Flyers continue home stand tonight against terrible Sabres

Flyers continue home stand tonight against terrible Sabres

So you think the Flyers had an awful start to this season?

I call your thoughts on the Flyers bad start and raise you tonight’s Wells Fargo Center visitor, the terrible Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres are essentially the NHL’s version of a tire fire that’s been burning out of control for the season’s first two months.

They enter tonight’s contest with a league-worst 5-17-1 record and a league-low 11 points. If that’s not bad enough, things have gone so far downhill in Western New York that Sabres’ owner and Penn State hockey arena namesake Terry Pegula canned not only head coach Ron Rolston but also general manager Darcy Regier for the cherry on top last week.

Former Sabres and Islanders head coach Ted Nolan – who, before last week, last coached the Sabres in a 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinal loss to the Flyers – was tabbed to replace Rolston while former Sabres great and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine was named president of hockey operations.

They’ve also had a guy –Patrick Kaleta – suspended 10 games for repeated head shots, their goon – John Scott – suspended seven games for a head shot of his own and saw their best player – sniper Tomas Vanek – traded to the Islanders last month.

Poor Buffalo. It’s basically like North American sports purgatory.

On the other hand, the Flyers have turned it around since all kinds of turmoil swirled around them to start the year.

After Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Senators, the Flyers are now 8-7-2 under Craig Berube since he replaced Peter Lavilotte behind bench after the third game of the season. More recently, the Flyers are 4-0-1 in their last five games and have earned nine of a possible 10 points in those games to find themselves back in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race.

There are no nights off in the NHL, but tonight’s game against the Sabres, who come in with a 3-8 road record, is as close to a “gimmie” as there is going to be in the league.

The Sabres are easily the lowest-scoring team in the league with 1.70 goals scored per game. The Flyers used to hold that dubious distinction but are now averaging an even 2.00 goals per game with 18 tallies during this five-game mini hot streak.

Goal scoring is at such a premium for the Sabres that every single player currently on their roster that has played more than one game has a minus rating. Eh, not so good.

The key for the Flyers tonight should be getting off to an early start. So far this season, the Sabres have been outscored an astonishing 31-4 in the first period. That’s a beyond dreadful minus-27 goal differential in the opening period. Don’t be surprised then to see the Flyers get up by a few early and force the Sabres to try and climb back in the game. As you may be able to surmise, they aren’t so good at climbing back into the game.

The Sabres still have goalie Ryan Miller, though. And while he hasn’t been as good as he has in the past, that’s in part to a crummy defense in front of him. He’s faced 599 shots – second-most in the league – in 16 games played. Keep in mind, he’s playing not only for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team come February but also maybe for a trade out of the hot mess that is Buffalo right now. The Flyers can’t sleep on him.

“Razor” Ray Emery gets the nod in net tonight for the Flyers. It’s a great chance to get Emery some tick after the way he played against the Penguins last Wednesday and give Steve Mason some rest with four games in six days coming up after tonight. Emery is 11-6-1 in his career against the Sabres.

Long story short, there are two important points just sitting on the table tonight for the Flyers against this awful Sabres team. As long as the Flyers show up tonight, they should be able to keep the momentum rolling.

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

Phillies want 2 bats for Velasquez, deal unlikely at this point; Tigers check on Hellickson

ATLANTA – Two days before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies have several pitchers who could be on the move.

The market for Jeremy Hellickson, Saturday night’s starter against the Braves, remains alive. The Phillies have received several offers, but nothing yet to their liking. A strong start against Atlanta on Saturday would certainly help the right-hander's value.

The Phillies had talks with Miami about Hellickson, but the Marlins filled their need for starting pitching by acquiring Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego earlier in the week.

Pittsburgh, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, the Dodgers and others remain in the market for starting pitching. The Detroit Tigers could be a team to watch on Hellickson. They had a scout come in to watch Hellickson pitch in Atlanta on Saturday night.

The headline-grabbing name on the Phillies’ trade front remains Vince Velasquez. Major league sources continue to tell CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies have had meaningful trade discussions with the Texas Rangers involving the power-armed right-hander.

Sources say a deal is unlikely at this time because the Phillies are seeking a high price and the Rangers could use their prospect resources in their quest to add a more established pitcher like Chris Sale or Chris Archer or a catcher like Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy. But it remains noteworthy that the Phillies have made Velasquez available for the right price.

What is that price?

Sources say the Phillies would like to get two hitters from Texas’ bounty. One of those hitters must be ready to play in the majors now and the other must be close. The Rangers have a number of hitters who fit this description. Outfielder Nomar Mazara is almost certainly untouchable. (He was last year in the Cole Hamels talks). Power-hitting outfielder Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielder Lewis Brinson would probably fit the Phils’ wish list.

A source described the Phillies as being “pretty deep” in talks with Texas. The Rangers even dispatched a top scout to watch Velasquez pitch in Atlanta on Friday night. The scout was not in attendance for Saturday night’s game.

Relievers David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez are also in play in the last couple of days before the deadline. The Giants, who need bullpen help, have had scouts tailing the Phillies for a couple of weeks.

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not report to training camp Saturday.

Entering his fourth pro season, Hopkins is holding out for a new contract. He is scheduled to make $1 million in salary in the final season of his rookie contract, though the Texans have picked up his fifth-year option.

Hopkins can be fined up to $40,000 for every day he misses camp.

He comes off a huge season with 111 receptions, 1,521 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns despite inconsistency at quarterback and few other receiving options on the Texans.

Houston general manager Rick Smith said in a statement: "We are disappointed DeAndre has elected not to report to training camp with the rest of his teammates. He has expressed his position regarding his contract status, and we have been clear with both he and his representatives of ours. Our focus is on the 2016 season and all of our collective efforts and attention will be centered on that endeavor."

Hopkins was the 27th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Clemson. He has started all 48 games in his career, making 239 catches for 3,533 yards and 19 touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season.

49ers: Offensive lineman Anthony Davis reinstated by NFL
SAN FRANCISCO -- Right tackle Anthony Davis was reinstated by the NFL on Saturday after an 11-month retirement that he planned to come back from all along.

The San Francisco 49ers made the announcement ahead of their first day of training camp Sunday under new coach Chip Kelly.

Davis was the 49ers' first-round draft choice, the 11th overall pick, in the 2010 draft out of Rutgers. He was affected by a concussion late in the 2014 season.

On June 5, 2015, at age 25, Davis announced his retirement in another surprising offseason departure last year for the 49ers. He became the fourth prominent San Francisco player to retire in a three-month span, joining linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland and defensive end Justin Smith. The announcement came four days before the team's mandatory June minicamp.

Also Saturday, San Francisco placed nose tackle Ian Williams on the reserve/non-football injury list (see full story).

Bears: LB Willie Young signs to 2-year extension
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears signed outside linebacker Willie Young to a two-year contract extension on Saturday.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The 30-year-old Young signed with the Bears two years ago after spending his first four seasons with division-rival Detroit. He had a career-high 10 sacks that year before tearing his Achilles tendon in December, but bounced back to play in 15 games with 6 1/2 sacks last season.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.