Flyers Depth on Display, While Penguins Go From Bad to Worse

Flyers Depth on Display, While Penguins Go From Bad to Worse

A look at how once again, scoring depth has been the key to a strong Philadelphia Flyers team. But, another spate of Pittsburgh Penguins injuries begs the question, how deep is any NHL team?

The story underlying the success of the 2011-2012 Flyers to date is that they are once again a club characterized by great scoring depth. Yesterday's chapter saw Danny Briere score three goals, giving him 13 on the season. The game before, James van Riemsdyk was the multiple lamp-lighter, scoring a pair, including the game winner. Prior to those bursts, fans had aired frustrations about each player's lack of production, particularly that of JVR.

What a difference a game makes. While both players are still a bit off pace, they each have the talent and surrounding cast to see their numbers turn around in a hurry. JVR has a ways to go before quieting his doubters, but his brace, Briere's hat trick, and the continued progress of a handful of rookie forwards has sparked a fast turnaround to a sluggish end of 2011.

Aside from losing Chris Pronger for the season and experiencing the usual complement of players missing a few games here and there, the Flyers have been downright lucky compared to their cross-state rivals. Injuries have plagued the Penguins again this season, with Jordan Staal and James Neal joining Sidney Crosby as significant offensive contributors on the shelf today.

Neal, who has stepped up in Crosby's absence and leads the Pens in goal scoring with 21, has a broken foot. Staal could miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury suffered after a collision with Mike Rupp of the Rangers. Neal's timetable is uncertain, but head coach Dan Bylsma places it at "weeks, not days," per the team's web site.

Penguins.com clocks the number of man-games lost so far this season to 210, on pace for 431 and counting.

The Pens were able to weather last season's storm and finish with a share of the division lead, but they've sunk to fourth place after four straight losses to Atlantic foes. On December 29, the Flyers snapped a four-game Pittsburgh winning streak, and the Pens haven't won since, losing four games and three players in a week. While they're far from dead in the water, the Penguins are at least momentarily on the ropes.

With any luck, we won't have to see the Flyers' depth tested in a similar context. But, even if they don't pile up the man-games lost quite at Pittsburgh's pace, the Pens' struggles are a reminder that the Flyers could—and likely will—still face an uphill battle in the war of attrition.

Last season, the Flyers crumbled in the second half, clearly missing Chris Pronger's dominance on the blue line. It was harder to gauge, but it is assumed his lost voice of leadership was also a key void as the team lost momentum, having peaked in January.

As opposed to last season, this Flyers team began its campaign with depth questions. Not necessarily doubts, but questions nonetheless. Pronger's current injuries are new, but his health was never a certainty. And, despite the prevailing sentiment that the haul Paul Holmgren received for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was somewhere between solid and excellent, it was hard to say whether we'd see the potential of the lineup this season.

So far, we certainly have. Despite massive turnover in the forward lines, the Flyers are currently second in the league in goals per game. Last season, they finished in a dead heat at the top, third in total goals but just two below the league-leading Vancouver Canucks. Claude Giroux trades the NHL points leadership with Henrik Sedin and Phil Kessel on a nightly basis, leading a Flyers team that has eight double-digit goal scorers just 39 games into the season. 

Heading into the season, it was believed that for the post-apocalyptic Flyers to succeed, Giroux and JVR would have to ascend to the cornerstone positions vacated by Richards and Carter. Giroux certainly has, arguably already eclipsing the impact either player ever made on a given season. While JVR has rarely shown the dominance he displayed in the 2011 playoffs, which in part earned him a new contract, the fact that the Flyers are still as potent as ever even without him being their 1-B star might actually be a good thing. As dangerous as they currently are, they're not even scoring at their full potential. Plus, one of hockey's top young players, Brayden Schenn, has in the past three games started to turn heads as well while Matt Read continues to hang with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among rookie goal leaders and Sean Couturier currently anchors an all-rookie fourth line that can hit, defend, and score.

From the players on the ice to the man behind the bench and the oft-criticized GM up in the press box, there's plenty of credit to go around. But we don't have to look too far back to the moment when Wayne Simmonds' knee connected with Claude Giroux's head, or more recently, to what's going on in Pittsburgh, to see how quickly the Flyers' depth could  disappear.

It's pointless to dwell on that though. For now, the story is that there is sufficient scoring depth on a nightly basis. One or two lines consistently step up, and the Flyers are in virtually every game they play, the outliers being few.

However, their depth on defense is among the best in the league even without Pronger, and yet still feels perilously thin. Fortunately, blue line anchor Kimmo Timonen was able to keep his ironman streak alive and suit up somewhat surprisingly yesterday, contributing more than 25 minutes of ice time. The back end would look a whole different everywhere from even strength to both special teams units without Timonen, so hopefully he's weathered his wrist injury.

