MATCHDAY: Bring out the orange ball Union shoot for first points in mile high air UPDATED

MATCHDAY: Bring out the orange ball Union shoot for first points in mile high air UPDATED

The Union’s newest striker spent most of last week’s
home opener trying to stay warm on the bench at PPL Park.

When he came on in the 84th minute, the
Union were already down two goals and the home crowd was cold and restless.

So Conor Casey threw his weight around a bit. 

The 31-year-old veteran threw a vicious hipcheck on
notorious pest Aurelien Collin, and finished it off by exchanging words
with his fellow hairless counterpart.

It at least drew some cheers from the Sons of Ben,
who were itching for something to cheer about. 

[UPDATE: The game has been postponed as we mentioned it may. Sunday at 3:00 pm is the new game time.]

Today at 6 p.m. (The Comcast Network) – or tomorrow
at 3 p.m. if MLS decides the 18 inches of snow in today’s Denver forecast
are too much – Casey returns to Colorado, where he made his name as
a strong-willed striker who knew how to find the net.

That’s what they Union were hoping to get when they
picked Casey in the December re-entry draft. 

So why did it take 84 minutes to see him last week?

I won’t pretend to have watched many Rapids games
in recent years. But even before last week’s opener, I was hoping
to see Casey from the opening whistle. After all, the Union’s offseason
message was basically, “See, we got real strikers now!” 

Casey has not played a full-ish season since 2010,
when he scored 13 goals in 27 games (26 starts). But he’s full recovered
now from an Achilles injury that limited him in 2011 and 2012, and judging
by last week’s late cameo, he might be just what this team needs from
the opening whistle.

The major problem last week was on defense, but the
Union also missed a few big chances at the other end. And while Sebastien
Le Toux played OK as a lone striker, one of his major flaws is his inability
to hold up the ball and break an opponent’s momentum. 

In case you didn’t notice, Sporting Kansas City
took the momentum late in the first half and never gave it back.

Casey may not score 15 or 20 goals this season, but
his presence on the field might be just what this team needs. 

Today’s Game:

Colorado Rapids (0-1-0, 0 points) vs. Philadelphia
Union (0-1-0, 0 points) 

6 p.m., Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City,
Co. – TV: The Comcast Network

(The league was set to make a decision regarding the
snow on Saturday morning. If the game is postponed, the teams will play
Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern – I’m assuming still on Comcast Network).

Today’s Opponent, in Haiku Form: 

Atiba up front

Could give the U some trouble

Mastroeni lives

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent: 

Colorado has long been one of the tougher places in
the league to go and get points, but the Rapids are definitely a team
in transition.

One of the few recognizable names – new acquisition 
Edson Buddle – is not expected to be ready today as he completes his
recovery from knee surgery. The team waved goodbye to Omar Cummings
(Houston) and Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago) and will likely spend a few
weeks trying to find the right combination for the starting lineup. 

Sports Illustrated’s Avi Creditor placed the Rapids
15th out of 19 in his preseason
power rankings
(the Union were 14th). On
the upside for Colorado, top-choice goalkeeper Matt Pickens will start
after missing the opener due to injury. Backup
Steward Ceus and his major league gaffe
led to the
only goal in last week’s 1-0 loss at FC Dallas.

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City (via Denver.org): 

More beer is brewed in Denver than any other American
city.

The Player Most Likely to Doop: 

If they game goes on in the snow, a 0-0 draw might
be the most likely outcome. If a goal is scored, I could go with Le
Toux as the easy choice. But after John Hackworth hinted this week at
a changed starting lineup, I’ll go out on a limb and reluctantly say
Jack McInerney.

Lineup I Would Love to See: 

Until Hackworth shows some semi-consistency in his
lineups, I’ll stop trying to read his mind and just give you the lineup
I’d choose.

The formation below is a little unorthodox and unlikely,
but mostly I’d love to see Hackworth find a way to get these guys
on the field. Daniel was one of the best players last week and earned
himself another start. 

Macmath

Williams – Soumare – Parke – Gaddis (reluctantly) 

Okugo – Carroll

      
Daniel 

Le Toux – Casey –
M.Farfan

Prediction Sure to Be Way Off: 

Whether it’s today or tomorrow, I’d love to predict
a Union win. If they have aspirations of improvement in 2013, they need
to get results on the road against some of the league’s weaker teams.

Sadly, I don’t see it. 

Colorado 2, Union 1.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.