Flyers' Remaining Schedule a Gauntlet of Rivals and Playoff-Hopefuls

Flyers' Remaining Schedule a Gauntlet of Rivals and Playoff-Hopefuls

After returning from their long western road trip, the Flyers began a stretch run that is dominated by Eastern Conference matchups with a win over the Islanders on Thursday. Just one Western opponent remains in a packed month of hockey, that being when Detroit is in town on Mark Howe night this Tuesday.

The remaining schedule is undoubtedly challenging and represents what should be ideal preparation for the postseason. They'll face a handful of teams that can to some degree be considered rivals, including the Capitals, Maple Leafs, and Devils twice each, plus three battles with the Penguins. There are also single dates in Boston and hosting the Rangers, as well as a pair against the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers, and one each against the  Lightning, Senators, Sabres, and Canadiens.

That's a veritable gauntlet, but one the Flyers should be able to do well in if they're going to make any kind of noise in the playoffs. How many wins do you expect over the remaining 19 games?

Currently sitting in the five slot, the Philadelphia is locked in a very crowded middle of the playoff pack, and with the top three seeds owned by the division leaders regardless of conference merit, there's a very good chance they'll finish within a slot of that after all is said and done in the regular season.

The Penguins have edged ahead of them on the strength of five straight wins. Their 81 points are second only to the Rangers' 89, a mark that's looking increasingly untouchable, though certainly not so just yet. The divisionally weighted second-seed Bruins were 10 points back heading into this afternoon's tilt at Madison Square Garden and are lately looking quite vulnerable in the Northeast Division, where the Senators have surged to within three points of their lead (albeit having played three more games). At 77 points apiece, the Flyers and Devils currently find themselves sandwiched by those clubs.

Meanwhile, tonight's opponent, the Capitals, are battling for a playoff spot, having fallen out of the top eight temporarily with the Winnipeg Jets using an extra two games to a one-point current advantage. A popular preseason pick to be Stanley Cup favorites, the Caps have struggled to consistently play anywhere near their perceived potential.

Nipping at Washington's heels, the Lightning have a line into the postseason as well, and a three-game winning streak puts the Sabres just two points behind that eighth position. Toronto's hot start is long gone, as is their head coach, but they're certainly still alive at three back.

As you can see, the East is shaping up to be a fine mess as all but [probably] three teams are playing with at least dreams of postseason. The league wouldn't have it any other way, with so many nightly contests carrying significance for each side. Removing the Canadiens (currently dead last) and the Isles—who have given the Flyers trouble this season—all of the remaining 19 games will be against a team playing for more than just the reward of a W.

Some will be desperate; others, good enough not to have to be. We should be in store for an exciting month of hockey.

Any predictions for the Flyers' record the rest of the way? Which teams make the final eight, and which will be left out?

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year, but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Peterson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much. 

Tonight's lineup: Michael Saunders dropped to eighth in order

Tonight's lineup: Michael Saunders dropped to eighth in order

Pete Mackanin is still searching for answers to the Phillies' offensive woes following Sunday afternoon's disheartening 1-0 loss in Pittsburgh during which the Phils could only muster three hits.

The latest lineup twist as the search for an answer continues will see Michael Saunders bat in the eight-hole tonight as the Phils open a four-game series with the surging Rockies tonight at Citizens Bank Park (see game notes).

When he has started this season, Saunders has been a fixture within the middle of the Phillies' order. After all, the offseason free-agent signing was an All-Star for Toronto last season when he hit 24 homers and drove in 57 runs.

But this season hasn't gone as planned as Saunders is hitting just .232 with four homers and 15 RBI in 41 games with the Phils this season.

With Saunders' drop down the lineup, Tommy Joseph will bat fourth, Maikel Franco fifth and Odubel Herrera sixth against Rockies spot starter Jeff Hoffman.

Tonight's full lineup can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Aaron Altherr LF
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Maikel Franco 3B
6. Odubel Herrera CF
7. Cameron Rupp C
8. Michael Saunders RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff SP