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

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.