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?

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to TeamRankings.com, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”