Game 31Get Out the Measuring Sticks, Flyers and Bruins in a Matinee Beast-Off

Game 31Get Out the Measuring Sticks, Flyers and Bruins in a Matinee Beast-Off

Storylines and notes on Saturday's tilt between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. Are the rebuilt Flyers ready to beat the team that blew them to pieces in May?

When I see the Flyers have a game scheduled on a Saturday, I scan to the time and hope it's either 1 PM or 3 PM (preferably 1). Not that a Saturday night game isn't a good time whether down at the Well, on the TV hanging over the bar, or at home in the living room, but particularly around the holidays, that early start just sets a good tone for the day.

Especially when it's a matchup like this one. The Bruins are in town, bringing the best record in the Northeast Division to face the top team in the Atlantic. The Flyers have gone through a lot in the past few weeks, including getting the news that they'll be without Chris Pronger for the rest of the season and playoffs. They also haven't lost in the month of December, a seven-game streak that marks their longest run since 2002.

Can they make it eight straight today against a Bruins team that hopes to have its biggest threat back in the lineup? Whole lotta notes on both teams below.

Pronger's Out, But Chara Likely to Return
A seven-game winning streak in December is plenty of fun, filling us with confidence in a team that began its season filled with question marks. But we don't have to look too far into the history books to see that a team's plight isn't decided in December. We also know that last year, the Flyers were a better team with Pronger than without. I'm not going to spend much time raining on the great parade that's currently going on, but let's just say there's a lot of hockey left on the schedule, and the Flyers are down an undeniably big piece.

The Bruins, meanwhile, appear set to have their big blueliner on patrol after a week on the shelf. Zdeno Chara hurt his knee last Saturday against the Blue Jackets, but he's been skating and should be ready to go today, reports Sean Farrell of the Boston Globe.

Blistering, Balanced Beasts Square Off
The Flyers currently lead the league in generating goals, producing at an amazing clip of 3.7 per game. Second place in that stat? The Bruins, who CSN NE's Joe Haggerty points out are actually a relatively distant second at 3.3 goals per game. However, the B's have the league's top goals against average, a paltry 2.0 allowed per game. As if last spring's postseason run left any doubt, the Bruins are an elite hockey club, blending dangerous attackers with solid defense and the best goaltending in the league.

The Flyers' own goals allowed mark is still affected by its earlier woes on defense and in goal. The back line has been improved lately, and Ilya Bryzgalov has found a groove as sweet as a Stuart Zender bass line. After a night off saw backup Sergei Bobrovsky play admirably, Bryz is back between the pipes this afternoon to face the other apple of Ed Snider's eye—Tim Thomas.

Thomas… Well let's just admit that this old bastard owns the Flyers. He's lost just three times against Philly, one of which was the 2-1 season opener, hardly his fault.

Shooting Gallery?
Mike Morreale of NHL.com dug up a good stat that shows the Bruins have been leaning on the men in the masks quite a bit, particularly this past week without Chara. Both Tuukka Rask and Thomas set season highs in saves, with Rask stopping all 41 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Kings and Thomas stopping 47 of 49 against the Senators the next night. The shot totals were particularly heavy late in the game, so that's something to watch for in the third period today.

Everybody Is a Star
Pronger's done. Claude Giroux is trapped in indefinite like the two-dimensional prism in Superman II. That means other guys need to continue to step up at both ends of the ice. Matt Carle is logging bigger minutes and has been on the scoresheet in four straight games, including a three-assist night in Montreal. Kimmo Timonen is playing some inspired hockey, Andrej Meszaros is fresh off pounding a point shot home, something the Flyers will need more of down the stretch with no Prongs. Coburn is his usually steady presence, and the kids are alright in Kevin Marshall and particularly Marc-Andre Bourdon.

The attack hasn't been slowed either, buoyed by young talent up and down the lines as well as steady gamesmanship from guys like Max Talbot. Just as the shipping off of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter opened a huge channel for Giroux to shine, G's own absence forces other guys to step up. Sean Couturier has been the guy positionally given that task, centering G's usual linemates. We didn't get to see much of that against the Habs though, as three minors to #14 kept him off his regular shifts throughout much of the game. If he gets another shot today, we'll be looking forward to seeing what he can do between 19 and 68.

Danny Briere is quietly having a solid season, but could be in line for another big game this week. It might not come against the Bruins, but it'll come. He's been consistently putting up points, and he'll be relied on even more now. Jake Voracek has had some great pace on the ice, another guy who might start a run soon, like fellow newcomer Wayne Simmonds has done lately.

The guy we'd most like to see step up and get dominant? James van Riemsdyk. Like Briere, he's had a quietly successful season, but he's been more quiet than successful lately with only two assists to show for his past six games. Here's hoping a matchup with the Bruins sparks him. JVR was one of the few Flyers to show up at all in the four-game sweep by Boston last spring, scoring three goals over the first two games. We haven't quite seen that JVR this season so far. Even when he was hovering around a point-per-game average, he wasn't skating with the ownership we saw in April's Buffalo series.

Measuring Sticks
Flyers fans and media have spent a lot of time wondering about the reasons Paul Holmgren blew most of the team up this past offseason. Some of it probably had to do with chemistry, a need for change within the locker room, although who knows what role that played. One of the biggest reasons Homer likely hit that reset button has nothing to do with the team in the home locker room today, and much more to do with the one getting dressed in visitors' whites. The Bruins are the NHL's benchmark, and Mr. Snider wanted a team more like theirs (he likely wasn't the only owner with that sentiment). Homer went out and got a #1 goalie, sacrificing pieces that needed to go for the cap space, among other reasons. In so doing, he netted quite a few very talented hockey players, Bryzgalov among them. While he's not quite at Thomas' level, it's time for him to show he too can dominate. What better stage for that to play out than a visit from the Bruins?

The Flyers have kept pace with the team they were rebuilt to compete with at a better level than the shitshow we saw last spring. Are they good enough to do it without their two best players?

It won't be easy, but it should be entertaining. These two teams aren't fans of each other, and both sides want to be the top dogs, even in December, and they'll need to win today to do it.

Photo: Mark L. Baer-US Presswire

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).