Slow-starting Flyers and Rangers Fighting to Dig Out from Early Holes

Slow-starting Flyers and Rangers Fighting to Dig Out from Early Holes

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The Flyers exorcised some demons last Thursday, defeating
the New York Rangers for the first time in nine tries over nearly two full
calendar years. Now they must find a way to repeat their effort, or they risk slipping
into sole possession of last place in the Atlantic Division.

Philadelphia and New York are currently tied at the bottom
with four points, although the Rangers have a game on their rival. One point
for an overtime loss would match either of them with the New York Islanders –the
Isles are in action tonight at the Pittsburgh Penguins however. Regardless of
what happens in that one, best-case scenario is the loser of this second tilt
between the Flyers and Rags remains entrenched in the cellar.

Is it too early to be worried about the standings? Perhaps, especially
with all five clubs separated by just three points – only the Northwest
Division is as tightly contested. That said the Flyers do need to be concerned about
falling into a hole in this shortened season, as they are already behind eight
teams in the Eastern Conference. Every point is magnified this year.

Last week’s 2-1 victory is probably still fresh in everybody’s
minds, as it was the type of game that can turn seasons around, even in these
early stages. If nothing else, the Flyers destroyed a lot of the mystique the
Rangers had built during their dominance over Philly. Instead of skating against
a narrative, tonight the orange sweaters can skate against their opponents.

That’s not all the Flyers busted up in a hard-hitting battle
that featured a few fights. They also held the Rangers’ struggling power
play in check. New York converted on one-of-four advantages, with Ilya
Bryzgalov and his mates fighting off a 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 consecutively in the
final half of the third period.

The Rangers are now ranked 27th in the NHL, scoring on just
9.1% of their power plays. Then again, the Flyers haven’t been much better,
coming in at 24th while lighting the lamp on 12.9% of their chances. Plus, the
opportunities should be there against Philly’s killing unit, which is coming up
with the stop only 69% of the time – good for 27th in the league.

They seemed to have found the on-switch after a huge 7-1
victory over a shorthanded Florida Panthers club over the weekend, scoring and
killing power plays alike. On the second half of a Sunshine State back-to-back
however, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent the Flyers right back to square one in
both areas during a 5-1 mauling.

It should be interesting to see which Flyers squad comes out
tonight. The good news is Bryz is back in net after taking Sunday off, and he
has looked very solid through five starts thus far. Zac Rinaldo also returns to
the lineup
for the Orange & Black, although it appears impressive rookie
Tye McGinn will be headed back to Adirondack to make room. Don’t worry, Tye – you’ll
be back, and you’ll always have this beatdown.

The bell sounds for this heavyweight fight from Madison
Square Garden at 7 p.m., and it’s a big one.

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Josh Huff flashes again, but can he finally find consistency?

Josh Huff flashes again, but can he finally find consistency?

INDIANAPOLIS – The main reason Josh Huff has been such a frustrating player during his young NFL career was on full display Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
 
He flashed. Again.
 
The third-year wideout from Oregon was dynamic, elusive, productive. He didn’t look like a disappointment. He didn’t look like the player fans have grown to distrust. Instead, he looked like the guy they still hope he can become.
 
“Just get back to being me, get back to being myself,” Huff said. “I know every receiver, everybody’s gonna drop balls in this league. I just can’t beat myself up over that.
 
“I know that I belong in this league. I know that I’m able to make plays in this league, so I just have to play my game and be myself and let it sort itself out.”
 
Huff finished Saturday’s 33-23 win over the Colts with two catches for 60 yards and a nine-yard touchdown run. He again showed just how dangerous he can be when the ball’s in his hands.
 
His first catch of the day was a 38-yard catch-and-run, which clearly played to his strengths. His second was a 22-yard pickup on a critical 3rd-and-6 during a drive that ended with a touchdown.
 
And aside from the catches, he also ran into the end zone on a 9-yard jet sweep early in the second quarter.
 
“We had some plays designed to get him involved this week, to get him the ball,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I thought he did a great job. The play that really comes to my mind is the third down where it was man coverage. He beat the guy and made a nice catch, big conversion for us. He’s a guy, and I’ve said it all camp, that has big play potential for us. It’s just with his speed and his ability to run after the catch. To get him involved tonight and see those things from him, it was really nice.”
 
