Groundhog Day: Flyers Survive Another Early Hole, Bryz Awesome, G Scores, Danny Doesn't

Groundhog Day: Flyers Survive Another Early Hole, Bryz Awesome, G Scores, Danny Doesn't

Strike up the music, the band has begun… the Philadelphia Polka. The Flyers conceded an early goal, yet tied it up and eventually won. 
They've now allowed the first goal in 15 of their last 20 games and led during the first 10 minutes only twice in the last 47 games while trailing 20 times (per the broadcast team). 
In this case, the early goal was just 26 seconds in, and the game-winner came in the shootout. Ilya Bryzgalov handled just about everything in between while Peter Laviolette attempted some line-juggling to jumpstart a dormant offense, and the Flyers left the ice with a 2-1 shootout win over the Washington Capitals. 
Claude Giroux was at times double-shifted in regulation and overtime, and his 27th goal of the season was another dazzler. It's bound to en-ter-tain ya… 
A look at G's jaw-dropper and more, below. 
Of course it's frustrating to see the Flyers allow a goal early again, and their lack of offense is puzzling. But, they don't appear to be overwhelmed by what isn't working for them. Bryz is keeping them in games, and even the shootout isn't posing the automatic-loss issues it once did. Even when the goals aren't coming, there's no quit in them. Wasn't long ago the team wearing this crest often had the opposite problem. 
Alex Ovechkin netted the Caps goal before the beer lines had thinned out. Bryz blockered a puck to the corner, and his defense lost the battle for it there, and when it came back to his crease. When the puck came back to the crease, Bryz tried to poke it away under pressure, but it went right to Ovechkin, who buried it. 
The Caps had the better end of some see-saw action throughout portions of the first, but the Flyers were also strong, particularly later in the frame. It wasn't the most exciting game overall, and right around the time I started wondering if there'd be any excitement in this one, the Flyers found their equalizer. 
Jaromir Jagr sent a sweet outlet pass to Giroux, who turned Dennis Wideman inside out, then got Caps goalie Braden Holtby to bite early. 
Only time all night that Holtby looked lost. He was stellar throughout, beaten only once before the shootout. But man, just look at this:
So G'd. 
Bryzgalov would ultimately outduel Holtby, stopping Marcus Johansson on a penalty shot and getting beat only once in the shootout. (And boy did Matt Hendricks beat him then.)
Conventional dekes were no match for Holtby in the shootout, with both Giroux and Danny Briere stoned on their moves. But Matt Read opened the affair with a quick shot as he glided up the slot, and Wayne Simmonds did the same to beat Holtby with the game-winner. 
Bryz then stopped Troy Brouwer and raised his hands to the rafters. Great to see that rather than another reverse snow-angel like after the Hendricks goal. 
All of a sudden, early holes and shootouts aren't so scary. But, we'd be just as happy not seeing another of either the rest of the way. Wayne Train? Wayne Train.
POSTGAME FUNBryzgalov once again had no interest in talking to the assembled media. He alternated cliché-quotes with refusals and shushings, and if that's in any way helping his comfort level, there isn't a hockey fan in the Tri-State Area who would have it any other way. If he doesn't want to talk after wins or answer questions about his game, we'll survive. Also, reporters keep asking about his confidence, a buzz word that silences him night after night (yet, the question keeps coming despite the response it elicits and the fact that he's clearly been confident over the past month). 
Meanwhile, Jagr again joked that the Flyers should start Sergei Bobrovsky and then bring in Bryz after the first shot. Joked being the key word, of course. Note: Jagr is not opposed to laughing at his own material. 

