Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti

Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti


Al Morganti has provided entertaining and informative coverage of the Flyers and
Philadelphia sports for years,
and he's currently a co-host of the 610 WIP Morning Show and Comcast's
Flyers game day coverage. His columns during his days with The Hockey News shaped my view of the league, and he continues to be one of the most respected voices in hockey. We're grateful for the opportunity to discuss
the upcoming Flyers-Caps series with Al and share his insights with
you.

What's been the most pleasant surprise about this Flyers season?

The rapid development of defenseman Braydon Coburn. He still makes some big mistakes, which is normal for a young defenseman, but he has displayed a real ability to skate the puck out of trouble, and he has been coached into a player who is willing to launch a shot from the point. Of all the moves that general manager Paul Holmgren made last season, the deal to bring Coburn to Philadelphia from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik was his best. Coburn has a chance to be to the Flyers what Brian Rafalski was to the Devils in terms of skating the puck through any trap, and he has a better upside in terms of booming a shot for goals and points.

Has the team met, exceeded, or fallen short of where you thought they'd be?
At the beginning of the season I said the team would battle to make the playoffs, and after their quick start I thought I had seriously undervalued their talent. However, the Flyers stumbled and then regained their balance. Overall, I think they are perhaps a little ahead of where I thought they would be at this time. Remember—they were the worst team in the NHL last season, and the fact that they could recover from a serious slump is even more impressive than their quick start.

Chris Therien suggested that Scottie Upshall might be the key to the series with the Capitals, in that he could be the forward who harasses Alex Ovechkin the way Keith Jones once did Jaromir Jagr. Would you agree?
I
love Jonesey, but I don’t think he is going to keep Jagr out of the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Upshall will be able to upset Ovechkin. I would also worry that if Upshall got too involved in that stuff he would wind up in the penalty box too often in the first two games in Washington, and Ovechkin would be seen with that gap-toothed grin after scoring on the power play. However, I do agree with Chris that Upshall is the sort of player who can have a huge impact in a playoff series. He has the kind of game that can be very effective in the playoffs – if he stays under control.

(Much more with Al Morganti, including his pick for the series, after the jump.)

How else do you think the Flyers can eliminate, or at least minimize the 8 Factor?

I really think they have to just assume Ovechkin will get his goals,
and they have such a balanced offense that can score more goals. Rather
than worry about Ovechkin, it would be far better to make sure other
players such as Semin are taken out of the equation. No matter how
great they are, no player (other than a goalie) can beat you alone, and that
includes Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr.


Which team is the tougher squad? To what degree do you think rough play
will be a factor in this series, as some have touted it will be?

The Flyers are the more physical squad, but Washington is tough in that
the Caps can take a hit without losing their wits. If the Flyers think
they can bash Ovechkin and watch him shrink they will be badly
mistaken. If they bash Ovechkin, he will bash back. The Flyers biggest physical advantage will be their willingness to use
a hard two-man forecheck and thump the Caps defensemen in the
Washington zone.


Does Marty Biron have what it takes to carry a team deep into the playoffs? Does Cristobal Huet?

I believe Biron does, but there is no track record. Nobody has any idea
about Huet. I don’t believe either goalie will be the hero or the goat
in this series.


Other than Ovechkin and Huet, what are the most dangerous elements of
the Caps' game? What are their most glaring (exploitable) weaknesses?

The weakness will be their defense, especially if their injured regulars Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn cannot play. The Caps' biggest weapons will be their skilled forwards, especially the
Russian quartet of Ovechkin, Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov—the only Russian to win the Hart (MVP), and he could be a huge
factor in this series

What's your series prediction?
I think the Flyers have too much scoring balance, I like Philly in six.


What is the Flyers biggest off-season need, and how do you think they'll address it?

I don’t think there are huge needs. I suppose it's to replace captain Smith and
maybe Hatcher if his injury status (knee) is a problem. The bigger
issue might be how to deal with the concussion problems of Simon Gagne, can
they count on him? Or do they have to sign Vinny Prospal?

Sarah Baicker: I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

Sarah Baicker: I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

In late December, I was invited to play in a pick-up hockey game with some other members of the local sports media community. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was one of only two women there that day. Even now, female ice hockey players aren’t exactly common.

After the game, a reporter I’ve known a while — a guy I like a lot — said to me: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you skate like a man.” I didn’t take it wrong, of course; he meant it as a compliment. The reporter wanted nothing more than to tell me I’d impressed him.

I thought about this exchange a lot in the days that followed. Had someone told me I played hockey like a boy when I was 15, I would have worn that description like a badge. Hell yeah, 15-year-old Sarah would have thought, I do play like a boy. I’m as tough as a boy. I’m as fierce and competitive as any boy on my team. I would have reveled in it, just as I reveled in a similar label I’d received even earlier in my adolescence: tomboy.

Yeah, I was a tomboy. I hung around with the neighborhood boys, riding bikes between each other’s houses or catching salamanders in the creek that ran through town. I loved sports, and my bedroom walls — papered with newspaper clippings and photos of Flyers players — were a far cry from the pink-tinged rooms that belonged to the girls at school. 

