Analyzing what went wrong for Flyers in their playoff series with Rangers

Analyzing what went wrong for Flyers in their playoff series with Rangers

This week, we’ll be taking a look back at the Flyers’ season and a peek at what lies ahead. Today, a look at the most-recent wound, the first-round playoff loss the Rangers.

The Philadelphia Flyers scratched and clawed just to make this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. They did the same in their first-round series with the New York Rangers just to reach a seventh game.

In the end, it just wasn’t enough as they quietly bowed out with a 2-1 loss to the Rangers in that seventh game.

But what exactly went wrong against the Rangers? Where did things go south?

For the first time in decades, it wasn’t the goaltender’s fault. No, really. It wasn’t the goalie’s fault.

If Game 7 was the only game of the series you watched, never fear because outside of Game 6 when the Flyers crushed the Rangers in South Philly, it was pretty much a microcosm of how the entire series went.

The Flyers were very fortunate just to reach Game 7 with the way they were outplayed for the majority of the series.

The lack of Flyers’ offense has been documented but toss that aside because the Rangers still dictated play for the majority of the series. The Flyers were forced to play a kind of game they were ill-equipped for.

And that all started with the speed of the Rangers.

The Rangers used their speed to hem the Flyers in their own zone with an aggressive forecheck that forced the Flyers into ugly turnovers in the defensive zone. Those kinds of turnovers can be crippling because they can end up in your own net. Just ask Steve Mason and Ray Emery.

There was a reason why the Rangers had more shots on goal and the much more dangerous chances.

On the rare occasion the Flyers got the puck out cleanly, they made risky passes in the neutral zone that the Rangers were able easily pick off and take the other way,

The speed of the Rangers was also a boon to them in their defensive zone as they were able to move the puck out of the zone before the Flyers could establish a forecheck. Most of the Flyers’ chances in the series were one-and-done, which made life that much easier for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Though the Rangers’ pressure was intense, the Flyers’ defense wasn’t so great in the series. And that was before Nick Grossmann went down with torn ankle tendons in Game 4.

Braydon Coburn had possibly the worst seven-game stretch of his career. He had issues controlling the puck and couldn’t make a clean pass out of his teammates’ skates. Hal Gill knows all-too well about that.

Kimmo Timonen was the target of some fans’ vigor in the series but let’s be honest here. He shouldn’t have to be the team’s No.1 defenseman at this point in his career but those are the cards that are on the table.

And as the team’s top defensemen, he was exposed by the skill and quickness of the Rangers. He was out of gas and just couldn’t keep up with the likes of Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis

If the series proved anything, it magnified the Flyers' need more puck-moving skill and speed on the blue line. That said, both Mark Streit and Luke Schenn played really well against the Rangers. They should be commended.

The power play at Madison Square Garden really hurt the Flyers, which was odd because the Flyers had the best road power play in the league during the regular season.

It wasn’t that they didn’t score on the power play there. They scored three goals at the Garden in the series.

The ones they didn’t score on were such brutal wasted efforts that the Rangers wound up grabbing all the momentum from the kills and used that momentum to keep the Flyers on their heels and eventually put the puck in the net.

The most glaring examples were in Games 5 and 7. Midway through each of those games, the Flyers had two miserable power-play efforts and the Rangers went on to score just a few moments later. With the way the Rangers dominated possession, it was basically game, set and match from those moments on.

Sure, the Flyers would score goals to make things interesting, but those efforts were too little, too late.

If anything, those miserable power plays proved the Flyers’ need to legitimate sniper to play alongside Claude Giroux and take the pressure off of him.

Only Giroux, Jake Voracek and rookie Jason Akeson were legitimate offensive threats in a series where the Flyers scored just 14 goals (excluding empty-netters) in the seven games.

But, hey, the bright side is that the goalie question seems to be finally answered. Mason was phenomenal and deserved a better fate.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.