Flyers Descend on Tortured Hockey Haven Toronto

Flyers Descend on Tortured Hockey Haven Toronto

My annual Eagles road trip in 2011 took me to Buffalo, and I don't really feel like talking about what happened there. But as you might imagine, we didn't pick Buffalo because we were interested in spending a weekend there. Instead, we wanted to check out Toronto, which isn't terribly far away. We booked roundtrip travel to Buffalo, but drove a rental across the border, stayed downtown, and did a bunch of touristy stuff I'd highly recommend. 
Toronto is a pretty cool city and a place I'd love to see again soon, hopefully catching a Maple Leafs game the next time around. The major arenas are situated close together, right on the shore of Lake Ontario with the CN Tower looming overhead. After a trip up to the top of the needle, we were in need of some liquid refreshment and a good TV so we could watch some college football. We followed up on a recommendation for the city's best sports-watching experience and checked out Real Sports, which is just across the street from the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs will host the Flyers tonight. 
Below, a look at Real Sports, Xfinity Live, and what's become another lost Maple Leafs season. 
At Real Sports, we caught a glimpse of what is hopefully to come in south Philly at the end of this month. There are some retail stores inside the complex, sports gear, etc., but its centerpiece is a a huge high-end sports bar with an enormous TV screen and countless others all around the room.
The prices were high, but the beer was great and the atmosphere lively. Early in the afternoon, many seats on the floor tables in front of the huge TV were still empty, or more accurately, they were reserved. (We found this odd, as others were being turned away or made to stand in the bar area for hours.) That night, there'd be a Maple Leafs game, and fans had reserved tables for both before and during it. By 6, the place was packed, with every other person wearing a Leafs jersey. 
Say what you will about the team (it's not hard for Flyers fans to conjure their hate for Toronto), but their gear is pretty fantastic, and a room full of it was quite a site. There were two floors and multiple viewing areas, including private party spaces and a balcony bar. Overall,  Real Sports was pretty impressive. Even the rest rooms had a flat screen TV over each urinal and larger TVs in the sink area, some playing college football while others played the last game between the Leafs and that night's opponent, the Ottawa Senators. 
Hopefully Xfinity Live draws a similar crowd when it opens up. After seeing Real Sports, I wondered if it wasn't in some way the inspiration for XL (think 'XL' catches on?). From what I've been told, it will blow Real Sports out of the water, which after seeing some of the expected amenities, it certainly may. However, XL could still have a bit more challenge drawing non-gameday crowds in south Philly, which isn't next door to the city's most popular tourist attraction. 
ETERNAL FALLBack to the Leafs, and the city that, to be honest, deserves better. Maple Leafs hockey is number one in Toronto, and it's not even close. Imagine how painful it must be to have the team be so bad for so long… 
A promising start to the current season has gone up in flames, costing head coach Ron Wilson his job earlier this month. Amazingly, Wilson was given an extension in December. Perhaps a victim to his club's overachievement, he was canned just over three months later. 
The Leafs slid to fourth place in the division, 12th in the conference, and appear likely to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season. Yes, since the lockout, the hockey team from the largest city in Canada has not made the playoffs once. 
And yet, they're still among the league-leaders in attendance. Of course they are. 
Tonight the Toronto fans will see their club host one of the hottest teams in the league, as the Flyers come in on a four-game winning streak. Ilya Bryzgalov will start his 11th straight game, facing Jonas Gustavsson, who is starting his fifth in a row. James Reimer has hit a rough patch, and new head coach Randy Carlyle is staying with the Monster for now. 
One of the bigger surprises of the Leafs' early surge was the play of former Flyer Joffrey Lupul, who was among the league's leading scorers before getting hurt. Loops separated his shoulder in a loss to the Bruins on Tuesday, and he'll miss 3-4 weeks, which is likely the end of the line for Toronto. Colby Armstrong was also hurt that night (broken nose), but he's expected to be ready to go against the Flyers. 
Toronto has won only one of their last nine games, and only two of their last 14. They're in a complete free fall, which hopefully continues tonight. 
The Flyers will again be without Kimmo, Mesz, and Kubina, which so far hasn't been a problem, but the Leafs do pack some scoring punch, so Bryz could be busy if there are any issues on the back end. 

