Sluggish Start Costs Flyers in Exciting First Game of Season

Sluggish Start Costs Flyers in Exciting First Game of Season

A loss to your hated rival isn't how you want to end your first day of the season. But the Flyers showed some encouraging things after getting off to a real sorry start in the first period, eventually fighting back and coming a few inches short of earning at least a point if only Wayne Simmonds could have banged one home in the final minutes.

A few positive takeaways:

Ilya Bryzgalov played well in net. After giving up a tough goal off a deflection and later a weaker goal which was his biggest mistake of the day, Bryz kept the Pens off the board from there on, making a couple of real nice saves along the way.

Claude Giroux didn't miss a beat from where he left off last season. He found the net for the team's lone goal of the day and dazzled us as well (video). Seeing G do his thing was a reminder of how much Flyers hockey can be to watch. Scott Hartnell's chemistry with the team's newest captain was fantastic as well. Hartsy found him in scoring position multiple times.

Rookie Scott Laughton held his own in his first NHL game.

On a team that looked really sluggish in the first period, youngsters Matt Read and Eric Wellwood looked like speed demons out on the ice.

The Flyers lost their season opener to the Penguins, but it was a wildly entertaining hockey game for the final two periods. Obviously not how you want to start the season, but nothing too horrible took place on the ice that can't be fixed going forward.

I have to say, it was quite enjoyable to be screaming at my television again. I forgot how fun that can be.

What'd you take away from Saturday's loss?

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

VOORHEES, N.J. – Saturday might be a good time for the slow-starting Flyers to meet their cross-state, arch nemesis.
The Pittsburgh Penguins often bring out the best in the Flyers.
They’re sitting atop the Metro Division with 11 points and their veteran leaders, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are having an impact.
“Stanley Cup champs, it’s going to be emotional,” Jakub Voracek understated. “Something has to change tomorrow. That team is very fast. If we’re gonna have a slow start, they’ll jump out 2-0, or 3-0 and it will be hard to come back. We can’t afford to do that tomorrow.”
The Flyers had been living off comebacks lately, but fell short against the Coyotes on Thursday during a 5-4 loss.
Since 2014, the Flyers are 4-1-0 against the Penguins at Wells Fargo Center. That’s the good news. 
The bad news is the Flyers have given up 30 goals this season – tied for worst in the league and they’re meeting an offensive machine.
“These are always intense games with a fun atmosphere and we’ve got to be ready for it,” said goalie Steve Mason, whose slot has been under siege with uncontested shots lately. “We don’t want to take them lightly and get off on the wrong foot like we did [against Arizona]. 
“We got to take the play to them and not sit back and let them dictate things. They’re too good for that.”
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers’ poor first period performance against the Coyotes, it shouldn’t matter who they face next, their game start simply has to be better. It’s been a problem most of this season and haunted them early last fall, as well.
“They’re a team that comes out hard and it’s as good a challenge as any for us,” Hakstol said. “After the loss in our building, it shouldn’t matter who we’re playing at the start of the hockey game.”
Interestingly, Mason said following that  loss that the Flyers seem hell bent on trying to outscore their opponents without taking care of their defensive responsibilities. 
Given the influx of speed and some new offensive talent, perhaps the emphasis has switched to offense at the expense of defense.
Offensively, Claude Giroux (9 points) and Voracek (8) are among the top 10 in NHL scoring. Giroux leads the league in three areas: nine assists, six power play assists and six power play points.  
Rookie Travis Konecny is tied for fifth with six assists. Wayne Simmonds’ four power play goals ranks first with Matt Moulson (Buffalo). 
Lotta offense behind the Flyers' 28 goals scored.
“It’s a good question,” Voracek said. “It’s tough to say. It’s still early but if you’re going to get scored on so many goals a game, you’re obviously doing something wrong. Might be the case. It’s hard to answer. 
“We have to make sure even if we have talented players offensively … we have to be responsible defensively. In today’s hockey, everybody can play defense.” 
You never know which direction these games against Pittsburgh will go. They can be very physical and low-scoring. Or they can be wide-open, pond hockey with a goal fest. 
“Bluntly, last year, they played a fast, pressure-type game and I didn’t think we dealt very well with it,” Hakstol said. “That won’t be any different tomorrow. 
“They’ll play a fast, pressure-type game and we have to be ready to deal with it and take advantage of it. That will be a challenge for us.”
Defensive pairs
Hakstol changed his defensive pairs in practice. 
Brandon Manning worked with Radko Gudas; Ivan Provorov worked with Mark Streit; and Nick Schultz was with Shayne Gostisbehere.
Why the changes?
“They weren’t very good [against Arizona],” Hakstol replied. “It’s not all on the d-pairs, that’s for sure. There is some thought process behind … switching the pairs. But ultimately, the goal is to have a more competitive group of six back there playing below the top of our circles.”
Andrew MacDonald, who had several turnovers/miscues this week, will sit against the Penguins.
Hakstol didn’t mince words when asked why he was re-inserting Schultz into the lineup.
“Absolute, competitive, prideful defender,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
As for the lines, it would appear Nick Cousins will be scratched because he centered Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton in practice and both are injury-scratches right now.

Getting reacquainted with the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles' Week 8 opponent


Getting reacquainted with the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles' Week 8 opponent

For a team with so many recognizable faces, the Cowboys sure do feel different in 2016. Maybe that's because when the Eagles show up in Dallas to play for first place in the NFC East on Sunday night, they'll be trying to stop this rookie quarterback/running back pairing for the very first time.

That sure changes the makeup of a team, although the rest of the Cowboys roster is largely the same as last year. Even still, injuries and even the surprising development of a key player figure to shake things up as the Eagles renew their long-standing rivalry with the most hated of division opponents.



