Peter Laviolette Is One of Flyers Few Moving Parts

Peter Laviolette Is One of Flyers Few Moving Parts

What’s wrong with the Flyers this year? Simple enough
question, yet one that’s sure to produce a variety of answers.

Some might say the front office failed to adequately replace
Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk in the offseason. Too much production was
subtracted from this lineup in the offseason.

However, the top line has come around without Jagr since
Jakub Voracek joined Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, while JVR only suited up
in about half the games last season anyway. Scoring doesn’t seem to be as much
of a problem since the club got healthy, as Philadelphia has climbed to 13th in
the NHL with 2.78 goals per game – not tremendously far off from their 2011-‘12
pace of 3.17, which was tied for second.

Others would argue the talent isn’t there right now on the
blue line. That’s true to an extent. Depth is an issue, and they are lacking
defensemen whose strengths include playing the puck.

Is overall talent really the problem though? Sure, Kimmo
Timonen is getting up there, has looked a little worse for the wear at times,
but he can still get the job done. Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn have both
looked strong in their own end. Braydon Coburn has had a rough go of it this
season, but in the past has generally been reliable. That’s not a terrible
core, one that should be able to get by at least with the Flyers’ combination
of veterans and prospects rounding out the group.

Then there are people from both factions who would claim
Ilya Bryzgalov simply is not the answer in goal. The numbers sure do support
those claims at the moment.

The problem with that line of thinking is we know Bryz is
capable of playing at a high level. We’ve seen him play at a high level, both
earlier this season and during his epic shutout streak leading up to his injury
last year. The fact is while he needs to be far better in one-on-one
situations, there is no denying Billy’s mates have left him hanging out to dry
far too often. You can’t honestly pin where they’re at on him.

Is Bryzgalov the best netminder in the whole big universe?
Probably not, but he can be as steady as what’s in front of him.

Each unit has flaws, some deeper than others, but this is
the team general manager Paul Holmgren constructed. Who should go?

Their hands are a bit tied.

Even if they wanted to the Flyers would have trouble moving
Danny Briere – an ideal candidate due to his contract – first because of his
no-trade clause, and then what’s the return going to be? The quality D-men they
do have are all locked up for the next few years, so should they move improving,
young forwards like Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, and Sean
Couturier for another when players like Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon,
and Brandon Manning are close to helping? There’s a lot of talk about amnestying
Bryzgalov in the offseason – which might be wise since they probably don’t want
to be paying him until he’s 40 – but his average salary is only eighth among
all goaltenders. Who is supposed to replace Bryz, for less at that, and does it
even matter if the breakdowns in front of him continue?

You can’t put anything past Homer ever since he shocked the
world two years ago when the Flyers shipped out Mike Richards and Jeff Carter,
but this is a young roster that doesn’t lend the appearance of a group that is
about to undergo dramatic change in the immediate future. A player here or
there for sure, but these are the Flyers.

Before the organization even thinks about blowing it up
again, they have to look at the head coach. I don’t say that lightly, but given
all of that talent on this team, is there any reason for the Flyers to miss the
playoffs entirely this season?

As of right now, Philadelphia’s placement in the standings
falls on Peter Laviolette. He is the easiest person to replace, and has the
most direct influence on what transpires on the ice. Lavvy may not have 100% of
the pieces he needs to bring home a Stanley Cup right now, but his club shouldn’t
be in the same boat as the New York Islanders, either. It’s his responsibility
to make it work.

The Flyers’ braintrust must consider making a switch sooner
rather than later, perhaps even this season. Bryzgalov told reporters on
Tuesday if they lose both games of a home-and-home with the Devils this week,
they are done. No doubt, the situation would be grim. The question is what will be different?

They can start with a change in philosophy.

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Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”