The overall depth of the team will be tested again today, the 5 PM start in Ottawa coming just 25 or so hours after the two teams left the ice in Philly. The Senators will obviously be facing the same tight turnaround, which could make for an interesting third period.

Any guesses as to which Flyers step up to carry the scoring torch this evening? Picking the Standout Star must be as simple as throwing a dart at the lineup right now.

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

The Phillies were beaten, 4-0, by the Washington Nationals on Monday night, but wins and losses don’t matter as much as development in a rebuilding season, so there was a bright spot: Rookie right-hander Jake Thompson finally broke through with a good start in holding the Nats to two runs over seven innings.
 
The Phillies’ offense was not good. It produced just four hits on the night.
 
Washington got all the offense it needed when Jayson Werth, the second batter of the game, homered off Thompson in the first inning.

The Nats lead the NL East at 76-55. The Phils are 60-71.
 
The crowd of 16,056 was the smallest of the season at Citizens Bank Park.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson had struggled in four starts — 9.78 ERA — since arriving from Triple A and there were questions whether he’d even make this start. But he put together a nice outing. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he pitched six straight scoreless innings, finishing his outing with three strikeouts, the last of which came on his 111th pitch when he froze Trea Turner with a breaking ball with two men on base. Thompson allowed seven hits — four in the first three innings — and walked one.
 
Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings to improve to 14-7. He held the Phils to four hits and a walk and struck out five.

Roark is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA (two earned runs in 28 innings) in four starts against the Phillies this season. The Nats are 15-4 in his last 19 starts.

Bullpen report
Frank Herrmann gave up two runs in the ninth.
 
At the plate
Odubel Herrera had two of the Phillies’ four hits.
 
Werth’s homer in the top of the first was his 19th. Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a two-out single in that inning. Clint Robinson and Turner had RBI singles in the ninth to push the Nats’ lead to 4-0.
 
ICYMI
Herrera is staying in center field for the remainder of the season, Pete Mackanin said (see story).
 
Up next
The series continues on Tuesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) pitches against Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92).

Eagles sign Soul DT Jake Metz following workout

Eagles sign Soul DT Jake Metz following workout

Jake Metz has gone from the Soul to the Eagles.

Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski on Monday night tweeted a congratulatory message about the defensive tackle signing with the Eagles.

Metz and Soul wide receiver Darius Reynolds, fresh off an ArenaBowl title last Friday, worked out for the Eagles this afternoon before practice. Metz is the 74th player on the roster, which means the team is still below the next cut line — which is Tuesday at 4 p.m. — of 75. The Eagles' roster has to be at 53 by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3.

Metz, 25, graduated from Souderton Area High School and played his college ball at Shippensburg University. For the Arena Football League champions, Metz posted Soul highs in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (10).

Pete Mackanin says Odubel Herrera will stay in CF this season — but beyond?

Pete Mackanin says Odubel Herrera will stay in CF this season — but beyond?

A couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said there was a chance he could look at Odubel Herrera in a corner outfield spot over the final weeks of the season.

Scrub that idea.

“Not this year,” Mackanin said Monday. “If we decide we're going to do that, we'll encourage him to play a corner in winter ball and then in spring training, if that's what we decide to do.

“I thought about doing that. But I don't know if we want to do that now. We’ll just let him get back on track offensively. I won't say it won't happen here or there. But we're not going to make that move right now.

“Let's try to keep his mind as uncluttered as possible right now. It looks a little cluttered.”

The Phillies have thought about moving Herrera to a corner spot because they have a top center field prospect in Roman Quinn. Also, Aaron Altherr is an excellent defender in center.

Quinn seemed to be on target for a call up after the Eastern League playoffs, but that could be in doubt now that he’s on the disabled list with a concussion.

Still, Quinn may be this club’s centerfielder of the future. And behind him is Mickey Moniak, this year’s top draft pick. He’s a ways away. But it’s worth wondering if the Phillies believe Herrera’s future is at a corner outfield spot. Or whether Herrera will be wintertime trade bait.

Mackanin was asked if he believed Herrera’s future would be in a corner spot.

“You know, I'd rather not really even comment on that,” he said. “I don't want him to think that we're not pleased with him. I just want to keep him confident the rest of the season.”

Herrera’s defense in center field has slipped this season.

“He was better last year defensively,” Mackanin said. “He's made a lot of mistakes this year. I think we've all seen that. But that doesn't mean he's not going to play center field anymore. There's another month left to see what happens.”

Herrera was the Phillies’ lone representative in the All-Star Game. He hit .294 with a .378 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage before the All-Star break. Since then, however, he was hitting .252 with a .314 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage entering play Monday night.