Season Swept: Rangers Again Too Strong for Flyers

Season Swept: Rangers Again Too Strong for Flyers

Mash up that bitter pill and gum it down with some apple sauce. The Rangers own the Flyers this season. For the first time since the 70s, New York swept the season series, and they did so in dominant fashion.
The Flyers have made a habit of conceding goals early but have also dug their way out of those holes. After allowing the game's first two goals for the seventh time in 10 outings, Thursday night's hole became a pit, expanding to a four-goal deficit before the first intermission. 
If there's a silver lining here, it's that once again the Flyers did not give up despite getting blown out in the first 20. They clawed their way to a semi-respectable 5-3 loss, playing better hockey as the game wore on. They simply couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist though, who was amazing. 
The Rangers were the better team in just about every way, and even when the Flyers were playing very well, Lundqvist was unbeatable. 
Regulated EnergyThe action was dominated by power plays for both sides, with mind-numbingly bad officiating shattering any rhythm the game might have developed on its own. The Rangers scored three of their goals on the man advantage; the Flyers converted only once. One killing stretch in particular damned the orange & black. With Jaromir Jagr in the box, Artem Anisimov sliced his way through the Flyers' defense and scored with an impressive move. On his way to the goal, Anisimov was hooked, and as he scored it, high-sticked, drawing blood. The goal released Jagr from the box with the Rangers up 3-0, but two Flyers headed to the box. With a two-man advantage (including a double-minor to Pavel Kubina), the Rangers had no problem stretching the lead to 4-0. 
The Flyers earned each of those, but some of the calls in this seemed to be made at random. You may have picked up on my bias over the years, but while both teams were burned, the Flyers had the worst of it. Brayden Schenn was called for a charge on a check he clearly pulled up on. Max Talbot drew a high-sticking during a scrum that saw three Rangers on him, none of whom joined him in the bin. 
Claim to the ThroneHenrik Lundqvist has a legit shot at the Vezina this season, and his domain over the Flyers is undisputed. This game may have been lopsided at times, but the Flyers had some outstanding opportunities thwarted by jaw-dropping saves. (<—hyperbole but kinda true). Lunger was peppered with 40 shots, and the Flyers missed a good bit too, trying hard for the corners knowing full well he'd get everything else. 
It took some kitchen-sink offense to finally beat Lundqvist. The Flyers' first goal was credited to Jake Voracek, and while he certainly earned it, it wasn't clean by any stretch. Vorch followed up his own second effort with a pass attempt to Scott Hartnell in front of the net, but the puck never got there, deflecting through Henrik's pads off the skate of his defenseman. 
Their second goal also can't be pinned on Lundqvist. After a diving effort to stop a Claude Giroux one-timer on the power play, Wayne Simmonds dunked an easy goal on the empty net. Importantly for the Rangers going forward, Lundqvist hurt his arm on the play, though he didn't come out or show signs of any issues the rest of the way. He did have ice on it afterward, per Adam Kimelman. 
G SpotsAndreas Lilja appeared to score his first goal as a Flyer in the third period, but after the game it was credited to Scott Hartnell. Lilja was on the receiving end of a nice play-make by Claude Giroux, and he burned a wrister in on goal. 
Speaking of playmaking by G, his two-way effort was a huge reason for the Flyers' first goal. He made a check in the open ice, then relayed an outlet from Kimmo Timonen, who was also key in the takeaway. 
Giroux's back on the full-time clock with Danny Briere out, notching a team-high 27:13. Nearly 10 minutes of that came on the power play. 
With three assists on the night, Giroux now has 92 points. That's the most since Eric Lindros had 93 in '98-'99. 
Needs Work...Credit the Rags for taking advantage of their opportunities offensively, playing some frustratingly stifling defense, and getting top-notch goaltending. But the Flyers were a mess on a few key sequences early, failing to properly mark in front of their own net. Forwards and defenders alike were a step behind. Matt Carle had a few rough moments... Hopefully Nick Grossmann can return sooner rather than later. His size has been key. 
Bryz's ReturnBryzgalov was solid in net, hung out to dry too often in the first period of his first game after an injury layoff. He wouldn't talk about his foot after the game, but clearly didn't say that everything's fine. That might not be true until sometime after the postseason, but it didn't appear to affect his game in the loss. 
Relative RelevanceWith Briere out, Jody Shelley was back in the lineup. What timing. More often than not a healthy scratch this season, Shelley's most visible moment might have been when Mike Rupp called him irrelevant as the Ranger refused to take mutual majors with Shelley. The exchange was caught by the mics and cameras of HBO's 24/7, and to his credit, Rupp was contrite when that went public. But Rupp's also the guy who mocked Jagr by doing his trademark salute after scoring in the Winter Classic. 
One highlight, while ultimately meaningless to the game, was a first period fight in which Shelley gave Rupp some pretty relevant right hands... Both in the form of punches and a Jagr Salute of his own... 
And the salute:
Above videos by HockeyFights.com and DropThePuck.org
Highlights

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.