
criticizing.

Messages aside, the spectacle of the Winter Classic will reach its height today at 3PM. However, the spectacle for the players needs to have ended yesterday. Alumni Game, family skates, marriage proposals—they're all fantastic, and it's refreshing to see athletes enjoy the lead-in to the Winter Classic. But it's about the two points in the standings for them now. Bob is the safer bet to get them two points today.

The front office will be scrutinized for the decision to give Bryzgalov the bank, not just this year but for years to come. That was a given the day they inked him. But they deserve credit for not doing what a lot of people thought they would in trading away Bobrovsky. In short, they made a risky investment, but they insured against it as well.

Injuries aren't the only reason a contending team needs a backup who can play like a starter. Goalies are often among the biggest headcases in all of sports. When they're off, they're way off. When they're on, they're nearly unbeatable. Bryz will get his swagger back. Until then, we can be glad that the Flyers can lean on the goalie a lot of people wanted to be the starter before free agency even began.

All this being said, we'd obviously prefer there to be no big story in goal as the league's attention turns to the Flyers.

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

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Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.