Gut It Out: JVR, Flyers Win Nail-biter, But Timonen Leaves With UBI

Gut It Out: JVR, Flyers Win Nail-biter, But Timonen Leaves With UBI

Flyers fans in need of a win over an elite opponent to wash away the memory of a heartbreaking Winter Classic third period got just that on Thursday night. It looked for a moment like the Classic's third would happen all over again, but the Flyers didn't wilt despite some lapses in their own end (and crease) and finished strong for a 5-4 win. The Blackhawks were in town for the first time since they left the building with the Stanley Cup in June 2010, but they left with only their chins on their chests after this one.

The rookies played well, and James van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner. It was a fast-paced game between two of the best teams in the league, as entertaining as it was enervating.

Unfortunately, the Flyers may be dealing with an injury to the defenseman they can least afford to lose, especially considering the goaltending was once again shaky despite the win.

Chicago struck just three minutes in, forcing a turnover with some pressure on Zac Rinaldo as he tried to clear the zone. Jamal Mayers flipped a quick pass to rookie Jimmy Hayes, who redirected it past Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz tried to go for a poke check, but got caught between the poke and the save attempt.  

Rinaldo must have felt inclined to make amends, because he threw down with fellow rookie Andrew Shaw on the ensuing face-off. Say what you will about fighting in the NHL, but it often still serves a purpose, for better or worse. [Video and some great pics from that scrap here.]

But Rinaldo didn't stop there. Along with linemates Sean Couturier and Harry Zolnierczyk—all rookies—the Flyers fourth line played its ass off in this one. The momentum they helped create got the Flyers back in the game quickly and kept them there.

Jake Voracek opened the scoring for the Flyers, collecting a long bounce after a Braydon Coburn shot caromed off the end boards and putting it into a fairly open net. Voracek has been playing some good hockey, so it was nice to see him get on the G board. The first period ended with the teams knotted at one.

Blown Wide Open
Indecorous guests that they are, Chicago opened the scoring in the second as well.     
After fighting Rinaldo in the first, Shaw scored in the second. The Flyers didn't wait long to even it up again though, with Scott Hartnell scoring on a golf shot, picking a floated pass out of midair with a swipe toward the net. The goal came on the very next shift after the Shaw goal, and featured great work behind the net and along the boards by the Flyers. Matt Read, playing with G and Hartnell while Jagr is out, worked a a give-and-go with Giroux, who flipped it in front of the crease to Hartnell. Harts was absolutely surrounded by Blackhawks but still managed to get enough wood on it to beat Emery.

Just under four minutes later, the fourth line struck with their contribution. This one was something else too, featuring a great setup by Couturier, some acrobatics by Rinaldo, and a nice finish by Harry Z. Rinaldo went absolutely skates up in his effort to crash the net (legally mind you) and make the goal happen. Twenty-five seconds later, JVR found the net to put the Flyers up 4-2. Both goals in the video below:

Winter Classic Flashbacks...
Heading into the second intermission, the Flyers seemed to have complete control of the game. The Blackhawks stars hadn't really been a big factor in the game, and the Flyer were winning battles and skating hard. This is of course when the wheels came off.

Brent Seabrook beat Bryzgalov on an uncontested shot, nearly freezing him in place. Some goals, including the first two in this game, can be blamed at least in significant part on what's going on outside of the crease. Not this one. Whats worse, it seemed to deflate the Flyers, and 25 seconds later, Patrick Kane scored after the Blackhawks forced a turnover with some hard forechecking. This one we won't blame on Bryz. Kane was all alone in the slot, and despite his struggles this season, he's more than likely going to make that shot.

However, with the game tied at 4, Kane did his best to make amends for once again putting Flyers fans hearts in their throats. He committed the 'Hawks' second high-sticking penalty of the period, and the Flyers went on the power play with less than 2 minutes to go.

