Flyers Game Day News and Notes: The Skating Wounded and the Relentless Pursuit of Tired Criticisms

Flyers Game Day News and Notes: The Skating Wounded and the Relentless Pursuit of Tired Criticisms

No matter which reports you believe, it's good to hear that injured forwards Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere are increasingly healthy. Most seem to agree that Lappy could return soon, including Paul Holmgren, who yesterday put his timetable ahead of that of Carter. CSN sources today have game 4 as a possible return date. My take is you may as well be reading tea leaves if you want to know the status of an injured player in the NHL playoffs. 

Lappy has been cleared for contact and has skated, albeit while wearing a helmet with added padding and a face shield. (No it isn't the one at the left, but it's hard to believe we've had two different major facial injuries with which to use that gag pic of Lappy this season.) An interesting question emerges if and when Carter and Laperriere are ready to play again—who gets scratched? Andreas Nodl has stepped up nicely on the fourth line, but I think it's fairly obvious he gets to watch from the press box when Lappy is cleared to play. Nothing at all against Nodl either, just the way it goes. 

Carter's a much different story, and there's also the matter of the vandalized Montreal reporter's car. 

The forward lines are clicking well right now, and Ville Leino has contributed nicely in his time with a few different line sets. He'd be damn hard for Peter Laviolette to bench right about now. Not all that coincidentally, Scott Hartnell—whose benching was called for by many fans who wanted to see more of Leino down the stretch of the regular season—has really become a force in the last handful of games. Lavvy has never shown much inclination to bench Hartnell for a full game, although Hartnell did spend a period on the pine in these playoffs just before his resurgence started. 

Not only is there the question of which forward to scratch for Carter, but also how to set the lines if and when he returns. We're talking about a good problem to have here. Carter and Lappy are impact players, and when they went down along with Gagne, many of us believed Lappy was the biggest loss of the bunch because his role is so irreplaceable on this team. 

I'm basically going to punt on "who to scratch" question for Carter for now because I don't think the decision will need to be made imminently, and a whole lot can happen before it does. The Flyers winning. They've won five games in a row, with the fifth being the most convincing of the lot. There's no need to rush a player back, as opposed to when Simon Gagne got healthy in a hurry with the Flyers facing certain elimination in the second round. If the Flyers do get into trouble this series, the decision-making scenario on personnel should likely be a lot different than it is coming off of a 6-0 thrashing. Finally, as we're all well aware by now, another forward could get hurt at any time. With neither player cleared to return, the only pressing issue is winning game 2. 

The Flyers have really stepped up in the heart department to fill the Lappy void we weren't sure they could. They've also ratcheted up the scoring, and done so against two previously hot goalies. Hopefully that continues and there will be little rush to get these guys back on the ice.

Pot Kettle Powderkegs
Apparently a Montreal media member had his vehicle vandalized during game 1. I'm not going to get too deep in the manure on this one; if a reporter's car was vandalized, that sucks. Please don't do that. 

But I did find it groan-inducingly predictable that the opportunity was taken to make sweeping generalizations about any city's fanbase over a single incident once again (and a little odd that he didn't include pictures of said damage). After respectably including some references to the fact that just last series, the Montreal faithful tore up storefronts in their own city and looted, the reporter goes on to call Flyers fans are the ones in "Relentless pursuit of idiocy." I'm sorry that his car was vandalized, but the stuff he cites on the Flyers fan docket sounds a lot more isolated than the history the whole league knows Montreal fans have (link via Puck Daddy). 

Finally, he leans on the tired crutch of Santa Claus references. He made two of them, one his opener, and the second to close it out. They looted LAST WEEK in Montreal. The fanbase with the most Cups by far (although not as many recently) had to have the riot police brought in with tear gas and pepper spray because they advanced to the conference finals. The Santa Claus thing happened FOUR DECADES ago, and it was at an entirely different sport a little more than a year after the Flyers first came into the NHL. Trust me, isolated groups of Flyers fans have done a lot worse booing Santa, and a lot more recently. Same goes for most sporting cities, small towns, and anywhere else one group of people pits itself against another.

It's unfortunate if anything happened to his car, but rabble-rousing lines like the ones that begin and end the column evoke a picture of a guy grinning at the prospect of his next column, rather than sympathy for the plight of getting back into Canada wit'out a license plate. 

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."