Crisis Averted for Flyers This Time (and Temporarily?)

Crisis Averted for Flyers This Time (and Temporarily?)

Let’s begin on a positive note for a change. The Flyers did
what they had to on Sunday night, beating an inferior opponent to halt a
three-game skid. They still face a steep climb to get back to respectability,
but at least they stopped the bleeding for the time being.

On the flip side, the boys in the orange sweaters were
flirting with disaster. Clearly the superior team for most of the game –
especially the first 20 minutes – Philadelphia only narrowly escaped the
Buffalo Sabres with a 3-2 victory. Just how close did they come to blowing a
two-goal lead?

Which of these measurements is smaller: an inch, or a tenth
of a second?

What should have been a relatively easy save for Ilya
Bryzgalov on a short-handed rush wound up dancing on the goal line. Luckily
Brayden Schenn was there to sweep away Cody Hodgson’s slapper from above the
faceoff circle after it trickled through the goaltender – not a moment too soon
either with Hodgson looking to finish the play.

Bryz has been getting a ton of grief lately, but looked
strong in this tilt even if Schenn did have the save of the night. Billy stopped
18 of 20 shots despite making his second start in as many days.

Besides, it’s not like this near-miss was the sole reason Buffalo
nearly closed the gap. The Sabres were given multiple shorthanded opportunities
on Flyer power plays down the stretch – one of which Jochen Hecht was able to
beat Bryzgalov on – while a dumb boarding penalty against Luke Schenn put his
mates in a tough spot as the third period was winding down.

Yet they survived.

Simon Gagne slipped his second score of 2013 past Ryan
Miller on a breakaway early in the first period, while Max Talbot tallied a
shorty of his own off a beautiful feed from Ruslan Fedotenko. Buffalo cut the
deficit to one before intermission, but Claude Giroux opened up round two with
a quick goal on the man advantage, blowing right through Buffalo’s
penalty-killing unit to set up that sweet wrister.

For Giroux, it was goal number eight this season. Kimmo
Timonen picked up his second assist of the night, giving him 16 – only two
defensemen in the NHL have more.

The important thing is the Flyers took care of business, and
prevented the sky from falling for a few more days at least. Picking up two
points on the lowly Sabres doesn’t signify a whole lot right now though, not
after losing to the Rangers, Penguins, and Bruins in succession, not when a
home-and-home with the Devils looms this week.

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Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

ATLANTA — The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves — No. 157 of 162 — ranked last in the majors in runs scored (591) and were hanging out near the bottom in a slew of other important offensive categories.
 
The stat sheet says the Phillies need more offense.
 
So does the manager.
 
Pete Mackanin plans to make his case for adding a bat this winter — the best fit would be in the outfield — in an end-of-season meeting with the front office Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
 
“Basically, having talked to the rest of the coaching staff, we’re all pretty much in agreement with what our needs are,” Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m anxious to hear from (general manager) Matt Klentak and from (president) Andy MacPhail and if there’s an owner there. We’d like to hear what they have to say. We’re pretty much in agreement on a lot of what we need.
 
“I, for one, think we need at least one hitter that gives you quality at-bats.”
 
There could be hurdles in adding a bat. Money is not one of them. All of the team’s big contracts will be gone when Ryan Howard rides off into the sunset on Sunday. The team that spent over a half-billion in salaries from 2012 to 2014 (and missed the playoffs each time) has plenty of money and has vowed to spend it in due time. But that time might not arrive until team leaders believe the club has built a nucleus that would benefit from the signing of a "finishing" talent or two. The team is committed to building that nucleus from within, and there lies the potential hurdle in adding the difference-making bat that Mackanin craves. Building from within requires eventually giving players from the system an opportunity to prove themselves and grow at the major-league level. The front office, still very much committed to a rebuild, will be cognizant of blocking those players (the list includes Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens and others) and their opportunities. Klentak has said as much on several occasions this year.
 
Even Mackanin acknowledged that the situation is a Catch-22.
 
“I know I don’t want to block a prospect that has a chance to be a big part of it,” he said.
 
“But at the same time, I think by having one guy in the middle of the lineup or somewhere in the lineup that can take a little pressure off (Maikel) Franco and (Odubel) Herrera and the rest of them could do wonders. You look at when (Matt) Kemp joined the Braves. They all went off. They’re all hitting. They’ve scored more runs than anybody, I think, since the All-Star break. Last year, with (Yoenis) Cespedes, he joined the Mets and all of a sudden they all started hitting.
 
“I will give those examples. I feel that’s important.”
 
A number of outfield bats will be on the free-agent market this winter. Cespedes could be there if he opts out of his contract with the Mets, but he’s not likely to be interested in joining a rebuilding team and the Phillies are unlikely to want the long-term commitment a player like that would require. Dexter Fowler and Matt Holiday could be free agents if their options for 2017 are not exercised. Ian Desmond will be out there, but the Rangers will probably look to retain him. Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Colby Rasmus will also be out there. Martin Prado is the type of “professional hitter” that would appeal to Mackanin, but he agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.