Posting Up: Briere Pipes in Game Winner for Flyers in Overtime

Posting Up: Briere Pipes in Game Winner for Flyers in Overtime

The post to Carolina goaltender Cam Ward’s right rang out
not once, but twice in denial of the Flyers’ advances, its shrill “ping”
erasing a pair of golden opportunities in the first period. Ward’s luck would not
carry the day however.

Danny Briere’s snipe found cold steel yet again in overtime,
only the Flyers finally got the benefit of the bounce. The puck hit the
netminder from behind off of the rebound, then finally crossed the goal line to
give Philadelphia the 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes – and the two points.

Briere rushed up the left boards carrying an outlet pass
from Nick Grossmann, but Hurricanes Jay Harrison was back to cut off his path
to the net. No problem for Danny, who hit the brakes and made his way to the
slot. Briere’s agility proved too much for Harrison, who was perhaps screened
ever so slightly by teammate Jussi Jokinen joining the play. Whatever the case,
Briere got off the clean snap shot, and the puck’s journey ended in Carolina’s
net.

It’s a good thing, too. Nobody was looking forward to the
prospect of another shootout to settle up.

While the finish was certainly exciting, the Flyers had to
play one of their most complete games of the season to fend off the Canes. The
offense put 32 shots on Ward, getting goals from Brayden Schenn (2), Matt Read
(5 – team high), and Jakub Voracek (3) in regulation. Despite allowing three
goals, they also gave a nice, physical defensive effort, scoring twice as many
hits (32 to 16) and almost twice as many blocked shots (20 to 11), with Luke
Schenn leading the charge (8 and 6).

The Hurricanes opened up the scoring just 17 seconds into
the tilt. Sean Couturier lost a faceoff in the Flyers’ zone, and Joe Corvo
immediately sent a blast on Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz seemed fooled by the puck’s trajectory,
kicking a rebound right in front of his net. Jiri Tlusty skated in unattended
and found twine with relative ease.

The Flyers answered later in the period with Brayden Schenn’s
sweet redirection of Kimmo Timonen’s launch to knot the score at one a piece.
You’ve got to see this one.

Then they took the lead coming out of the first intermission,
capitalizing on a big mistake by the Hurricanes. Eric Staal came away with
possession of the puck following a battle in his zone, but tried to make a
quick dish up the ice before he was out of trouble. Mike Knuble was in perfect
position, deflecting the disc back to center ice, setting up this walk in the
park for Read. Too easy.

A questionable call midway through the frame resulted in
some 4-on-4 hockey, setting up a frantic back-and-forth. Impressive youngster
Jeff Skinner came away with a bouncing puck in the Flyers’ zone and fired a
quick shot on Bryzgalov. He recovered his own rebound, and with two fewer men
on the ice, found plenty of room to skate. Skinner got back in front, wheeled
around and fired the puck over the netminder’s shoulder on the short side to
make it a 2-2 game.

Aside from breakaways, Bryz has been very consistent, but we
have seen him get beat over his left shoulder like that before.

Voracek returned fire a mere 15 seconds later though.
Brayden Schenn simply skated the biscuit into the Carolina zone, then fed it to
the middle for a hungry Voracek, who slammed it home. We’ve seen Voracek make
plays with his speed before, and that was certainly the case here, but the
Hurricanes’ vulnerability defensively was on full display as well. They’ve got
to get a better effort than this.

Carolina was able to force overtime via a dirty goal in the
third. The Flyers were simply unable to clear the puck, and the Hurricanes just
kept on ripping shots from the point. One of them was bound to go eventually,
and it did when Corvo’s hammer from the blue line hit Kurtis Foster up front –
part of a massive tangle of bodies in front of the net – and fluttered past a
blind goalie. Bryz had no chance.

Otherwise Bryzgalov played well yet again, making some great
saves in the process. There was a healthy contribution from the offense, and
the Flyers were flat out the more physical team on the ice in this one. They
deserved the win.

That puts Philadelphia’s record at 5-6-1 with 11 points for
the season. 7 of those points have come in their last four games. You can feel
the momentum growing.

Notes

Hurricanes center Tim Wallace was given a game misconduct and ejected for a boarding penalty on Tye McGinn early in the first period. McGinn slipped a little, and Wallace ended up hitting him up high, sending the rookie's skull into the glass. McGinn would stay on the ice for awhile, but returned to the game quickly and show no ill effects.

We'll see if any discipline is coming for Wallace. The collision was unquestionably a penalty, but there did not appear to be a malicious intent. Again, McGinn slipped, so Wallace likely did not expect his target to be in such a prone position.

The Flyers only wound up with about two-and-a-half minutes of 5-on-4 time out of the possible five. Braydon Coburn received a minor when he tried to come to his teammate's aid, and Mike Knuble picked up an interference toward the end of the advantage.

Philladelphia's power play conversion rate is down to 18.4% for the season.

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Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”