Flyerside Chat: Rev and Matt's Flyers-Sabres Playoff Preview

Flyerside Chat: Rev and Matt's Flyers-Sabres Playoff Preview

With the Flyers set to embark on their 2011 playoff odyssey on home ice tonight, Rev and I thought we'd touch on a few of the bigger questions facing the team heading into the opening round. The Sabres are a good team that could be dangerous coming out of the same seventh seed the Flyers rode to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Flyers have a team built to win it all. We should be in for one hell of a series. 

Matt: Starting off with a look at the past, the Flyers have faced the Sabres as much as any other team in their playoff history, including defeating them in the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals. Personally, I'm not one to put much weight on past outcomes when trying to get a handle on what's about to happen, and the previous matchups between these two are somewhat dated given the current rosters. I mean, a young Brian Boucher beat Buffalo over 10 years ago, and the Sabre who scored an OT winner in 2006 just had his career-best goal scoring season—as a Flyer.

Do you think past playoff series are a factor when there's this much time between them and any bad blood harborers have either retired or are on other teams entirely? I could see if they'd played last season, or even the year before, but with all the personnel turnover, is there any reason besides the fun of reminiscing to dig through the past series for meaning?

Rev: No. Unless of course the post-traumatic stress of Roman Cechmanek suffering a meltdown against Buffalo gives you enjoyment. Other than providing a convenient walk-down-memory-lane pre-series talking point, the past playoff history between these teams means absolutely nothing. It's fun for fans to discuss, but much like those money management commercials on TV are forced to state, "past performance is not an indicator of future success." However, I'll never tire of the memory of John LeClair being credited for a goal which went through a hole in the outside of the mesh net against the Sabres back in the 2000 playoffs. It almost makes me feel bad for Buffalo.

Matt: Although for the moment Brian Boucher isn't penciled in to play a major role in this series, Danny Briere very likely could. His best moments last year came in the postseason, when he led the Flyers' top scoring line. Known for being clutch in the playoffs, Danny also seems to enjoy playing against his former club, with 3 goals and 5 assists in 4 games this season and 15 points in 18 career games versus Buffalo. The Briere-Hartnell-Leino line slowed down a bit after Danny's appearance at the All-Star Game, but he and Hartnell seemed to catch a little fire down the stretch. I doubt will see last year's playoff numbers from this line, but  I do expect them to set the tone in the opening series.

Rev: The Flyers obviously struggled down the stretch. They enter the playoffs having won just seven of their last twenty. I don't think anyone would argue that they played with any sense of urgency over the last month or so. Do you have any faith that they can simply flip the switch and up their intensity?

Matt: Midway through what was an amazing run for most of the regular season, it didn't feel like we were going to have to worry about this. Fortunately, it was only this time last year where we saw that they can in fact flip the switch the moment the playoffs begin. As excitingly improbable as that run was though, I didn't want to have to count on it twice in two years. The other thing in play here is that the Sabres are coming in pretty hot, having won four straight and eight of their last ten. The end of the regular season doesn't benefit the Flyers in this season, if it factors in at all. 

Also, not to beat a dead horse, but removing the shootout and OTL-point safety net that hangs beneath each regular season game may also change the stakes once the playoffs start. Mixed into the awful stretch to end the season was a four-game string of shootout decisions. That's over now, and I'm hoping, perhaps foolishly, that knowing these win-or-go-home games will be decided by actually playing hockey will benefit the Flyers, who seemed to forget that something was on the line as the season wore on.

Rev: I am all over the place on this. On the one hand they have a ton of depth and talent. They won their division, finished second in the conference, and are coming off of a pretty remarkable regular season. You pretty much have the exact same group of guys who made the run to the Finals last season. They've paid the price and know what it takes to win in the playoffs. I hate saying this, but based on their performance and Peter Laviolette's less than rigorous practice schedule down the stretch it certainly seemed like they were pacing themselves. So, perhaps they will be able to flip that proverbial switch.  On the other hand playoff seeding means less in the NHL playoffs than any other sport. It seems like teams who have to scratch and claw to make the playoffs, who play with a level of urgency night in and night out, enjoy more success in the postseason. I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but it certainly feels that way. You'd think that their improbable comeback against Boston last season would have earned them the benefit of the doubt in terms of their heart and willingness to go all in, but you never know.  Can you tell I have absolutely no idea what to expect?