NOTESGiroux's goal gave him 85 points on the season—good for both second in the NHL and also the highest total for a Flyer since Mark Recchi put up 91 in 1999-2000. 
Bryz's stop on the penalty shot didn't appear to involve contact with the puck. Marcus Johansson lost control of it as he went for the shot, and Bryz's poke attempt upended him. Photographer Eric Hartline knows what I'm talkin about:+ Physics =

Sean Couturier's line(s) effectively silenced Washington's top line after that opening shift. 
The trio of Schenn, Briere, and Simmonds didn't find the scoresheet, but they worked as hard a line can throughout. 48 and 17 will get theirs soon. Right?
Kinda mind-blowing that Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day is the well-endowed movie producer on the current season of Californication. Which is awful, btw. 
For about 7 of the last 10 minutes of regulation, the Caps were held without a shot on goal. In overtime, the puck was rarely out of their zone. Amazing this game ended 1-1. 
Why did it? The Flyers failed to get quality shots in many cases, either opting for the extra pass, firing wide, or being effectively kept outside of dangerous angles. They seemed stagnant as the Caps gave them the edges but put sticks on them as they turned toward the goal. The vertical attack is lacking right now. 
Peter Forsberg was in the house! (See below)
HIGHLIGHTS

All photos by the great Eric Hartline, US Presswire.

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

Vince Velasquez needed 94 pitches to complete five innings in yet another short outing Thursday ... but still, it was a nice step in the right direction.

Velasquez minimized the damage against a stacked Rockies lineup, allowing one run over five innings with seven strikeouts in a 2-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay). He avoided having that one big, meltdown inning. His pitch count still soared because the Rockies fouled off 28 pitches, but it was a promising sign that the longest at-bat of the day — 11 pitches to Charlie Blackmon — ended in a strikeout.

"Today was just huge on my part, even giving up the home run (to Trevor Story), just shutting down the majority of the guys," Velasquez said. "I gave up seven hits, but limiting the damage and getting out of the innings. These guys are just attacking.... I had a plan to attack the guys. You know, prior starts, changing game plans causes damage. So keep planning to attack and work your way around that.

"They're fouling off fastballs, it means they're late on them. I'm not changing my mentality. Why throw a curveball?"

Velasquez met with pitching coach Bob McClure last Sunday after his latest poor start Saturday in Pittsburgh. The key advice he was given was "stick to your strengths." Anybody who's watched Velasquez the last two seasons knows what his strength is: his fastball.

"Definitely. That's my go-to," Velasquez said. "[Before], I was just pretty much having second thoughts about certain pitches and again, just changing my game plan. If you shy away from that, things pretty much go away from you. That's where you get hurt. Today's mentality didn't change at all. I attacked guys with high fastballs in 0-2 counts. Story put a good swing on it and it ended up escalating out."

That was the one big mistake Velasquez made. He threw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle that Story hit out of the park. The Phillies have allowed the most 0-2 home runs in the majors this season (six) and the last two seasons combined (17). For reference, the Marlins have allowed the fewest over that span, just two.

But still, the high fastballs for Velasquez mostly worked on this afternoon. He induced 10 swinging strikes on 72 fastballs.

His off-speed stuff was a different story. The Rockies' first two hits of the day came on curveballs and they went 4 for 6 against his curve, slider and changeup. Colorado's hitters swung through just 2 of the 22 offspeed pitches they saw from Velasquez.

Manager Pete Mackanin said after Velasquez's last start that commanding his off-speed pitches is the key for him. His fastball is great, we all know that, but it just doesn't play multiple times through the order when the other team knows that pitch is coming in every key situation.

"The changeup was actually working a little bit [today]," Velasquez said. "It was down. That's just another pitch I need to work on a little bit more. But it's coming around. The curveball has a good shape to it but, again, it's just locating it."

It's important to keep it all in perspective when it comes to Velasquez. He's a power-armed 24-year-old who's still figuring things out. Most pitchers wouldn't be doing their jobs by going five innings, but with Velasquez it's a baby-steps approach — every small step in a positive direction being a sign that his dominant stuff can someday translate into consistency. 

He'll carry a 2-4 record and 5.55 ERA into his next start Tuesday in Miami.