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. 

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

It kinda looked like football today!

After months of watching Eagles run around in shorts, the pads went on this morning. No, the team didn’t go live (tackling to the ground), but the pads were popping some and it actually resembled the real game way more than the previous days' sessions. The plan is to go three days with pads before a day without them.

A few guys – Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle, to name a few – left practice early thanks to injuries, but it didn’t appear any of the injuries were serious (see story).

Here are some observations from Saturday’s practice:

• The much-anticipated first play of 11-on-11s was won by left defensive end Vinny Curry, who blew past right tackle Lane Johnson and would have had a sack if not for that pesky red jersey Sam Bradford was wearing.

How did Curry feel today?

“Hot," he said. "Hot."

You don’t look hot.

“I got my crop top on, you know what I mean,” he said, showing off his green shirt with midriff showing. “It was fun though, man. I got a lot to learn. I’ve got a long way to go.”

• After Curry got a chance to show his stuff with the first team, Marcus Smith flashed with the twos. Yes, that Marcus Smith. On the first play, he beat Matt Tobin, who has been working at left tackle. It’s obviously early and he’s the fourth-best defensive end on the roster, but the switch to the 4-3 defense could actually make him a serviceable NFL player. He’s better going downhill. Smith looked good in 1-on-1 drills against Dennis Kelly later.

• My favorite drills in training camp are offensive line vs. defensive line 1-on-1s. It’s high entertainment between the two biggest and strongest positions on the field. Fletcher Cox is unstoppable in these drills and will be until Brandon Brooks is healthy enough to practice. He’s used to going against monsters from his time in Houston against J.J. Watt. Today, Cox wasn’t stoppable.

Rookie Alex McCalister looks like a string bean and was no match for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Rookie Destiny Vaeao had a nice power move on Dillon Gordon. Brandon Graham beat Malcolm Bunche with a sweet move to end the drill, which brought plenty of cheers from his defensive line teammates.

• Play of the day belongs to Randle. He made an incredible one-handed grab on a ball from Sam Bradford during individual drills. Randle has been getting looks with the first-team offense and has looked good. Unfortunately, he left early with cramps.

• If you’re looking for a bunch of quarterback analysis today, I don’t have much for you. All three were certainly better than they were in Friday’s disaster, but didn’t get a chance to really air the ball out. The biggest longball play of the day came in 7-on-7s when Carson Wentz aired it out to a diving Josh Huff, who made a great grab. Huff did have a glaring drop today, though.

Bradford had a really nice pass to Chris Givens during 11-on-11s. Bradford also had a great pass – of about 45 yards – to Xavier Rush, who dropped what should have been a touchdown.

• Trey Burton is the forgotten tight end. Yes, he’s third on the depth chart but Brent Celek isn’t getting any younger and Burton is showing some real pass-catching ability this training camp, especially for someone with just three career receptions. He made a great catch on a high ball today.

• It looks like Jordan Matthews’ struggles catching the ball are well behind him. He’s been very solid this summer. He made a few great catches early. On one, he leaped up and snagged the ball around Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins. A few minutes later, he made another good catch on the sideline.

• Wentz used a hard count to draw off the defense in 11-on-11s. Hard counts. Remember them?

• Earlier this week, Reuben Frank wrote about Wendell Smallwood and that despite his small physical stature, he plays big (see story). Well, we saw it on Saturday. In the open field, instead of trying to go around Jalen Mills, Smallwood lowered his shoulder and tried to go through him. That’s a nice way to start the practices in pads.

• As the pads went on, Blake Countess’ helmet cam was gone, but one appeared on Chase Daniel. It looks like the Eagles are going to keep testing these things out this training camp. Here’s what the camera looked like when it was on Countess:

• Tomorrow’s practice at 10 a.m. will be open and free for all fans at the Linc. No tickets required, just show up for first-come, first-serve seating. Fans can park in K Lot starting at 7 a.m. and gates open at 8 a.m. Enter on 11th street or Darien Street entrances.

What might you see? Well, things are getting a little feistier now that the players are able to hit each other.

When will they start getting under each other’s skin?

“Maybe tomorrow,” Curry said with a smile. “You never know when. You never know who’s having that hot, sweaty, bad day. You just never know. That’s the beauty of training camp."

Pros, cons and likely prospects of a Vince Velasquez trade with Rangers

Pros, cons and likely prospects of a Vince Velasquez trade with Rangers

Vince Velasquez just turned 24 in June.

He's under team control for the next five years and won't start making a lot of money (in baseball terms) until about 2020.

He has a big fastball that averages 93.7 mph, the 10th-best velocity of any NL starting pitcher.

He can be really, really good at times — the 16-strikeout shutout of the Padres, the 10-strikeout game against the Marlins, scoreless performances against the Mets, Indians and Diamondbacks.

And even when he's not at his best, like Friday night in Atlanta, Velasquez can succeed because his stuff is that good. He's made 18 starts this season and allowed two runs or fewer 11 times.

All of these things make him valuable to the Phillies. And all of these things make him attractive to every other team in the majors.

It doesn't seem likely that the Phils will ultimately pull the trigger and trade Velasquez to the Rangers, who are in "deep discussions" with the Phils on a deal, according to CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury (see story). But Texas has such an intriguing group of prospects that it makes sense for the Phillies to listen.

