Some Silver Linings on the Horizon for Flyers

Some Silver Linings on the Horizon for Flyers

The Flyers are 8-10-1 through 19 games, standing on the
outside of the postseason picture looking in, and many observers are wondering if
this is even a good team. Our own Tim Panaccio questioned earlier this week whether or not they
can get it done
as currently constructed, and as
of Friday the Daily News’ Sam Donnellon has already concluded that nope, they
can’t, thanks for playing.

It’s fairly obvious to anybody this team is not where they
want to be yet, and not just in the standings. They’re still prone to sluggish
starts, still a pitiful 4-8 on the road, still not winning enough faceoffs,
still allowing 3.05 goals per game despite the fact that Ilya Bryzgalov has
been one of their best players so far.

In short, they haven’t had the look of a club that could put
together a Stanley Cup run, and there isn’t much room to debate that. Having said that, you might want to consider at least pumping the brakes ever so gently, because the worst
appears to be over for the Flyers, at least in terms of the schedule.

The Flyers have played an absolutely brutal slate unlike any
other in the NHL up to this point. For starters, they’ve been in 19 games
already, the highest total in the league. For comparison’s sake, only three teams were
even at 18 after Thursday night, and half the league is sitting at 16 or less. 19 contests
in 34 days would take a toll on any hockey team.

And how did they get to 19? Six, count ‘em, six
back-to-backs. Everybody has them in a condensed schedule, but how many played
six in a month? As if that weren’t enough, every last one of them has
involved travel, which ought to come as no surprise given the Flyers have played 12 on
the road compared to seven at the Wells Fargo Center.

The degree of difficulty in Philadelphia’s schedule so far
has been enormous bordering on insane – but finally that’s all about to change.

Things are finally going to get back to some sense of
normalcy for the Flyers from here on out. 12 of the next 17 tilts are at home,
with only one back-to-back between now and March 30. Things are going
to quiet down so much at one point in fact, there is actually a stretch of five consecutive days
off in mid-March, which should theoretically help the guys recharge their
batteries before heading into the final stretch.

Further complicating the first portion of their schedule
were several key absences, some longer than others. Danny Briere, Wayne
Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, and Sean Couturier have all missed games
at one time or another, and although bumps and bruises are par for the course,
the Flyers have also been without Scott Hartnell and Andrej Meszaros almost the
whole way.

Both Hartnell and Meszaros are expected back within the next
couple weeks, and while Matt Read replaces them on the injured list (six weeks to torn rib cage muscle – ouch) with more sure to follow, it will be good to get back a key component of the top line and
some defensive reinforcement. Hartsy could provide an especially big
boost now that Claude Giroux seems to have found a comfort zone with Jakub
Voracek, and Meszaros certainly can’t make their blue-line depth any worse.

Do a friendlier schedule plus a couple players returning to
the lineup equal the Flyers' season turning around? Does it correct or even mask
every single one of their flaws? No, and no. They still need to go out and win
games, and do so with a patchwork defense and a headcase in net.

Before we go and rule them out as contenders though, maybe
we should see what the rest of the season brings now that the Flyers finally have a
chance to catch their breath and recuperate a little.

They've made some strides in recent weeks, climbing toward the top 10 in scoring and power-play conversion rate, and the all-around effort has been more consistent over the past three games. Plus, all of the injuries have helped them to identify quality young players in their system who could find themselves pressed into critical roles down the road – guys like Tye McGinn and Harry Zolnierczyk.

After beginning the season 2-6, the Flyers have since gone on to post a 6-4-1 record in their last 11 in spite of everything. Given the circumstances, another assessment might conclude they are actually a team that's trending up.

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NFL Notes: LeSean McCoy doubtful for Bills; Matt Jones out for 'Skins

NFL Notes: LeSean McCoy doubtful for Bills; Matt Jones out for 'Skins

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills look to be short-handed on offense in a pivotal divisional matchup against the New England Patriots.

Bills running back LeSean McCoy (hamstring) is doubtful and not expected to play. Wide receiver Robert Woods (foot) is questionable, and receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) is out.

Buffalo (4-3) is home against New England (6-1) at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

McCoy has not practiced all week due to a hamstring injury. He originally injured the hamstring on Oct. 19, leading up to Buffalo's Week 6 game against Miami before suffering a setback against the Dolphins.

"Obviously, he never practiced so you can guys can figure that out," Bills coach Rex Ryan said.

McCoy has been the driving force on offense for the Bills this season. He is fourth in the league in rushing with 598 yards and six touchdowns.

Backup Mike Gillislee is expected to start in place of McCoy. Gillislee is questionable with a foot injury but expected to play. He's performed well with limited reps and had a 44-yard touchdown against San Francisco in Week 6.

Redskins: RB Matt Jones out
LONDON — Redskins running back Matt Jones says he will not play in Washington's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday because of a knee injury.

Jones, who has 99 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns this season, says he has "a bruise and some cartilage damage" after getting hurt in the second quarter of the Redskins' 20-17 road loss to the Detroit Lions last Sunday.

He has not practiced at any point this week and was the only Redskins player who did not participate Friday at Twyford Ground in Acton.

With Jones out, the Redskins will turn to Chris Thompson, who ran for a career-high 73 yards against the Lions, and rookie Robert Kelly. They also signed Mack Brown off their practice squad, cutting safety Josh Evans.

Browns: Josh McCown to start vs. Jets
BEREA, Ohio — Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns against the New York Jets on Sunday.

The 14th-year pro has been sidelined since Sept. 18, when he broke his left collarbone in a home game against Baltimore. McCown began the season as the backup to Robert Griffin III before both injured their non-throwing shoulders.

McCown was medically cleared to play earlier in the week, and coach Hue Jackson formally chose him as the Sunday starter following the team's morning walkthrough.

The winless Browns have used six quarterbacks in their first seven games, including starters Griffin, McCown and rookie Cody Kessler.

Third-round pick Kessler suffered a concussion last week at Tennessee and remains in the NFL's head trauma protocol. He had been Cleveland's starter since Week 3.

Broncos: No timetable for Anderson's return
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — C.J. Anderson tweeted early Friday that his knee surgery was a "super success" and he was in "great spirits" but he added there was still no timetable for his possible return to the Broncos lineup.

Anderson had surgery in California on Thursday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

He got hurt Monday night on his second carry against Houston but returned to the game and ran 14 more times for 84 yards and a touchdown, finishing with 107 yards in his best performance of the season.

Rookie Devontae Booker will make his first start Sunday when the Broncos (5-2) play the Chargers (3-4), with Kapri Bibbs backing him up.

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 archnemesis.
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 in Thursday's 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've got to take the play to them and not sit back and let them dictate things. They’re too good for that.”
Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers’ poor first-period performance against the Coyotes that it shouldn’t matter who they face next, they simply need to start faster. 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 hellbent 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 rank 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 reinserting 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.