The Faceoff at Fenway: Classic Teams, Classic Venue...

The Faceoff at Fenway: Classic Teams, Classic Venue...

It's finally here. The game we've been waiting for all season. 


2010 Winter Classic - building the rink 18, originally uploaded by misconmike.

Although the pond hockey concept itself is among the most primitive aspects of the sport, two professional teams playing on an outdoor rink on New Year's Day has become the most unique experience in hockey. The NHL's missteps in recent years are well-documented, but one thing they continue to get right is the Winter Classic. I'm not just saying that because the Flyers are in it this year; I've watched every one of them, geeking out over camera angles that capture an expanse of white ice against a stadium backdrop and players skating in throwback jerseys. This year, we'll see those shots set against backdrops that include the Green Monster and Pesky Pole. 

The game has a distinct nostalgic feel despite this being just the third Winter Classic, and the fact that it's played in a structure built and widely known for another sport. By all accounts, the league has done an outstanding job of setting up the 2010 Winter Classic, from selecting two teams with amazing histories and pairing that matchup with a legendary venue, to constructing an ice surface that the players say is perfect despite the obvious challenges by the elements. 

We're in for an amazing experience today, and that's before we even look at the game itself. 

The rivalry between the Flyers and Bruins remains strong today, renewed annually with games characterized by big hits and gamesmanship, despite the fact that these teams virtually never face each other in the playoffs. Seven points separate them in the Eastern Conference, representing four places in the EC standings. Maybe we'll see them in the 'offs this year—what a matchup that would be.  

Michael Leighton gets the start over Woonsocket, Rhode Island, native Brian Boucher. I'd have loved to have seen Boosh get the hometown start (imagine yourself getting to start in net at CBP for context), but Leighton is the man of the moment, coming off of four wins including a shutout in his last. Leighton Master MUST keep that going today. There's no other option. 

The B's aren't known for their attack as much as they are for their defensive strengths, and Tuukka Rask has the league's best GAA by a large margin and a slight lead in save percentage. Plus, he's got a sweet mask just for the occasion. [Update: Tim Thomas will start for the Bruins] With the elements possibly imposing on the festivities today, scoring could be at a premium. Fortunately, the Flyers look as though they've shaken the snake, with their goal-scoring ability on display in a 6-0 rout of the Rangers in their last game before the Classic. 

Ideally, we'll be seeing a continuation of that today, with Peter Laviolette's system finally in fruition. Lavvy emphasizes sending wave after wave into the offensive zone, which requires active defensemen to start the rush yet be ready for any counters that should arise. It's the kind of hockey the national audience will want to see, more so than a dominant performance by Thomas. So let's give the people what they want, eh, Flyers?   

You'll hear it said that when it comes down to it, this game matters only as much as all the others—it all comes down to the points in the standings. I don't buy it. You can see it in the players' faces that this one is different. The Bruins have something amazing to give the fans of Boston; the Flyers can announce to the league that they've regrouped and are once again a threat to hoist the Cup this year. 

Andrew is the lucky Leveler who will get to see the game from the Fenway bleachers, while I'm feeling pretty good hosting some of my Flyers peeps back here in the Philly area. As always, we're looking forward to watching it with all you. 


 LET'S GO FLYERS!

Commence the Justin Anderson era

Commence the Justin Anderson era

Last night, the Philadelphia 76ers came seconds away from not just their second straight win since their already shorthanded team was further decimated over the All-Star break, but their second straight pantsing of New York after what should've been an easy Knicks win. Down double-digits for most of the second half -- and trailing by 12 with just five minutes to go -- the Ballers battled back to take a one-point lead on a Jahlil Okafor hook shot with nine seconds to go. But Carmelo Anthony was unstoppable virtually all night, and he victimized Robert Covington at the buzzer with a baseline jumper that avenged the T.J. McConnell shot a couple months earlier. Final score: Knicks 110, 76ers 109. 

Hard to get mad at this L when you're just overwhelmed with love for everyone on the roster. Dario Saric continued his awesome February with 19-15-5 -- the first Sixers rookie to put up those numbers in a half-century -- even though his shot wasn't really falling (7-17 FG, 1-5 3PT). That's what's really remarkable about Dario's recent hot streak, and what separates it from, say, Nik Stasukas' impossibly scorching late 2016 -- he's averaging 20 a game (along with nine rebounds and three assists) over his last seven, and he's shooting over 50% for that span, but he's doing it while only hitting 31% from deep. The fact that he's scoring so prolifically without getting a lot of lucky bounces means it's not just an unsustainable fluke, and that Dario's gonna be a problem for defenses in this league for a long time. 

Speaking of Nik -- he had some embarrassing moments in this one, including a thunderously missed dunk and a thrown-away pass while leading a 3-on-1 break, but he redeemed himself with some big shots in the fourth quarter, and ended up with a nice 14 points on 5-9 shooting. It's his seventh game in a row scoring double digits -- all since moving back to the bench, which is particularly remarkable when you consider that in his 21 games before that as a starter, he only scored in double-digits five times. His starting/reserve splits for the season remain absolutely absurd, but if his NBA destiny is just to be an awesome seventh man for us, we'll certainly take it. 

And as much crap as Jahlil Okafor has gotten from Sixers fans the last few weeks -- few more than me -- as the unlucky child left behind in the Sixers' divorce with Nerlens Noel, I gotta say: He was awesome in this one. 28 points and ten rebounds, and even though the Knicks paraded to the rim early (Okafor-Saric frontcourt, yikes), Jahlil got stronger as the game went on both sides of the ball, in a way I don't ever remember seeing from him before. He saved a good deal of his damage for the fourth quarter, with 11 points, including two absolutely gigantic buckets late, including the hook on the Sixers' scattered final possession that could've been the game-winner. The Nerlens trade will never be justifiable, but if Jah can keep playing like this, it'll certainly take some of the sting out.

So much more to rave about in this one: T.J. McConnell was as clutch late as Jah, even hitting a rare three-pointer (just his second of 2017) to nearly become a repeat Knicks-killer. Covington couldn't handle Carmelo (37 points on 15-25 shooting) at really any point in this one -- thus putting him in good company with every other Sixers wing defender of the past decade -- and his own shot wasn't falling, but he still powered his way to 20 and 10, and had three steals, making it six straight games with at least that many, the longest such streak in the NBA this season. Sergio Rodriguez had about the worst game a point guard could have (2 points on 1-8 shooting, with just one assist and terrible defense), but he's just about the only Sixer you didn't want to hug after this one. 

And oh yeah, welcome aboard Justin Anderson. Our latest acquisition didn't get to do a ton for us in this one, playing just three minutes and attempting one shot (a badly missed corner three), but he had some eye-catching moments on defense, and gave us all some nice Jason Richardson flashbacks wearing the #23. Looking forward to getting to know you, J-And.

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.