Flyers Pick up Slack for Injured Teammates, Casually Rout Capitals

Flyers Pick up Slack for Injured Teammates, Casually Rout Capitals

From deflections to well-placed screens to a general lack of preparedness from not one, but two Capitals goalies, the Flyers proved on Tuesday night that good things do indeed happen when you put the puck on net.

Five different Flyers—Hartnell, Bourdon, Simmonds, Talbot and Voracek—found themselves on the score sheet, while goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was plenty solid when called upon, backstopping a 5-1 victory for the team's sixth-straight win.

Even without captain Chris Pronger, league point leader Claude Giroux and the rest of the their missing cast of characters, the Flyers showed, as Matt pointed out in the game thread, that they're still "every bit a team that should be expected to be in every game they play." Against the still-struggling Caps, they were far more than just "in" the game.

game summary, assorted notes and highlights below...

Game Summary:
Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun was shaky from the start, frequently scrambling and looking badly out of position. And, even when he was square to the shooter, he wasn't always attentive. Take, for example, a simple wrist shot from the top of the left hand circle that caught Vokoun totally off-guard and with his five hole wide open. The goal, the 200th of Scott Hartnell's career, put the Flyers ahead 1-0 by the end of the first.

The third period played out in largely unremarkable fashion, with both the Caps and the Flyers netting one a piece. For the Orange & Black, Jake Voracek would beat Capitals backup Michal Neurvirth on yet another deflection, just managing to keep his stick under the crossbar to prevent the goal from being called back after a review from the War Room in Toronto.

Notes:
--Hartnell's career 200th makes it six straight games for the winger with a goal. Not the strongest skater, but, man, what a shot (Is that goal regulation size or what?).

--Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he before the game that he has been looking to increase Jakub Voracek's ice time, but hadn't found the right time. With Giroux out the lineup, he finally found the opportunity. Voracek led all Flyers forwards in ice time in the first period and played a total 17:18 on Tuesday night.

--While we're on the subject, Matt Carle led all skaters with a registered 25:27 TOI. He was up over ten minutes after just the first period.

--Braydon Coburn turned in a particularly strong performance, leading all skaters with four hits and assisting on Talbot's goal (as seen above). Always nice to see a strong night from Coby. He sometimes has a style where his most effective nights are when he's the least noticeable, and where his most noticeable nights are when he's the least effective. Guy gets a tough rap sometimes. Good to see him stand out in a positive manner.

--Largely held in the check for the entirety of the evening, superstar Alexander Ovechkin was given little time and even less space. Though his 2011-2012 struggles continue, it's worth noting that Ovechkin is quickly becoming one the great modern Flyer killers. In 24 games against Philadelphia, Ovechkin has a filthy 37 points on 22 goals and 15 assists. For reference, those numbers are more than just slightly ahead of the pace set by Claude Giroux's league-leading 39 points in 28 games this season.

--Jaromir Jagr was treated to litany of boos from the crowd at the Verizon Center nearly every time he touched the puck. Though his time in Washington was somewhat unremarkable despite better than a point-per-game average, the backlash was actually a little surprising and funny.

Upcoming Schedule:
The Flyers will be back at in Montreal on Thursday night. After their meeting with the Habs, they will host the Bruins on Saturday before playing their next five straight on the road. They will return home for, you guessed it, the Winter Classic on January 2nd. Speaking of which, don't forget that HBO's 24/7 Flyers-Rangers series premieres tomorrow night at 10 p.m.

Full Highlights:

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79 2/3 innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist, but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.