Flyers look to rebound and try not to lay another dud tonight in Tampa

Flyers look to rebound and try not to lay another dud tonight in Tampa

We all knew that the Flyers’ point streak and recent hot stretch would eventually come an end. But man, oh, man was that ever a dud they laid in South Florida on Monday night.

The Orange and Black sleepwalked through the first 40 minutes and could never recover as they were dropped by a particularly bad Panthers team, 3-1, and saw their seven-game point streak come to a screeching halt.

It was a missed opportunity for a precious two points on a night that where the Devils and Rangers lost in regulation and the Penguins gained just a single point. All of those teams sit ahead of the Flyers in what Charles Barkley would likely classify as a “TURRIBLE” Metropolitan Division.

After the game, Scott Hartnell said he and his mates may have “underestimated” the lowly Panthers, but the game saw the Flyers do a lot of the same things they did during their wretched start to the season.

They turned the puck over way too much, had difficulty entering the offensive zone cleanly, overpassed when in the offensive zone, blew glorious power-play opportunities, lost board battles and were generally outhustled by the third-worst team in the league.

The Flyers have an opportunity to prove that Monday’s game was anomaly to their recent play and rebound tonight in Tampa against a surprisingly good-so-far Lightning squad.

There are few storylines heading into this game, most notably Vinny Lecavalier’s return to Tampa as Flyer after 15 years as a franchise pivot for the Lightning and the absence of one of the best hockey players in the world in Steven Stamkos, the lethal Lightning sniper who broke his leg in a somewhat gruesome fashion a few weeks ago.

Go ahead and try not cringe while watching his leg just float around like it’s made out of Jell-O. Consider it my Thanksgiving gift to you all. You’re all welcome!

Anyway, the Lecavalier return angle has been and will continue to be pulverized into the ground and most hockey fans know how important Stamkos, who has scored 13 goals in 19 career games against the Flyers, is to the Lightning.

I’m most interested in seeing how the Flyers respond from Monday’s lousy effort. At the beginning of the year, the Flyers would have likely kept the lousiness rolling along because there just wasn’t any confidence at all.

But this isn’t this isn’t the same Flyers team from the beginning of the year, or so we think.

There’s a sense of confidence around the group now, both internally and from the fanbase. That’s what 13 out of a possible 14 points over seven games will do for you.

Don’t get it twisted, just because Stamkos is on the shelf doesn’t mean the Lightning should be taken any less seriously. The Lightning is still a dangerous team. Tampa has a 15-8-1 record and 31 points, sits second in the Atlantic division and averages the seventh-most goals per game in the league with 2.88 per contest.

This game will be a pretty good test for the Flyers.  Keep in mind that the only team with the winning record the Flyers played during their 6-0-1 stretch was those filthy, rotten, no-good Penguins. But the Flyers did respond nicely to their only loss during that stretch with a 5-2 victory over the Senators in their next game.

“Razor” Ray goes between the pipes tonight for the Flyers. He’s 3-3-0 in six starts this season with a .910 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against average. More recently, Emery is 3-1 in his last four starts and has given up just four goals total in those starts. He has a 6-3-2 record in 11 career games played against the Lightning. Backup netminder Anders Lindback, who is 1-5-0 with a .872 save percentage and 3.47 goals-against average, goes for the Lightning.

The first period should be pretty telling of what to expect the rest of the game. We’ll see if the Flyers come out with that hustle and effort to their game and jump on the ice that they sorely lacked against the Panthers.

I mean, I would have trouble concentrating, too, if there were only like 50 people in crowd like there was on Monday in South Florida. But, whatever, let’s just not lay another uninspired egg tonight, Flyers.

Snap counts: Dorial Green-Beckham's playing time continues to increase

Snap counts: Dorial Green-Beckham's playing time continues to increase

Wendell Smallwood played just seven snaps and had just three carries coming into Sunday's game against the Steelers. 

In his third game, the rookie fifth-rounder from West Virginia led the Eagles in snaps and rushing attempts. 

Smallwood carries 17 times on his 24 snaps — many as the Eagles worked to run out the clock. Smallwood rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown, impressing his teammates along the way (see story). It was the best rushing performance for an Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 

Smallwood and Sproles each had 24 snaps. Kenjon Barner had 12 and starter Ryan Mathews had just eight. After the game, head coach Doug Pederson said Mathews was being evaluated. The running back had an ankle injury not long ago. 

As far as the rest of the offense, the entire starting line and Carson Wentz played all 65 offensive snaps. 

Jordan Matthews led the way for the wide receivers with 55 snaps. Dorial Green-Beckham continues to be more involved, going from 32 percent to 46 percent to 49 percent of offensive snaps on Sunday. He appears to be ahead of Josh Huff in many cases. 

The poor Eagles defense had to play 60 snaps on Sunday after two straight weeks with 52. Last year, the Eagles' defense averaged over 74 snaps per game. 

The Eagles have held the ball for 34-plus minutes in three consecutive games for the first time since 2008. 

What really stands out on the defensive snap counts is that Mychal Kendricks had just nine snaps on Sunday. Kendricks, who came into the game with a broken nose and a quad injury, is still a starter but has been demoted. He's no longer in the team's nickel package. 

Another interesting note is that while Vinny Curry began the spring practices as a starter, he was overtaken by Brandon Graham. Now Graham is playing so well it's hard to take him off the field. Connor Barwin led the defensive ends with 47 snaps on Sunday, followed by Graham's 42. Curry had just 26. Curry got a big contract in the offseason, but is clearly the third D-end. 

Through three games, here are the snap counts for the Eagles' top three defensive ends: 

Barwin — 124

Graham — 115

Curry — 74

Meanwhile, Destiny Vaeao picked up 19 snaps as he continues to show he's a solid depth piece. And Stephen Tulloch got 11 as Jim Schwartz continues a little rotation at linebacker. 

Here are full snap counts from Sunday's game: 

Offense

Allen Barbre: 65 snaps (100 percent)

Brandon Brooks: 65 (100)

Lane Johnson: 65 (100)

Jason Peters: 65 (100)

Jason Kelce: 65 (100)

Carson Wentz: 65 (100)

Jordan Matthews: 55 (85)

Nelson Agholor: 52 (80)

Brent Celek: 45 (80)

Trey Burton: 33 (51)

Dorial Green-Beckham: 32 (49)

Josh Huff: 26 (40)

Wendell Smallwood: 24 (37)

Darren Sproles: 24 (37)

Matt Tobin: 12 (18)

Kenjon Barner: 12 (18)

Ryan Mathews: 8 (12)

Beau Allen: 1 (2)

Stefen Wisniewski: 1 (2)

Defense

Malcolm Jenkins: 60 snaps (100 percent)

Rodney McLeod: 60 (100)

Nolan Carroll: 60 (100)

Ron Brooks: 58 (97)

Nigel Bradham: 56 (93)

Jalen Mills: 53 (88)

Jordan Hicks: 49 (82)

Connor Barwin: 47 (78)

Brandon Graham: 42 (70)

Fletcher Cox: 41 (68)

Bennie Logan: 29 (48)

Vinny Curry: 26 (43)

Destiny Vaeao: 19 (32)

Beau Allen: 17 (28)

Marcus Smith: 13 (22)

Stephen Tulloch: 11 (18)

Mychal Kendricks: 9 (15)

Steven Means: 6 (10)

Jaylen Watkins: 3 (5)

Najee Goode: 1 (2)

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."