NHL Scouts in the House for Latest Flyers-Rangers Tilt

NHL Scouts in the House for Latest Flyers-Rangers Tilt

Only four points separate the Flyers from the first place Rangers in the standings, though it feels the divide is far greater. In a practical sense, the Rangers have played two fewer games, so there is the potential for a more sizable gap to emerge, one more in line with the separation apparent between these teams on this ice so far this season. Although it appears clear both teams will make the playoffs, the discussion as to the Flyers' chances at true Cup contention will increasingly be at the forefront the rest of the way.

The Flyers are the top scoring team in the league, the Rangers the leaders in limiting scoring. Unfortunately, that hasn't amounted to the typical "unstoppable force meets immovable object" scenario. So far, the Rangers have won all four meetings between the two clubs, with the Flyers failing to score more than two goals in any meeting.

And yet, there's still time to turn the tables. Right?

A closer look at today's matchup, as well as why some players may be auditioning for an involuntary move to another team, below.

The beats in the box are tweetporting the presence of several NHL personnel people in the house today, presumably for the purposes of scouting future trade possibilities. Randy Miller says there are three from the Columbus Blue Jackets, including GM Scott Howson, as well as a Montreal scout, which makes sense given all the buzz on the Flyers interest in acquiring the USS Hal Gill. Dave Isaac adds Anaheim's Randy Carlyle to the guest list as well.

While it's doubtful the players on the ice are thinking about anything other than trying to get two points and maybe add an opponent's ear to their collection, it's interesting to think what the presence of those scouts means to current Flyers and Rangers. The players are currently playing for one of the two best teams in the conference, and the presence of those scouts—particularly those from CBJ—only serve as a reminder that they might not be at the end of this month.

That's a discussion for another day. Today, the Flyers desperately need to get one win against the Rangers. They were decimated and embarrassed in New York six days ago, a hell of an encore after the tight but decapitating loss in the Winter Classic.

The Rangers are currently the class of the East. That can change quickly though, and the Flyers could use a win to show themselves that they're not wholly inferior to their rival from Manhattan, and the Rags could use the reminder that the Flyers are legit. Right now, they're looking forward to playing Philadelphia, and not just because of the old "everyone gets up for rivalry games." Lately, this matchup has meant a fun day for the Blue Shirts.

•Will the Flyers will have better luck in their Winter Classic duds today than they did on January 2nd?

•Ilya Bryzgalov remains out with an illness, so Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start against King Henrik. Can he help the Flyers win their first meeting with the Rangers since March 2011?

•Stu Bickel's in the lineup again for the Rangers. Will he again be involved in multiple man-dances?

•Who steps up on the scoresheet today?

One final note: These teams have played each other 228 times since the Flyers joined the league. Each side has 114 wins. That's a rivalry for ya.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.