Danny & The Kings Ransom Duo Shred Leafs

Danny & The Kings Ransom Duo Shred Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs may not be the best barometer for a playoff-bound team. They've already been eliminated from playoff eligibility for the seventh consecutive season, and on Thursday, they had a first-time NHL starter in net due to a fluke injury to Jonas Gustavsson in pregame warmups. In terms of competition, the best they had to offer was the "dangerous team with nothing left to lose" riff. 
The Flyers were also without their starter in net, a situation Kulp took a good look at prior to the game. Would a change in goal reverse the Flyers' recent fortunes? At least for a night, no… Not at all. Sergei Bobrovsky was as good as anyone could've asked, and the line of Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn led the way in a 7-1 decimation. 
Some must-see goals below, if you didn't catch the game live. Even if you did, this was a fun one to relive. 
Danny Briere didn't score on the night, but he continued his warming trend in a huge way. Centering the two players the Flyers got from the LA Kings in return for Mike Richards, Briere notched a career-high four assists, and they weren't just the "last guy who touched the puck before the scorer" variety. 
Schenn and Simmonds each scored a pair, giving them 11 and 25 on the season, respectively. Matt Read ripped his 23rd of the season, Eric Wellwood his fifth, and Jake Voracek his 15th. Seven goals on the board, and none came from the tape of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, or Jaromir Jagr. No objections here. 
Schenn opened the scoring before 6 minutes had ticked off the clock, gathering a misfired puck off the stick of his brother Luke, and sniping it past Rynnas. The Flyers have proven that early deficits aren't fatal, but it's still a relief when they're the side with the early goal. 

The Good Schenn also scored the second goal of the game, this time benefiting from the play of the team's elder statement. Killing a penalty, the Leafs managed a frantic lobbing clear, but couldn't control it in the neutral zone. With the patience of a 664-goal scorer, Jaromir Jagr held it up at the blue line while the forwards cleared the zone, then hit Briere with a pass as he regained the zone. Briere skated up the near-side slot, drawing Dion "Suck It" Phaneuf's attention, then fed Schenn on the back door. 
Psst, Dion… even on the PK, you want to be responsible for the pass there. 
Mikhail Grabovski would make it a one-goal game before the period was over, which in retrospect reminds us that this game wasn't dominated by the Flyers for all 60 minutes. The Leafs pressured the puck and torched the Flyers in transition, with Tim Connolly sending a long pass through three Flyers' defenders and setting the dangerous Grabovsky free. He put a brilliant move on Bobrovsky, one that no one will hang on Bob.


Just nasty. 
As they did in the first period, the Flyers opened the scoring relatively early in the second, with Wayne Simmonds making everyone in blue look silly on the 4-on-4. Briere fluttered a shot toward goal, where Simmonds sticked it down, then chased it behind the net. After shedding Toronto's Carl Gunnarsson and muscling it to the edge of the trapezoid, Simmonds stickhandled and made center Tyler Bozak back off, presumably thinking Simmer was going to pass it. Along with his teammates, even Rynnas was fooled, leaving his near post and getting beaten like a goalie no one's every heard of. 
If you have a weak stomach for terrible defense, do not watch this video:
Didn't it look like the Gunnarsson and Bozak were on rewind? 
I don't know why the Leafs didn't give more respect to a man with more than 20 goals, but every one of the Toronto players involved in the play skates AWAY from Simmonds, giving him an open channel toward the net. 
Plays like that, on top of eight years without playoff hockey (including the lockout season) are actually pretty good reasons for Toronto fans serenading their team with "Let's Go Blue Jays" chants for the last 10 minutes of the game. 
The Maple Leafs' defense was simply atrocious on Thursday night, and the Flyers took advantage early and often. 
Matty Boy Read also tallied in the second period, a short-handed effort aided by Max Talbot. Read made a great play to advance the puck to Talbot as the two criss-crossed the defense. Talbot attemted a pass that was blocked in on Rynnas, and Read kept his movement going toward the net, then made easy work of the rebound. 
Tremendous amount of pressure and confidence for two forwards killing a penalty to put the Flyers up, 4-1. 
There was some slop by the Flyers to start the third period, but they still managed to score within 6 minutes, just as they did in the first and second frames. This time it was Eric Wellwood's turn. He made a gorgeous move to get some space off the boards, Matt Read grabbed the loose puck, then deftly sent it back to Wellwood, who buried it far side. 
I mean, holy shit. That move by Wellwood, that perfect pass by Read… We've said/heard it all season, and it's because you really can't say enough about the contributions made by Flyers rookies. 
While not a rookie, another Flyers newcomer added the team's sixth goal, when Jake Voracek scored his 15th of the season. 
Simmonds capped it all off with just under 8 minutes to go in the game, finishing Another Danny Creation. Jagr skated it ahead to gain the zone and bring the defense in, then slid it to Briere, who grabbed his fourth assist of the night as he passed it across to a streaking Simmonds. Simmer had three-quarters of the net to choose from and didn't miss. 