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dave Hakstol likes Wayne Simmonds’ net-front play more than that of any player in the league.

The Flyers' power forward showed on Sunday why his coach thinks that way.

Simmonds’ two power-play goals in front of the crease helped extend the Flyers’ win streak to five, their longest of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night (see Instant Replay).

“If there’s a better guy in the league at net front, whether it’s on power play or 5 on 5, I don’t know who that is,” said Hakstol said after Sunday's victory. “He did a great job there tonight.”

Simmonds’ first goal came when he deflected Jake Voracek’s shot past Juuse Saros, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 18:12 of the first period.

“They had great movement around the top of the box and Jake told me to go back door if he was going to get it for a one-timer,” Simmonds said. “So I stuck my stick out back door and he hit it, and it went in the net.”

Then Simmonds batted a puck through Saros' legs for a 2-1 advantage at 6:47 of the second period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

“It was kind of a little bit of a cluster and the puck comes to me, and I’m alone in front of the net so I just put it five-hole and it worked,” Simmonds said.

The right wing’s father was watching in the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena during the Flyers' annual father-son trip.

“It was nice, obviously,” Simmonds said. “I just went outside and saw him. He didn’t really say much to me, but I know he’s glowing on the inside.”

Simmonds has now scored 10 career goals in 20 games against Nashville.

“What I really like about Simmer is he’s at net-front, he’s scoring goals, he’s on the power play, but he’s a great, hard-nosed, 200-foot player,” Hakstol said.

Simmonds’ goals gave the Flyers an early spark on Sunday.

“It was huge,” said Flyers left wing Michael Raffl, who scored the winning goal at 16:37 of the second period when made a power move on a rush and tucked the puck past Saros. “That gives us all the momentum.”

The Flyers improved to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

“We’re just trying to take care of pucks and maintain the pressure that we have,” Simmonds said. “The next shift up every game is the most important shift and that’s how we’re trying to play it here.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette, a former Flyers coach, wasn’t surprised by his former team’s power-play success. The Flyers entered the game tied for the third best power play in the league cashed in twice on seven chances on Sunday.

“We knew going in that their power play was really good,” Laviolette said. “Their players have a lot of time together and cohesiveness and they’re pretty set in what they do. They bring pucks to the net and when they do that, things can happen. That was a difference in the game tonight.”

Winning goalie Steve Mason has started 10 of the last 11 games. He made 30 saves Sunday to improve his record to 8-8-3.

“This is the situation I want to be in, so it’s a workload that all summer you prepare for even when I was not getting the work load I wanted,” Mason said. “You prepare for it and now that it’s here I’m making the most of it.”

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

WASHINGTON – It looks as if the Phillies will have some action at the winter meetings.

The team is close to signing veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, sources tell CSNPhilly.com. The winter meetings officially begin on Monday. The signing is expected to be announced before the meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, is a veteran of 15 seasons in the majors. He is coming off a strong 2016 season in which he pitched in 51 games for Seattle and Toronto and recorded a 2.81 ERA.

Benoit, a right-hander, has pitched for six teams in his career and has a lifetime ERA of 3.79 in 712 games.

Entering the offseason, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he wanted to improve the bullpen. He opened the offseason by trading for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and last week claimed lefty David Rollins off waivers from Texas. Now, Klentak is poised to add Benoit.

Benoit has pitched mostly in a setup role in his career, but he does have closer experience. It is unclear what role he’d pitch in for the Phillies. The Phils have Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris returning to the back of their bullpen in 2017. Benoit could complement that pair or the Phillies could chose to trade Gomez or Neris. Neris pitched in 79 games in 2016 and had a 2.58 ERA, so the Phillies would only deal him if they were to get a strong package of talent in return.