No Pushovers Here: Winnipeg Tests Flyers

No Pushovers Here: Winnipeg Tests Flyers

There was a time in recent NHL history when the Flyers
completely owned a little startup franchise known as the Atlanta Thrashers. In
their 11 seasons of existence, Philadelphia compiled a 30-7-3-3 record against
these Thrashers, once posting a 14-game winning streak in the process. We all
smiled and laughed, and times were good.

But since everybody except Gary Bettman knew hockey doesn’t
fly in Atlanta (the NHL is talking expansion again – third time’s the charm?),
the Thrashers are no more. They packed their bags and made for a real hockey
market – Winnipeg.

They didn’t take everything with them though. They left the
name Thrashers behind, and along with it, the Bullies’ dominance over their team.

The re-imagined Winnipeg Jets performed better than in all
but two of their seasons in Atlanta, finishing 37-35-10 and 84 points. More
relevant to Tuesday night, they ran up a 3-0-1 record over the Flyers in some
of the wildest hockey played anywhere in all of 2011-12.

Winnipeg won games by finals of 9-8, 6-4, and 2-1 via a
shootout, with Philly taking the final tilt 5-4 in overtime. Needless to say,
neither club’s goaltenders had very good numbers, although they all got plenty
of work.

Their recent competitiveness doesn’t look like a fluke,
either. The Jets are making an early bid to be in the postseason mix this year,
good for 11 points so far at 5-5-1. That’s just two points back of first place
in the Southeast Division, and has them very much in the picture for a wild
card berth.

It’s still early, but it would appear the days of taking
this franchise lightly are over.

Anyway, the Flyers have problems all their own right now,
specifically as it pertains to the road. Following last night’s 5-2 loss in
Toronto, the boys in Orange & Black are 1-6 away from the Wells Fargo
Center. To make matters worse, they had to make the two-hour flight to Winnipeg
for a back-to-back, while the Jets haven’t played since Saturday.

Their inability to score could be a problem tonight if last
season’s tilts with Winnipeg are any indication. Philadelphia is still in the
bottom-third in the NHL for scoring, ranked 22nd with 2.38 goals per game. And
while their power play has climbed to a more respectable 16.4% for the season,
the Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi points out they’ve converted just 7.1% of the time
on the road.

They’ll try to find a spark tonight by recalling Harry Zolnierczyk
to the roster. Harry Z has nine goals and eight assists in 46 games this season
for Adirondack, and had three goals and three assists in 37 games with the big
club last season. Jody Shelley was placed on injured reserved to make from for
Z, who is expected to replace Tom Sestito in the lineup.

The downside is Sean Couturier was sent home with the flu,
and Zolnierczyk is no substitute for that presence.

No word yet on who will be in net for the Flyers. Brian
Boucher, up for Michael Leighton who was placed on IR, appeared headed for his
first start – that was until Ilya Bryzgalov got the quick hook on Monday. Now Bryz
could be available, although his .850 save percentage and 3.33 goals against
averaged versus the Jets last season was nothing to write home about.

Al Montoya is in goal for the Jets. Despite spending the
previous two seasons with the New York Islanders, he’s only faced the Flyers
once, allowing four goals on 43 shots in an overtime loss. Montoya is 2-0 for
Winnipeg so far with a .899 SV% and 2.68 GAA

One thing about the Flyers this season is they have shown
some ability to bounce back from adversity. Whenever things start looking
bleak, they’ve picked themselves up and gone back to work. They could use some
of that tonight, if they’re not too tired and beat up to bring it.

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NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Golden State's Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he's not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

Kerr said: "As of right now I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air." He said that by Game 1, he might make a decision on his status.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year, still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak, addressed the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

He joked: "I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies."

Brown has been coaching the team since Game 3 of the first round at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games.

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Over the course of a long season, there are forgettable games where few things — or players — stand out.

Saturday night’s Union game out in Salt Lake City seemed like one of those — but will still be remembered for the fact that it ended a record winning streak.

Here’s a closer look at the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake that snapped Philly’s four-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, as well as a look ahead for a team that will now look to start another one.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. There was one play early in the game that could have been exceptional as Haris Medunjanin lofted a pinpoint over-the-top pass from midfield to Fafa Picault, who got behind the defense and controlled it perfectly. But Picault’s first attempt and his follow-up were both saved — the second on a goal-line clearance from defender Aaron Maund — and the Union had few other good chances as their offense dried up. That was perhaps, bound to happen, after the team, led in part by the strong play of newcomers Medunjanin and Picault, scored multiple goals in every other game this month.

2. While Nick Rimando showed why he’s the most accomplished MLS goalie ever by earning the shutout, Andre Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with even better saves, including a few spectacular diving and leaping ones. Blake certainly wasn’t to blame for the Union’s eight-game winless streak to start the season but he also wasn’t making the kind of game-changing saves Philly fans grew accustomed to last year. Now that he is, it’s one of the big reasons why the Union are back in the playoff race, despite Saturday’s loss. 

3. Although it didn’t really show earlier in the season, one of the Union’s biggest strengths is depth at the winger position as they have four players — Picault, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers — who are capable MLS starters. But with Herbers injured and Ilsinho sliding over to the central midfield, head coach Jim Curtin needed to call upon rookie Marcus Epps as his first winger off the bench. It was a difficult MLS debut playing on the road, across the country, with the team pushing for a late goal. But Curtin likes throwing guys into the fire to see what they’re made of, and will likely use Epps’ minutes in Utah as a springboard moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union had a busy end of the month, flying out to Salt Lake City a few days after a three-games-in-eight-day stretch. But they also have 15 days between MLS games following Saturday’s contest vs. New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (1:00, 6ABC). So does Curtin opt to give guys some rest because of the former or trot out the same lineup because of the latter? There are also other things to consider, including the fact that the Union will open U.S. Open Cup play on June 14 — often an ideal time to give minutes to younger guys and backups.

2. One particular position to watch is the No. 10 attacking midfield spot. Ilsinho had filled in beautifully there in place of the injured Roland Alberg, particularly during a 2-0 win over Houston on May 17. But he was mostly invisible vs. RSL, a game in which Alberg returned from a three-game absence. Considering both have never really been 90-minute players and have similar playmaking abilities, could Curtin consider a platoon with Alberg and Ilsinho? Or will Ilsinho return to the wing, at least until Herbers returns from his injury?

3. Another spot to watch is the backline, which had been mostly kept intact during the team’s six-game unbeaten run. But now that the team lost, will Curtin go back to starters Keegan Rosenberry and/or Richie Marquez? What about Josh Yaro, who’s on the mend from shoulder surgery? The makeshift group that included Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis should be commended for changing the course of the season, but it seems unlikely that Rosenberry and Marquez will remain on the bench must longer considering they were two of the team’s most promising players last year.

Stat of the week
Fabinho played his 100th MLS game Saturday. The only other players to surpass 100 games for the Union have been Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, Gaddis and Amobi Okugo.  

Quote of the week
“A good run of six games comes to an end for us now. We’ll have to look forward to starting a new streak as we go away to New York City next week.”

— Union manager Jim Curtin 

Player of the week
Andre Blake got the loss but still had one of his best games of the season, wowing the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on more than one occasion.