Ill Communication: Flyers' Lapses Ugly in Loss to Blues

Ill Communication: Flyers' Lapses Ugly in Loss to Blues

Philly sports fans had just one game to tune in to or catch down at the complex this weekend, and after having watched it… I hope you had something better to do. If so, but you still want The Update, read on.

For the second straight game, the Flyers outshot their opponents yet lost convincingly. Despite coming off a night of rest when the Blues were playing for the second time in as many days, and had arrived in Philadelphia close to 4 AM, the Flyers were outplayed by St. Louis on Saturday night and lost by a 4-2 count.

Defensive miscues and poor communication between the blueliners and goaltender combined with some good bounces for the Blues to doom the Flyers, who had trouble with pucks and players close to their own net. Credit Blues goalie Brian Elliott for giving his team the opportunity to win this one, and his forwards for cashing in when the Flyers defense and goaltending failed to do the same. There was definitely plenty to talk about after this one, though a lot
of it isn't entirely pleasant.

All that and some video highlights below.

It's only two games, so we're not going to spend too much time worrying about it, but the Flyers' fast start has settled into some inconsistency that is understandable with a team that has seen so many changes, many involving a lot of young players and a new goaltender. There's definitely some work to be done here... 

GET IT TOGETHER
After the game, Bryzgalov emphasized the need to simplify the communication between himself and the defense.

“We
have to establish it because it needs to be very simple. We need to
have three words and everybody has to know these words—"play it,"
"leave it," or "over." Not, everybody comes up with his own words, like "I'll pick up," or "don't
touch," or something like that. It needs to be a simple three words so
everybody understands everybody and we're all on the same page. And
then we won't have this problem in the future.”

With a new goalie playing behind a defense that is largely intact from last season, there's a clear need for some better understanding of what everyone wants to do with the puck in given situations. Bryz may have had some trouble finding the exact words to express what needs to happen, but his message that the communication was poor is clear.

However, there was also just some ineffective play by the defense in clearing Blues forwards and blocking shots, as well as sluggishness by Bryz on a few of the second efforts. Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros looked like a pair of Bobos on the Corner, failing to clear a pair of forwards and let the puck trickle in front of the crease for one easy goal, and a poor handoff between Bryz and Meszaros gave them another simple potter and me a heart attack, man. Kimmo Timonen's mistake wasn't quite as lamentable, but he got caught in no-man's land on the Blues' first goal, not taking a man and failing to block a shot (while probably screening Bryzgalov).

Overall, a very poor showing in the defensive end for the Flyers.

TOUGH GUY
Carlo Colaiacovo was named the game's first star, followed by Danny Briere, but I think I'd have given it to Brian Elliott. Elliott once again stifled the Flyers, many of whom weren't on the team the last time he kicked it root down on Philly. His numbers against the Flyers weren't great last year, but he's now 5-2-0 against the Flyers in six starts, including two shutouts and a gem of a two-goals-against performance on Saturday night. Elliott absolutely robbed a few Flyers, including Claude Giroux at a range from which he rarely misses. His defense was stronger than a mic'd up Wayne Simmonds led us to believe, too. The Flyers held control for some long stretches, but just couldn't generate too many meaningful opportunities, nor second-effort chances. The pucks weren't bouncing the Flyers' way in the offensive zone either, though it's not much of an excuse.

B-BOYS MAKIN WITH THE FREAK FREAK
The line of Simmonds, Danny Briere, and Brayden Schenn was the Flyers' best of the night. In his second game with the Flyers, Schenn saw his minutes jump from 11:03 to 19:20, in large part because Lavvy couldn't keep his line off the ice. The unit had some strong attacks on the net, and Simmonds was in Blues' faces all night. Like the rest of the Flyers, they got off to a slow start, but Lavvy rotated Briere to the wing and Schenn to his natural center position to start the second, and it paid immediate dividends as Simmonds found a streaking Briere for the Flyers' first goal.

Sure Shot
Simmonds had a nice backhand flip to Briere, who torched one over Elliott's glove from a very small angle.

SABOTAGE
Chris Pronger absolutely lit up David Backes as the Blues captain skated hard with the puck toward the Flyers' net. Big train met little train, and little train went off the tracks and didn't return.  

