Hartnell Leads Revamped Power Play in Win, But Briere, Jagr, Rinaldo Hurt ... Bryz Wants to Be Left Alone

Hartnell Leads Revamped Power Play in Win, But Briere, Jagr, Rinaldo Hurt ... Bryz Wants to Be Left Alone

The Flyers' dual-matinee weekend appeared to get off to a promising start, with a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. But, injuries disclosed both during and after the game could prove to be more important than their resurgent effort after a poor outing against the Islanders, and Ilya Bryzgalov's postgame comments may get as much attention as his stellar in-game play.

Scott Hartnell was among the Flyers who led the way in the win, netting a pair of power play goals, and Bryzgalov had a very strong afternoon in net. Jaromir Jagr left the game with an undisclosed lower body injury, which is concerning, but it may have pushed the Flyers to make a change that helped spark their power play too. After the game, Paul Holmgren stated that Danny Briere has a concussion and will be out indefinitely.

A look at a key timeout, modifications to the power play, some key contributors, and video highlights (both in-game and at Bryz's locker) below.

The Devils seemed to have an early advantage in the game, which was scoreless through the first period due to some good goaltending at both ends. Aided by a pair of power plays, the Devils put nine shots on Ilya Bryzgalov to the Flyers' four.

Jagr left midway through the first period, a situation certainly worth some concern. But, that and another timeout motivational speech by the head coach may have put the wheels in motion for the Flyers to slice through the league's best penalty killing unit and dominate the game's final 35 minutes.

TIMEOUT MASTER
Three minutes into the second period, Lavvy wasn't happy with the effort he was seeing on the ice. As is his wont, he called a timeout. After the game, Hartnell relayed to Coatsey that the message was simple: "Who's gonna play?"

Ice time would be dictated by effort, always a key in Lavvy's coaching style, but something that he needed to emphasize today.

Shift after shift, the Flyers turned up the pressure, leading to quality scoring chances and a few power plays. Then, at 9:30 of the second period, Matt Read added to his NHL rookie-leading goal total, scoring his 15th. Wayne Simmonds, who was among the hardest working players on the ice all game, made the most of a Devils turnover, outworking a pair of them in the corner and emerging with a pass on the tape of Read, who buried one past Martin Brodeur.

CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC
A few minutes later, a Flyers power play that has been struggling to be dangerous on a consistent basis, took to the ice with a new look. With Jagr out, Simmonds drew power play time along with Hartnell and Claude Giroux, with Simmonds taking the low slot and Hartnell finding his way to Jagr's usual post in the mid-to-high slot. With those two in place and the associated Devils traffic, Kimmo Timonen took a shot from the point that found its way into the net. It was hard to initially credit, because both Hartnell and Simmonds had their sticks ready to deflect it. Simmonds quickly pointed back to Hartnell though, who had gotten just enough of it to beat Brodeur.

Fresh off the plane from Carolina, the newest Devil Alexei Ponikarovsky cut the Flyers' lead to one, deflecting a shot of his own to beat Bryz just 28 seconds later.

The Flyers weathered the Devils' comeback effort, and their success on the power play continued in the third period. Scott Hartnell drew a pair of minors as the horn blew to start the second intermission, but he'd tally on the power play again once allowed on the ice again.

Harts was again in the high slot area with Simmonds down low when Giroux executed a great head fake, staring down Kimmo at the point before sending a quick pass to Hartnell, who rifled it home for his 22nd on the season.

Sometimes an empty netter is a meaningless stat padder, but that wasn't the case with the one Simmonds managed today. First, it was a pretty nice backhand shot. But aside from that, he earned the tally with some hard-ass work in the corners and around the crease; he was on the ice for every Flyers goal, assisting on two of them.

With timetables on Briere and Jagr unknown, it is at least encouraging to be reminded of the Flyers' depth today. Also good to see Giroux with a two-point day.

Notes:
Eleven of Hartnell's 22 goals this season have come on the power play. It's the third time this season he has scored twice in a game.

According to Flyers PR, this was Simmonds' first career three-point game.

Dave Isaac says Tom Sestito and Ben Holmstrom will be called up to play tomorrow against Boston.

BRYZ...
Unfortunately, there will be understandable attention on Ilya Bryzgalov's response to the questions he was asked after the win. Here's the video of that.

In summary, "Who cares. Stop worrying about me. Worry about different things. Too much in the media, everywhere around, like 'How you feel? What's going on? What we should have to do with him?'—Leave me alone, guys. Just let me be me and let me play hockey."

I don't think the reporters were necessarily out for blood so much as a quote updating the oft-scrutinized status the team's key off-season acquisition. It is indeed very fair territory. But, it's also well-traveled territory, and it's easy to see Bryz's side of it. In fact, count me in favor of the media heeding the wishes of both the team earlier in the season and the goalie right now, and having a few fewer rounds at the open bar that is often served at Bryz's locker stall.

Yes, it's part of the job, and I don't intend this as an indictment of the media, though we know the group has had some scrapes with Flyers players before. Today was reminiscent of Mike Richards' "Same Questions…" eye-rolling reaction.

We all enjoy the Bryzgalisms, and he knew (or at least was warned) that this would come with the territory when he signed here and left media (and fan) devoid Phoenix. Hell I'm taking the bait right now, posting and commenting on his statement. But I think most fans would rather have shutouts and one-goal performances than responses to questions about current or past struggles. At least I would. Feel free to disagree of course.

Who's to say whether the scrutiny has anything to do with the struggles. The media certainly can't be blamed for them. But, there's at least evidence that it bothers him. Whether today's response will have Bryzgalov's desired effect or the complete opposite remains to be seen. At least one person in the room seemed to get a pretty good laugh out of it (though for all we know, it was directed at something else).

Here's another Bryz video to clean the palate.

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.