Matt: No doubt. And while I'd love to still have that feeling I had a few months ago, when I was sure the Flyers were among the absolute elite in the league, uncertainty breeds excitement too. I'm definitely not in the "one and done" camp, though I imagine that's true of most fans.

Moving on, the Flyers once again enter the playoffs without the mythical "true number one goalie." Although Sergei Bobrovsky has earned a lot of fans in a fine rookie season, the guy at the other end of the ice is without a doubt the type of established, dominant goaltender that Flyers fans have sought for two decades (although 2010-2011 wasn't quite as good as his Vezina-winning season in the prior campaign). No one, including me, is giving the Flyers a check mark in the goalie matchup. But this team wasn't built to rely on its goalie to win them a Cup, and lately, the latter hasn't necessarily been a winning formula. That's not to say it isn't a major factor from the opening puck drop though.

Which are you more concerned about—that the Flyers goaltending will let them down in the opening series, or that Ryan Miller will dominate it?

Rev: I am more concerned that the Flyers goaltending will let them down. Now, that's not to say that I lack confidence in Bob. I think he'll be fine. It's just more a reflection of how I feel about Ryan Miller. I mean, if given the choice between either goalie you'd be crazy not to take Miller. But, as we saw last postseason strange things can happen like Brian Boucher outplaying Marty Brodeur and Michael Leighton recording three shutouts against Montreal. As a Flyers fan I suppose I am hanging my hat on the recent success of guys like Antti Niemi and J.S. Giguere. Again, I think Bob will be fine, but as you mentioned the check mark for goaltending clearly goes in the Sabres column.

Matt: And, at the same time, the Flyers had some success against Miller this season, scoring 5, 4, and 3 goals on him in his three starts against them. He also missed time at the end of the season with the ol' upper body injury. Of course, in relief of Jhonas Enroth
in that last Flyers-Sabres game, Miller hung a perfect frame to close out a Buffalo win. The Flyers' successes against Miller came when they were scoring more efficiently than they were down the stretch. I'm not necessarily as concerned with our US Olympian being the factor so much as the Flyers going cold regardless of the goalie they're shooting on. 

Rev: Finish this sentence and explain your choices: If the Flyers are going to win this series their Three Stars will be________________ , ________________, and ______________.

Matt: Danny Briere, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Mike Richards. Yeah I went chalk with the 2010 playoff hero/guy facing his old team, the goalie we're pinning our hopes on, and the captain we're charging with getting this team's head out of its own ass. There's no reason to think all three won't deliver either. Honorable mention to Andrej Meszaros, who could step up to be a force whether Chris Pronger plays or not. Big Mesz has had a great season, and I think we'll see him continue to get dangerous shots on net and play big minutes and steady D.

Your mad libs?

Rev: Danny Briere, Andrej Meszaros, and Sergei Bobrovsky. Briere because he has a knack for lifting his game come playoff time. Add in the fact that Briere has had success against his former team and the #48 arrow is pointing up. Also, unlike Richards, Carter, and Giroux, Danny does not have to worry about expending energy on the penalty kill. His shifts will come either five on five or on the power play. He has to make his minutes count. You alluded to the Hartnell-Briere-Leino earlier. As we saw last postseason they can be dominating.   I chose Meszaros because at this point I do not know how much Chris Pronger will play. Meszaros had a phenomenal regular season. In my opinion he was their best all-around defenseman. It'll go a long way towards curing their power play problems if he's able to get shots through from the point. He plays in every situation, so he'll need to be big.  Bob is my final choice...for obvious reasons.

Matt: I'd love to see it be Giroux. He showed us that potential to be great this season, but he was also one of the Flyers who did get a little too comfortable down the stretch in my opinion. Some of the more talented puck handlers on the team got too casual with their decisions, and turnovers really had a negative impact. In a game as fluid as hockey, a quick change in the direction of the action can be a great equalizer, letting a decent set of forwards blow past even a great defense pairing.  I do think G has as much potential as anyone in the NHL to be his team's playoff MVP though.

Is there any reason to think the Flyers' power play will suddenly find a groove in the postseason?

Rev: Considering their depth and talent it remains a mystery as to why they struggled so much on the power play. Yes, they obviously missed Pronger, but they're too skilled not to convert at a higher rate. My main complaint is that they lack a Mike Knuble-type who is willing to plant himself in front of the net, take the abuse, screen the opposing goalie, and bang in loose pucks. Perhaps the heightened sense of urgency of playoff hockey forces them to simplify things. Hartnell is the most likely candidate to reprise that trash man role. They don't have that traditional power forward. Perhaps JVR can be that guy down the road, but his talent almost gets in the way. He's either playing the point, or is content to hang out behind the net or along the half-boards. Beyond that, if they're going to succeed with the man advantage they'll need to win the puck battles and pay the price.

