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.

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets and a slew of their supportive fans took over Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon. The Mets posted a 5-3 win over the Phillies and streamed out of the dugout like school children at recess to celebrate clinching a National League wild-card playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season (see Instant Replay).

As the Mets players congratulated each other on the diamond, several thousand of their vocal fans cheered in the stands while Phillies fans headed to the exits longing for those days when their team used to have celebrations on the field.

There was a moment in the game, however, when it did feel like the good ol’ days at the ballpark, a moment when Ryan Howard owned the place like he used to and the Phillies fans drowned out the Mets fans with ease.

It came in the fifth inning when the Phillies were down by two runs and Howard came to the plate and turned on a pitch from Bartolo Colon and sent it into the right-field seats for a game-tying two-run home run. Phillies fans had seen Howard hit homers like this before because many of the 382 he has hit in his career have been clutch shots that have come in big moments, and though the Phillies have long been dead in the standings, this was an important game and thus a big moment because the Mets had a lot to play for and no competitor worth his salt would let another team walk on him.

The game didn’t stay tied long as reliever Patrick Schuster allowed a hit and a wild pitch in the top of the sixth before David Hernandez surrendered a two-run homer to James Loney as the Mets went up for good.

But at least Howard gave the Phillies fans in the house something to cheer about for a short while.

“It was cool,” Howard acknowledged after the game. “I was able to hit the home run, tying the game up. I tried to spoil it for them today a little bit, but they got us, and you’ve got to congratulate those guys because they scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. That’s a good ball club.”

Howard’s home run, of course, was cool for another reason.

It might have been his last as a Phillie.

This is the veteran slugger’s final weekend with the team he helped win the 2008 World Series and a little love-in has developed between him and the fans. They gave him a standing ovation after the homer – his 25th of the season – and he responded with a curtain call.

“It was awesome,” he said. “To be able to hit the home run in the first place and then get the curtain call. To have the fans show that kind of appreciation is a great feeling.”

The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017. On Sunday afternoon, he will play his final game for the Phillies. First pitch is at 3 p.m. The team will make an on-field presentation to Howard at 2:30.

Howard doesn’t know what the team has planned.

“I’m just going to show up and see what happens,” he said. “You know, I think it’ll be something cool. We’ll see what it is. Whatever it brings, I'll embrace it and take it and enjoy it."
 
Howard had spent the previous few days stiff-arming the attention that has come with his final days as a Phillie.

He put his guard down a little after Saturday’s game.

“I’m just taking the weekend as is,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, trying to embrace everything and take it as is. I’m not trying to look too much into anything. Actually, I’m just trying to go out there and win these ballgames. I mean, I’ve said it before, things will hit you when they hit you.”

The Phillies have not been to the playoffs since 2011, their last of five straight trips to the postseason. If anyone needed a reminder of what it used to look like around here, it was on the field after the game in the form of the Mets’ celebration.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin did not watch the Mets celebrate. He’s waiting to experience a celebration of his own.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get back where we need to be and we’re going to be one of those teams, just like the Mets are now,” Mackanin said.

Howard will turn 37 in November. He is the elder statesman on this club and he’s embraced that role in his dealings with younger players.

He used the Mets’ celebration as an opportunity to pass on some advice to the men who are his teammates for one more day.

“You never want to see somebody else celebrate on your home field, but for these young guys it's something where once you’ve seen it, you want to be those guys," Howard said. "When you see the other team out there, you want to be that guy next year. You want to be out there celebrating on your home field or somebody else's field.

“It's tough, but you take that and find a way to use that as motivation.”

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

It appears that Carson Wentz' fanbase in North Dakota is still pretty strong. Before North Dakota State’s game against Illinois State Saturday afternoon, fans were seen walking around the parking lot in Carson Wentz Eagles’ jerseys. 

Wearing Eagles gear at the tailgate was not all, however. A large group of people begun chanting “Carson” over and over to show their love and support for the Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz, along with Eagles practice squad cornerback C.J. Smith, a fellow Bison alum, showed up to North Dakota State's homecoming Saturday.

This is not the first time we have seen North Dakota State fans showing how much they adore Carson Wentz. Going back to the NFL draft, fans were seen on the red carpet wearing North Dakota State Wentz jersey’s and waving flags.

On Sept. 19, when the Eagles played the Bears, North Dakotans traveled to see Wentz play in person.

Clearly, Wentz has a lot of love from his fans back at home, but it is safe to say that Eagles fans love him just as much after he has led them to a 3-0 start.  

It doesn't hurt that Wentz' cousin, Connor, plays for North Dakota State. Connor is a redshirt junior tight end.

John Clark with Connor Wentz

A photo posted by Rob Kuestner (@rkuestner23) on