According to Peter Laviolette after the game, Giroux was yelling on the bench, "It's not going to happen again!" in reference to the Flyers' handing over a third period win to the Rangers in the Winter Classic. On the power play, G, Hartnell and JVR created one hell of a gorgeous opportunity, with Giroux passing down low to Hartnell, who found JVR streaking toward the goal. Once again he potted it, taking advantage of the penalty taken by the player he'll always be linked to.

More on JVR to come. Great to see him finding chemistry tonight, working with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The RSS Line?

Kimmo Timonen hurt his wrist in the first period, missing much of it while getting tended to by the trainers. He returned for the start of the second, but quickly disappeared again. The Flyers will probably give an update tomorrow, but for now, they're just calling it an upper-body injury.

It wasn't all hearts and flowers out there, but a win's a win, and the Flyers beat one of the top teams in the league without a top line
winger and losing their best defenseman early in the game. They pummeled Ray Emery with barrages and played one of the fastest-paced games we've seen all season. The goals they let up weren't the end of the world given the quality of the opponent and end-to-end action, but we're still waiting to see Bryzgalov get his game back. He made some pretty huge stops tonight, so there's hope it could be soon, but on the goals, he just looked frozen. Once he commits, he has trouble readjusting. Ya got some work to do with this one, Coach Reese.

Hey, at least Bryz got to wear his Winter Classic mask and pads at least once. The Drummond Custom mask looked pretty outstanding, wouldn't mind seeing it more often.

The Rangers topped Florida again, so the Flyers are still four points behind them. They'll get a chance at two more points on Saturday, when they host the Eastern Conference All-Star Senators.


Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Eagles (3-2) return home Sunday for the first time in nearly a month and welcome a familiar face to the confines of Lincoln Financial Field. 

Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) will come to Philadelphia fresh off a Week 6 bye and, most notably, as the league's lone unbeaten team. Minnesota boasts one of the league's top defenses, ranking first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in yards allowed (287.6 per game), and is looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2009.

The last time these two franchises met was back in December 2013, when Matt Cassell and the Vikings put up 48 points in a win over Chip Kelly's Eagles.

To get a better handle on this year's Vikings, here's what they're saying about the Eagles' Week 7 opponent.

Brian Robison poses yet another challenge for Big V
Making his NFL debut in a start against the Redskins last week, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily. Ryan Kerrigan beat Vaitai and got to Carson Wentz for 2½ sacks, all of which came in the first half.

It won't get any easier for the rookie right tackle this week either, as he'll likely be lined up against Brian Robison for most of the afternoon. Robison has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season and, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, the versatile 10-year defensive end could be difference maker on the defensive side of the ball Sunday.

"Whether his hand is in the turf at left end or he’s standing over a guard or center as the defensive tackle, Robison could be dropping back to cover a tight end or running back," Krammer wrote. "At the line, he’s given responsibilities to call stunts or twists depending on their own play call. Sometimes he’s setting the pick to free another teammate. ... And on Sunday against the Eagles and their rookie right tackle, keep an eye on Robison when he lines up at his traditional spot of left end. All four of his sacks this season, including two strip-sacks, have come from there."

Makeshift offensive line remains a question mark
The Vikings may be undefeated, but by no means are they made up of perfect parts. As the midway point of the NFL season approaches, Minnesota's injury-battered offensive line is still a work in progress. 

Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are both sidelined with season-ending injuries. Starting guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion Week 5 against the Texans, but is expected to return against the Eagles. Center is the only position on the line the Vikings haven't had to replace because of an injury at some point this season.

But despite the constant changes up front, Minnesota has been stout overall in protecting the quarterback, allowing eight sacks and 27 quarterback hits across five games. According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, the performance of that makeshift offensive line is going to be key in the Vikings' potential success down the road. 

"What’s best for Bradford and the Vikings’ standing as the NFC’s top dog is better pass protection," Murphy wrote. "He was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times. ... Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success."

Strong away from home
The Vikings are a just a few years removed from going winless on the road, finishing 0-7-1 away from home in the 2013 season. Minnesota secured wins in only two of its first 10 away games under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, but have since gone on a tear.

