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.

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

Best of MLB: Curtis Granderson homers twice off bench in Mets' win

NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson came off the bench and homered twice, Jose Reyes had four hits and the surging New York Mets beat the Miami Marlins 7-4 on Tuesday night.

Asdrubal Cabrera extended his recent tear at the plate, hitting a two-run homer in his return to the lineup after missing one start due to a sore left knee. Rookie right-hander Seth Lugo (2-2) gave up two runs in the first inning but recovered nicely as the Mets won for the eighth time in 10 games.

By winning the first two games of the four-game series, New York (68-64) moved ahead of slumping Miami for second place in the NL East. Both teams began the day 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card (see full recap).

Cardinals edge Brewers in 10 innings
MILWAUKEE -- Zach Duke stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout in the 10th inning after Randal Grichuk hit an RBI single in the top half of the inning, lifting the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Seung Hwan Oh (4-2) pitched out of a jam in the ninth to get the win. Duke got his first save with the Cardinals by striking out pinch-hitter Manny Pina after Matt Bowman walked three batters.

The Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta led off the 10th with a single off Corey Knebel (0-2) and moved to third on Yadier Molina's ground-rule double. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who pinch ran for Peralta, scored the winning run on Grichuk's flare to right.

St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and Milwaukee's Wily Peralta dueled for seven innings, leaving a 1-1 game for the bullpens (see full recap).

Wieters lifts Orioles over Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- Matt Wieters hit a go-ahead, two-run homer off Jason Grilli in the eighth inning to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

The Orioles pulled within three games of the first-place Blue Jays, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. After losing the opener 5-1, the Orioles will look to gain more ground in the series finale Wednesday.

Michael Saunders drilled a two-run shot off Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez that tied the game 3-3 in the seventh.

In the eighth, Jonathan Schoop walked and Wieters homered off Grilli (4-2), his 12th of the season.

Brad Brach (8-2) picked up the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Zach Britton got his league-leading 39th save (see full recap).

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

Phillies' bats dominated by Max Scherzer again in loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game with the worst on-base percentage in the majors – a paltry .297 – and they were facing one of the top pitchers in the game.
 
The results were, uh, predictable.
 
The Phillies were dominated by Max Scherzer in a 3-2 loss to the NL East-leading Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay). The final score was deceiving. The only thing that kept the game close was a solid start from Jerad Eickhoff and good work from Phillies relievers Michael Mariot, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos.
 
Scherzer (15-7, 2.89) held the Phillies to three hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out 11, marking the 12th time he has reached double digits in K's this season.
 
Since signing a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals before the 2015 season, Scherzer has faced the Phillies eight times. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in those games. (And you thought Bartolo Colon owned the Phillies.)
 
Scherzer opened this game with five no-hit innings. It was the ninth time he’d carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in 61 starts with the club.

Scherzer has twice taken no-hitters into the sixth inning against the Phillies. Freddy Galvis broke up a Scherzer no-hitter with a double in the sixth inning June 26, 2015. He did it again Tuesday night with another sixth-inning double.
 
“He’s a thorn in my side,” Scherzer joked after the game.
 
Galvis didn’t stay on the bases long. He made a boneheaded base running play after the double and Scherzer wheeled and picked him off.
 
The Phillies’ three-hit effort left manager Peter Mackanin a little frustrated. The Phils had just four hits in losing to the Nats, 4-0, on Monday night. They are hitting just .239 as a team. Only the San Diego Padres (.237) are worse in the majors.
 
“Gotta hit,” Mackanin said quietly. “Once again, I mentioned it before, we need to improve our plate discipline. We’re just not getting hits. We had chances to win the game. But Scherzer was tough. You have to give him credit. He’s got what, 60 less hits than innings pitched? He’s a tough cookie.”
 
Scherzer has given up just 128 hits in 190 innings.
 
The Phillies made a run at Scherzer in the seventh inning. Odubel Herrera reached base on an infield hit and Ryan Howard followed with a line drive two-run homer into the left-field seats. He hit a 94 mph fastball on an 0-1 count.
 
Howard had struck out in both of his previous at-bats against Scherzer and was 1 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in his career against the Washington fireballer before the homer.
 
Given Howard’s career struggles against Scherzer, it was actually a little surprising to see him in the lineup. But Mackanin reasoned that no one on the team had good numbers against Scherzer and Howard was just as likely to run into a big hit as anyone.
 
He was right.
 
Mackanin also said he’s going to start cutting into Howard’s playing time and get Tommy Joseph more looks as the season winds down. Howard, however, could force his way into the lineup with more big hits.
 
