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.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.