Huff said he tried to enter the game like it was any other. And he said he didn’t do anything differently. But it clearly seems like the 24-year-old is trying desperately to get out of his own way. Because when he does, he can be electric.
 
Saturday night was also about the coaching staff’s finding a way to use Huff — something that clearly eluded the last staff, despite Chip Kelly’s familiarity with the wideout.
 
With Jordan Matthews out against the Colts, Huff again played in the slot, a role that seems to fit his strengths, while the jet sweep for a touchdown was the culmination of plenty of similar plays run during practices.
 
“Coaches know what I can do with the ball in my hands,” Huff said. “So they’re trying to find ways to get the ball in my hands, whether it’s a pass or behind the line of scrimmage.“
 
The Eagles made sure to get the ball to Huff on Saturday night and he rewarded them with the kind of play he’s shown he’s capable of before.
 
He took a step forward Saturday night. Now, he just needs to make sure the step backward doesn’t follow this time.
 
“It’s just a mental game for me,” Huff said. “I know I can make all the plays that I made today. It’s just about doing it on a consistent basis and being the best I can be during that play or during that game.”

Today's Lineup: A.J. Ellis, as expected, catches Vince Velasquez

Today's Lineup: A.J. Ellis, as expected, catches Vince Velasquez

After arriving to the team Saturday, veteran backstop A.J. Ellis will see his first game action in a Phillies uniform, as expected, in Sunday's series finale against the Mets.

Ellis will catch right-handed starter Vince Velasquez and bat seventh. The catcher doesn't bring much to the plate with his bat, but he calls a good game and was Clayton Kershaw's personal catcher in Los Angeles. It'll be interesting to see how he handles Velasquez.

The 35-year-old is hitting just .194 this season with one home run and 13 RBIs.

In other lineup notes, Tommy Joseph gets the start at first base and will bat cleanup and Jimmy Paredes gets his second straight start in left field. Paredes will hit sixth.

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Jimmy Paredes, LF
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

Super sub Roland Alberg putting on potent show for Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg has been a terror for opposing teams. 

The latest attack from the Dutch bomber happened Saturday, while the Union were gridlocked in a scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City. Alberg entered the match in the 65th minute and ended it in the 67th, when he launched a volley that beat goalkeeper Alec Kann. 

“I have to be patient, but when I come on the field, I have to do my thing,” Alberg said. “It’s a great team performance. We did a great job, got three points and we are happy with it.”

He added an assist for the 2-0 win (see game story)

“He’s a wonderful player,” said Union left back Fabinho, who assisted on Alberg's goal. “He came on and changed the game. I saw him and I know what he likes. I give the ball to him and he scores. He has nine goals. It’s nice for him. I hope he scores more.” 

That type of impact hasn’t been irregular for Alberg. With nine goals on the season in just 925 minutes played, the 26-year-old leads MLS in goals-per-90 minutes with 0.88. Only New York City FC’s Frank Lampard is close with .85.

“He’s far and away the leader in our league,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, who originally cited Alberg’s goals-per-90 stat. “He has a special quality.”

Yet, despite that “special quality,” Alberg remains a super sub, buried behind Tranquillo Barnetta at the center attacking midfield spot. He has two goals in his last four games — all coming off the bench.

“I have to show it every training, and then it’s the coach’s decision,” he said. “If [Curtin] uses me as a sub, I’ll do 100 percent my best. And if it’s as a starter, it’s the same thing for me. Of course every player wants to play as a starter, and me too. But it’s a long season. Playoffs, they are coming. So I’m patient.”

Alberg’s potency isn’t lost on Curtin, even if the manager doesn’t switch his winning formula. Though Alberg is pushing for a starting spot, the Union might just be more dangerous with him off the bench.

“He’s a starter on most MLS teams,” Curtin said. “It’s just a matter of having depth at that spot. He’s a very valuable player to our team and shows we have a deep squad. I can’t say enough about how well he’s played in any role. As a starter for us, he’s won us a bunch of games, and his role off the bench, he’s won us some games now, too.”