Quarterback: Dak Prescott

Forgive the comparison, but it's hard not to see a lot of Russell Wilson in Prescott. The way he keeps plays alive with his feet but always seems to keep his eyes downfield looking to pass is such a rare quality and one of the hardest plays in football to defend. Especially when the quarterback in question is as accurate and intelligent with the football as Prescott. Through six games, the Mississippi State product has completed 68.7 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns to only one interception. He's also run for three more scores and lost two fumbles. Much like Wilson as a rookie, Prescott is protected by a strong supporting cast that includes a great offensive line, dominant ground attack and excellent defense. Still, there's no denying the 23-year-old's talent. The kid has been great and should be under center in Dallas for years to come. 

Strength: Offensive line

Hands down, there isn't a better offensive line in the NFL. I'm not sure it's even close. Left tackle Tyron Smith is arguably the best O-lineman in the entire league right now. Zack Martin is about as dominant of a guard as there is too, and center Travis Frederick rounds out the Cowboys' Pro Bowlers up front — for now. Left guard La'el Collins seems destined to join them at some point. As you may recall, Collins would've been a first-round pick in 2015, but wound up going undrafted due to poor timing and unusual circumstances. Now he's living up to the pre-draft hype after just falling into the Cowboys' lap. 32-year-old Doug Free is as close to a weak link as there is on the line, and he's solid at right tackle. It says a lot about this group that Ronald Leary, who helped pave the way for DeMarco Murray's rushing title, is a backup, as is 2015 third-round choice Chaz Green. Unbelievable starters, unbelievable depth, and you better believe the unit is largely responsible for both Prescott's rapid development and Ezekiel Elliott's instantaneous ascension to the number one rusher in the NFL.

Weakness: Receivers

Until Dez Bryant returns and shows what he can do with that hairline knee fracture that's kept him sidelined since Week 3, there's at least some uncertainty as to the two-time Pro Bowler's effectiveness. If he's 100 percent, there are few more dominant receivers in the NFL than the 6-foot-2, 220-pound specimen with three 1,000-yard/double-digit-touchdown seasons to his name. If Bryant isn't himself, he's just another guy in an okay receiving corps. To call them a weakness might be going a bit far, as Cole Beasley is an outstanding slot receiver and Terrance Williams can stretch the field. Both Beasley have and Williams are building a nice rapport with Prescott as well, which is dangerous. These aren't typically thought of as gamebreaking receivers though. Tight end Jason Witten is getting a little long in the tooth at 34 years old as well. It all comes back to Bryant's health. As long as he's good, it elevates everybody else. Otherwise, you'll ask yourself why the Eagles can't cover these guys.



Strength: Bend, don't break

The Cowboys defense is very good, much better than it gets credit for anyway, but admittedly isn't dominant in any particular area. What the group does well, not to load this section up with cliches, is stick to their assignments and play well together as a team. That's how a defense can rank seventh in the NFL in points allowed, yet only 16th in yards, or 20th or worse in both running yards and passing yards per attempt. Dallas doesn't create an extreme number of turnovers either, currently tied for 12th with nine. The scheme isn't anything fancy and might give up some ground between the 20s, but points are hard to come by, as the unit has held four straight opponents to 17 or fewer, and no more than 23 all season. How? Solid players at every level: Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence up front, Sean Lee at linebacker and Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Byron Jones in the backfield.

Weakness: Pass-rush

If there is one area where the Cowboys could really benefit from more consistency, it's getting to the quarterback. The unit is tied for 24th in the NFL with only 11 sacks, and it's a big reason why opposing quarterbacks are posting a 95.0 passer rating, 10th-most efficient in the league. Lawrence is the defense's best rusher off the edge, but he's only played in two games this season after serving a suspension and has been limited by a back injury in those. Crawford is an underrated presence along the interior, yet while tied for the team-lead with 2.0 sacks, he can't carry the entire front four in this aspect. Lawrence should be healthier coming out of the bye, which helps, but that's not suddenly turning this into a group that instills a lot of fear.

X-factor: Morris Claiborne

The sixth-overall pick in 2012, Claiborne seemed destined to be a bust. Heck, you probably thought as I did that had already been well established. Well, it turns out that's not the case. After years of disappointment, the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year is actually performing at a fairly high level for the Cowboys, with 22 tackles, one interception and a team-leading five pass breakups. It's difficult to say where exactly the cornerback's suddenly improved play is coming from, as it often seemed like he was regressing the previous four seasons. Maybe it's simply that Claiborne is healthy for the first time since he was a rookie, as he's missed a total of 24 games over his career. Whatever the case may be, the 26-year-old is suddenly getting his hands on a lot of footballs, so Carson Wentz would be wise to be careful throwing in his direction.



Dan Bailey hasn't been automatic this season, missing two field goals, but that probably has something to do with the back injury he was fighting a few weeks back. He seems to be healthy now, quickly regaining his status as one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. The Cowboys' longest punt return is 14 yards and longest kick return 33, so it's safe to say they haven't been getting much from this phase of the game.



Jason Garrett (50-44, 1-1 playoffs)

Say what you want about Garrett, and how it often seems like he's just a puppet for Jerry Jones. I still can't put my finger on exactly what his responsibilities are after all the high-profile hires that have been made to prop him up. Nonetheless, two things are true here: first, he's managed to make it seven seasons with Jones in Dallas, which is a feat in itself and second, his teams play for him. The bottom fell out in 2015 when Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were both hurt, but one year prior, Garrett had the Cowboys a reversed catch away from the NFC Championship game. Rod Marinelli is an excellent defensive coordinator as well and leads a very talented and underrated defense. Jones still meddles far too often, and who knows what Garrett would do in a different situation, but this seems to be working for everybody somehow.