Danny Briere! Flyers Take Game 1 in OT

Danny Briere! Flyers Take Game 1 in OT

The Flyers were outplayed early and surrendered a goal in the first five minutes, but turned the game around in the second period and won on the strength of Danny Briere and Claude Giroux goals. Anyone upset at the fact that we just watched the hockey equivalent of a live-action rerun? 
Didn't think so… 
Briere netted a pair, including the winners in overtime. Winners? Well, kinda… 
A look back at the Flyers' 4-3 win to start the Eastern Conference Semifinals below. 
Rust? Or Just Flyers Hockey?When the Devils started the game seemingly in full control and scored the opening goal just 3:16 in, the temptation was to say they were rusty after being off all week while the Devils' series went the distance. 
Great forechecking pressure by New Jersey forced a Matt Read turnover that led to the goal. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias came at him from both sides behind the net, and Read tried to reverse it, but Elias stole the puck and found Parise in front for a gimme. 1-0 Devils… 
Jake Voracek took a slashing call just after the goal, and New Jersey kept the pressure up, outshooting the Flyers by a 11-0 count to start the game and 15-6 in the first period. Again, if you were worried, I'm guessing you didn't see the opening round. 
The Devils powerplay looked like the unit that set a new mark for efficiency in the regular season in the first period. The Flyers couldn't even get set up let alone put together scoring chances. 
Games aren't won in the first period, nor are they lost, but Ilya Bryzgalov kept the game tight with some big saves early. He had trouble playing the puck when outside of the crease repeatedly on the afternoon though too. His adventures out of the net would be a problem in this one though, one worth some coaching time before game 2 on Tuesday. 
Meanwhile, Martin Brodeur was strong with his play outside the crease early. The Flyers had success against the Penguins when they dumped, chased, and won battles along the boards, but Brodeur wasn't having that. He's been known for as a great puckhandler throughout his career, though he did make some mistakes later. 
Briere and JVR Get It StartedThe Flyers were lucky to survive the first period down just a goal, and that goal came on a pretty awful giveaway at that. The second period has been a strength for them all season, and it was again on Sunday. Briere scored his sixth of the playoffs on a breakaway sprung by a great pass from his new linemate Voracek. Vorch was the recipient of one of several terrible mistakes off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk, and he threaded a perfect pass to Danny's tape. Briere had a defender on his back but burst ahead and found daylight to Brodeur's left side. 
Thirty-seven seconds later, James van Riemsdyk opened his playoff account. The opportunity came when Brodeur misplayed a puck of his own, sending it from behind the net to Erik Gustafsson. Gus put a dangerous shot on net, but Marty made a great save. He couldn't stop JVR from putting home the rebound though… 
Everything appeared to be coming up Milhouse for the Flyers until a poor call led to a Devils power play. Adam Henrique made a strong play to strip Brayden Schenn of the puck at the point, then skated the length toward the Flyers' goal. Matt Carle appeared to effectively and cleanly slow him down and force him off his stride, but Carle was whistled for hooking despite making only minimal, transient contact. 
On the ensuing power play, Bryz missed on an attempt to slow the puck behind the net, then struggled to regroup back in front as Kovalchuk sent a pass to Parise, who scored. 
The Flyers were buzzing in the third period again, and an Andy Greene penalty allowed
them to get the power play rolling. The dominance of the Devils' PK had waned, and the power play unit set up well in the final period and eventual overtime. Claude Giroux got on the board for the seventh time in the playoffs, third on the man advantage, after winning a draw back and getting to the open area. Scott Hartnell passed up a possible shooting opportunity to dish back to Kimmo Timonen at the point, and Kimmo found G, who one-timed a blistering shot high over a besieged Brodeur. 
3-2, Flyers…
Trying to keep things calm and protect a late lead, Peter Laviolette called a timeout after his team iced the puck with 8:57 left. This time, the TO didn't work. 
A Voracek giveaway ended up being the secondary assist on the Devils' equalizer, as David Clarkson sprung old man Sykora, who looked up at Bryz, licked his lips, and fired one past him. 
For some clubs, that might have been a damning change in momentum. Another goal off a turnover, and this time, a pretty soft goal to boot. Not taking anything away from Sykora, but that's a save that must be made. At the other end, Marty made some huge saves late, including some key stops on JVR and Briere, who were buzzing all game. 
The OT…Both teams were unbeaten in overtime during their opening round series, with the Devils winning twice and the Flyers once. However, the Devils were only in OT in game 7 because of a late Panthers power play goal was scored after Marek Zidlicky put the puck over the boards in his zone. On Sunday, he did the same, only in overtime. Sean Couturier and Max Talbot applied the pressure, and Zidlicky just buckled. 
On the power play, the Flyers continued to get great pressure, with JVR and Briere seemingly on every puck. Briere appeared to push home the game winner, so much so that the "Hot Hot Hot" played, but the goal was correctly ruled to have been scored on a kicking motion. Personally, I think it's time the league allowed those too, but until then, this wasn't a good goal. The next one unquestionably was. 
The Flyers kept the pressure up, keeping most of the same personnel on late. JVR managed three straight attempts in tight on Brodeur, but all were stopped. After another Devils failed clear, Voracek found an open Briere at the point, and Danny blasted one through a great screen by JVR. 
Game. Danny B with his NINTH playoff game-winner as a Flyer. 
Notes:After getting outshot 11-0 to start the game, the Flyers ran up a 36-15 count the rest of the way. 
Giroux and Briere now each have 7 goals in as many games this postseason. 
Ilya Kovachuk was brutal in the game. While Philly fans often gripe about having to endure announcers' verbal fellating of opposing stars like Sidney Crosby, they were pretty hard on Kovalchuk with good reason. He was a turnover machine, and his giveaways were certainly costly. He may be playing hurt, but he also just made some very poor decisions. You won't get away with that against any Flyers unit. 
Marty Brodeur was annoyed what he perceived to be too much Flyers activity in his crease, including by JVR on the final goal. However, he got away with pummeling JVR earlier, shoving his head into the ice from behind while #21 was down. 
Pretty safe to say this is a Jersey Foul
We'll be back with some more later/tomorrow, but for now, it's time to enjoy a few (more) beers to celebrate a 1-0 series lead.  

