Will Flyers' Improvements Carry Bryz's Success to Bob?

Will Flyers' Improvements Carry Bryz's Success to Bob?

Concern swept Flyers nation following Monday night's 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, though it had less to do with the final score than Ilya Bryzgalov's mysterious post-game limp. For now, there is cautious optimism a chip fracture in the goaltender's foot will not keep him out of action for long, but the team is still fighting for home ice in the first round, and more importantly the ability to hit the playoffs running hot. However, they must proceed with Sergei Bobrovsky instead.

That's not meant to slight Bob, who has been more than capable through two NHL seasons, amassing a 40-22-1 record. It's just that Bryz has been playing out of his mind lately. Until three days ago, the last time Bryzgalov allowed more than two goals in a game was March 1, including that magnificent stretch where he pitched four shutouts in five games. That's Cliff-Lee-last-June-(or-August) good.

But to what degree does Bryz deserve the credit on a team that has also been playing improved defense? Specifically, is it mere coincidence he finally found his way out of the woods once Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina arrived on the scene -- and can we expect a similarly (ie, relatively) elevated performance from Bob going forward?

There is no question Bryzgalov's play has been brilliant, and it's not entirely due to the bolstered defensive presence in front of him. His vision has improved to the point where he rarely loses sight of the rubber. He's challenging shooters, standing his ground on rushes and breakaways, creeping out to the top of his crease to cut down on the angles. He's also known when to stay home, and cover the puck when in doubt. The soft goals and overplayed angles that dogged him early are extremely few and far between, and he's even been luckier, avoiding some of the deflections that can get the best of any goalie -- including Bryz early on.

Still, adding Grossmann and Kubina hasn't hurt, either. Those two give the Flyers that imposing size on the blue they've sorely lacked since Chris Pronger went down. Along with all of the other injuries the club sustained during the course of the season, they've often been forced to plug rookies Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson into the mix.

With a couple more veterans back there, suddenly nothing comes easy for the opposing team's offense, particularly in the slot, or in front of the net. The defense pushes a lot more plays to the outside, giving shooters less to work with, allowing Bryz to thrive.

They're also among the better shot blockers in the NHL -- Grossmann cracking the top 25 with 143, and Kubina situated between Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn with 115, despite missing two weeks. Matt Carle leads the club with 150, giving them five players total in the top 65 shot blockers.

All of which has helped lead to a measurable difference on the scoreboard, and in turn, the win column. Prior to the Grossmann acquisition, the Flyers were allowing 2.8 goals per game, and Philadelphia was 32-18-7. Since February 18, goals allowed per game have dipped to 2.1, the Orange and Black is 12-6-1 over that span.

Then again, there probably aren't many people who would argue Grossmann and Kubina HAVEN'T made a difference. The question for tonight is whether Bryzgalov's success can translate to Bobrovsky. It certainly did not in Bob's last outing, a 4-1 loss in New Jersey on March 11, right in the thick of Bryz's shutout streak -- a stretch Kubina was unavailable for, by the way. That's only one game though, and Bob hasn't been getting much time out from under the baseball cap.

Plus, it's worth mentioning the commitment to defense has not come without a cost. Flyers scoring is also down since February 18. Before the trades, the good guys were averaging 3.2 goals per game. Over the last 19, they're netting 2.7 per. Although, they are still comfortably third in the NHL in scoring, so they can probably afford some drop in production.

I suppose we'll get a chance to find out how much one (improved blue-line depth) has been responsible for the other (outstanding goaltending). but speaking short term, the Flyers should be fine. Bobrovsky has been in a bit of a funk, allowing 25 goals over his last six appearances, but if he trusts the guys in front of him, and tries to keep things simple, he should be able to guide the Flyers to a couple wins while Bryz gets healed up for the playoffs.

Alec Asher lone bright spot as Phillies continue to limp to finish with another loss to Mets

Alec Asher lone bright spot as Phillies continue to limp to finish with another loss to Mets

The Phillies returned home from a bad road trip Friday with only three games to play and the only thing to play for being the role of spoilers.

With the New York Mets in town looking to put a stranglehold on a wildcard spot, the Phillies, as another losing season finishes out, could be a thorn in the side of their rivals.

Alec Asher looked like he was playing the part of spoiler, retiring the first 11 batters he faced, but the Mets rallied, got behind starter Robert Gsellman, and turned back any Phillies sabotaging on this night, beating the home team, 5-1.

