Fixing the Flyers, Step One: Dont Panic Over a Shortened Season

Fixing the Flyers, Step One: Dont Panic Over a Shortened Season

It seems we’ve been on Peter Laviolette watch practically all
year, waiting for the inevitable to happen. The Flyers are notoriously tough on
head coaches. For instance when the Flyers began the 06-07 campaign with a
1-6-1 record, Ken Hitchcock was handed his walking papers that fast, while
general manager Bobby Clarke stepped down.

Coincidentally that was the only other occasion over the past
18 seasons where the Flyers missed the playoffs. This year the team started a similarly
awful 2-6, and from there we could never quite shake the feeling that Lavvy might
get canned at any moment, until Sunday that is. One day after the final horn
sounded, Paul Holmgren reiterated to reporters the message that he stuck to all
along: this head coach will return.

“Peter Laviolette is the coach,” Holmgren said. “I don’t
know where all this crap came from.”

“Our team played hard until the end,” he said. “Peter is a
strong motivator and a strong tactician. I expect him to lead our team back into
the playoffs next year.”

That doesn’t mean Laviolette won’t be looking over his
shoulder when the Flyers resume their quest for the Cup come October. While you
get the sense there is some legitimate support for the man inside the front
office, it might have as much to do with the fact that Lavvy will only be embarking
on the two-year extension he signed just this last summer, or in other words
saving face.

Still, keeping Laviolette on board (for now) – not to
mention Homer – is also the smart decision, primarily because it’s not the one
being made out of panic. In an 82-game season, eight games represent less than
10% of the schedule. In 2013, eight games was 1/6 of the slate.

Maybe this is the sign of an organization that concedes a
condensed 48-game season is not necessarily a complete representation of where
their hockey club stands today.

More quirks of a 48-game schedule

Make no mistake, nobody is trying to "blame" the shortened
season for the Flyers’ woes. Everyone had to play under the same conditions,
and the guys in Orange & Black simply were not good enough. Their 5-on-5
scoring differential ranked 25th in the NHL, the defense was plagued by constant
complete breakdowns throughout, and for much of the way there was essentially one
goaltender on the roster.

In a normal season though, eight games would not so heavily influence
the final outcome. In a normal season, the Flyers would be six points out of a
playoff spot with 34 contests left to play. And in a normal season, they are
just hitting their stride.

Don’t look now, but Lavvy’s squad started to turn the corner toward the end. Philly won six of their last seven games, and are 10-5 dating back to March 30. At the 48-game mark of an 82-game season, the Flyers would
widely be considered in the midst of their playoff push.

Instead, in a 48-game season every little misstep gets
magnified. It took 16 games, or 1/3 of the season, to figure out Claude Giroux
should be paired with Jakub Voracek. It took until the April 3 trade deadline
to add a truly viable backup netminder in Steve Mason, at which point Ilya Bryzgalov had
played in 22 games in a row – nearly half of the schedule.

Where would they be
if either of those changes had been made in January?

Some things just didn't fall their way

Then there is the matter of 262 man games being lost to injury,
2nd-most in the NHL by some counts, and also more than the Flyers endured in two
of the previous three full seasons (240 in 10-11, 205 in 09-10). Yes, that is an
excuse. Every team has to deal with injuries. But still, that averages out to roughly
five scratches per game – four even if Chris Pronger is removed from the
equation.

As a result the Flyers were forced to lean heavily on young players. By the end of the season, they had been relying on major contributions from as many as a dozen players 25-years-old
or younger, many of whom were in their first or second NHL seasons. Some of them did not enjoy the growth that the team was
counting on to be successful this year, most notably Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.

Remarkably that was yet another area where the Flyers did
not panic. Couturier in particular was linked in potential deals with San Jose
and Ottawa for Ryane Clowe and Ben Bishop respectively. However, Homer was not willing
to give up on the talented 20 year old, even though there was almost an
expectation from fans and observers that a struggling young player would be
moved for immediate help.

2013 was a disappointing hockey season for Philadelphia, one
that exposed some definite issues that need to be addressed. However, 48 games do
not indicate first- and second-year players have hit a wall, and therefore the Flyers need to be reinvented yet again. The actions of the front
office suggest they agree.

So far at least.

Previously: Positive Takeaways from a Lost Flyers Season

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

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Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

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Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.