Bitter End to Brilliant Classic: Rangers Outlast Flyers

Bitter End to Brilliant Classic: Rangers Outlast Flyers

The 2012 NHL Winter Classic lived up to every bit of hype that has been piled on it over the past year. The teams represented one of the league's best rivalries, and each side was at the top of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference for the period leading up to and including game. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, although the net result of participation in the event was positive, the finale was disappointing.

Despite a hard-fought 60 minutes, the Flyers wilted in the third period, and goaltending was—predictably—one of the deciding factors. It's also a clear difference between the Flyers and the team they trail in the division.

Below, a look at the best and worst the day had to offer.

Deep Rooted Atmosphere
There was little doubt that a Flyers-Rangers matchup on the field at one of baseball's new palaces would be met with tremendous fan response, and we've come to expect Winter Classics to be outstanding theatre no matter where they're played and who is on the ice. A crowd of nearly 47,000 surrounded a makeshift yet perfect hockey stage, and the weather behaved, with only wind providing any sort of issue. A light wave of flurries later in the game added even more to a gorgeous scene. Off the ice, the NHL, Flyers, Phillies, and Rangers did just about everything right in terms of putting on a memorable show for fans who shelled out big money for a unique experience.

The NBC announcers said it was hard for the coaches to communicate on their benches because of how loud it was.

The Roots were a highlight as well, putting on a great intermission show. All but Black Thought donned Flyers jerseys (at least he ditched his frequently worn Yankees cap), and they played "The Fire," replacing "Fire" with "Flyers." Great performance by Philly's top musical act:

Patti LaBelle... not the best anthem we've heard, and we'll leave it at that.

Flyers Are Subjects in King Henrik's Realm
Unfortunately, the result that counts is that the Flyers are still chasing a superior Rangers team in the standings and in bona fide contention for a Stanley Cup. One huge reason—although not the only one—is Henrik Lundqvist. Through a tight first period, Henrik turned aside everything sent his way, as did Sergei Bobrovsky. But a soft goal surrendered by Bob in the third will be hard to forget, whereas Lundqvist seemed to only get stronger.

The Flyers had the advantage in opportunities early, but most were not particularly dangerous. Lundqvist was square to nearly every shot, and didn't have to deal with much in the way of screens of second-effort attempts.

Through nearly half the game, neither side threatened too dangerously. Then, in a matter of 2:25, three goals were scored.

Schenn Opens His Account, Flyers Take Over
When the Flyers finally lit the scoreboard for the first time, it was a historic moment in what may become a brilliant NHL career. Brayden Schenn has battled injuries in his time as a Flyer, but earned every bit of his goal on Monday. Schenn won an offensive zone face-off, then made his way to the net as Matt Carle through the puck toward the cage. Lundqvist made the initial stop, but left the rebound at his feet, where an opportunistic Schenn put it home and celebrated exactly as you might expect.

[More on that here]
Schenn joins Danny Syvret in the realm of Flyers who have scored their first NHL goals in a Winter Classic. Hopefully that's all they'll have in common.

While we were all still high-fiving, Claude Giroux scored his 18th of the season, moving ahead of Henrik Sedin for the NHL points lead (46). Max Talbot was the playmaker who set it up, making good use of some open ice while G weaved into the slot. Talbot found him, and with two quick touches, put a great move on Lundqvist and beat him high.

Momentum Walls Out, Mike Rupp Chumps Out
Unfortunately, the Rangers got one back just 30 seconds after G's tally. Mike Rupp scored, then did a salute to mock Jaromir Jagr. One of these players will be remember for his greatness. The other will be remembered—if at all—for mocking him.

Andrej Meszaros didn't help his goalie out on this one, drifting into no-man's land and attempting to block a shot with his legs while standing straight up, stick nearly useless. The shot got past him, and a fully screened Bob had no answer for it. Probably won't need a translator to get the gist of any postage banter between the Flyers' two goalies tonight.

Third Period Hell
Short the aforementioned Jagr for part of the first, most of the second, and all of the third periods, the Flyers slowed down considerably in the final frame, appearing to lose their legs somewhat. The Rangers, meanwhile, sustained their attack. Rupp scored again less than three minutes into the third, a sorrowfully soft goal on Bob's part sure to draw more attention than it would in any other game.

Fans looking for revenge on Rupp for his disrespect of Jagr got just the opposite. Rupp scored his second of the game, just his third of the season. Lundqvist beating you is one thing… Mike Rupp is a whole lot tougher to stomach.

Brad Richards would score for the Rangers as well, putting them up by a 3-2 count. Giroux seemed to lose his man on the play, and Richards showed why he was a top prize in the off-season.

A Dramatic Finale
As the time got closer and closer to quad zeroes in the third, the Flyers kicked into a gear they hadn't seen in 20 minutes of ice time. Lundqvist remained in the gear he'd cruised in all day. The refs didn't help the Flyers out on one play in tight, blowing a very loose puck dead. But, they did award the Flyers a powerplay they didn't deserve, whistling Ryan McDonagh for delay of game after he was pushed into the Rangers' net, taking it off its moorings.