So what can we take from this game? Mostly things we already knew. The Flyers have tremendous scoring depth, with a versatile group of rookies contributing in all scenarios. Sergei Bobrovsky is a capable backup, and if the Flyers are disciplined on defense, they can give whomever's in net a relatively easy night. 
Now the real tests begin though. Only five games remain, all against teams currently scheduled to play in the second season. Ottawa and Pittsburgh are on the weekend docket, then the Rangers and Sabres, and finally the Penguins again to close out the season. Buckle up. 
NOTESThe Flyers on a 4-on-4, a power play, and the penalty kill, all on plays that bullied the Leafs' defense. This, more than the loss of Joffrey Lupul, is why Toronto won't make the playoffs. Again. 
#17 had a great night, playing the enforcer role when forwards took liberties after frozen pucks and especially when Phaneuf went after Brayden Schenn. Phaneuf ducked him and kept after Schenn, drawing two minors to Simmer's one. A minute after returning from the box, Simmonds scored his 25th of the season. 
This was the second two-goal game of Schenn's rookie season, and all 11 of his tallies have come since he opened his NHL account on a baseball field. 
While praising the Flyers' rookies, we can't leave off the efforts of Sean Couturier. His line was once again slotted against the opponent's top trio, and once again they were effective.  Killing penalties and playing on a shutdown line, Cooter logged 5:36 more ice time than Claude Giroux, who got some rest in the blowout.  G played 13:08, Jagr 13:24, and Hartnell 11:19. 
Bobrovsky only had to make 16 saves all night. His defense limited the Leafs to five SOG in the first period, then just six in each of the next two. Bob seemed to get sharper as the game wore on, though it's hard to tell on so few pad-testers. 
The Flyers beat the Maple Leafs in each of their four contests this season. 
Last time the Leafs were in the playoffs, the Flyers eliminated them. The telecast showed a legendary goal, when Sami Kapanen was leveled by a hit but managed to get off the ice so that Jeremy Roenick could get on and score. 
One more road win and the Flyers tie last season's franchise record of 25. 

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

In the ninth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 9 is Mills to Smallwood.

Jalen Mills
Cap hit: $559K

Roob: Mills has all the tools to be a capable cornerback except world-class speed. He’s fearless, he’s cocky, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker. He just doesn’t have that make-up speed you want your top outside corners to have. I’ve seen enough positives from Mills that I definitely want him on my team. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a starter, but I definitely want him around.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Mills really got thrown into the fire as a seventh-round rookie, didn’t he? It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. It’s pretty obvious defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s loves Mills’ competitiveness. He doesn’t have top-end speed and that’s probably going to prevent him from ever becoming a top-of-the-line corner in the league. But there’s no reason he can’t stick around for a long time. He certainly has the right mindset to be a corner in the NFL and that’s a part of the battle. The Eagles really need to upgrade the corner position, which could greatly reduce Mills’ role, but he should still have one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Neary

Roob: Neary is a guard who spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: I’d say there’s a fair to good chance most of you have never heard of Aaron Neary. He’s an undrafted O-lineman out of Eastern Washington who was on the practice squad in 2016. I’d be lying if I told you I knew a lot about him. 