With rotation gone, Mychal Kendricks preparing for comeback season

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With rotation gone, Mychal Kendricks preparing for comeback season

Getting in a rhythm, getting in a flow, is important for Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. 

Really important. 

“That’s everything,” Kendricks said after Tuesday’s OTA practice. “It truly is.”

That’s why last season was so tough on the veteran linebacker. Under former defensive coordinator Bill Davis and head coach Chip Kelly, Kendricks was forced into a rotation with DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso, and later Jordan Hicks. 

In a year when he did nurse a hamstring injury for a few weeks, Kendricks played just 52 percent of defensive snaps in 2015. After playing all 77 snaps in the opener, Kendricks never got above 90 percent again and didn’t play more than 70 percent of snaps in any of the last five games of the season. 

That’s quite a departure for someone who is widely considered to be a three-down linebacker. In 2014, Kendricks played 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps in seven games. 

“I just feel like it was too much hot and cold, with all the players rotating in and out and whatnot,” Kendricks said about his 2015 season. “No one was able to get in the flow. It was odd. But I didn’t feel like I played as good or as much. For the time that I was in, I feel that my numbers were OK. But it’s hard to be a force or something to reckon with when you’re not on the field.”

Kendricks admitted the rotation was tough on him, but did what he was told. 

This season, he’s not expected to be in a rotation. For now, he’s the team’s starting weakside linebacker, while Jordan Hicks is in the middle with Nigel Bradham on the strongside. All three, however, are versatile and could be moved around. 

“All of those guys are pretty much interchangeable,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “And you have to be now.”

Aside from the rotation at inside linebacker a year ago, Kendricks also dealt with another injury. He basically missed a total of four weeks in 2015 with a lingering hamstring injury. In 2014, Kendricks missed four games with a calf injury. 

While Kendricks has never made a Pro Bowl, before last season, when healthy, he has played to that level. In fact, making the Pro Bowl is a personal goal for Kendricks this season. 

