Time for Schenn to Shine?

Time for Schenn to Shine?

Last spring,
there were few bright spots in the Flyers' playoff appearance. They
bounced a hated bunch of Buffalo Sabres in the first round, but at no
point during the regular season's stretch run nor their two rounds of
postseason play did they resemble a team that could win the Stanley Cup.
The "run" will forever be remembered for the club's inability to settle
on a goaltender, a problem they immediately sought to remedy in the
off-season to follow. 

The one true positive we could take from the playoff
experience was the elevated play of James van Riemsdyk. JVR was at
times the best player on the ice, and nearly always the best Flyer. He
was dominant with the puck, using his size to shield off defenders while
also showing great stick skills, scoring seven goals in 11 games. The
tallies came when it really counted too, with a goal in each of the last
three games of the Buffalo series, followed by three goals over the
first two in the Boston matchup, when the team was in shambles around
him. 

After the Flyers were bounced and Paul Holmgren
overhauled the roster, the hope was that JVR's progress would continue
in his third NHL season. For a variety of reasons, most notably
injuries, it did not. But a number of players have stepped up their
games, including veterans like Scott Hartnell, Max Talbot, and Wayne
Simmonds (still just 23, but technically a vet) while Claude Giroux
brought his to the Hart Trophy level. For the Flyers to enjoy any
success this regular season and in the playoffs though, their deep cast
of rookies will need to be major contributors. 

Surprising rookie Matt Read is a big part of the
Flyers' scoring depth and will be called on to continue lighting the
lamp, while first-round pick Sean Couturier will be charged with slowing
the league's hottest attack. Along with Eric Wellwood, a handful of
rookies are critical to the Flyers' chances for eliminating the Penguins
and could prove to be breakout performers in the playoffs, but for the
purposes of this post, let's take a look at why Brayden Schenn should
continue his rise when the bright lights are on, emerging as a
difference-maker like JVR did last year.

Pedigree and Stepping Into PotentialMike
Richards is one of the league's best two-way forwards, gritty, and the
club's former captain, so the price for his services was going to be
high. Schenn was seen as an elite NHL prospect when the Flyers acquired
him along with Simmonds, and we've lately begun to see why. He picked up
a huge goal against the Pens in the season finale before the game went
to the zoo, and he played some of his best hockey of the season. Harry Z
may have been the name added to the lineup when Giroux was scratched,
but Schenn took it on himself to be the force that replaced G. 

Not just a scorer, Schenn's shown no reluctance in
mixing it up. You may have seen a clip or two about him nonchalantly
crosschecking Sidney Crosby to the ice
in the penultimate Flyers-Pens
game of the season series.

Briere's BackAlthough he had a down
season production-wise and has had to battle injuries up to and
including the final week of the season, Danny Briere is a primetime
playoff performer. He makes those around him excel too, as we saw when
he centered the previously quiet Ville Leino and the previously slumping
Scott Hartnell two springs ago. They went on to be among the most
productive lines in Flyers postseason history. Now flanking Danny? A
versatile power forward having a career year and a fifth overall pick. 

Hopefully Danny is healthy after taking a jarring hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale. He is expected to be ready for game 1.

Wayne TrainSimmonds
has been crashing crease parties like a boss, resulting in some tip ins
and garbage goals for #17 (not to mention one off his FACE), but also
some screened efforts from others. He's also been tireless in pursuit of
pucks along the boards. Both could result in some good opportunities
for Schenn, as well as Briere.

Shadow of the G UnitThe Penguins will be
trying to get their best defenders on the ice when Giroux, Hartnell, and
Jaromir Jagr take their shifts. That should provide a slightly better
set of matchup circumstances for Briere's line. Every skater will be
feeling the pressure of postseason hockey and the energy of a packed
building, but there could be an advantage to not being the guy
everyone's expecting to carry the team.

In all, the Flyers appear ready to dress six
rookies: Schenn, Read, Couturier, Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman
Marc-Andre Bourdon. Reliance on rookies isn't often cited as a means
toward a successful Stanley Cup run, and the Flyers are certainly
counting on young players not to wilt in a playoff battle against the
team believed by many to be the favorites to win it all. 

Will these rookies have enough to hold off a veteran
group that includes some of the league's elite, players who know what
it takes to win for two spring months? 
Who do you think is the most likely Flyer to have a breakout performance in the postseason?

Hopefully this isn't one long jinx for Schenner...


US Presswire photos

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

CINCINNATI — There’s one thing the Eagles are very consistent at, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Eagles continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and with 10 more infractions in their 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, they increased their 12-game total to 100 — second-most in the NFL this year.

Five times they’ve been called for 10 or more penalties, and that’s one shy of the most games in franchise history with double-digit penalties in a season.

And there’s four games to go.

The Eagles have been cited for penalties seven or more times in all but three games. They’re on pace for the third-most penalties in franchise history.

Earlier this year, the Eagles committed seven or more penalties in four straight games for the first time in six years. The last month, they did that again.

This is not a disciplined football team. Not remotely.