THE SCOOP
Again, it's not the end of the world or even all that surprising for this Flyers team to hit a rocky patch early on, and so far we're only looking at a pair of losses. There's definitely some problematic elements they can point specifically at and try to fix in practice, which is a good thing. Tonight's issues are fixable, and the players the Flyers have in place are plenty good enough to work through them. There are a lot of kids on the forward lines, but the goaltender is a veteran and so are the d-men in front of him. There's a clear communication issue and some overall indecisiveness by the defense, all of which could work itself out with more reps in practice and games played.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Up next is another home tilt, this time with the Maple Leafs on Monday night.

NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

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NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the San Jose Sharks gathered around the Campbell Bowl for a celebratory picture after winning the Western Conference final.

In that moment, all those past playoff disappointments and collapses were forgotten. It will take four more wins to put to rest those questions about if they had the fortitude to win it all.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two more and the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Thornton said. "Obviously it's our first time. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans here have waited so long, 25 years. We've waited 18 years or so. So it's a great feeling."

Joonas Donskoi also scored, Logan Couture had an empty-netter and Martin Jones made 24 saves as a Sharks team notorious for postseason letdowns will play for the championship that has eluded Thornton and Marleau since they entered the league as the top two picks in 1997.

Thornton assisted on Pavelski's goal less than four minutes into the game to set the tone and Marleau had two assists in the third period that set off chants of "We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!"

"We're just enjoying the ride right now," Marleau said. "We've had some really good teams over the years."

Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons and winning the second-most games in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have been known for their soul-crushing playoff disappointments.

They won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out twice in four seasons by a No. 8 seed and most notably blew a 3-0 series lead to lose in the first round to Los Angeles in 2014.

The impact of that loss lasted for a while as San Jose missed the playoffs entirely last season. But led by first-year coach Peter DeBoer and bolstered by some key acquisitions by general manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks recovered this year and are now only four wins from a championship.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final will be Monday night. The Sharks will either host Tampa Bay or visit Pittsburgh, depending on which team wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

"It's a great moment for those guys who have put in a lot of work but we still have another series to go," Couture said. "We still have four more wins to try to get. It's another step. This is the third one now. We're ready for that next challenge."

With the loss, the Blues' postseason woes continue as the franchise still seeks its first championship and first trip to the Cup final since 1970. Coach Ken Hitchcock's second goalie change of the series did not work as Brian Elliott allowed four goals on 26 shots in his return to the net.

Vladimir Tarasenko, a 40-goal scorer in the regular season, got his first points of the series when he scored twice in the third period but it was too late for the Blues, who still trailed 4-2.

"It stings right now," captain David Backes said. "Six more wins and we're having parades on Market Street. Right now ... not enough."

This was the first time in San Jose's history that the team played with a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line. The atmosphere in the Shark Tank reflected the high stakes with the fans at a frenzy during pregame introductions and the "Let's Go Sharks!" chants starting soon after the puck dropped.

The Sharks fed off that energy and were buzzing early as Hitchcock predicted before the game. St. Louis nearly silenced the crowd when Alexander Steen got a chance in the slot early in the period but Jones robbed him with a glove save.

That led to a breakaway for Thornton, who missed the net on his chance. But Pavelski recovered the puck behind the net and before Elliott knew what was happening, Pavelski tucked the puck in on a wraparound for his NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

San Jose added to the lead early in the second when Ward tipped a point shot from Brent Burns past Elliott to make it 2-0.

Ward's second goal and another by Donskoi in the third period removed any drama and allowed the fans to celebrate and the Blues to ponder their missed opportunity.

"They're hurting right now," Hitchcock said. "We're all hurting. "You don't want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block."

Notes
Marleau played his 165th career playoff game, the most ever for someone who never played in the finals. Thornton is next on the list with 150 games, followed by Curtis Joseph with 133. ... The only franchise that has played longer than San Jose without going to a Cup final is Arizona, which began NHL play as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Back home, the Cavaliers were not hospitable.

They rudely roughed up the Raptors again.

LeBron James scored 23 points then sat the fourth quarter, Kevin Love scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavs opened a 34-point lead in the first half and never slowed while taking a 3-2 series lead.

They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto.

"We ought to be able to transfer that on Friday," James said. "Playing in that beast of an arena that we're going to we got to be composed, we got to be tough and we got to be sharp."

The Raptors, who came in with momentum and confidence after winning Games 3 and 4, left Quicken Loans Arena shaken and one loss from having their deepest playoff run stopped.

"They kicked our butts, bottom line," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "That's been all three ballgames."

