Ray Emery: A true Philadelphia hero for our time

Ray Emery: A true Philadelphia hero for our time

On Friday night, things were looking pretty ugly for the Flyers, and for our city too.

The Flyers were down 7-0 to the Washington Capitals, in front of a hostile Wells Fargo Center crowd. In the third period, things looked pretty hopeless.

At that point, some teams would have rolled over and died. Some teams would have given up the fight. Some goalies would have stood idly by and let their team get its butt kicked. But not Ray Emery.

The Flyers goalie skated the length of the ice and challenged Caps goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby wanted no part of it -- can you blame him? -- but Emery won the fight decisively (video here). The brawl had the positive effect of sending the crowd home happy despite a 7-0 loss.

Some complained. Some called it "classless" or "bush league," the way they always have, for the last 40 years, whenever the Flyers have showed any kind of on-ice toughness. Even the commissioner of the NHL reacted to the fight by vowing to change the rules to prevent it from happening again! if something you did causes the commissioner of your sport to take action to prevent it, that's a sign that you're doing something right.

Are the Flyers supposed to change the way they play the game because Pat Sajak doesn't approve?

And guess what: it worked. Emery, it's clear, provided the local teams with a spark that they desperately needed- because since that game ended, every Philadelphia professional sports team is undefeated.

The Flyers won their next game, 1-0 against the Devils on Saturday. The Sixers -- a team that's not even supposed to be trying to win -- started the year 3-0, including wins over the Bulls and Heat. And the Eagles, behind a record-tying performance from Superstar Nick Foles, notched a dominant road victory over the Raiders on Sunday. When the baseball free agent signing period starts Tuesday, I expect the Phillies to immediately sign Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza.

So thank you Ray Emery. You're our spark plug. Our inspiration. Our hero.

Other Philly sports takes:

- You know I don't like to gloat. But I was clearly right, all along, about Nick Foles. Did Donovan McNabb ever throw seven touchdowns in a game? I rest my case.

- A lot to be happy about in that big Eagles win Sunday, but best of all, how about that Riley Cooper? It's hard to disagree with what Nick Foles told Peter King after the game: "I am so proud of Riley Cooper. So happy for him. After what he's been through, and how hard he's worked, this is great." With the adversity that Cooper has overcome, he's clearly frontrunner for both Comeback Player of the Year and the Ed Block Courage Award.

- Most importantly, the Eagles sent a clear message. To Marcus Vick. They sure showed him.

- I knew the Sixers would start winning as soon as Andrew Bynum was healthy.

- Philadelphia athlete/sometime convict power rankings: 1. Dykstra 2. Pete Rose 3. El Wingador 4. Michael Vick 5. Ugueth Urbina 592. Freddie Mitchell.

- Speaking of which, I've got a feeling that when it's the 20th anniversary of the 2008 Phillies team, Shane Victorino and Brad Lidge won't be getting into near-fistfights at the Granite Run Mall.
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Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

VOORHEES, N.J. – Five games.

That’s what the Flyers are facing this coming week, which is why coach Dave Hakstol had his players involved in a full scrimmage Sunday morning at Skate Zone.

“I like it better than practicing,” offered Michael Raffl. “A little more action. A little physical and it gets you in game shape. I enjoyed it.”

The Flyers have two split-squad games on Monday – one in New Jersey against the Devils and other in Brookyln against the Islanders.

The scrimmage was up-tempo. So much so, Raffl and defenseman Will O’Neill were involved in a dangerous collision in the left corner that could have been disastrous with both players getting up slowly, but uninjured, on a puck chase.

“I don’t know, I was coming in hard,” Raffl said. “At first, I thought about playing the body and then I didn’t want to. So I was mixed in-between trying to slow down and there was a lot of contact as I fell into the boards. I felt fine afterwards.”

Raffl hit his neck awkwardly and was lucky to be uninjured. O’Neill took the hit.

“I went into the wall and knew he was coming and tried to be strong on my feet,” said O’Neill, a free agent signed over the summer. “Contact play in a bad area. Tough part of the ice.”

Hakstol held his breath there.

“It could have turned out differently,” he said. “It was kinda awkward play. You’re always happy to see him pop up and come out for another shift right after that.”

Raffl’s gray team won the scrimmage, 2-1, with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov setting up a play that resulted in Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal from Wayne Simmonds.

“Good tempo, competitiveness … kind like the first few days where tempo and work levels were good,” Hakstol said of the scrimmage. “It tends to be a little scrambly in those first scrimmages.”

Jordan Weal centered the top line with Schenn on the left. Hakstol has Schenn on the left right now to get him used to playing there again. Once Claude Giroux returns from the World Cup of Hockey, the top line of Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds will be reunited.

“I made the play up there to Simmer and a nice pass by Provy to me and then Simmer back door to Schenn,” Weal said of the game-winning goal. “It felt good ... I’ve played just one game in nine months.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for being on the right side of pucks. It’s not going to come in the first game.”

Weal was impressed with Provorov.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “You can see it in his skating, his passing. He’s got a lot of confidence. He tore up the WHL and that’s a great league. It’s going to be exciting to see him moving forward.”

Hakstol rated Provorov as “solid and efficient” in the scrimmage.

Loose pucks
Steve Mason worked with Carter Hart in goal … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz  worked for the black team. Mason didn’t give up a goal. “We have eight exhibitions on the schedule and I will get into three or four of those,” he said. “By the time those wrap up, I’ll be where I want to be. Right now, I am feeling great which is a good start.” … Hakstol said Mason won’t play on Monday … Rookie forward Travis Konecny sat the scrimmage out (maintenance day). He said he was given a day off, but Konecny was receiving treatment by the medical staff on Saturday. “I see the trainer every day, I’m fine,” he said. Konecny should play in one of the split-squad games on Monday … Greg Carey had the other goal for the gray squad; Nicolas (cq) Aube-Kubel had the lone goal for the black squad … The defense rotated for both teams. Provorov was with Philippe Myers much of the game … Jakub Voracek practiced on his own. He won’t see action in the first, three games and neither will Shayne Gostisbehere because of the World Cup, Hakstol said ... The scrimmage consisted of  two, 25-minute periods with a running clock. Sounds like the Public League, no?

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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