Fleury, Penguins Grind Flyers to a Nub

Fleury, Penguins Grind Flyers to a Nub

Tough loss, but nowhere near as bad as Game 4. It'd be hard to sink lower than that one… The good news is, the Flyers' effort was leaps and bounds better in Game 5. The bad news is obvious—the Pens are absolutely back in this series after winning a tight battle, 3-2. 
Recappish notes, video, below.  
We're not going to linger too much on this one. It's Friday night after a long week of hockey, and there's not actually a lot to dissect here. After a game like that, the recap is a few more beers and maybe a back yard fire. 
Again buoyed by their success on the power play, the Flyers got out to an early lead in Pittsburgh. The game looked like it would be called tight, which benefits the Flyers so long as they're getting the calls. All three of their Game 4 goals came on first period power plays, and in Game 5, they punched in two more on the man advantage. 
Again, they'd be the only goals the Flyers would score on the night. Five-on-five play wasn't dominated for 60 minutes by the Pens, but they held the even strength advantage on the scoreboard, and that's all that mattered on the night. 
The first period was a tease. The Pens appeared ready to come unglued, taking dumb penalties and paying the price. Deryk Engelland's mauling of Danny Briere led to the first goal, a sharp wrister by Matt Carle. After Steve Sullivan scored on a Pittsburgh power play (after a Braydon Coburn interference we never saw on replay), Evgeni Malkin would take the first of his two dumb penalties. Geno mugged Brayden Schenn into the net, and after Craig Adams was sent to the box for a slash on Jaromir Jagr (one I didn't agree with), the Flyers scored on a 5-on-3 for the second time in the past two games. 
It was gorgeous too, despite the caveat that it was a 5-on-3. Watch how the umbrella draws the Pens' top pair up, then drops the puck down to an open Danny Briere, who saucers a pass over the outstretched stick of Brooks Orpik to Scott Hartnell for the water bottle shaker…

At that point, it felt like the Flyers really had the edge. The second period's been their jam frame all season, but not on Friday night… They looked gassed, with forwards and defenders double-shifting to compensate for injured regulars. 
A pair of Penguins goals in the second changed the landscape in that middle period. Jordan Staal tallied off a great outlet relay from Kris Letang to Tyler Kennedy through the neutral zone, and a Kennedy blast beat Bryz as a weary shift of Flyers failed to challenge an open shooter. 
The power play gravy chain was halted, with only one call for each side in the frame. Malkin went hunting on Sean Couturier and drew a call, but the Flyers couldn't score on the advantage. Fresh out of the box, Malkin put a shot on Bryz, then ran him over, but didn't get a second call. 
The Flyers looked better in the third, controlling play for much of it, but Marc-Andre Fleury came up huge. No matter what they threw at him, he was square to it. In two games, MAF hasn't been beaten at even strength, and two of the five goals he's allowed came on 5-on-3's. 
Neither side scored in the third, and only one penalty was called. After showing a strong hand in the first period, the officials really let them play as the game went on, and it didn't necessarily favor the Flyers. [Watch JVR get mugged in plain sight.]  
To close out this series, they'll need to get their even strength scoring back on track. And, they'll need better luck. They appeared to have MAF beaten a few times early (ping!) and late (whiff!). Connecting on just one of several missed opps would have meant a different game altogether. But when isn't that true? 
Hat's off to MAF for being the difference in a pretty good hockey game. 
Notes:Bryz came up big in the third period, but clearly looks slowed by his pair of injuries. 
How's this for an ice time breakdown for the Flyers: Per Flyers PR, "Matt Carle played 29:40 in the game; Braydon Coburn played 29:11 and Kimmo Timonen 25:01. Pavel Kubina, Andreas Lilja and Erik Gustafsson played 25:52 combined." Hope Nick Grossmann makes it back for Sunday's game 6. 
Riemer was eased back in, playing sparsely early but showing some legs late. He still played just 7:31 in the game. 
At least Malkin put a huge hit on Crosby. Yes, really. 
Game 6 will be at noon on Sunday. 
I've about had it with talking about that pair of losses. Not the end of the world, but the Pens earned their way back into the series, winning the least laughable game of the series to date. The Flyers rebounded in the third though, showing they're nowhere near ready pack it in. 
Photo: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

No. 12 Villanova at Elon: Wildcats eager for CAA road win

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No. 12 Villanova at Elon: Wildcats eager for CAA road win

No. 17 Villanova (3-1, 1-0) at Elon (2-2, 1-0)
Rhodes Stadium, Elon, N.C.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Climbing in the national rankings, Villanova looks for its fourth straight win this weekend in a road CAA contest. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
After a season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, the Wildcats have won three straight, including a 31-14 rout of Lafayette last week. The Wildcats’ defense continued to flex its muscle in that victory with senior defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon scoring on a 25-yard fumble return to go along with his two sacks and sophomore linebacker Jeff Steeb returning an interception 45 yards for a TD. For the season, Villanova’s defense has now scored four touchdowns in four games while its rushing defense ranks 21st in the country, allowing just over 100 yards per game. Offensively, running backs Aaron Forbes and Javon White formed a nice tandem last week with both scoring and Forbes running for a career-high 111 yards on 11 carries.

