This Is Not a Freefall. There Is No Need for Alarm.

This Is Not a Freefall. There Is No Need for Alarm.

Five straight losses. Going from second the conference to on the brink of being on the outside looking in. Being compared negatively to the Sixers. Another concussion. Costly turnovers by should-be-Phantoms. No skate that fits. No clear-cut number 1 in net. Again.

All these elements have many Flyers fans digging through closets for baseball gloves and fastidiously reading reports on pitchers and catchers in Clearwater. In Philly, we know all to well how to rush the season, talkin' Mel Kiper Jr, fifth outfielders, and ping pong balls. But it's nowhere near time to write off this Flyers team. I'm not saying don't go out and have a 37º catch in the yard. By all means... Just don't get off the Orange & Black bandwagon before the homestretch.

True I may not have seen the worst of these recent Flyers games. Someone had to look pale and out of shape by a pool in Arizona while all ya'll chipped ice off your windshields and played bumper cars on 76 and the Blue Route. But I have a theory about these recent losses: They're a good thing...


Virtually every great season sees a time of failure and futility—a slump. Slumps are inevitable over a several-month season, whether you're talking 162+playoffs on the diamond, 16+ on the gridiron, 80+ on the hardwood, or 82+ on the ice. Pretty much every decent-to-great team has that reality check, look-in-the mirror, cold-shower leg-sweep. But as long as two very important things are part of the equation, there's no need for alarm.

These two elements are fairly simple in theory: (1) the team must learn about its weaknesses and make adjustments to correct them; and (2) the timing must be good. The first is easy enough to understand, but undoubtedly harder to implement. The ability to make these improvements is what separates Theo Epstein from Ed Wade, Bill Walsh from Andy Reid. The timing thing is more tricky, and has a lot more to do with luck than anything else. But its importance can't be discounted. Ask the Patriots if they'd have liked to lose their only game of the season on a Sunday afternoon in week 8 or intermittently between multimillion dollar commercials. The timing of a slump is everything. Too early, and you may slump again later, peaking too early. Too late, and it can spoil the playoff run. But timed just right, it can be one of the keys to going deep into the postseason.

So how does Goldilocks feel about this pile of porridge the Flyers are in? It might be just right. For starters, it's before the trade deadline. Adjustments can still be made, and the rumors have been flying about puck-moving defensemen, and of course, Peter Forsberg, although the latter seems less likely with every passing day. Paul Holmgren has made some great adjustments since taking over, so we can be confident in his ability, but will he be able to part with any of the pieces he so recently brought in? Time will tell, but I'd bet on him.

One rumor had Scottie "Menage" Upshall being tradebait, but his lingering lower-ex ailments could hurt his return value more than his playing time. Also, if there's one thing about this year's batch of trade rumors, it's that they definitively lack substance. First Rob Blake is a target, then he's not willing to play in the East. Tomas Kaberle. Dan Boyle. Your dad. The reason we haven't covered the trade scenarios is that there's just no reason to. Most of them have no possibility of happening, although there's a good chance something will.

Finally, as I wrap this up, and not a moment too soon, it's important to remember who this team is. One year removed from finishing dead fucking last in the league, the worst season in franchise history, a GM in his first full season has made a very complicated cocktail of leadership and potential, and many of the faces on the roster weren't even here last season. It's entirely unreasonable to expect them to hold on to first place in the division all year, or even to finish there. Also, have you seen the NHL playoffs? Seeding doesn't matter much, and you can get the same shitty match-up with the Devils whether you're the 3 playing the 6 or the 7 playing the 2.

There's a great chance that the playoff inclusion and seeding will continue to shuffle for the duration of the season. Over the past several months, most teams have traded spots multiple times, and we've seen nothing to indicate that the trend won't continue on into that first week of April. Don't get me wrong, I'll be pissed if the Pens win this division. But it's not the end of the run if they or the Devils or even the Rangers (ha!) do.

So even if the Flyers drop 2 of 3 against Montreal and Ottawa, let's not get too hasty to call it a season. They're still the same team that played with an air of dominance for long stretches this season, but they're also still getting to know exactly who they are and what they've got.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

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The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It’s pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That’s the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don’t get any hits there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we’re in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It’s frustrating, but it happens. It’s baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I’m really not worried about it right now. I know that I’m going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There’s no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

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OTTAWA, Ontario -- Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night and force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third.

Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa and Craig Anderson stopped 45 shots, including 22 in the second period.

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

The Senators managed to quickly forget a 7-0 loss two days earlier in Game 5 and extend their season for one more shoot at a return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 10 years. and land one more shot at a first Stanley Cup final appearance in 10 years.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. The 35-year-old struggled through Games 4 and 5 -- allowing seven goals -- but it was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).