Verdict: GOES

Jason Peters
Cap hit: $11.7M

Roob: Cut Jason Peters at your own risk. You want the $9.2 million cap savings that the Eagles would gain by releasing the perennial Pro Bowler? Find it somewhere else. Because some guys simply should never be released. Peters is an all-time great Eagle and unless his level of play drops off dramatically, he should be allowed to decide when it’s time to go. Only Chuck Bednarik has been picked to more Pro Bowls than Peters in Eagles history. Peters rebounded from a subpar 2015 with a vintage Peters season this past year. Considering that the Eagles have a promising young quarterback who has to be protected and considering that Lane Johnson is one more positive test from a two-year suspension, Peters has to stay. I don’t care what the cap savings would be by getting rid of him. He’s too good and means too much to cut him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sure, the Eagles could save over $9 million in cap room if they cut Peters, but who would they get to play? While they’d be fine moving Lane Johnson to left tackle, they’d then be relying on Halapoulivaati Vaitai to play right tackle. And while that might be the plan in coming years, it would weaken the team in 2017. Peters might not be the dominant force he once was, but he had a very good season and he was able to play 97 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, which is huge. He gets paid a lot, but he’s still worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Isaac Seumalo
Cap hit: $764K

Roob: I asked Jason Kelce about Seumalo back in training camp and Kelce said he thinks the third-round pick will one day be a Pro Bowl center. Pretty clear Seumalo is the heir apparent to Kelce, it’s just a matter of when the transition occurs. Kelce wasn’t as awful as some people seem to think. He actually finished the season strong. But I think Kelce goes this offseason and Seumalo is your opening-day center in 2017. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Seumalo’s rookie year was a really interesting one. It started with a pec strain in training camp that slowed him down, but eventually ended with his getting some real experience. In all, Seumalo played six different positions in 2016: right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle, fullback and tight end. He didn’t even play center, which might be his most natural spot. I think he’ll have a real shot to be the team’s opening-day starter at left guard. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aziz Shittu

Roob: Rookie defensive tackle spent the year on the practice squad. Depending on what happens with Bennie Logan in free agency, the Eagles could be on the prowl for defensive tackle depth this offseason, and Shittu is an interesting guy. He had a good training camp last year coming off a solid career at Stanford and it’s fair to say he has a chance, depending on what the Eagles do in the draft and free agency. Going with my instincts on this one.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I actually really liked Shittu coming out of Stanford and not just because I giggle like a schoolgirl every time I hear his name. For an interior defensive lineman, he has some real pass rushing potential. I think he would have been the undrafted guy to make the team over Destiny Vaeao had he not missed the spring because of the silly college graduation/quarters rule. I’d like to see him get a legitimate shot to stick here. It’s a longshot, but I’m going to take a chance with this one. I think he can make the roster. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Cap hit: $601K

Roob: We spend so much time talking about the Eagles’ desperate needs at cornerback and wide receiver that it’s easy to forget they're just as desperate at running back. Assuming Ryan Mathews isn’t back, the Eagles will have a real need for a No. 1 back. You can’t draft or sign every position. So Smallwood could get a real shot at the lead back role. Can he handle the role or is he best suited to be a No. 2? Not sure yet. I like how Smallwood responded when he got double-digit carries against the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks. Averaged 4.2 yards in those three games. And he had nine runs of 10 yards or more out of just 77 carries. I know Smallwood is a player. I’m just not sure where he’ll fit in. Maybe it’s the No. 28 jersey, but at worst I see him as a Correll Buckhalter-type, a solid No. 2 back who can fill in once in a while as a lead guy. At best? We’ll see. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood might not be the true answer at the running back position, but he proved enough to earn a roster spot next year and a role in the offense. I’m not sure if his ceiling is very high, but he got better throughout the year, specifically as a blocker. He’ll be back for Year 2. 

Verdict: STAYS

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”