Scouting Elon
The Phoenix bounced back from two straight losses to start the year with a home rout of Fayetteville State and a massive 27-10 road win over nationally ranked William & Mary last week. Just its second victory over over a top-10 FCS program, Elon was led by a 120-yard, two-TD rushing game from Malcolm Summers and an opportunistic defense that intercepted three passes. Elon does have some question marks offensively with several underclassmen in prominent roles, including sophomore Daniel Thompson, who took over for the injured Connor Christiansen at quarterback after the first game. But Elon’s passing offense still ranks third in the CAA with 206.5 yards per game.

Series history
This will be Villanova’s first-ever game vs. Elon, which joined the CAA in 2014.

Storyline to watch
Kpassagnon, an NFL prospect, was the biggest reason why Villanova extended its winning streak to three, putting all kinds of pressure on Lafayette and setting the tone by scoring a defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He’ll have a chance to do that again and try to rattle a young quarterback early. And he may need to have another big game in what figures to be a low-scoring affair between two hot defenses.

What’s at stake?
Elon and Villanova are among six teams that are 1-0 in the conference, meaning the winner of this game could rise to the top of the conference after just two games.

Prediction
Elon’s win last week was very impressive, but it seems unlikely that this young Phoenix squad can knock off two nationally ranked teams in a row. Villanova 24, Elon 14.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies (70-89) vs. Mets (85-74)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

Just three games remain in the Phillies' season. After a 24-17 start, the season went predictably downhill. However, the Phils have a chance to play spoiler to a big-time rival with the New York Mets in town. Alec Asher is on the hill for the Phillies while Robert Gsellman faces the Phillies for a third times this year.

Here are five things to watch on Friday night.

1. End of the road for the Big Ticket
There are just three games left in Ryan Howard's tenure with the Phillies.

It's been a long ride for Howard. There'll be plenty on Howard this weekend (and there's a pregame ceremony for him on Sunday), but here are some of his stats from his 13 years in Philadelphia.

Howard has hit 381 home runs and has 1,192 RBI with the Phils. He has 10 seasons of at least 20 home runs and has a run of six straight seasons from 2006 to 2011, his first six full seasons, with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. He twice walked more than 100 times in a season and he racked up 276 doubles.

The long-time first baseman has hit 47 home runs against the Mets, his second highest total against any team (52 vs. Atlanta). In 174 games, Howard has 157 hits and 73 walks against the Mets.

Howard goes into the weekend with 197 home runs at Citizens Bank Park. Overall, he's racked up 1,465 total bases at CBP. He has, however, struck out 880 times in 769 games there as well.

2. Playing spoilers
While the Phillies are firmly outside of the playoff race, the New York Mets are in the driver's seat for a wild card spot. The Phillies could have something to say about that.

The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals both won on Thursday while the Mets were off. That leaves the Mets one game ahead of the Giants for the first wild card spot and two games up on the Cardinals for a playoff spot. 

If the Mets win two of three this weekend, they clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game on Wednesday. With one win, they guarantee that they cannot be eliminated this weekend. Their magic number is two to clinch a playoff berth, so a combination of wins and Cardinals' losses can get them into the postseason. 

The Phillies can throw a wrench into the Mets' gameplan with a strong showing this weekend. While they've lost six of seven, the Phillies will likely get up for games with playoff implications. Furthermore, the Mets have the incentive to clinch as soon as possible as to avoid needing Noah Syndergaard to pitch on Sunday, so they can hold him for the National League wild card game on Wednesday.

3. Asher closes out impressive month 
Asher has made four starts since coming up earlier this month and has been much more impressive than his late season stint in 2015. 

After going 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA last year, he's 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA. However, despite picking up a win last weekend against the Mets, he struggled late and left room for improvement. 

Asher began his start Saturday vs. the Mets with a perfect game through three innings. He worked around three baserunners in the fourth inning, but came unglued after a couple errors in the fifth inning. While poor defense is not his fault, it would have been a good sign if he could have picked up his defense. Instead, he barely made it through the inning after four unearned runs.

Normally, a team would look for length out of their starter when handed such a large lead, so Asher only making it through five is disappointing. He still hasn't allowed more than two earned runs and has induced plenty of weak contact with his two-seam fastball.

The Mets will be the first (and only) team he faces twice this season.

4. Third time the charm vs. Gsellman?
Gsellman will be making his seventh career MLB start on Friday and it will be his third against the Phillies.

In two starts against the Phils, Gsellman is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. He has 13 strikeouts against them while allowing 10 hits and three walks. 

All four runs he allowed to the Phillies came in his first start. He had held the Phils to one run over six innings but departed after loading the bases with none out. The Mets' bullpen promptly allowed all three inherited runners to score.

On Sunday, Gsellman dominated, shutting out the Phils for seven innings. He allowed just five baserunners and struck out eight in the 17-0 win. 

The 23-year-old rookie has a 2.56 ERA through seven appearances in the majors. He started the season in Double A, but he will likely get a playoff start if the Mets gets to the Division Series.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have just two extra base hits in 50 plate appearances against Gsellman. They are hitting .222/.271/.267 against him. 

• Eight Phils have hits off Gsellman. Freddy Galvis is 2 for 5 with a double and Jimmy Paredes is 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Michael Conforto hit a home run off Asher last season. No Mets hitter has more than one hit against him, in part because none of them have faced him more than three times.

• The Phillies have 601 runs on the season, the fewest in baseball by 39 runs. The Mets have the fifth worst total with 659 runs.

• Jeanmar Gomez is 0-3 with a 19.13 ERA in September. He's allowed 18 runs (17 earned) in eight innings.