Flyers Depth on Display, While Penguins Go From Bad to Worse

Flyers Depth on Display, While Penguins Go From Bad to Worse

A look at how once again, scoring depth has been the key to a strong Philadelphia Flyers team. But, another spate of Pittsburgh Penguins injuries begs the question, how deep is any NHL team?

The story underlying the success of the 2011-2012 Flyers to date is that they are once again a club characterized by great scoring depth. Yesterday's chapter saw Danny Briere score three goals, giving him 13 on the season. The game before, James van Riemsdyk was the multiple lamp-lighter, scoring a pair, including the game winner. Prior to those bursts, fans had aired frustrations about each player's lack of production, particularly that of JVR.

What a difference a game makes. While both players are still a bit off pace, they each have the talent and surrounding cast to see their numbers turn around in a hurry. JVR has a ways to go before quieting his doubters, but his brace, Briere's hat trick, and the continued progress of a handful of rookie forwards has sparked a fast turnaround to a sluggish end of 2011.

Aside from losing Chris Pronger for the season and experiencing the usual complement of players missing a few games here and there, the Flyers have been downright lucky compared to their cross-state rivals. Injuries have plagued the Penguins again this season, with Jordan Staal and James Neal joining Sidney Crosby as significant offensive contributors on the shelf today.

Neal, who has stepped up in Crosby's absence and leads the Pens in goal scoring with 21, has a broken foot. Staal could miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury suffered after a collision with Mike Rupp of the Rangers. Neal's timetable is uncertain, but head coach Dan Bylsma places it at "weeks, not days," per the team's web site.

Penguins.com clocks the number of man-games lost so far this season to 210, on pace for 431 and counting.

The Pens were able to weather last season's storm and finish with a share of the division lead, but they've sunk to fourth place after four straight losses to Atlantic foes. On December 29, the Flyers snapped a four-game Pittsburgh winning streak, and the Pens haven't won since, losing four games and three players in a week. While they're far from dead in the water, the Penguins are at least momentarily on the ropes.

With any luck, we won't have to see the Flyers' depth tested in a similar context. But, even if they don't pile up the man-games lost quite at Pittsburgh's pace, the Pens' struggles are a reminder that the Flyers could—and likely will—still face an uphill battle in the war of attrition.

Last season, the Flyers crumbled in the second half, clearly missing Chris Pronger's dominance on the blue line. It was harder to gauge, but it is assumed his lost voice of leadership was also a key void as the team lost momentum, having peaked in January.

As opposed to last season, this Flyers team began its campaign with depth questions. Not necessarily doubts, but questions nonetheless. Pronger's current injuries are new, but his health was never a certainty. And, despite the prevailing sentiment that the haul Paul Holmgren received for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was somewhere between solid and excellent, it was hard to say whether we'd see the potential of the lineup this season.

So far, we certainly have. Despite massive turnover in the forward lines, the Flyers are currently second in the league in goals per game. Last season, they finished in a dead heat at the top, third in total goals but just two below the league-leading Vancouver Canucks. Claude Giroux trades the NHL points leadership with Henrik Sedin and Phil Kessel on a nightly basis, leading a Flyers team that has eight double-digit goal scorers just 39 games into the season. 

Heading into the season, it was believed that for the post-apocalyptic Flyers to succeed, Giroux and JVR would have to ascend to the cornerstone positions vacated by Richards and Carter. Giroux certainly has, arguably already eclipsing the impact either player ever made on a given season. While JVR has rarely shown the dominance he displayed in the 2011 playoffs, which in part earned him a new contract, the fact that the Flyers are still as potent as ever even without him being their 1-B star might actually be a good thing. As dangerous as they currently are, they're not even scoring at their full potential. Plus, one of hockey's top young players, Brayden Schenn, has in the past three games started to turn heads as well while Matt Read continues to hang with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among rookie goal leaders and Sean Couturier currently anchors an all-rookie fourth line that can hit, defend, and score.

From the players on the ice to the man behind the bench and the oft-criticized GM up in the press box, there's plenty of credit to go around. But we don't have to look too far back to the moment when Wayne Simmonds' knee connected with Claude Giroux's head, or more recently, to what's going on in Pittsburgh, to see how quickly the Flyers' depth could  disappear.

It's pointless to dwell on that though. For now, the story is that there is sufficient scoring depth on a nightly basis. One or two lines consistently step up, and the Flyers are in virtually every game they play, the outliers being few.

However, their depth on defense is among the best in the league even without Pronger, and yet still feels perilously thin. Fortunately, blue line anchor Kimmo Timonen was able to keep his ironman streak alive and suit up somewhat surprisingly yesterday, contributing more than 25 minutes of ice time. The back end would look a whole different everywhere from even strength to both special teams units without Timonen, so hopefully he's weathered his wrist injury.

The overall depth of the team will be tested again today, the 5 PM start in Ottawa coming just 25 or so hours after the two teams left the ice in Philly. The Senators will obviously be facing the same tight turnaround, which could make for an interesting third period.

Any guesses as to which Flyers step up to carry the scoring torch this evening? Picking the Standout Star must be as simple as throwing a dart at the lineup right now.