Velasquez, for all of his strengths, has not proven yet that he can be a durable, 180- to 200-inning starting pitcher. He's never even reached 125 innings at any level in the minors. There have been numerous games this season in which his pitch count has soared — either because of a lack of control, nibbling around the plate or a lot of foul balls. The result has been some early exits. That was a knock on Velasquez when he was in Houston and he hasn't yet fully outgrown it.

That's why it could make sense for the Phils to trade him. Perhaps they believe they'd be selling high on a guy who's shown so much talent and promise but not the type of consistency of a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.

Obviously, it makes sense to move him only if the return is strong. And the Rangers could certainly offer a strong package if they decide Velasquez is their guy.

The names you'll see thrown around a lot as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approaches are power hitting third baseman Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielders Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara.

Mazara is a pipe dream. The Rangers refused to include him in last summer's Cole Hamels trade, and he's only increased his worth to them this season by hitting .282/.334/.417 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs for a first-place team. He'll be a top-three finisher for AL Rookie of the Year. It's almost impossible to envision the Rangers trading away a valuable piece of their major-league roster for Velasquez. It would be a wash, at best.

Gallo and Profar are more realistic targets for the Phillies in a Velasquez trade. Gallo, 22, has some of the best raw power in the minors, true grade-80 power. The 6-foot-5, left-handed hitter bashed 23 homers in the minors last season, 42 the year before and 40 the year before that. Initially, that power translated to the majors when Gallo was called up last June. He hit homers in each of his first two games and had five in his first 50 at-bats before pitchers adjusted. So far in 136 big-league plate appearances, he's hit .192/.287/.408 with seven homers and 63 strikeouts.

The whiffs will always be a part of Gallo's game. To me, he has Brewers' first baseman Chris Carter written all over him — a lot of homers, a lot of strikeouts, low batting average. Gallo could be better than Carter because he plays a more important position and will hopefully be more than a .217 career hitter like Carter, but you also have to keep in mind that the Phillies already have Maikel Franco at third base. If Gallo was traded here, he'd likely play either first base or left field.

It's hard to say right now whether or not Gallo is more valuable or a better fit for the Phils than Velasquez. Usually, it makes sense to go with the everyday player over the pitcher who can make an impact at most twice a week. But, as stated above, Velasquez can give you six quality innings even when he's not "on." He has the most upside of any of the Phillies' young starting pitchers, including Aaron Nola.

Profar, who is somehow still just 23 after years atop prospect lists and a few injuries, would seem to be a better fit. He's a multi-dimensional player who has impressed scouts for years for a reason. He can play every infield position in addition to left field, he has the look of a .300 hitter, and his power is developing.

A switch-hitter, Profar has hit .301/.356/.440 for the Rangers in 181 plate appearances this season with four doubles, two triples and five homers. It's been a while since his last full season in the minors, but in 2012 he hit .281 with an .820 OPS, 14 homers and 62 RBIs as a 19-year-old everyday shortstop at Double A.

The opinion here is that Profar will be a better major-league hitter than Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford.

There is, however, a vast financial difference between Profar and Gallo. Profar will go to salary arbitration in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before becoming a free agent. Gallo, like Velasquez, won't start making meaningful baseball money until around 2020.

But a team like the Phillies that has deep pockets and so much open payroll space moving forward should be more concerned with receiving the right player than playing the cost benefit game.

Another thing to consider here is that the Rangers need Profar. He's been playing every day for them and playing well at second base, third base and shortstop. He played Friday night in left field. He's started a bunch of games at first base, too, and figures to get some more reps there with Prince Fielder out for the season and Mitch Moreland having just an OK year.

Brinson is another name to keep in mind. A right-handed centerfielder, he was Texas' first-round pick in 2012. He had a terrific year at three different levels in 2015, hitting a combined .332/.403/.601 with 31 doubles, eight triples and 20 homers. He's struggled this season at Double A Frisco, hitting .227 with a .692 OPS in a hitter-friendly environment.

The Rangers also have some other pieces who could help the Phillies, but you'd figure any deal for Velasquez would have to include one of these three. Otherwise, it just makes no sense to even entertain the idea of a trade.

And really, if the Rangers are willing to include one or more of those three young players, they could get any team in the majors to listen to an offer for a starting pitcher. A package centered around two of them might be enough for Chris Sale. Maybe one of them could net Atlanta's Julio Teheran. Velasquez is really good, but so are the combinations of trade packages the Rangers can put together.

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

The Eagles' first day of training camp in pads wasn’t without some minor casualties.

Cornerback Nolan Caroll left early with a sore ankle and wideout Rueben Randle left early with cramps. Both are considered day-to-day.

After Carroll left the field, Eric Rowe got some first-team reps with the defense. Randle was having a very good day, standing out with a one-handed grab, before going inside.

Undrafted wide receiver Marcus Johnson, from Texas, went inside early with a quad injury. Corner Ron Brooks (cramps) also went in early.

The Eagles started the day without starting right guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring) and starting running back Ryan Mathews (ankle). Neither have practiced since the whole team got together for the first full-squad on Thursday.

Darren Sproles continues to get most of the first-team reps at running back, with Kenjon Barner filling in. Veteran Stefen Wisniewksi has been taking Brooks’ spot at right guard.