Matt: As far as concerns go, this one is high on my list. It seems so inexplicable that they can't score more on the man advantage with all that firepower and an extra man on the ice, almost like it's their Achilles heel.

Series predictions...?

Matt: Is there any chance we don't both pick the Flyers to advance? Six games-ish? I'll go with that.

Rev: Flyers in six just sounds right.

Feel free to leave your responses to the questions above in the comments below...

Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

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Difference in talent, power glaring as Phillies continue to lose to top teams

BOX SCORE

The gap in talent level that exists between the Phillies and some of the top teams in the majors has really been evident over the last eight games.
 
The Phillies have lost seven of those eight games to the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals. Tuesday night brought the latest defeat, a 5-1 loss to the National League East-leading Nats at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). The Nats have won the first two games of the series and go for the sweep on Wednesday night.
 
While losing seven of their last eight, the Phillies have seen their feel-good story turn to dust. Their record has gone from 25-19 to 26-26 and their deficit in the NL East from two games to 5½.
 
“We had a good month and a half,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “When things are going good, they snowball. When things are going bad, they snowball. We’ve got to keep that snowball from rolling. We’ve got to get out of it.”
 
There are a number of reasons the Phillies have hit hard times. Poor offense is a big one. They have been held to two or fewer runs five times in their last seven losses and 20 times for the season. They are now averaging 3.15 runs per game, the lowest mark in the majors. Offense like that is the reason why Aaron Nola can pitch six innings of two-run ball and lose on two mistake pitches as he did Tuesday night. These pitchers have no margin for error.
 
One of the offensive’s big shortcomings is the lack of power. The Phils have been out-homered 15-7 in the last eight games. Washington hit four longballs on Tuesday night; the Phillies hit none. In fact, the Phillies had just four hits – period.
 
“We’re just getting out-homered every night,” Mackanin said. “We’re not hitting home runs. I feel like it’s a broken record. We’re not hitting.”
 
For the season, the Phillies have 39 homers. Only Atlanta has hit fewer.
 
And it doesn’t appear as if things are going to get all that much better any time soon. Management would consider trading for a bat close to the July trading deadline – if the team is in the race. With reality striking hard lately, it’s tough to see this team being in the race for anything but a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. In the short term, the Phils could soon have Cody Asche back on the roster.
 
“Our pitching overall has been very good,” Mackanin said. “We’ve just got to hit.”
 
The Nationals won this game with power and good starting pitching.
 
Right-hander Joe Ross held the Phils to a run over seven innings – an RBI triple by Cesar Hernandez.
 
Meanwhile, Jayson Werth capitalized on a poorly located fastball by Nola and homered two batters into the game. Daniel Murphy got Nola in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie.
 
Nola would like to have had both pitches back.
 
“The pitch to Werth was right down the chute,” he said. “With Murphy, I wanted to get it in a little further and I didn’t.”
 
Other than that, Nola was pretty good. He pitched out of trouble in the second inning and was supported by a double play started nicely at second by Hernandez and a nice catch by Odubel Herrera in center field.
 
“We’re doing some things right but not enough of them,” Mackanin said.
 
“That’s baseball,” Nola said of the lack of run support. “Sometimes we pitch bad and get a lot of run support. The guys are battling. I feel like we’re going to bounce back the next couple of games.”
 
The Nationals blew the game open with three runs in the ninth against reliever Colton Murray. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
The two home runs deprived Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon a chance at a save as he recorded the final three outs against his old team.

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

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Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies' late-May slide continued in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
 
Aaron Nola delivered a solid start, but got poor run support. The Phillies entered the game averaging 3.2 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
 
The Nationals scored all their runs on home runs.
 
The Phillies have lost nine of their last 11 games. They are 1-7 in their last eight and have gone from 25-19 and two games back in the NL East to 26-26 and 5½ games back.
  
Starting pitching report
Nola went six innings and allowed two runs, both on solo homers. He walked one and struck out six. He is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
 
Washington right-hander Joe Ross (5-4) pitched a strong game. He gave up just three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ross has given up just two runs over 14 innings in his last two starts.
 
Bullpen report
Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the Nats in a non-save situation.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have been held to two or fewer runs 20 times in their 52 games.

