Yo, Flyers, start being selfish and shoot the puck more

Yo, Flyers, start being selfish and shoot the puck more

The Philadelphia Flyers are currently riding a five-game home winning streak.

That’s cool and all, but it doesn’t mean squat these days because they're are in the midst of six-game road trip - which continues tonight in Detroit - that has them away from Wells Fargo Center until next Thursday.

And while the Orange and Black picked up a win – a shootout win (!) at that – this past Saturday in Nashville against the Predators, the first two games of the trip haven’t been pretty.

The Flyers have been badly outplayed to start the road swing.

What’s to blame? Look no further than the offense, which has reverted back to its October ways.

I know you remember that offense from the beginning of the season that was historically bad and helped that Flyers get off the worst start in franchise history. Well, that’s what we’ve seen two games into this trip.

The main reason the offense has been putrid lately is the fact that the Flyers haven’t shot the puck enough.

Instead of shooting, they instead have tried low-percentage passing plays that opposing defenders have gladly eaten up and taken the other way for scoring chances. You know, the things that anchored them at the beginning of the year.

If you’ve watched the games, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Flyers have tried to pass through multiple defenders, pass cross-ice or pass to an unaware teammate instead of shooting when there are clear lanes to the net.

The most glaring example came in the first period of Monday night’s clunker of a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild when Claude Giroux broke into the Wild zone on a partial breakaway. Instead of taking a shot, Giroux, the most dangerous Flyer, decided to cut to the side of the net and try to hit a trailing Scott Hartnell. Hartsy didn’t have an angle to the net and the play was easily broken up and resulted in a huge missed opportunity.

The Flyers finished Monday’s game with just 21 shots on net in 60 minutes of play. With as good as NHL defenses and goaltenders are these days, putting just 21 shots on net isn't a recipe for winning.

To make matters worse, outside of the diving save Wild goalie Josh Harding made on Jake Voracek in the third period, how many of those 21 shots actually tested Harding? Very few.

The story was much the same in Nashville. The Flyers recorded just 24 shots in 65 minutes of play against Predators rookie goalie Marek Mazanec. If it weren’t for a defensive breakdown that left Sean Couturier open in front of the net in the third period and Steve Mason’s wizardry between the pipes, the Flyers would have suffered another inept defeat.

You can even go back to the Thanksgiving Eve stinker in Tampa if you want. In that game the Flyers had just 21 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Lightning.

A quadratic formula here, use the FOIL method there, carry the one over this way… and that averages out to 22 shots for the Flyers over their last three road games.

Anyway, an average of 22 shots on net won’t get a team anywhere but the loss column unless a goalie stands on his head like Mason did in Nashville.

The moral of the story is that if the Flyers want to get the offense back on track, they better start shooting  a whole lot more.

Stop the overpassing and low-percentage plays and just shoot if there’s a lane. They have to be a lot more selfish and just shoot the damn puck.

If there’s one thing Gary Dornhoefer taught me during the hockey telecasts of my youth it’s that it’s almost never a bad play to get the puck toward the net. You never know what’s going to happen.

Tonight’s game in Detroit against the Red Wings would be a good place to start.

The Red Wings will be without their entire top line of Todd Bertuzzi, Henrik Zetterberg and puck-handling magician Pavel Datsyuk. That’s 28 goals out of the lineup tonight for Detroit. That should work in the Flyers advantage.

What shouldn’t work in the Flyers advantage is the fact they’ve won just one game in Detroit since 1988. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the Flyers win JUST ONE FREAKIN’ GAME in Detroit.  That win came in January 2011 and is the only victory in the Flyers last 18 games in Joe Louis Arena.

More than 22 shots on net would be a step in the right direction for the Flyers if they are to get just their second win in Detroit that these green eyes of mine have ever seen.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.