What did we learn about the Flyers this season?

What did we learn about the Flyers this season?

This week, we’ll be taking a look back at the Flyers’ season and a peek at what lies ahead. Today, a look at what we learned about the Flyers this season.

Throughout the journey that is an 82-game hockey season, you can learn plenty of things about a hockey team. You can learn even more about that team when it’s the Philadelphia Flyers because they are known for almost never doing things the easy way.

That was especially true during their recently-completed campaign, which was one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history.

With that said, what did we learn about the Flyers over the course of this season?

We learned that this is an incredibly resilient bunch.

This group persevered through a 1-7 start to the season - the worst start in franchise history, no less – and a coaching change after three regular-season game yet still dug out of that hole to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also set a franchise record for come-from-behind wins in the third period. You can never count this group out or write them off no matter how bad things look.

We learned that Craig Berube is a pretty darn good NHL head coach.

After Peter Laviolette was canned after an 0-3 start, Berube took over and the team responded to his way of coaching. Including playoffs, the Flyers went 42-27-10 under Berube this season. As you may be able to tell, the team adjusted well to his style and thrived in his system. He won’t win the award, but he certainly deserves consideration for coach of the year with the job he did turning around the club.

We learned that Claude Giroux is a superstar, if we didn’t know that already.

Giroux, a Hart Trophy finalist, didn’t score a goal for the first six weeks of the season but still finished with 28 of them. Add in his 58 assists and finished third in the league with 86 points, behind only Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. Giroux was the catalyst for the Flyers’ turnaround as he led the league in points after Dec. 11. And he had a knack for putting those points up in spectacular fashion. Remember his spinning, game-winning goal against Columbus or his filthy overtime snipe against Chicago? He’s the heart and soul of the team and will continue to be going forward.

We learned that Jake Voracek is a burgeoning playmaker of elite proportions.

He finished with career-highs in both goals with 23 and assists with 39. His chemistry with Giroux on the top line is undeniable. He was arguably the Flyers’ best player in the series with the Rangers and was one of the Flyers’ few consistent threats while showed fire and grit. The scary thing for the rest of the NHL is that Voracek is only 24-years-old and will just keep getting better.

We learned that the Wayne Train doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon.

Simmonds led the team with a career-high 29 goals. He was a power-play machine with 15 goals on the man advantage. Not only that, he stepped up in a leadership role, too. You may not have noticed, but he wore the “A” when Kimmo Timonen missed a few games this season. That shows the respect he has from his teammates and coaching staff. He’s only 25-years-old and his game is just going to keep getting better.

We learned that Steve Mason could be the savior in net that we’ve long yearned for.

Mason snatched the No.1 goalie slot at the beginning of the year and never let it go. He finished with a 33-18-7 record, .917 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average in 61 regular-season games. He was phenomenal the entire season and earned the three-year contract extension he received in January. He was spectacular in the series against the Rangers in the four games he played. The last time Mason had a season like the one he just had was during his rookie year in Columbus when he won the Calder Trophy. After that season, he sort of faded into anonymity. The goal for him is to keep his level of play up next season to prove he’s consistent enough to be an elite goalie.

We learned that the Flyers’ offense has depth but needs to be more consistent.

The Orange and Black had seven 20-plus goal scorers in the regular season, most in the NHL. But outside of Giroux, Voracek and Simmonds, none of those guys were consistent. Scott Harntell, Brayden Schenn, Vinny Lecavalier and Matt Read each suffered elongated goalless droughts. Read gets a little bit of slack because he played on the highly-effective defensive shutdown line with Sean Couturier and rarely saw power-play time. But the rest of the top scoring forwards need to be more consistent to allow space for guys like Voracek and Giroux to go to work without the opposition’s best defenders draped all over them.

We learned that Giroux and Voracek still need a proven sniper on their wing to become a truly dominant line.

No disrespect to Hartnell, he did the best he could on the line and played well enough, but he’s obviously not that sniper. Giroux and Voracek are both pass-first guys who need a real finisher alongside them to open up that space for them. That’s the first step over the hump for the Flyers to become an elite team.

We learned that the Flyers’ blue line needs a retooling.

The series with the Rangers really exposed this fact. The Rangers skated all over the Flyers’ defense in the series and magnified the Flyers’ blue-line deficiencies. They desperately need speedy and puck-moving defensemen. Kimmo Timonen is in the process of deciding whether he wants to retire or return for another season. If he comes back, he can’t be the team’s top defenseman anymore. He just can’t hold up in that spot. Braydon Coburn had one of his usual up-and-down years but really struggled in the playoffs. Could he be trade bait? Luke Schenn seemed to find his game toward the end of the year but he’s a stay-at-home, physical defender. Same with Nick Grossmann. Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald are here for a while and certainly helped but they aren’t going to put the Flyers over the top.

The question here is whether general manager Paul Holmgren goes out of the organization for a quick fix or takes the patient approach and lets kids such as Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere develop. The Flyers need an answer, though, because the blue line is still their most glaring weakness

What did you guys learn about the Flyers this season?

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).