3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers completely unravel in third period and drop Game 1 to Rangers

3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers completely unravel in third period and drop Game 1 to Rangers

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers' 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden through the perspective of two players and one almost invisible unit.

Ugh. That was not fun.

Luckily, it was just the first game of the series and Sunday’s Game 2 is a whole new ballgame with a clean slate.

3. Jason Akeson

Thursday night was Akeson’s first playoff game and third-ever NHL game.

It was going well. He was skating hard, getting some opportunities and taking advantage of his ice time.

That was until he inadvertently high-sticked Rangers winger Carl Hagelin while falling down after missing a check and gave the Rangers a four-minute power play just about halfway through the third period of a tied game.

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Brad Richards and Derek Stepan then scored 47 seconds apart on the ensuing power play to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead and that was all she wrote with how inept the Flyers offense was in the game.

Sure, it wasn’t a good play by Akeson. He was reckless with his stick and paid the ultimate price. But you’re out of your mind if you want to blame just Akeson for the loss. If that’s how you feel, you obviously didn’t watch the rest of the team outside of Ray Emery the entire game.

The Flyers were just awful after Andrew MacDonald’s first-period goal. They played with fire while the game was tied as they let Rangers dominate play. The fact that it was even tied when Akeson took the penalty was a minor miracle.

The kid obviously can’t take that penalty there but don’t place all the blame on him. It was just the tipping point of a terrible Flyers effort. At least he was trying to make a play and make something happen.

There was plenty of blame to go around for this one.

 

2. The Flyers’ offense

The Flyers’ offense?

What Flyers’ offense?

They got the jump on the Rangers with MacDonald’s goal just over seven minutes into the game. But after that they performed a magic trick. They absolutely vanished.

The Rangers finished the game with 35 shots on goal. The Flyers finished the game with a measly 16 shots.

With the game on the line in third period, the Flyers were outshot 13-1. That number is a bit inflated due to the fact they gave the Rangers five third-period power plays (including the double minor) but the fact remains that they came up really small when the game was at its most critical point.

To further illustrate the point, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, arguably the Flyers’ two most dynamic offensive players, each finished the game with zero shots on goal. Zero. That didn’t help the team’s cause.

The thing about the disappearing offense is that it starts in the defensive and neutral zones. Everything was so disorganized.

The Flyers’ breakouts were flat-out ugly in Game 1. They could barely make a pass out of their own zone and tried too many of those cute, low-percentage plays that the Rangers just gobbled up. They could barely skate with the puck in the defensive zone, let alone make a clean pass.

Same thing was true in the neutral zone where the cross-ice passes didn’t even come close to working.

The ice was tilted in the Flyers’ defensive end seemingly the entire night. Emery had no shot or any help on any of the goals he let in. He deserved better.

 

1. Brad Richards

In last year’s playoffs, Richards struggled so mightily that he found himself as a healthy scratch at times.

He did the total opposite of struggle mightily in this year’s playoff opener.

Richards scored the game-winner just over eight minutes into the third period and added two assists for the Rangers on Thursday night.

With the Rangers on that four-minute power play in the third period, a loose puck bounced to a wide-open Richards at the right circle and he blasted it past Emery to give his team a 2-1 lead.

Later on during that same power play, Richards fired a sweet diagonal pass from the point down to Derek Stepan at side of the net and Stepan slammed it home for a 3-1 lead and the nail in the Flyers’ coffin.

Richards later added an assist on Hagelin’s insurance marker.

On a night when the Rangers dominated, Richards was their best player.

 

The Flyers have to totally forget about this one. It happened. It’s in the past now.

The great thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that a team gets a chance to redeem itself against the same team that just dominated it a night or two before. There are two days to make the necessary adjustments and there are a lot of adjustments to be made, as you may have been able to tell after watching Game 1.

Puck drops for Game 2 on Sunday at Noon in New York.

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

ATLANTA — Seven months after he was acquired from the Houston Astros and anointed a key piece in the Phillies’ rebuild, pitcher Vince Velasquez could be on the move again.

The Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez, a major league source told CSNPhilly.com on Friday night (see story).

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network earlier in the week and essentially confirmed when three Rangers scouts, including Scott Littlefield, one of that club’s top talent evaluators, showed up at Turner Field for Velasquez’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Velasquez delivered a solid but unspectacular performance in a 2-1 loss to the Braves, but he still has the qualities that attracted the Phillies to him last winter. He’s just 24 years old and has a power arm that has produced a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has the upside to pitch at or near the top of a rotation if his development goes in the right direction and he stays healthy. That is a legitimate concern because he had Tommy John surgery as a young minor leaguer and spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a biceps strain.

The question now is: where will Velasquez continue his development? Philadelphia? Texas? Somewhere else?

Clearly, the Phillies’ big wintertime acquisition is in play as Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches.

Manager Pete Mackanin said he knows nothing of the front office’s trade plans, but he offered his opinion on trading a young pitcher like Velasquez.

“Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they’re the most expensive commodity and if you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five of those guys, then you’re ahead of the game,” Mackanin said. “But at the same time, at least as far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to any offers. If you get three guys that are really good looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, I’m sure you have to consider it.”

With the Rangers' scouts looking on, Velasquez pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out five. His fastball reached 96 mph, proving that his stuff is good. Mackanin, however, said he thought Velasquez relied too much on his off-speed stuff instead of his power fastball.

“It was unusual to me the way he pitched,” Mackanin said. “It was almost like a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher. I’m not arguing with it because he did a good job, but he made me a little nervous here and there. I like the 16 strikeouts.”

That, of course, was a reference to Velasquez’s 16-strikeout complete game win over the Padres on April 14. Could anyone have imagined that he'd be the subject of trade talks 3½ months later?

Velasquez said he was aware of the trade buzz surrounding him and unbothered by it. He’s been down this road before. He said he would not be disappointed if he were traded because he understands baseball is a business.

“At first when I got traded from the Astros it was kind of tough for me, but you have to move on and make the best of what you've got,” Velasquez said. “If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I've got to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things that are in the future. I don't know what to expect is what I'm saying. Again, all I can do is live in the present and live another day tomorrow. If something happens, something happens. I've got to make the best of what you've got today.

“It's just one of those things I can't control. I had to fight, had to battle for a spot here in Philadelphia and I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got.”

Any team looking to acquire Velasquez would have to pay a steep price. In addition to having talent and upside, he won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2018 season and free agency until after the 2021 season.

The Phillies have a good knowledge of Texas’ deep farm system having scouted it extensively — and plucked from it — in making the deal for Cole Hamels a year ago. Are the Phillies about to fuel their rebuild with more talent from the Texas system? Stay tuned.

Velasquez isn’t the only Phillies starter who could move. Several teams remain interested in Jeremy Hellickson (see story), who is scheduled to pitch against Atlanta on Saturday night. The Rangers, in fact, have some interest in Hellickson as a fallback option if they don’t get a pitcher elsewhere. Velasquez is not the only pitcher the Rangers have on their radar, but from a Phillies’ perspective, he is certainly the most interesting.

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap)

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap)

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest (see story). Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).