“The penalties are hurting us,” said Brandon Graham, who was called for a personal foul after a low hit on Andy Dalton Sunday. “You kind of get frustrated a little bit and sometimes a lot of stuff starts happening. But we have to clean that up.”

The Eagles are on pace for 133 penalties. The franchise high is 138, set in 1994 by a Rich Kotite team that lost its last seven games. The 2005 team — torn apart by the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud — committed 134.

The only team with more penalties than the Eagles this year is the Raiders with 112. They always lead the league in penalties and at least this year they’re winning anyway.

The Eagles aren’t. Their lack of discipline has contributed greatly to their current stretch of seven losses in a nine-game span.

For the Eagles, it’s been just another part of the season that’s gotten away from coach Doug Pederson and his players.

“Penalties have got to stop,” Pederson said Sunday night. “Obviously, the turnovers and things like that too. It’s just not characteristic of how we coach and how we play.”

But it’s how this team has played. Consistently.

Only against the Bears, Cowboys and Giants have the Eagles committed fewer than seven penalties. When they commit 10 or more, they’re 1-4

“Some of it is focus, and some of it is anticipating the snap count,” Pederson said. “Some of it is a little on the quarterback, because we’re using so many snap counts and cadences to get indicators from the defense to tip their hat a little bit.

“Guys are geared up. We’ve got to focus in on that, because it’s something we work on every single week. Obviously the silent count we work on every week.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 100 penalties:

12 — Jason Peters

8 — Jason Kelce

7 — Nolan Carroll

6 — Zach Ertz, Allen Barbre

5 — Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox

4 — Dorial Green-Beckham, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins

3 — Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Najee Goode, Marcus Smith, Brent Celek

2 — Jaylen Watkins, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Destiny Vaeao, Trey Burton, Matt Tobin

1 — Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Ron Brooks, Jordan Matthews, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Donnie Jones, Bennie Logan, Chris Maragos, Leodis McKelvin, Halapoulivaaati Vaitai.

And here’s a breakdown of the types of penalties the Eagles have been hit with:

22 — False start

16 — Offensive holding

10 — Unncessary roughness

8 — Defensive pass interference, offensive pass interference

7 — Defensive offsides

4 — Delay of game, illegal formation, defensive holding

3 — Roughing the passer, facemask, neutral zone infraction

2 — Chop block, defensive 12 men on the field, encroachment, illegal contact, running into the kicker

1 — Unsportsmanlike conduct, horse collar tackle, illegal block above the waist, illegal shift, offensive 12 men on the field, offensive offsides, illegal use of hands

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State players and coaches rolled hopefully back into Happy Valley on Sunday, greeted as Big Ten champions by cheers and honking car horns.

They got off the team bus, filed into a meeting room and huddled around a giant projector screen as the College Football Playoff selection committee made its picks.

As the contenders were announced, it became clear -- this unexpectedly triumphant season was going to fall frustratingly short of college football's biggest stage.

The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions -- winners of nine straight, including a huge comeback against No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game -- won't be part of the four-team playoff. Despite a head-to-head win against No. 2 Ohio State, the Big Ten title and a run fueled by one of the country's most explosive offenses, Penn State was ranked fifth by the selection committee.

Instead of playing for a national title, Penn State (11-2) will face No. 9 Southern California (9-3) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

"I would say there were a handful of guys that obviously showed a little bit of frustration and body language and things like that," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "But 99 percent of the guys in there are just excited about staying together as a family and being able to play in such a historic bowl game."

News about the bowl destination quelled a bit of that disappointment, and some, including quarterback Trace McSorley , tweeted their excitement with rose emojis Sunday.

Franklin didn't sleep much on the flight back from Indianapolis and is about to start a six-day recruiting trip, but he was still clearly amped for the Rose Bowl during a phone call with reporters -- even though he believed his team had done enough to go to the playoff by winning what he called "the toughest conference in football."

"Obviously, our guys would've loved to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and compete for a national championship," Franklin said. "But like I said during the week, I thought our guys would be appreciative of the opportunity to be able to stay together as a family for another week and play the great game of football."

They'll do so against a team that's on a similar trajectory.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans have combined to win 17-straight games and are among the hottest teams in college football. Both have mounted striking turnarounds after ho-hum starts, energizing historically strong programs that had struggled with the weight of NCAA penalties in recent years.

Franklin arrived at Penn State in 2014 and took over a program heavily sanctioned by the NCAA for the university's role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Although the Nittany Lions have a full scholarship load this season, they're still feeling the impact from reduced scholarship numbers and start just five seniors, with only 17 on the roster.

USC, meanwhile, incurred NCAA penalties, including the loss of 30 scholarships, in the wake of a scandal involving former football player Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo, who the NCAA determined accepted gifts in the mid-2000s.

This will be the third time the programs match up in the Rose Bowl -- the first was in 1923 and the other in 2009.

"I think it makes for fabulous TV, that's for sure," USC coach Clay Helton said. "And it makes for a great bowl experience and that's what this time is all about."