Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

Keys to Game 4: Stop Playing Like You Just Drank the Blood of Kali Ma, Find New-Line Chemistry

EDITOR'S UPDATE, 05/13/12: Recently it was brought to our attention that we may have offended some readers when we made a reference in the post below from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." For that we humbly apologize. The700Level acts as a separate independent voice from our parent company and often uses movie and other pop culture references. The author was focusing entirely on the scene from the "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" movie that is linked to in the post and never intended to offend anyone or any group. He was previously unaware of the actual religious significance. Steps have been taken to prevent this in the future. We want to ensure our readers that we hold all religions and all views with the utmost respect and would never intentionally be insensitive to their beliefs. We hope you understand and continue to frequent The700Level. Watching game 3 between the Flyers and the Devils in a New York bar that didn't have the telecast's audio was a surreal experience. The Knicks were playing, so the best we could do was get one of the TVs set to Flyers-Devils. Sometimes we say we'd rather not have announcers distracting from game action, and the sounds of the game alone would be ideal. But in this one, I really could have used a few outside opinions on just what the hell the Flyers were trying to do. 
They seemed to be in slow motion at times. They looked stunned, dazed. Like they'd been forced to drink blood of Kali Ma out of a skull chalice and whipped into a lifetime of Thugee service in the dark underground bowels of Pankot Palace. The Black Sleep of Kali Ma… Alive… but… like a nightmare. 
The important question today is, on the brink of lowering themselves into a swirling, fiery pit, will the Flyers feel the flames and suddenly come to life in time to salvage the series?
Storylines including new-look forward lines and the probable return of Sean Couturier, below. 
LINESIn an attempt to jumpstart the offense and get more out of his top line players, Peter Laviolette has broken up the trio of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr. Hartnell moves back alongside Danny Briere with Jake Voracek on the other wing. Giroux will center JVR and Wayne Simmonds. Brayden Schenn and Matt Read will have the 40 Year Old Veteran, Jagr. Tim Panaccio bets the house that Sean Couturier will play tonight, which is great news given the scare of an injury last game. If so, he'll stay with Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood. (Lines courtesy of Adam Kimelman)
Hopefully JVR's jump will help get the best out of Giroux again, and/or get the Wayne Train back on track. G looked ready to rock when he started the game with a big hit on the faceoff, but struggled to generate much in the way of dangerous attacks. He needs to play with the confidence of being the best player on the ice while resisting the idea that he must carry the team if they're going to win. 
Now, with these new lines... Let's not forget when and how to change on the fly...
WIN THE PUCK BATTLESThe Flyers beat the Penguins in part by being very effective in getting behind their defense, dumping pucks deep and winning the battles along the boards or behind the net. It's not that they haven't tried against the Devils, but Jersey has been much more successful in peeling away pucks either in the neutral zone before the Flyers can get through, or in the battles along the boards. Winning those is obviously an advantage the Flyers need to gain, but there's no simple answer as to how they can. 
GET THE POWER PLAY MOJO BACKAgain, obvious, and far easier said than done. Why isn't the power play clicking anywhere near the historic pace it set in the first round? Why couldn't the Flyers score on either of two man advantage opportunities in the overtime period of game 3. Unfortunately, the answer isn't necessarily fixable. The Devils are outstanding on the kill, stifling nearly 90% of all opposing power plays in the regular season while scoring 15 shorthanded goals. They're tenacious against the puck carrier, and they force mistakes that range in costliness from a simple clear to a shorty. 
The coaches have no doubt popped in the game tape from the Devils' first round series, when the Florida Panthers were surprisingly effective when up a man. The Flyers did tally once on the power play in game 3, but they may need to double up if they want to get out of the Rock with a win tonight. 
What would you do differently if you had to draw up the PP for tonight?
BLOW OUT MARTY'S CANDLESMartin Brodeur turned 40 years old today. Rather than letting him celebrate with a win, let's see if he'll cry at his own party. The Flyers can get bodies in front and frustrate Marty. Arming Giroux with a Simmonds or JVR screen could be lethal. 
Brodeur is another reason the dump-in isn't working. Acting like a third defenseman, cutting off wheel-arounds and firing crisp passes, he can nullify the tactic entirely. The game 1 puckhandling jitters could be over, meaning the Flyers will have to be more effective gaining the zone and setting up from the top down, rather than from behind the goal line. Either way, it'll take strength along the boards and some ownership of the low slot. 
DON'T RUIN SUNDAY NIGHT FOR EVERYONEIf I'm going to have to watch Game Of Thrones on DVR at like a million o'clock on a school night, it had better be after tossing up a celebratory recap and not some head-hanging, brink-of-elimination sob story. Ya better show up on your dire wolves and quit acting like you're up against the White Walkers. 
The Devils have made it clear that they're no underdogs. But despite the lackluster efforts of the Flyers in games 2 and 3, I find it hard to believe that Jersey is the better overall team. That doesn't mean they won't still advance. The Flyers have played well below their potential, and they need to adapt their game to a completely different opponent than the one they beat in the opening series. 

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

It appears the Sixers' frontcourt logjam may not be an issue early on.

Nerlens Noel, who is having surgery Monday for an inflamed plica in his left knee, will miss the first three to five weeks of the season, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Noel suffered a left groin injury in the first preseason game against the Celtics and missed the rest of the preseason. While undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to the discovery of the inflamed plica.

It's been an odd start to the season for Noel. The big man was outspoken about his displeasure with the Sixers' frontcourt situation early in camp. With the deadline for Noel's rookie contract extension approaching on Oct. 31, the team has not had conversations about it, according to a report.

The Sixers are already without No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons as he recovers from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot. The team will also be without their starting point guard Jerryd Bayless who is dealing with a ligament issue in his left wrist. Bayless won't require surgery and will be reevaluated in two weeks.

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