Flyers-Sabres Game 5: Everyone Completely Hate Each Other Now? Good.

Flyers-Sabres Game 5: Everyone Completely Hate Each Other Now? Good.

Four games into the opening round of the NHL playoffs, the Flyers and Sabres are giving us plenty of reasons to watch. Fans of both sides would probably prefer their team be up a game at this point, particularly Philadelphia, who entered the series as the favorite with their 2 seed. But as we see from year to year, there’s plenty of parity in the NHL, and seedings can mean next to nothing once the first puck is dropped. The home ice advantage can help, and the Flyers will look to reap that benefit tonight as the series comes back from lovely Buffalo. It’s the perfect point in the series to return home to Philly too. The Flyers and Sabres are knotted at a pair of wins apiece, and the shit has officially begun to hit the fan both on and off the ice. Such a sweet, sweet guy. Check out the video below on the escalating war of words between the two teams, plus what it might mean for tonight’s game.

Great to see how this type of back and forth through the media puts a smile on even Peter Laviolette’s face. I honestly can't recall him ever looking so happy. Of course, how can you not laugh when Lindy Ruff accuses you of whining? It’s also pretty hilarious to hear Danny Briere talk about how this is just Lindy being Lindy, and Danny would know after his all his seasons in Buffalo. 

I don’t know that I necessarily agree that this is all just for the media and fans though. As the on-ice action has gotten chippier, the chatter after the games has ratcheted up as well. Heading into game 5, these two teams hate each other. Trash talk often seems to spill over into games and vice-versa. You gotta love playoff hockey and the way a series can evolve from skirmish to battle to war. We could be in for a nasty night in South Philly. 

Photo by Flickr user boogerfingers. yep.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Flyers will be without the services of Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger, possibly for the rest of the series per Tim Panaccio's report. It is worrisome to have them both out for this key game in the series and what's sounding a bit more like the next few games at least. The depth we’ve heard and talked about for so long will be tested tonight.

It’s not exactly an alien situation though. While the Flyers enjoyed a pretty healthy regular season run, they showed in the 2010 playoffs that they can rally in the face of even multiple simultaneous injuries. In a postseason as long and physical as the NHL’s, the war of attrition will claim its share of victims. It’s up to the guys left on the ice to take it up a notch. Either Ben Holmstrom or Zac Rinaldo will be active per Lisa Hillary. The decision between the two may come down to who Ruff has in his lineup.

Similar to after game 1, the Flyers really shouldn’t need to change much after being shut out in game 4. They played pretty well, just as they had in games 3 and 4. Hopefully the Ryan Miller from those two outings will show up tonight. Miller was masterful in game 5, and there’s little a team can do when the opposing goalie is that locked in. The Flyers will try tonight though, presumably with some crease activity early.

Enjoy your Friday night and what could be a pretty wild and entertaining game. Both teams should be fired up from the start.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.