Howard was asked about his approach against Scherzer.
 
“Put the ball in play,” he said. “Simple.”
 
Howard’s homer was his 20th of the season. He has reached 20 homers 10 times. Only Mike Schmidt (14) did it more as a Phillie. Howard has 377 homers, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 73rd all time.
 
Howard was asked what makes Scherzer so tough against the Phillies.
 
“That’s Scherzer, man,” Howard said. “I mean, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason. He’s got basically four-plus pitches that he can throw anytime in any count, throw them for strikes, and he does a great job of keeping hitters off balance, mixing it up really, really well. He’s kind of got a pit bull’s mentality on the mound just going out there wanting to shove it to the other team. He had it going tonight.”
 
Scherzer also drove home the Nats’ third run of the night with a safety squeeze. It proved to be a huge run after Howard’s homer.
 
Eickhoff was solid. He gave up a couple of softly hit balls for hits in the first inning and that helped the Nats score two runs out of the gate.
 
The Phillies just didn't have enough hitting to ever get the lead.

Some of that is just who they are – one of the poorest hitting teams in the majors.

Some of it was the guy they were facing.

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

'Stronger, bigger, better' Ivan Provorov hoping to follow Shayne Gostisbehere's path

TORONTO — At training camp last year, Ivan Provorov roomed with Shayne Gostisbehere. This year, he’s hoping to follow the young blueliner’s footsteps and earn a roster spot on the Flyers' blue line. 

After playing two games with the Flyers during the 2014-15 season, Gostisbehere joined the Flyers last November and appeared in 64 games, scoring 17 goals and tallying 29 assists. The 23-year-old’s 46 points led all Flyers defensemen and the Florida native finished second to only Chicago’s Artemi Panarin in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s Rookie of the Year. 

“He had an unbelievable season [and] he helped the Flyers a lot,” Provorov said this week at the annual NHLPA rookie showcase in Toronto. “I saw him at development camp and main camp — thought he was a great player. He got his chance when he got called up, and he used it well and played his game.”

Provorov, the Flyers’ first selection (seventh overall) in the 2015 NHL draft, has only one option this year: make the Flyers' roster out of camp. Otherwise, because of his age, he’ll have to return to junior and the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. 

This past season, Provorov scored 21 goals and 73 points in 62 regular-season games with Brandon. He added three goals and 10 assists in 21 postseason games, helping the Wheat Kings win the WHL title and reach the Memorial Cup. However, Brandon struggled at the four-team tournament, losing all three games.

For his solid second season in the WHL, Provorov was named the recipient of the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

“[Memorial Cup] didn’t really turn out the way that we were hoping to, but still a great experience,” Provorov said. “It was a different atmosphere and different tournament, where you have to win one game to get into the playoffs. It’s not like a seven-game series.”

With a second WHL season under his belt, Provorov feels he’s better prepared than he was a year ago to make the leap to the NHL game. 

“I should be a little bit more comfortable, I know what to expect,” he said. “I had a great summer and I think I'm a better player than I was a year ago: stronger, bigger, better in all areas of my game. Just looking forward to getting to Philly and starting camp.”

The Flyers currently have seven defensemen under contract for the upcoming season, but Provorov’s combination of size and skill could push a veteran such as Andrew MacDonald, who already spent most of last season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, out of a job. 

Despite his abilities, Provorov knows bumping a veteran for a roster spot won’t be an easy task.

“Of course when you move on from a level to another level the speed increases, the players are stronger [and] bigger,” he said. “I think, for me I'll just try to play my game and compete as hard as I can.”

Provorov grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom and has tried to model his game after the Hall of Famer. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Provorov has spent his two seasons in Brandon developing into a two-way blueliner, who can put up numbers on the offensive side, but at the same time be counted on in a shutdown role. 

The 19-year-old credits his decision to come to North America at such a young age for helping him adjust to the differences in lifestyle. By the time he was 16, Provorov was playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in Iowa prior to being selected by the Wheat Kings in the Canadian Hockey League import draft.

“I came here when I was really young, so it wasn't that hard of a transition,” Provorov said. “Probably the most weird [adjustment] was probably food 'cause, I mean, food is really different from back home, but now I'm used to both.”

If he does wind up back in the WHL, Provorov has the annual World Junior Hockey Championship to look forward to. At last year’s tournament, Provorov, a native of Yaroslavl, Russia, registered eight assists in seven games, winning a second consecutive silver medal at the under-20 tournament.

“World Juniors is a great tournament, good experience,” he said. “It's always great to represent your country and, this time, if I get a chance to play, hopefully we'll win gold.”