Game 31Get Out the Measuring Sticks, Flyers and Bruins in a Matinee Beast-Off

Game 31Get Out the Measuring Sticks, Flyers and Bruins in a Matinee Beast-Off

Storylines and notes on Saturday's tilt between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center. Are the rebuilt Flyers ready to beat the team that blew them to pieces in May?

When I see the Flyers have a game scheduled on a Saturday, I scan to the time and hope it's either 1 PM or 3 PM (preferably 1). Not that a Saturday night game isn't a good time whether down at the Well, on the TV hanging over the bar, or at home in the living room, but particularly around the holidays, that early start just sets a good tone for the day.

Especially when it's a matchup like this one. The Bruins are in town, bringing the best record in the Northeast Division to face the top team in the Atlantic. The Flyers have gone through a lot in the past few weeks, including getting the news that they'll be without Chris Pronger for the rest of the season and playoffs. They also haven't lost in the month of December, a seven-game streak that marks their longest run since 2002.

Can they make it eight straight today against a Bruins team that hopes to have its biggest threat back in the lineup? Whole lotta notes on both teams below.

Pronger's Out, But Chara Likely to Return
A seven-game winning streak in December is plenty of fun, filling us with confidence in a team that began its season filled with question marks. But we don't have to look too far into the history books to see that a team's plight isn't decided in December. We also know that last year, the Flyers were a better team with Pronger than without. I'm not going to spend much time raining on the great parade that's currently going on, but let's just say there's a lot of hockey left on the schedule, and the Flyers are down an undeniably big piece.

The Bruins, meanwhile, appear set to have their big blueliner on patrol after a week on the shelf. Zdeno Chara hurt his knee last Saturday against the Blue Jackets, but he's been skating and should be ready to go today, reports Sean Farrell of the Boston Globe.

Blistering, Balanced Beasts Square Off
The Flyers currently lead the league in generating goals, producing at an amazing clip of 3.7 per game. Second place in that stat? The Bruins, who CSN NE's Joe Haggerty points out are actually a relatively distant second at 3.3 goals per game. However, the B's have the league's top goals against average, a paltry 2.0 allowed per game. As if last spring's postseason run left any doubt, the Bruins are an elite hockey club, blending dangerous attackers with solid defense and the best goaltending in the league.

The Flyers' own goals allowed mark is still affected by its earlier woes on defense and in goal. The back line has been improved lately, and Ilya Bryzgalov has found a groove as sweet as a Stuart Zender bass line. After a night off saw backup Sergei Bobrovsky play admirably, Bryz is back between the pipes this afternoon to face the other apple of Ed Snider's eye—Tim Thomas.

Thomas… Well let's just admit that this old bastard owns the Flyers. He's lost just three times against Philly, one of which was the 2-1 season opener, hardly his fault.

Shooting Gallery?
Mike Morreale of NHL.com dug up a good stat that shows the Bruins have been leaning on the men in the masks quite a bit, particularly this past week without Chara. Both Tuukka Rask and Thomas set season highs in saves, with Rask stopping all 41 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Kings and Thomas stopping 47 of 49 against the Senators the next night. The shot totals were particularly heavy late in the game, so that's something to watch for in the third period today.

Everybody Is a Star
Pronger's done. Claude Giroux is trapped in indefinite like the two-dimensional prism in Superman II. That means other guys need to continue to step up at both ends of the ice. Matt Carle is logging bigger minutes and has been on the scoresheet in four straight games, including a three-assist night in Montreal. Kimmo Timonen is playing some inspired hockey, Andrej Meszaros is fresh off pounding a point shot home, something the Flyers will need more of down the stretch with no Prongs. Coburn is his usually steady presence, and the kids are alright in Kevin Marshall and particularly Marc-Andre Bourdon.

The attack hasn't been slowed either, buoyed by young talent up and down the lines as well as steady gamesmanship from guys like Max Talbot. Just as the shipping off of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter opened a huge channel for Giroux to shine, G's own absence forces other guys to step up. Sean Couturier has been the guy positionally given that task, centering G's usual linemates. We didn't get to see much of that against the Habs though, as three minors to #14 kept him off his regular shifts throughout much of the game. If he gets another shot today, we'll be looking forward to seeing what he can do between 19 and 68.

Danny Briere is quietly having a solid season, but could be in line for another big game this week. It might not come against the Bruins, but it'll come. He's been consistently putting up points, and he'll be relied on even more now. Jake Voracek has had some great pace on the ice, another guy who might start a run soon, like fellow newcomer Wayne Simmonds has done lately.

The guy we'd most like to see step up and get dominant? James van Riemsdyk. Like Briere, he's had a quietly successful season, but he's been more quiet than successful lately with only two assists to show for his past six games. Here's hoping a matchup with the Bruins sparks him. JVR was one of the few Flyers to show up at all in the four-game sweep by Boston last spring, scoring three goals over the first two games. We haven't quite seen that JVR this season so far. Even when he was hovering around a point-per-game average, he wasn't skating with the ownership we saw in April's Buffalo series.

Measuring Sticks
Flyers fans and media have spent a lot of time wondering about the reasons Paul Holmgren blew most of the team up this past offseason. Some of it probably had to do with chemistry, a need for change within the locker room, although who knows what role that played. One of the biggest reasons Homer likely hit that reset button has nothing to do with the team in the home locker room today, and much more to do with the one getting dressed in visitors' whites. The Bruins are the NHL's benchmark, and Mr. Snider wanted a team more like theirs (he likely wasn't the only owner with that sentiment). Homer went out and got a #1 goalie, sacrificing pieces that needed to go for the cap space, among other reasons. In so doing, he netted quite a few very talented hockey players, Bryzgalov among them. While he's not quite at Thomas' level, it's time for him to show he too can dominate. What better stage for that to play out than a visit from the Bruins?

The Flyers have kept pace with the team they were rebuilt to compete with at a better level than the shitshow we saw last spring. Are they good enough to do it without their two best players?

It won't be easy, but it should be entertaining. These two teams aren't fans of each other, and both sides want to be the top dogs, even in December, and they'll need to win today to do it.

Photo: Mark L. Baer-US Presswire

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”