As much as I could, I dressed like a boy too, even once cutting the sleeves off of an oversized T-shirt before I went out to rollerblade with our next-door neighbors. My grandmother, who was visiting at the time, pulled me aside to tell me I really ought to dress more appropriately. I rolled my eyes.

I was a tomboy, and I loved the word and everything it stood for. I felt pride in my tomboyishness, believing that the things I liked — the things boys liked — were clearly better than the things stereotypically left to the girls.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it was a conversation with a 15-year-old that changed my perspective, just a few days after my reporter friend had compared my hockey skills to those of a man. I sat down with Mo’ne Davis, the female Little League pitching phenom, for this very project. I asked her if she identified as a tomboy, and she shrugged. Not really, she said. Maybe other people wanted to define her that way, she suggested, but that wasn’t how she viewed things.

You know that record scratch sound effect they play on TV or in the movies? The one that denotes a sort of “wait … what?!” moment? That’s what happened in my head. Mo’ne Davis, the girl who played on the boys’ team and excelled, didn’t consider herself a tomboy?

Something clicked in my head after that. I’ve long identified as a feminist, and I’ve been a big supporter of girls in sports for as long as I can remember. I coach girls hockey, I’ve spoken at schools and camps about playing and working in sports as a woman. For some reason, though, it took a 15-year-old shrugging her shoulders at the label “tomboy” to take the power out of the word for me. Why does one have to be a tomboy, when one can simply be a girl who kicks ass? How had I never considered this before?

In many ways (and especially in sports) if something is male, it’s considered superior. It goes beyond just the things kids like to do, and it’s all old news. It’s also something I’m ashamed to admit I’ve bought into for practically all of my life. But no longer. How can I help change the narrative if I’m too busy playing along with it?

And if I could do it over, when that reporter approached me after our hockey game to tell me I skated like a man, I would have smiled, shook my head and said: Nah. But I skate like a darn good woman.

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers (28-24-7) vs. Capitals (39-12-7)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After finding some offense to finish up a 1-2-0 road trip, the Flyers return home for a not-so-glorious welcome when they host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll get into that and more with five things to know:

1. Capping things off
What’s the Flyers’ reward for salvaging the final game of a road swing through Canada? A date with the Capitals, who are the NHL’s hottest team since New Year’s Eve, and by a landslide.

Just how dominant has Washington been?

Dating back to Dec. 31, the Capitals are 19-3-2 and have scored an incomprehensible 104 goals in those 24 games. That’s 4.33 goals per game, while yielding only 50 markers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored an NHL-low 40 goals since New Year’s Eve and allowed 62 for an Eastern Conference-worst goal differential of minus-22.

Washington, coming off its first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 27-29, has lost three straight games only once this season.

2. A Ghost sighting
On Sunday, for the first time in close to four months, we saw the Shayne Gostisbehere from the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up season last year.

The sophomore blueliner delivered his first three-point game of his career to ignite the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Canucks.

Although Gostisbehere has made it clear he’s focused on his defensive game, the Flyers are a different animal when he’s generating offensive chances at 5-on-5 and the power play.

“He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere’s performance Sunday.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbelievable skill. He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

3. Good cage match
This one makes for an intriguing goalie matchup between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who were once battling for the net in Washington.

Holtby is having another stud season after winning the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy (top goalie). Among all netminders, he is tied for first in goals-against average (2.01) and shutouts (seven), while he hasn’t been beaten in regulation since Dec. 27.

The 27-year-old blanked the Flyers twice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and stopped 149 of 154 shots over the first-round series that the Capitals won in six games.

Neuvirth hasn’t been too shabby himself, starting eight of the Flyers’ last 10 games. Aside from a bad showing in a 6-3 loss to the Oilers, Neuvirth has not surrendered more than two goals in any other outing during that span.

A 2006 second-round pick of Washington, Neuvirth was brilliant last postseason against his former club, making 103 saves on 105 shots faced to get the Flyers two victories.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can be crucial in these types of games. The fourth-line forward often sees work against the opposition’s top offensive threats and is the Flyers’ most important piece to the penalty kill. Bellemare has played 16-plus minutes in both meetings with the Capitals this season, while the PK is 15 for 17 in February and tied for the NHL’s third-fewest goals against this month.

Capitals: T.J. Oshie is such an underrated asset for Washington. The right winger, who played his college hockey at North Dakota under Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, leads the NHL with a 22.8 shooting percentage, a big reason why the Capitals are scoring 3.34 goals per game, good for second most in hockey. Oshie has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in his past 22 games and is a plus-24 on the season.

5. This and that
• Neuvirth has just two career regular-season matchups against the Capitals, going 1-0-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

• Holtby is 6-4-7 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 18 lifetime matchups with the Flyers.

• The Flyers are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, all of whom have 66 points.

• Simmonds has four goals in his last five games.

• Claude Giroux has two points (one goal, one assist) in his previous 10 games.

• Washington ranks first in the NHL with a plus-69 goal differential.

• Jordan Weal (upper-body injury) is expected to miss his second straight game.