McDonagh played a key role in the final dramatic sequence as well, when, with Bob pulled, he was whistled for covering the puck in his own crease. The Flyers were awarded a penalty shot, which was taken by Danny Briere.

True to form in this one, Briere made his attempt on Lundqvist, but you could hardly say he challenged him. Briere skated straight in on net, and Henrik stayed square, not reacting until Briere made his move, going for the five hole. The shot was turned easily aside, and the game was over 20 seconds later. (Good stat by Devils beat Tom Gulitti: Including Briere's today, shooters are now 0-for-11 on penalty shots with a chance to tie game in final minute over last 15 years.)

End Result
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

The Rangers are now four points ahead in the standings, hardly an insurmountable margin. The Flyers hung with them for most of the game, but a few key lapses proved fatal.
The injury to Jaromir Jagr bears observing (though he downplayed it afterwards), as of course does the goaltending situation.

Overall, this was not a head-hanging loss, and the weekend on the whole was a great success for all parties involved. We certainly enjoyed it. And, like the players and coaches seemed to after the game, we're looking forward to life after the Winter Classic. The Flyers have an identity to cultivate and half a season to do it.

Report: Eagles to re-sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Report: Eagles to re-sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

The Eagles are reportedly bringing back a familiar face at quarterback, and no, it's not Tim Tebow. 

The team will re-sign quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan

With the addition, the current roster will be capped out at 90 after the reported signings of former Villanova LB Don Cherry and Alabama S Nick Perry go through (see story).  

The Eagles first signed Bethel-Thompson in February to pair with Mark Sanchez at the lone quarterback on the roster. A lot has changed since then, with the team re-signing Sam Bradford and drafting Carson Wentz. Bethel-Thompson was then cut by the Eagles in May. 

Bethel-Thompson has been in the NFL since 2011, after going undrafted out of Sacramento State. The 6-foot-4, 230 pounder has spent time with the Dolphins, the Vikings twice, Patriots and the 49ers three times. He has never played in a game. 

It'll be an uphill battle for the 27-year-old to make the roster with the quarterback position locked up with Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz. 

Today's Lineup: Rupp and Franco out, Howard, Ruiz in

Today's Lineup: Rupp and Franco out, Howard, Ruiz in

Going for the series win today, Pete Mackanin has shaken up the lineup.

Maikel Franco is still out. After taking a pitch off the wrist on Friday, Franco was listed as day to day with a sore wrist (see story). Andres Blanco will again hit and play third.

Both Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz crack the lineup today. Ruiz has caught Vince Velasquez just once this season, a five inning shutout with 10 strikeouts vs. the Marlins on May 17. 

Ruiz replaced Cameron Rupp in the third inning of Saturday's game as a precaution after Rupp took a pitch off the helmet. (see story)

After being on fire for much of the past month, Peter Bourjos has posted consecutive 0 for 5 nights in the leadoff spot. He will drop down to ninth today, allowing another hot hitter, Cesar Hernandez to hit leadoff.

Odubel Herrara will remain in the two-spot, where he has looked resurgent in this series, going 6 for 9 with four runs scored. 

Much like Bourjos, Cody Asche has not yet recorded a hit in this series and will be lowered to the seven-hole, while Freddy Galvis will hit sixth.

Velasquez takes the mound for the Phillies today. In his four starts since returning from a biceps injury in early June, Velasquez has been arguably the team's best pitcher. In those starts, the flamethrower has been going deeper into ball games than earlier this season, averaging six innings per start, while allowing just five runs during that span. 

Here is today's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Odubel Herrara CF
3. Andres Blanco 3B
4. Ryan Howard 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz C
6. Freddy Galvis SS
7. Coday Asche LF
8. Peter Bourjos RF
9. Vince Velasquez P

Reuben Frank's way-too-early 2016 Eagles predictions

Reuben Frank's way-too-early 2016 Eagles predictions

Will offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce bounce back from disappointing seasons? Who will the Eagles’ top cornerback be? How many games will Carson Wentz start? Will the Eagles win a playoff game for the first time since 2008?

We take our best shot at these questions and many others facing the Eagles in our way-too-early 2016 predictions.

See you in the comments section!

1. I’ll start with Zach Ertz. He caught 75 passes for 853 yards last year, but I feel like he can do so much more. Sam Bradford and Ertz really clicked late last season, connecting 35 times for 450 yards the last four games of the year. Nobody can keep that up for an entire season, but I think this is finally the huge breakout season we’ve been expecting from Ertz since he got here in 2013.

THE PREDICTION: 90 catches for 1,089 yards.

2. Staying on offense, much has been made of Kelce’s sub-par season in 2015. It was strange to see Kelce, coming off a Pro Bowl season, apparently healthy and in the prime of his career, struggle the way he did. But I still think Kelce is an elite center. Yeah, he’s a little undersized, but he was undersized when he dominated in 2013 and made the Pro Bowl in 2014. He succeeds when he keeps his technique and uses his strength and leverage to overcome his lack of bulk. I think Kelce returns to form.

THE PREDICTION: A second Pro Bowl in three years for Kelce.