The two teams are heading in quite opposite directions.

The Mets, with their win, clinched at least a tiebreaker in the wildcard and guaranteed their season not ending on Sunday, the league’s final regular season date.

The Phillies on the other hand… 

“We’re certainly limping home,” said manager Pete Mackanin an hour or so after being ejected for the first time this year. “Not playing well, not swinging the bats very well.”

They struck out 14 times Friday night. And after scraping a run across in the second inning, never really looked like they were in the game at the plate.

Mackanin's ejection came in the eighth inning. Mackanin wasn’t happy with first base umpire Will Little and was thrown out of a game. Reliever Michael Mariot threw a fastball in on Yoenis Cespedes and Cespedes appeared to lose control of the bat through the strike zone. When appealed to, Little ruled Cespedes did not swing, and out came Mackanin.

"I had to get thrown out there," Mackanin said.

Perhaps he just couldn't stand to watch anymore. 

Gsellman battled through some early struggles and stymied the Phillies’ offense. Gsellman turned in six innings of one-run baseball, improving to 4-2 on the year. He allowed one run on seven hits and struck out seven.

Asher, in his last start of 2016, was the lone bright spot on this night.

With two outs in the fourth, his brief perfect game bid was ended with a single from Yoenis Cespedes. That was followed by another from Curtis Granderson. 

Jay Bruce then worked a full count but Asher couldn’t put him away. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Bruce singled home Cespedes to tie the score. 

A fourth consecutive single, this time off the bat of T.J. Rivera, allowed Granderson to cross the plate for a 2-1 Mets lead.

Asher’s night and season ended with a Bruce home run - his third in as many games - to lead off the top of the seventh.

“I wanted to go sinker away and just kind of got it mid-thigh belt,” Asher said. “He took advantage of the mistake.”

Asher, 24, went six-plus innings Friday, throwing 104 pitches while allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out four and walked zero.

His 2016 finishes with a 2.28 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 27 ⅔ innings pitched. He struck out 13 and walked four.

“Last year when Asher was here I recall being asked if it was a smart thing to do because he got rocked so badly,” Mackanin said. “We talked about if and when he did get back to the big leagues if he would be able to handle it. What kind of make up he had. Certainly he made an adjustment. Added a two-seam fastball which he never had. Has a plus changeup. He needs a little more work on his breaking ball, but nevertheless he’s pitched well since he’s been back. He’s done a good job.”

The Phillies bullpen hasn’t lately.

Mariot, in relief of Asher, gave up two runs in 1 ⅔ innings of relief, including Bruce’s third RBI of the night to give the Mets a 5-1 lead.

The Phillies offense then went quietly into the fall night. The Mets didn’t allow a hit from the final 12 Phillies hitters.

Their season will continue beyond Sunday.

“It’s step one of a bigger accomplishment,” said Mets manager Terry Collins. “We’re certainly pleased we get to play past Sunday.”

The Phillies are just limping.

Orthopedist on Ben Simmons' injury: 'The prognosis is good'

Orthopedist on Ben Simmons' injury: 'The prognosis is good'

On Friday, Sixers fans got some bad news when the team revealed that No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

The Sixers didn't give a timetable for his return, saying that they were reviewing treatment options for the 6-foot-10 point-forward.

As a guest on CSNPhilly's Sportsnet Central, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Schwartz gave a little insight into Simmons' injury. Schwartz is not treating Simmons, but has dealt with similar injuries. Schwartz believes the prognosis is good for the Sixers' rookie.

"The big question is where the exact location of this fracture is," Schwartz said. "That will dictate the prognosis and the treatment. If it's at the base of the fifth metatarsal, it's usually a non-surgical treatment. It's usually a cast/boot for six to eight weeks and return to play somewhere around eight weeks."

That would be great news considering Sixers fans didn't get to see Nerlens Noel the year he was drafted and are still awaiting the debut of 2014 draft pick Joel Embiid. 

Schwartz warns that the injury could be something known as a Jones fracture, which would likely require surgery and the recovery could be three to four months. The prognosis would still be good, according to Schwartz, but other NBA players have had lengthy recoveries with a similar injury.

"The prognosis is still good, but we know that Kevin Durant had a Jones fracture and he was out for an entire season because of it not healing," Schwartz said. "But the prognosis is good, however, the question is whether it's going to require surgery or not."

For more from Schwartz on Simmons' injury and possible timetable, check out the video above.