Cesar Hernandez tripled home the Phillies' only run.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs pair of solo homers against Nola. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer off Colton Murray in the ninth and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
Murphy also singled in the game. He had 47 hits in the month of May, tying a Washington/Montreal franchise record that had previously been shared by Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom.

Lineup stuff
Mackanin was trying to send Hernandez a message by batting him eighth (see story).
 
Bryce Harper did not play for Washington. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch in Monday night’s game.
 
Slumping Ryan Howard started at first base and went hitless in three at-bats to fall to .154. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May.
 
Howard will not start Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. He is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer. Tommy Joseph will start that game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint expires Wednesday. He could rejoin the team at any time.
 
Up next
 The series concludes on Wednesday night. Lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) pitches against Washington right-hander Scherzer (5-4, 4.05).

Drexel alum Ken Tribbett enjoys 'special' week for Union

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Drexel alum Ken Tribbett enjoys 'special' week for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — For more than a month, Union center back Ken Tribbett waited patiently on the sidelines, hoping to get the starting spot back that he had and then lost.

Last week, he indeed got back on the field … and then some.

After Joshua Yaro separated his shoulder in Orlando on Wednesday, Tribbett proceeded to notch his first MLS goal and assist, before playing the full 90 minutes in front of 30 family members in his home state of Colorado on Saturday.

It was quite the eventful week for someone who wasn’t expected to play at all during the road trip, let alone accomplish a couple of emotional milestones.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Tribbett told reporters from Tuesday’s training session after the Union returned home following hard-fought road draws vs. Orlando City SC and the Colorado Rapids. “For me, being out a month, mentally I had to make sure I stayed tuned in. And when I got my chance, I stepped in and was ready to go.”

Even if you are mentally prepared, it’s still not an easy thing to step in at center back in the middle of a game, considering that’s a position that rarely gets changed. Making things even more difficult was the fact that Yaro, who took over starting duties after Tribbett rolled his ankle in April, had been looking every bit like the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft.

“Josh was playing a great game in Orlando,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “If you go back and watch the tape, he was one of our top performers. Ken stepped in at the end of the first half, which is challenging at center back — not a position you like to sub at all. But Ken came in pretty seamlessly and got the goal, which is a bonus, obviously.”

You can call it a really big bonus.

Tribbett was never expected to even be in MLS this year after failing to get much notice following a standout career at Drexel.

And he certainly wasn’t expected to log much playing time this season with the Union, who added Yaro and Anderson, a Brazilian, to a position that already featured a rising star in Richie Marquez.

So surprises are nothing new for Tribbett, who started the first five games of the year after soaring up the depth chart in the preseason and now has a goal to add to his unlikely MLS resume.

But it’s no surprise to him.

“I don’t think shock is the right word because I expect a lot of myself and I expect to score a couple of goals this year,” Tribbett said. “So it was just more relief to get the first one out of the way. Any time you score, it’s jubilation, so that was awesome. And to tie the game in Orlando after going down 2-1 was really good for the team, so everything about it was just a special moment.”

Tribbett, who also had a secondary assist in Orlando, enjoyed another “special moment” just three days later when he got to play in the Denver area where he grew up. That was not something he could have imagined after his circuitous journey took him from Colorado to Drexel to the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders and now to the Union.

“That was probably a moment I won’t ever forget,” Tribbett said. “I had about 20 or 30 family members there, and for a lot of them it was the first time they’ve seen me play professionally. So being back home in Colorado was a special feeling.”

Although the Union backline stayed organized and surrendered only a couple of shots on target in Colorado, Curtin did say it wasn’t the best performance from Tribbett. But the Union coach is ready to lean on him again for Wednesday’s game vs. the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m./TCN) while Yaro gets an MRI on his shoulder.

“He did fatigue at the end and I talked to him about it,” Curtin said of Tribbett. “He had a couple of little mistakes toward the end of the game. Part of that is your legs starting to fade. But it’s good for him that’s under his belt. He’ll be ready to go now [Wednesday] for the full 90 minutes.”

With the Union idle for two weeks following Wednesday’s game because of a Copa America layoff — and Tribbett’s place in the lineup uncertain from there — the Drexel alum is certainly excited to get back on the field for his first home game since April 8.

“It’s a very important game,” Tribbett said. “We want to go into the break with certain goals for ourselves. We want to be at the top of the conference, and if we win, we’ll achieve that goal. We want to keep one goal per game [allowed]. Right now, we’re one off that, so if we get a shutout tomorrow, we’ll be right back on track.”