3. Sticking with the offensive line, I see Jason Peters also rebounding in 2016. Nobody benefited less than Peters from Chip Kelly’s full-speed, non-stop practices. His body broke down and when he was healthy enough to start, he often wasn’t healthy enough to finish. He made another Pro Bowl, but it was really a lost season for Peters. But with the hurry-up offense gone and a head coach who promises to take it easy on the older guys the way Reid did, there’s no reason Peters shouldn’t rebound.

THE PREDICTION: Peters returns to form and continues his late-career Hall of Fame push with his ninth Pro Bowl in 10 years, the only exception being the 2012 season he missed while rehabbing his torn Achilles.

4. I know he’s No. 3 now, but I’m just going on common sense, which says that if Sam Bradford gets hurt or gets benched, Carson Wentz and not Chase Daniel will replace him. Imagine if it’s Week 13 and Bradford hobbles off the field and Daniel – who has one career touchdown pass in six NFL seasons – jogs out to replace him? It would not be pretty. I say Wentz starts the last four games this year and plays fairly well.

THE PREDICTION: Wentz completes 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

5. I think Jordan Matthews is a good, solid, functional NFL wide receiver, but I don’t think there is a star in this wide receiver group. The Eagles last year were the only NFL team with just one wide receiver with 30 receptions, the first time that’s happened in 26 years (Cris Carter was the only one in 1989). And honestly, I don’t see the situation improving that much. Maybe Nelson Agholor or Josh Huff or Rueben Randle will surprise me, but I just feel like this wide receiving corps doesn’t have the oomph it needs to really compete at a high level.

THE PREDICTION: Matthews catches another 80 to 90 passes but nobody else emerges as a big-time second wide receiving threat, and the Eagles once again go into the offseason desperate for an over-the-top threat like DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin.

6. Moving to defense, I think when all is said and done, Eric Rowe will emerge as the Eagles’ No. 1 cornerback. I wonder about Leodis McKelvin’s ability at 31 years old to run the way a corner has to in a division with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant. Think of some Eagles corners who were 31 and older. Nnamdi. Charles Dimry. Roynell Young and Herm Edwards at the end. The only one who played at a high level at that age was Troy Vincent, and Leodis McKelvin is not Troy Vincent. I think Rowe will have his ups and downs, but, by the end of the year, he’ll be a solid NFL starter.

THE PREDICTION: Rowe leads the Eagles with five interceptions.

7. The Eagles have a lot of different guys who can rush the passer, and in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, there should be plenty of opportunities for them to attack the quarterback. Two years ago, Connor Barwin had 14 ½ sacks and Vinny Curry had 9 and last year Fletcher Cox had 9 ½ sacks and Brandon Graham had a career-high 6 ½. Now, this is a new world, with a 4-3 defense, and nobody is quite sure how all the pieces will fit together. But I do think the Eagles will be among the NFL leaders in sacks.

THE PREDICTION: The Eagles had 37 sacks last year and averaged just 41 during the Bill Davis Era, but I say they get 50 this year, which they’ve only done once since 2003 – in 2011 under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.

8. I’m less confident in the back seven, and I’m not convinced the Eagles have solved their pass defense issues. We’ve seen a lot of new faces come and go over the years – from DRC and Nnamdi to Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher – with nothing really changing. The Eagles are the only team in NFL history to allow 25 or more touchdown passes in seven straight years (after not allowing 25 passing TDs since 1989). Malcolm Jenkins is a beast, but a lot of question marks surround him in the defensive backfield.

THE PREDICTION: The Eagles extend their NFL record of allowing at least 25 touchdown passes to eight straight seasons.

9. This group of linebackers scares me. I feel like Mychal Kendricks has a ton of talent, but don’t think he’s ever put together the type of full season he’s capable of. I love what Jordan Hicks did the first half of last year, but I wonder if he can come close to repeating that or if he can stay healthy. Nigel Bradham? Not sure what he brings to the table. And behind that group there’s guys like Najee Goode, Deontae Skinner and Travis Long. There’s talent here, but it’s a precarious group.

THE PREDICTION: By the end of the season, only one of those three linebackers will still be in the starting lineup.

10. It’s silly to make a prediction for the season now, before we even know who’s on the team. But I’m going to do that anyway. I don’t think they’re that bad. But I don’t think they’re that good. I’m a Wentz guy and don’t think the Eagles are really going to accomplish anything substantial until Wentz is behind center. That said, I like Bradford more than most people. I think he’s an adequate NFL starter. But I don’t like his TD-INT ratio and don’t think he can generate enough points against good teams to get the Eagles beyond mediocre. I think the Eagles are missing the elite offensive weapons and defensive playmakers to be a playoff team. In this division, who knows? If the Eagles can go 4-2 in the division and scratch out five wins in their 10 games out of the gate, it could be enough to win the NFC East. But ultimately, I think they’ll fall short. Too many question marks. Too many areas that just aren’t good enough. Too many unknowns with Doug Pederson. The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game in seven years and I fear that number will increase to eight this year.

THE PREDICTION: Eagles go 7-9 this year and finish two games behind the Redskins in the NFC East.