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?

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews is probably the only Eagles wide receiver you feel remotely good about right now.

Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are draft picks who haven’t accomplished much yet. Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are veteran offseason pickups who’ve shown little this preseason (see story). Dorial Green-Beckham is a former second-round pick whose first team gave up on him after just one year.

It’s not a group that inspires a whole lot of confidence right now. 

Potential? Sure. But opening day is 16 days away, there’s only one preseason game left for the starters to play, Sam Bradford has two guys to throw to — Matthews and Zach Ertz — and potential is a scary word at this point.

Matthews isn’t a superstar at this point. He’s a solid pro who seems to be getting better. His 1,862 yards are 10th most in NFL history after two seasons. 

But compared to the Eagles’ other receivers, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He's got credibility and because of that the 24-year-old Matthews has become a spokesman for the entire group. And this past week, two games into the preseason, he found himself in the position of having to defend this entire beleaguered bunch of wide receivers the Eagles have put together.

“The funniest thing is last year [the receivers] played extremely well in the preseason, got into the season, didn’t play well, and everybody’s like, 'Preseason doesn’t matter,'" Matthews said.

"Then the first preseason game we don’t play well, everybody’s like, 'The preseason matters, you guys suck!' Hold on … I thought it didn’t matter. You know what I’m saying?”

What he's saying is it's too early to write this group off. Maybe Huff and Agholor and Randle and Givens — or whichever among them makes the team — will turn it on once the regular season begins.

But going into the Colts game Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the numbers are not pretty.

Huff and Randle both have three catches for 13 yards. Agholor has two catches for 30 yards. Givens is 0 for 0.

Matthews hasn’t played yet in the preseason because of a knee injury, and the next four receivers have a combined 56 receiving yards in two preseason games.

Paul Turner, an undrafted rookie, leads the group with nine catches for 78 yards. 

Improvement? Matthews sees it.

“I take this approach,” Matthews said this week. “Every rep counts. And so if every rep counts, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to do better the next rep, and I felt like guys took steps forward for the next rep. And that’s the main thing you always want to see, that improvement.

“I understand it’s the NFL, I understand obviously people are going to say you get paid a lot of money to do one thing, but I’ll tell you what, I know the guys in that room, they want to do well. None of those guys went into that game wanting to mess up or not put their best foot forward.”

Probably no recent draft pick has infuriated Eagles fans as much as Agholor. Well, other than maybe Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins. And Lane Johnson maybe.

But it’s tough for some to be patient with Agholor when Jeremy Maclin had 773 yards as a rookie, DeSean Jackson had 912 and Matthews had 872.

Heck, even Reggie Brown (571 yards) and undrafted Hank Baskett (464) were factors as rookie wideouts.

Agholor’s 283 yards last season rank tied for 27th out of 32 wide receivers drafted in the first round over the past 10 years.

But he has a big-time supporter in Matthews.

“I felt like the jump he made from the first game to the second game [was significant]," Matthews said "Even the stuff you don’t see. Blocking? [Darren] Sproles caught a short pass and Nelson turned his route around … he ran a great route, got open, turned around, blocked and probably sprung Sproles for another 10, 15 yards.

“He had another bubble situation where he had to block for Josh and he did. Definitely better than the first game, and that’s what you want to see. That’s the biggest thing. And it gets lost in the shuffle.”

That Sproles play, a 21-yard gain, was called back because of a penalty on rookie guard Isaac Seumalo.

But Matthews is passionate when he talks about how Agholor’s lack of production as a rookie doesn’t mean anything moving forward.

“I don’t know if y’all know this, but I love Jordy Nelson (Packers Pro Bowl receiver),” Matthews said. “I love him. One of my favorite receivers. Jordy Nelson didn’t have 1,000 yards till Year 4.

“Let’s put it in perspective. Guys get better. And I feel like that’s what I want to see from my group. Are guys getting better?

“There’s two things that I really look for from my group — attitude and effort. And do Nelson and Chris and Josh and those guys bring great attitude and effort?

“Yes. That’s what I want to see, and I feel that’s what we’ve shown.”

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard batting cleanup, Cameron Rupp catching

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard batting cleanup, Cameron Rupp catching

Following a day off, the Phillies continue their roadtrip with the start of a three-game set with the New York Mets.

Ryan Howard will bat in the heart of the Phillies order with Cameron Rupp at catcher following the trade of Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup remains mostly the same as it was prior to a brief two-game series with American League rules.

With Ruiz's trade, Howard is the last remaining member of the Phillies' 2008 World Series team. He'll try to throw back to that time against the ageless Bartolo Colon. 

Howard has good power numbers against Colon. He has just six hits in 28 at-bats, but has drawn three walks and has three home runs against the 43-year-old starter. There are only 18 pitchers he has faced more often than Colon.

At catcher, Rupp had already inherited the starting job from Ruiz, but he is now the backstop with more experience in Philadelphia. The Phillies called up prospect Jorge Alfaro for now, but he will likely remain on the bench and be sent down when A.J. Ellis reports this weekend. 

Rupp has five hits in 14 at-bats against Colon. He has faced only the Braves' Julio Teheran more times than Colon in his four-year career. The five hits are tied for his most against any one pitcher (Teheran).

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Colon and the Mets. 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Adam Morgan, P