“I feel like if I stay healthy, you’ll see me in the Pro Bowl,” he said. “Those are things that you can’t control. Unfortunately, a couple times, I’ve fallen short of my personal goal because of an injury. No one wants that. I’m not making any excuses or anything, that’s just what it is. 

“I used to beat myself up over that, but as you get older and you start understanding the game, you know that there’s some things that you just literally do not control. You can’t beat yourself up over it.”

If Kendricks does get named to the Pro Bowl this season, his production will match the four-year, $29 million contract extension he signed before the 2015 season began. 

From the outside, it seems possible that Kendricks’ new contract might have been a factor in his decline last season, but the linebacker doesn’t seem to think it played much of a role. 

“Have I thought about it? Yeah,” Kendricks said. “But then I look back at all the scenarios that could have played an effect. I got paid and I didn’t play as much as I’d like to. It could have went both ways. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have played at all. I don’t know. Sometimes the grass is greener; sometimes the grass isn’t greener. I’m not a fortune teller or a future teller, I just go with my gut.”

Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

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Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Forward

Height/Weight: 6-foot-10/239 pounds

School: LSU

The 19-year-old Australia native was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he ever took the court for LSU. Here we are less than a month from the draft and that still may very well be the case.

It's hard to ignore Simmons' production in his only season with the Tigers: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. The 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills was named SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the conference's first team. But for all his personal accolades, Simmons' team failed to make the NCAA Tournament after taking a 71-38 whooping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. He's been criticized from everything to his lack of maturity to his inability to shoot consistently from the outside.

Strengths
It's so rare to see a player of Simmons' stature with the ability to handle and see the court so well. Watching Simmons grab the ball off the rim and then go the length of the floor to either finish or find the open man is a thing of beauty. I love how smooth he is. It looks effortless for him. You almost forget he's 6-foot-10. His basketball IQ is excellent. He forces contact down low with his big body and draws fouls. His rebounding ability should translate very well to the next level.

He has the ability to guard multiple positions with his length and athleticism... if he's motivated. His size is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. A traditional four will struggle with his quickness. He'll be able to take a lot of wings down low and punish them in the post.

Weaknesses
The biggest thing is his shot. It's been well-documented. His three-point output in college: 33 percent. As much as that number reflects a weakness, he's at least self-aware. He knows his weaknesses. His free-throw percentage (67 percent) is just OK. The good news is, if you actually watched him shoot, this isn't a total rebuild.

Are the maturity and competitiveness concerns legitimate? I don't know. It's a 19-year-old kid we're talking about. The Sixers will have to decide if those concerns are something he'll outgrow or a serious red flag going forward. Playing under Brett Brown, who coached Simmons' father in Australia, would hopefully mitigate some of the concern.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
This is a really interesting question that I'm not sure anyone has the answer to yet. At 6-foot-10, he almost has to play the four, but where does that leave Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? There could be nights where Brown could get away with playing Simmons on the wing given his ball skills. But it might be a struggle for Simmons defensively depending on the matchup. In any case, Simmons will need a shooter/scorer or two in the lineup to complement his skill set.

NBA comparison
This is next to impossible. How many players have there been that are built like power forwards but handle like point guards? Magic Johnson is a lofty comparison, but Lamar Odom may not be quite strong enough. Much like Simmons, Magic was not a shooter (19 percent from three in his first nine years in the NBA), but at 6-foot-9, Johnson was one of the greatest facilitators in league history. If Simmons is somewhere between Johnson and Odom, the Sixers will be just fine.

Draft projection
I'd be shocked if the Sixers don't take Simmons at No. 1. It's the right call.

Union-Orlando City SC 5 things: First-place test for Jim Curtin's club

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Union-Orlando City SC 5 things: First-place test for Jim Curtin's club

Union at Orlando City SC
7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Union’s roll continued last weekend with a win over D.C. United in extra time, giving Jim Curtin’s club nine points in its last five games and a spot atop the Eastern Conference standings. But that momentum will be tested starting Wednesday night when the Union (5-3-3) make a quick turnaround to take on Orlando City SC (3-3-5) at the Camping World Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Defending first place
At first it was a fluke, then a random hot streak. But at the near quarter mark of the 2016 season, the Union are riding high in first place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s match against Orlando City SC.

