Random Observations, Pics, and Video From a Great Night at the Wach

Random Observations, Pics, and Video From a Great Night at the Wach

Walking from FDR Park to the Wachovia Center last night, I was hit with a wave of nervous energy. It was mostly some positive excitement about going to see a crucial Flyers playoff game, but there was also just that moment where you think, man, this same walk out of here is either going to be a chanting celebration or head-hanging pity party. 

FDR was packed, and I really wished I'd been able to get there earlier. The mix of slightly improving weather, tailgate games, and the occasional amateur fireworks are something you don't get to see as often for Flyers games, most of which are played in cold weather months. After heading back to the car to get the tickets we'd left in the cup holder and making the whole trek ah-gain, we walked inside and were greeted by the customary XL orange t-shirts and a few stars of the Broad Street Bullies documentary I've seen four times in the past week. 

The late start and lack of a Phillies game helped with the traffic situation some (although the traffic on the Blue Route was like cruel punishment), and the fans packed the concourses earlier than usual. Everyone was jumping out of their skin ready for this game. 

We got a few pints of Grolsch at that one little stand with good beer on the upstairs concourse (directly next to the big standalone bar), grabbed a few hot dogs and some of the... oh how should I phrase this... GREATEST PRETZELS EVER, and made for our seats in the top row of the Wach.

On our way up, I saw the early candidate for Jersey of the Night—a Ville Leino Flyers sweater. Now that's some threadication, sir. Sadly, he would be dethroned by another jersey on the way out. An older fan was rocking an Ilka Sinisalo jersey with the Pelle Lindbergh number patches on the sleeve. I don't know if anyone's taking down that champion this year. 

The seats filled up early, a sea of dimly lit orange around the pristine ice before the teams came back out.

The game action was pretty intense, with the Flyers owning the first period and Bruins taking much of the swing in the second despite the Flyers scoring the only goals in either frame. When Richie found that rebound in the first, I nearly went deaf. After the exaltation, the Tuuu-kkaaaa chants started, although Rask was playing pretty well. The defense that helped him out so much in the first three games was nonexistent in the first period, and the shot that beat him wasn't remotely his fault. But this wasn't a court of law, so we serenaded the sorry bastard throughout the night.

All the energy from the first seemed to be lost for stretches of the second. The Flyers were sluggish, and they couldn't clear the zone to save their lives. Fortunately, they were able to stifle the dangerousness of the scoring attempts, and Michael Leighton's first playoff start was a thing of beauty. During a stoppage mid-way through the second period, the video board started playing some highlights of Brian Boucher in action. A BOOOSH chant started to emerge, picking up steam as the video panned Boucher in a suit and tie, out for the foreseeable future with injuries to both knees. The crowd went nuts. 

The emotion in his face says so much. Sometimes "It's just a game" is just a bunch of bull. Much respect, Boosh. In game 3, Ian Laperriere got the same treatment, but this was no crowd-hyping gimmick. 

One of the amazing things about this team has been its ability to show up just when everyone is ready to count them out, whether due to poor play or an insane amount of key injuries. Whatever happens next, they've earned a lot of respect for stepping up when it's really mattered, and picking up for their injured teammates. 

A few player notes, observed from the top row of the building. If you watched from home, you probably saw more details and had a lot of replays and commentary, so I'll keep this part short. 

Scott Hartnell looked every bit the player who'd regained his swagger. He rifled big shots on Rask and played some physical hockey. Danny Briere is a playoff monster. His goal deflated the Bruins, and the crowd went nuts every time the replay showed him crippling Rask's glove hand with his top-shelf licker. Michael Leighton made saves on everything from equipment testers to all-alone breakaways. All that time off, and not a speck of rust on his game. Seeing the birds-eye view of the ice gave a great reminder to how important Simon Gagne's two-way play is to this team's success. Their record with and without him in this series can attest to that too, but he was a beast in the neutral zone. Richie too, what an amazing game from the Captain. Ville Leino was awarded a penalty shot, and although he made some pretty moves, he couldn't get Rask to move laterally enough to find a hole. Leino, Briere, and Hartnell were a force together, with the Finnish newcomer showing some jaw-dropping moves with the puck. Claude Giroux had a few of his own, which was no surprise, but still had me catching flies. JVR seems to have walled out, which really shouldn't be much of a surprise. 

Both sides had huge hits, and the Bruins played a physical game without the level of dirtiness we saw in game 5. Playoff freakin' hockey out there. 

Forget Sidney Crosby (should be easy after last night!). He's cleaned up his diving act some, and anyway, it's nothing compared to Zdeno Chara's. I counted three times when the ogre just flopped to the ice, one of which drew a call on Chris Pronger (okay maybe the call was legit, but it still looked like a dive as well), who had been exchanging some light stuff with Chara in front of the net. After that though, the refs didn't take the bait. 

Thy Name Is Schadenfreude
Some of the biggest cheers on the night came with each score update from the Canadiens' elimination of the Penguins. Should the Flyers win on Friday, they'll actually host the 8th seeded Habs in the Eastern Conference Finals. You ALWAYS want your NHL team to make the playoffs. 

Standout Fans
Here's that guy again.

I'm still a sucker for Green Man, even with the oversaturation that's seen him at pretty much every sporting event these days.

At one point, security was talking to him though, and he had his head thing off. Creeped me out, like I was on the train in Spiderman. 

Dancing Shawny was in rare form, even for him. He seems to have added a new move to his repertoire to play up the playoff beard.


There were very few Bruins fans that I could see—just one guy sitting quietly other than to occasionally cheer, and a young couple who walked up the aisle toward the top of the section just begging for it. Arms raised, Bruins and Red Sox gear, plenty of pluck, mostly from the girl. I leaned over to my friend and said, "She's going to get him beat up." 

Wouldn't ya know it? They got real quiet after the Flyers scored a pair of goals. That wouldn't last though. I couldn't hear what she was saying, only the several voices telling her to just shut up already. A fracas did in fact ensue after the last seconds of the game ticked off, but the Flyers fans policed themselves pretty well from what I saw, just a few pushes and a couple of spilled drinks. Finally, dragged away by her boyfriend, she got to the bottom of the stairs and flipped everyone off, screaming the whole way. 

Pretty rough week for Bruins fans everywhere—so far. 

Struttin
I think my favorite part about Flyers' home playoff games is the walk out of the building after a win. The concourse erupts with LET'S GO FLYERS chants that don't stop until you're outside, and even then they only dissipate. 

Game 7 can't come soon enough. 

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

Lineup
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds

Weise-Couturier-Voracek

Raffl-Cousins-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning

Gostisbehere-Streit

Del  Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.