29th in the NHL in scoring, hard to take Flyers 'resurgence' seriously

29th in the NHL in scoring, hard to take Flyers 'resurgence' seriously

The Philadelphia Flyers were better in month two of the regular season than in month one, but any talk of resurgence might be a bit overblown. After all, when you get off to a 1-7 start, usually there’s nowhere to go but up.

So up the orange and black have climbed in the standings to a place of respectability, just two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the hot streak that propelled Philadelphia back to relevance is over now, and the Flyers are again looking suspiciously like the scoring-challenged team that the numbers indicate they are.

We’re now one-third of the way through the 2013-14 season, and Philadelphia ranks 29th out of 30 NHL teams in goal scoring, barely averaging north of two per game (2.07). Five clubs are a full goal better. Only the Buffalo Sabres with the worst record in the league light the lamp with less frequency.

It’s no wonder the Flyers haven’t been able to get above the .500 mark. They probably wouldn’t be in the neighborhood at all (12-13-2) if it wasn’t for the sharp goaltending of Steve Mason.

The offense did enjoy a brief outbreak during the month of November, averaging 3.29 goals over a seven-game run in which the club was unbeaten in regulation, going 6-0-1.

In the five games since however, the scoring—or lack thereof—has reverted back to normal. The Flyers are averaging 1.6 goals, and have barely managed to post a 2-3 record over the current span. Most recently, they were shut out by the Minnesota Wild on Monday.

Maybe that will provide a spark much the same way their last goose egg did. Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils blanked Philly 3-0 right before their little run last month.

But Claude Giroux’s comments after their latest loss suggest the confidence level still isn’t where it needs to be, in the dressing room or on the ice. Via Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi for the Inquirer:

“I think we played a good game defensively, and [Ray Emery] did a good job of shutting the door a little bit. We just have to have a little more at the other end."

"Same story as the start of the year; we just need to get more pucks to the net and maybe more traffic and the puck will start going in," Giroux said.

Same story as the start of the year, when it took the Flyers until their 10th game to find the back of the net more than twice in one skate. In fact, take away one decent seven-game stretch, and they still have eclipsed two goals just twice all season—once by virtue of a shootout win.

As if things weren’t bad enough, Vinny Lecavalier is expected to miss his second game in a row on Wednesday with back spasms, this time against a hot Detroit Red Wings team no less. The Wings are riding a four-game winning streak. The Flyers are a weary club in the middle of a six-game road trip.

What’s interesting is the Flyers aren’t at the bottom for shots taken, so it’s not for a lack of attempts. They’re only 19th with 29.1 per contest, and that says nothing for the quality of the shots, either.

Part of the problem is their power play has sunk for some unknown reason. Last season, Philadelphia’s power play was third, resulting in a goal 21.6 percent of the time. This season it’s 23rd, converting on just 14.9 percent, and it’s not like there’s a huge difference in personnel.

Whatever the problem is, it’s real and doesn’t appear to be going away. Any team is capable of getting hot for a couple of weeks, but the Flyers need to find some sustained scoring from somewhere. Sure, they’re in the mix for a playoff berth in a weak conference, but with these laughable scoring totals, who can take them seriously right now?

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.