The Flyers and their third period woes

The Flyers and their third period woes

If any of you out there were able stay awake for the entirety of what NBCSN analyst Mike Mulbury reportedly called “one of the top five worst hockey games he’s ever seen,” you saw the continuation of a trend that has helped drag the Flyers down near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Sure, there are plenty of negative trends attached to the Flyers right now – lack of offense, goonery and culture questions, just to name a few. But the one I’m referring to is just how badly the Orange and Black have been outplayed in the third period this season.

It came back to bite them again Tuesday night in Carolina.

After 56 minutes, 2 seconds of the NHL version of Nyquil, the Flyers finally opened the scoring on a power-play goal (!) by Scott Hartnell (!) and took a 1-0 lead over the Hurricanes. But the Hurricanes struck back with just under a minutes left and their netminder pulled as Jordan Staal redirected a pass past Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason to knot the game.

The Flyers then committed a brutal turnover in overtime that sprung Carolina’s Manny Malholtra on a breakaway and he proceeded to beat Mason with a backhander for the 2-1 Carolina victory.

For those that have followed the Flyers this season, last night’s result should have come as no surprise. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that it could have been expected.

Through 14 games played on the season, the Flyers have been outscored 16-6 in the third period. Those 16 goals scored against are seventh-most in the league and those six goals scored are tied with New Jersey for fewest in the league. All tolled, the Flyers minus-10 third-period goal differential is the worst in the NHL.

There have been four times this season where the Flyers either held a lead or were tied heading into the third period and gave up multiple goals in the period and overtime to lose a game (Oct. 2 vs. Toronto, Oct. 15 vs. Vancouver, Oct. 29 vs. Anaheim and Tuesday night at Carolina).

To further accentuate the Flyers’ struggles in the final stanza, there have been three games where the Flyers trailed by just a single goal heading into the third period with a real chance to still tie or win the game only to give up multiple goals in the third and lose (Oct. 5 at Montreal, Oct 12. at Detroit and Oct. 17 vs. Pittsburgh).

Tuesday’s disappointment in Raleigh, N.C. was the only time Philadelphia managed to extend the game into overtime and gain a point in the standings.

Chew on that for a moment.

A case can be made that the Flyers have had a legitimate chance to earn 14 points in those seven games mentioned above and came out with just one of those 14 points. And that one point came Tuesday at PNC Arena.

That’s 13 points that Flyers have had a legitimate shot at earning that they’ve left just sitting there at the proverbial table through just 14 games this season. Did I expect the Flyers to earn all of those 13 points even if they were playing well? Not at all. But they most definitely should have earned more than just one of those 13 points.

Third-period letdowns happen over the course of an 82-game season. I get that.

But why are they struggling so badly in the third period so often so early in the season?

There are a few reasons.

First, foremost and most glaring is the lack of offense. Six goals in 14 third periods is good for just .43 goals per third period. .43 goals per any period isn’t going to cut it, let alone in the most important period of the game. Good teams will tighten up their defense, especially in the neutral zone, and clog up any open space when they have a lead. For as bad as the Flyers’ offense is at even gaining the offensive zone, that’s basically a death sentence.

For whatever reason, the Flyers have gone into a defensive shell at times in the third period when they’ve had a lead. They take their collective foot off the pedal and sit on whatever the score is whether they try to or not. For example, the Flyers were outshot 16-6 in the third period of the loss to Anaheim and 16-7 in the third period and overtime of last night’s loss at Carolina. Though it worked against the New York Rangers, the success rate of that option isn’t high.

The defensive shell is not the best idea considering this team’s strong point isn’t, you know, defense. To prove that point, one the team’s supposed top defenders, 24-year-old Luke Schenn, has been a healthy scratch the last two games.

It puts unfair pressure on Mason, who has done everything in his power to keep the Flyers in some of these games. For as spectacular as he’s been, he can’t stop everything.

Turnovers are another huge reason the Flyers have struggled in the final period and overtime. The Flyers are in the top 10 in the league with 123 giveaways on the season. But they seem to come at the most in opportune times. In the Pittsburgh game, Braydon Coburn threw a blind pass out in front of his own net, which hung Mason out to dry and led to a Sidney Crosby goal to give the Pens a 3-1 lead with just under 3 minutes to go. Mark Streit’s gaffe last night in overtime was inexplicable.  Those are just two examples.

Is it any coincidence the Flyers didn’t turn the puck over in third period – and the entire game, for that matter – last Saturday in New Jersey and held on for a 1-0 win?

The last main reason is attention to detail on the defensive end. So many times this season have the Flyers broken down defensively in the third period to allow other teams to score huge, momentum-shifting goals.

Against Vancouver, Flyers’ defenders focused on the puck carrier behind the cage and left Chris Higgins wide open in front of the net for the slam dunk to tie the game. Against Anaheim, two Flyers went to one Duck created a mini 2-on-1 for Anaheim where Kyle Palmieri cashed in for the game-winner. And then there was Claude Giroux leaving Carolina’s younger Staal in front of the net and allowing Staal to tip the puck past Mason to tie the game on Tuesday night.

The Flyers obviously need to start scoring goals. But unless they start tightening up and playing an all-around game in the third period, scoring goals won’t matter all that much.

Someone please give Mason a hug or bake him some cupcakes or something.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

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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

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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."