“I’ve always believed that you start to get an assessment of your group after about a third of the games,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “That’s a good barometer. We are starting to form an identity as a team that’s very tough to break down defensively and is a very good home team. Now, we need to carry that mentality on to the road.”

That mentality, the one that’s helped the Union to a 5-3-3 record, is about consistency on the defensive side of the ball. The Union have given up only 11 goals in 11 games, good for second in MLS.

“We’re a team that’s going to be tough to score against,” Curtin said. “One goal against per game is good — that’s good goalkeeping and that’s good defending. There’s some things you’re starting to see that maybe define us and give us a little bit of identity.”

With nine points in their last five games, the Union take their hot run on the road, where they haven’t been good. First up, Orlando City SC on Wednesday and then the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids on Saturday. The Union are 1-3-1 away from Talen Energy Stadium.

“Two very hostile places, two very good teams,” Curtin said. “We’ll take every player on our roster on the trip, which is unique. We haven’t done that before. We are a deep team and everyone is going to contribute.”

2. Blake’s availability
The big question for the Union entering their two-game road swing was would star goalkeeper Andre Blake play after being called up to the Jamaican national team for the Copa America tournament? And if so, would he make both games?

Curtin had the answer on Wednesday, stating that Blake will play in both road matches (see story).

“Jamaica’s been excellent with us,” he said. “What is best for both parties is that he is with us up until [June 1]. The Columbus game is the only game he’ll miss.”

And that’s good news for the Union. Blake has been stellar this season, often making game-saving stops a habit on the road to three shutouts and a 76.1 save percentage — placing him among the best in MLS.

“He’s a big part of us getting points,” Curtin said. “Going into two hostile environments knowing that he’s going to be in there is very valuable.”

3. Orlando’s momentum
Despite just one win in their last seven games — a run that includes a 2-1 loss to the Union — Orlando City is still keeping pace in the East by way of three draws over that same span.

But coming off a win over the Montreal Impact, and in the midst of four home games of five matches, the Florida club wants to go from staying afloat to rocketing up the standings.

“Any time we step on the field, we’re looking to get three points,” Orlando’s Kevin Alston said. “For us, we want to build off of last game and move forward.”

But they have to go through the Union first to get that momentum rolling.

“They are a confident team,” Orlando coach Adrian Heath said. “You can see it’s a happy camp. They keep working hard, they don’t give in, it’s gonna be tough because they are coming here with confidence.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: The Union are a better team with Vincent Nogueira in the midfield. Which made it even more concerning when the Frenchman went out with an oblique injury prior to the match against D.C. United last Friday. And though Nogueira isn’t believed to be seriously injured, he, along with Ilsinho, will be a question on Wednesday. “I honestly don’t know whether they’ll be available by Wednesday,” Curtin said. “We’ll assess after Wednesday’s game and see what it looks like for Colorado.” If Nogueira can’t go, the Union will likely go with the same midfield lineup as they did against United, with Warren Creavalle in Nogueira’s spot and Brian Carroll sitting deeper as defensive mid.

Orlando: At 21 years old, Cyle Larin is already one of the most dangerous strikers in the league. He scored 17 goals in 24 starts in his rookie campaign and is continuing his ridiculous pace with six goals in nine starts this season. And the Union have taken notice. “He’s a great striker, one I rate very highly,” Curtin said. “We dodged a bullet because he wasn’t in the last time we played, so it’ll be a real challenge to shut him down, especially in their building.”

5. This and that
• The Union are undefeated against Orlando City all-time with a 2-0-1 record.

• Orlando City’s star midfielder Kaka came alive last weekend, notching two assists in his club’s 2-1 win over the Impact. Heath noted that as Kaka goes, Orlando goes, leaving Curtin to wish the legendary player was invited to the Brazilian national team for the Copa America tournament, missing the match. “Yeah, I’d rather play them without Kaka, for sure,” Curtin laughed.

• Dating back to Aug. 1, 2015, Orlando City is unbeaten at Camping World Stadium. The club is 6-0-6 in its last 12 matches at the venue.