Flyers-Sabres Game 6: Leighton In, Flyers Must Win

Flyers-Sabres Game 6: Leighton In, Flyers Must Win

With no single right or wrong answer in net today, we're reminded that this Flyers team was built for that question not to be a dire concern. The depth at every skating position is designed to obviate the need for a true #1. Whether that's actually true or not (especially with recent injuries), we'll have all summer to reflect on it. Today, the forwards and defensmen need to play as though there's a trash can in net. The goalie needs to play like his team may only score a single goal. No more softies. No bad rebounds. The softie allotment has been expended this series. All eyes are on the man in the Flyers' crease.


Just before game time, CSN is reporting that Michael Leighton will start the Flyers, meaning the team will start three different goalies in six games. You couldn't have written this story in training camp, but growing up a Flyers fan, it's not exactly science fiction either...

No matter who's on the ice today from the forwards to the crease, the  Flyers need to play an exceptional game in all facets. The Sabres have  shown us that they will win if given any opening. If they don't come  home with a win, the criticism will be heavy on players and coaching  staff alike. There is no time left to get anything figured out. They  need to win today on their strengths, despite the weaknesses we know  they have.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the power play can get its act together when it matters most. Tim Panaccio reports that JVR was taking the front-of-the-net role in the limited practice they ran yesterday. He was out with Giroux and Briere, with Richie and Kimmo at the points. I like it. Although JVR's not a garbage goal man, he has the size to protect the real estate and the hands to do the deflection and shovel work the position demands. But more than that, he's been the best player on the ice for the Flyers this series, and I like that Lavvy is saddling him with a big part of the responsibility to get the power play on the board when the team needs it most.

At various points over the past calendar year, the team has played very well in front of each of the goalies. However, it likely wasn't easy for Lavvy to sleep last night, because if the Flyers are downed by the Sabres and his goalie of choice allows even one questionable goal, the decisions throughout the series and especially today will be pointed to as the primary reason.

History may not recall that this has been a very tight series, with each game being very close and very good. Both teams are playing some great hockey, making each other pay for mistakes. But there's no comfort in that if the Flyers do not advance out of this series. For the first time all season, the Flyers face a must-win game. Their fight to come back from a 3-0 deficit on Friday reminded us of what we saw last season, which is that they can't be counted out. They're absolutely good enough to hang a few on Ryan Miller and shut the Sabres' offense out.

As of this writing, we're still waiting on the Chris Pronger status update. Pronger was on the first bus over to the arena, and they'll probably need to tie him down to something if he is not going to play. [Update: Looks like Pronger is indeed going to play. Ben Holmstrom will try to fill Zac Rinaldo's big shoes in taking the Jeff Carter roster spot.]

It's time to pull out all the stops if he can play, and every player on the ice needs to play like the Stanley Cup is waiting in the tunnel. If not, they won't get anywhere near the hardware this spring.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”