Minnesota has won seven of its last eight road games dating back to last season and, in their most recent game away from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took down the Panthers, 22-10, in Week 3. A testament of a true contender is having the ability to win consistently on the road, which holds true with the Vikings.

According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings' vast improvement over the past two-plus seasons has contributed to them becoming a stronger team away from home.

"Facing a tough opposing crowd once was a tall order for the Vikings, but it’s much less of one now. After being one of the worse road teams in the NFL earlier this decade, they’re now one of the best," Tomasson wrote. "Overall, the Vikings have improved, having gone from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 last season to 5-0 this year. That’s the main reason the road record has gotten so much better. Still, players say the continuity the team has had has especially helped when entering rugged road environments."

While Vegas has the Vikings as light favorites on the road, national experts have them heavily favored straight up to hand the Eagles their third straight loss.

ESPN: All nine experts picked the Vikings

CBS Sports: Seven of eight experts picked the Vikings

FOX Sports: Three of five experts picked the Vikings 

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Ivan Provorov has a new partner.

Provorov will be paired with Brandon Manning on Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, a changeup from the first four games of the season. Mark Streit drops to the third pair with Nick Schultz, a tandem that worked together most of last season.

"We're going to change them up," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said after the team's morning skate. "We're going to look at a couple of different things. Some of the combinations are some familiar ones, such as Streiter-Schultz. They played a lot of minutes together last year. It's a move that we want to take a look at."

The Provorov-Manning pair is an interesting one. It should allow the 19-year-old to activate more in the offensive zone with Manning playing positionally sound. Manning has played with an extra edge thus far, showcasing a far more aggressive brand of hockey than he's shown previously with the orange and black.

With Streit, an offensive-minded blueliner, Provorov had to cover for his partner. Provorov also ran into some tough luck situations, too. Now with Manning, Provorov has the handcuffs off a little bit. Manning plays well positionally and while he has been more aggressive, he knows when to stay back, which will help Provorov.

It's another adjustment for the rookie. Through four games, he said, there haven't been any surprises in terms of his expectations for how the NHL game plays.

"I think what I expected is what I got," Provorov said. "It's the best league in the world, you expect all four lines to be great, you expect fast pace, physical game and that's what I got. I'm still learning, but I'm trying to do better as the games go on."

Provorov has one assist this season and enters Saturday as a minus-5, largely because of the Chicago game Tuesday. Hakstol praised Provorov's maturity level and ability to self-evaluate. What he hasn't done with Provorov is talk about numbers.

"There are some meaning in stats and we take the meaningful areas and apply those," Hakstol said. "But I haven't talked to any of the young guys about their statistics. We're four games in. I don't make too much of statistics right now. We're evaluating day-to-day play and looking at areas that we can use as strengths and areas individually we can improve."

Starting slow
If there has been one common theme through the first four games, it's the Flyers' poor starts. In first periods this season, they've been outscored, 6-1 (see game notes).

On Thursday night, the Flyers again came out of the gates slow. It was their first game back after a season-opening road trip out West, which Jakub Voracek said was a factor.

Voracek, who has four assists, said the burden falls on the individual player to focus on the small details and avoid committing mistakes.

"As a player, if you don't have that extra step, you just have to keep it simple," he said. "It's going to come around. The first 10 minutes, you have to make sure you don't make mistakes and I think that we were trying to do too much if we weren't feeling right. It showed last game against Anaheim. We were a half-a-step slower."

Four games isn't a large enough sample size for Hakstol to make a definite statement on the Flyers' first-period woes. The second-year coach said he'll have a better understanding where his team is at after the Carolina game.

"I think we'll answer that question after the start tonight," Hakstol said. "I think we'll get a fair evaluation of our starts after our start tonight, and if we have a problem, we'll know it after tonight. If we don't, we'll know that as well.

"Pretty clear, crystal clear, black and white in my mind. Tonight should tell else what type of team we are at the start of the hockey game."

Projected Flyers Lineup
F: Brayden Schenn-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Nick Cousins-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Read

Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning

Nick Schultz-Mark Streit

G: Steve Mason