James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavs up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland's reserves finished the romp.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points and he, James and Love outscored the Raptors 43-34 in the first half. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points.

"They are a different team here," Casey said. "We came in here with a chance to do something special and we didn't get it done. They pushed us around and took what they wanted."

DeMar DeRozan scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo had just four rebounds after getting 40 the past two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes.

Playing defense as if every possession was the game's last, Cleveland held Toronto to 34 points in the opening half while building a 31-point halftime lead -- the largest in conference finals history. Since their expansion arrival in 1993, the Raptors had never been down by 30 before in any game -- regular or postseason -- at halftime but they have rarely seen a defense like this either.

The Cavs were all over the court, swarming and stifling DeRozan and Lowry, who combined for 67 points in Game 4.

A courtside doctor might have stopped this one in the first half.

Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just 5 of 23 and was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 4. He finished 8 of 10 from the field, a confidence-boosting performance that should temporarily quiet his critics.

"Kevin Love being Kevin Love," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "He had two bad shooting games and we made a big deal out of it. Nothing he does amazes me. We gotta keep him aggressive all the time."

The Cavs made a point of getting Love the ball right away and he responded by making all four field goal attempts, dropping a 3 late in the first quarter that pushed the Cavs to a 37-19 lead.

"He was just locked in," James said. "We saw that and just wanted to keep giving him the ball. The easiest one he had tonight, he missed."

Cleveland's onslaught continued in the second quarter, and when James got free for an easy two-handed dunk, Cavs fans could relax and begin making TV viewing plans for Friday.

These looked more like the Cavaliers who opened the postseason with 10 straight wins, obliterated the Raptors by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and given a chance to beat whomever survived in the West.

Center of attention
Valanciunas hadn't played since May 7. He scored two quick baskets in the first quarter when the Raptors were still close.

Tip-ins
Raptors: Dropped to 2-7 on the road in this postseason. ... Played a game every other day since April 29, going 7-7. . Biyombo and Valanciunas are the only teammates with at least 120 rebounds this postseason.

Cavaliers: Trumped their 31-point win in Game 1, which was the previous most lopsided playoff victory in team history. ... James played in his 191st career postseason game, moving him ahead of Magic Johnson for 12th place on the all-time list. ... James (1,320) is tied with Kobe Bryant (1,320) for the second-most free throws in postseason history. Michael Jordan made 1,463. ... Improved to 7-0 at home in these playoffs.

Up next
Game 6 is Friday night in Toronto.

Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

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Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Crawford singled in Matt Duffy with two outs in the 10th inning, and the surging San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 4-3 Wednesday for their 13th win in 14 games.

Duffy singled off Brad Hand (1-2) with one out, pinch-hitter Hunter Pence popped out, Duffy advanced on a wild pitch and Crawford hit a 1-2 offering over center fielder Jon Jay as Duffy scored standing up.

Crawford also singled and scored after some alert baserunning in the second inning. Duffy and Denard Span drove in runs for the NL West-leading Giants.

San Francisco completed a three-game sweep, extended its winning streak to five and improved to 9-0 against the Padres this season. The Giants' two walkoff wins in the series were against Hand (see full recap).

Arrieta moves to 9-0 in Cubs' win over Cards
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Arrieta remained unbeaten on the season despite allowing as many as four runs for the first time in nearly a year and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-8 on Wednesday.

Arrieta (9-0) joined the White Sox's Chris Sale as the only nine-game winners in the majors.

Arrieta allowed four runs in a regular-season game for the first time since June 16, 2015.

Arrieta became the first Cub to win his first nine decisions since Kenny Holtzman in 1967 and it is the best start to a season for the franchise since Jim McCormick went 16-0 in 1886.

Kris Bryant hit a three-run homer and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist each drove in two for the Cubs (see full recap).

Bradley extends hit streak to 29 in BoSox victory
BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his major league-best hitting streak to 29 games, Xander Bogaerts homered to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.

Travis Shaw had three RBIs and Boston moved to a season-best 12 games over .500. The Red Sox have scored eight or more runs 10 times in their last 14 home games.

Steven Wright (4-4) had another solid outing, giving up three runs, two earned. He has now given up three runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts.

Chad Bettis (4-3) held the Red Sox scoreless through three innings but was responsible for seven runs over the next two innings before getting pulled.

The Rockies have lost six of their last seven -- all on the road (see full recap).