NBA draft prospect Josh Jackson pleads guilty to misdemeanor for hitting car

NBA draft prospect Josh Jackson pleads guilty to misdemeanor for hitting car

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Former University of Kansas basketball player Josh Jackson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor traffic violation for backing into a car and driving away.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Jackson entered his plea Tuesday in Lawrence Municipal Court to striking an unattended vehicle. Two other charges, inattentive driving and improper backing, were dismissed.

Jackson, who is expected to be a top draft pick in next month's NBA draft, will be on probation for six months and must pay a $250 fine. If he violates his probation, Jackson would have to serve 30 days in jail.

Coach Bill Self suspended Jackson for the opening game of the Big 12 Tournament because of the incident.

The 6-foot-8 Jackson has now resolved two cases that had dogged him during his lone year at Kansas. He earlier reached a diversion agreement that requires him to attend anger management classes, write a letter of apology and refrain from using alcohol or recreational drugs for a year for his confrontation with a Jayhawks women's basketball player last year.

Jackson had pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of criminal property damage after he argued with McKenzie Calvert on Dec. 9 outside a bar in Lawrence. He signed the diversion agreement on April 26.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies (15-28) vs. Rockies (30-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' nightmarish skid continued Tuesday as they dropped a second straight game to a Rockies rookie starting pitcher.

They've been outscored 16-3 in the first two games of this four-game series against a Colorado club that has the best record in the NL and more road wins (17) than the Phillies have total wins.

Let's take a look at Game 3:

1. Hellickson good to go
The Phillies got a scare last Friday night when Jeremy Hellickson hurt his lower back during his seventh-inning at-bat, but they avoided disaster when it was diagnosed as mere stiffness as opposed to something more serious like a strained oblique.

Hellickson said that night and again the next morning that he felt fine and wouldn't miss a start. The Phillies are thankful for that given the inefficiencies of their rotation, which has just 16 quality starts in 43 games, third-fewest in the majors.

Hellickson (5-1, 3.44) was locked in last weekend against a weak Pirates lineup but this is much more of a challenge. Don't expect him to set down 16 of 17 batters the way he did in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies are 8-1 when Hellickson pitches this season and 7-27 when anyone else does. The only loss in a Hellickson start came against the Cubs on May 2, the first of a three-start skid in which Hellickson allowed 12 runs in 13⅔ innings. Of those 12 runs, 11 scored via home runs. He allowed seven homers in those three starts after giving up just two in his first five.

The Rockies present a lot of challenges and one of them is that they've been the second-best team in the majors this season against the changeup, which is Hellickson's go-to pitch. Only the Marlins (.312) have a higher batting average vs. changeups than the Rockies (.286).

(For reference, the Phillies are 28th in baseball against changeups with a .201 batting average.)

Then again, not all changeups are the same, and Hellickson did limit the Marlins to one run on seven hits over six innings when he faced them April 27.

Current Rockies are just 10 for 56 (.179) off Hellickson. Ian Desmond has the only homer (2 for 5, HR, double).

2. Blackmon the Destroyer
Charlie Blackmon, good lord.

The guy has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. Over that span — Aug. 12, 2016 through last night — Blackmon has more homers at CBP than any Phillie.

Think about how ridiculous that is. Aaron Altherr and Ryan Howard are next with six homers in 15 and 17 games, respectively. Then comes Freddy Galvis with five in 26 games.

3. Fading fast
At 15-28, the Phillies are on pace to finish 57-105. They've dropped 19 of 23 and now have the second-worst record in the majors, ahead of only the 16-31 Padres.

The offense has been completely devoid of life lately. It's not like these guys are going out and playing with zero energy, but when you don't hit, it's always going to seem like that.

Since May 12, the Phillies are 2-9. They've hit .225/.273/.345 as a team for the second-worst OBP and OPS, ahead of only the Mariners.

They've been middle of the pack with runners in scoring position over that span, but they have just 89 plate appearances with RISP, which is seventh-fewest in baseball.

A lot of this can be attributed to the top of the order. Cesar Hernandez is 9 for 54 (.167) with no extra-base hits over his last 14 games. And that vaunted 1-2 in the Phillies' order — a duo which hit close to .350 in April — is down to .282.

4. Scouting Chatwood
The Phillies face 27-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood (3-6, 5.09).

He was the Rockies' best starting pitcher last season when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 158 innings. He walked 70 and those control issues have continued this season — 27 walks in 53 innings.

He's been especially wild lately, walking 19 in 21⅔ innings this month. 

Chatwood averages 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and 88-90 with his slider and changeup. He also throws a high-70s curveball.

He faced the Phillies twice last year and went 0-2, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) in nine innings. Interestingly, though, no active Phillie has an extra-base hit against him.

Hopefully, the Phils will be able to make Chatwood work tonight and take advantage of their opportunities with men on base. They stranded the bases loaded three times last night.

5. Franco sits again
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp are sitting again. Pete Mackanin wants the extremely inconsistent, wild-swinging Franco to sit back and watch for a few days to regroup. He also wants to see some more of Andrew Knapp after a rough defensive week from Cameron Rupp.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Andres Blanco, 3B
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Michael Saunders, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P