Fixing the Flyers, Step One: Dont Panic Over a Shortened Season

Fixing the Flyers, Step One: Dont Panic Over a Shortened Season

It seems we’ve been on Peter Laviolette watch practically all
year, waiting for the inevitable to happen. The Flyers are notoriously tough on
head coaches. For instance when the Flyers began the 06-07 campaign with a
1-6-1 record, Ken Hitchcock was handed his walking papers that fast, while
general manager Bobby Clarke stepped down.

Coincidentally that was the only other occasion over the past
18 seasons where the Flyers missed the playoffs. This year the team started a similarly
awful 2-6, and from there we could never quite shake the feeling that Lavvy might
get canned at any moment, until Sunday that is. One day after the final horn
sounded, Paul Holmgren reiterated to reporters the message that he stuck to all
along: this head coach will return.

“Peter Laviolette is the coach,” Holmgren said. “I don’t
know where all this crap came from.”

“Our team played hard until the end,” he said. “Peter is a
strong motivator and a strong tactician. I expect him to lead our team back into
the playoffs next year.”

That doesn’t mean Laviolette won’t be looking over his
shoulder when the Flyers resume their quest for the Cup come October. While you
get the sense there is some legitimate support for the man inside the front
office, it might have as much to do with the fact that Lavvy will only be embarking
on the two-year extension he signed just this last summer, or in other words
saving face.

Still, keeping Laviolette on board (for now) – not to
mention Homer – is also the smart decision, primarily because it’s not the one
being made out of panic. In an 82-game season, eight games represent less than
10% of the schedule. In 2013, eight games was 1/6 of the slate.

Maybe this is the sign of an organization that concedes a
condensed 48-game season is not necessarily a complete representation of where
their hockey club stands today.

More quirks of a 48-game schedule

Make no mistake, nobody is trying to "blame" the shortened
season for the Flyers’ woes. Everyone had to play under the same conditions,
and the guys in Orange & Black simply were not good enough. Their 5-on-5
scoring differential ranked 25th in the NHL, the defense was plagued by constant
complete breakdowns throughout, and for much of the way there was essentially one
goaltender on the roster.

In a normal season though, eight games would not so heavily influence
the final outcome. In a normal season, the Flyers would be six points out of a
playoff spot with 34 contests left to play. And in a normal season, they are
just hitting their stride.

Don’t look now, but Lavvy’s squad started to turn the corner toward the end. Philly won six of their last seven games, and are 10-5 dating back to March 30. At the 48-game mark of an 82-game season, the Flyers would
widely be considered in the midst of their playoff push.

Instead, in a 48-game season every little misstep gets
magnified. It took 16 games, or 1/3 of the season, to figure out Claude Giroux
should be paired with Jakub Voracek. It took until the April 3 trade deadline
to add a truly viable backup netminder in Steve Mason, at which point Ilya Bryzgalov had
played in 22 games in a row – nearly half of the schedule.

Where would they be
if either of those changes had been made in January?

Some things just didn't fall their way

Then there is the matter of 262 man games being lost to injury,
2nd-most in the NHL by some counts, and also more than the Flyers endured in two
of the previous three full seasons (240 in 10-11, 205 in 09-10). Yes, that is an
excuse. Every team has to deal with injuries. But still, that averages out to roughly
five scratches per game – four even if Chris Pronger is removed from the
equation.

As a result the Flyers were forced to lean heavily on young players. By the end of the season, they had been relying on major contributions from as many as a dozen players 25-years-old
or younger, many of whom were in their first or second NHL seasons. Some of them did not enjoy the growth that the team was
counting on to be successful this year, most notably Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.

Remarkably that was yet another area where the Flyers did
not panic. Couturier in particular was linked in potential deals with San Jose
and Ottawa for Ryane Clowe and Ben Bishop respectively. However, Homer was not willing
to give up on the talented 20 year old, even though there was almost an
expectation from fans and observers that a struggling young player would be
moved for immediate help.

2013 was a disappointing hockey season for Philadelphia, one
that exposed some definite issues that need to be addressed. However, 48 games do
not indicate first- and second-year players have hit a wall, and therefore the Flyers need to be reinvented yet again. The actions of the front
office suggest they agree.

So far at least.

Previously: Positive Takeaways from a Lost Flyers Season

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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."