Recap: Ho-Hum... Game 1.

Recap: Ho-Hum... Game 1.

A lot of you were prepared for this.  I read it in the comments here and on other hockey forums.  You kept telling yourself “After ten minutes, I’ll know which team shows up for this game.”  You were referring to the Jekyl and Hyde that is the Philadelphia Flyers.  Would the team that backed into the playoffs while losing home ice and seeming disinterested face the Penguins in Game 1 of Round 1, or would the tenacious team with 6 twenty plus goal scorers that beat the Penguins and Devils a few weeks back show up?  That answer can be derived from the 4-1 final score in favor of the Penguins.  But along with that sobering bit of bad news, there’s always a silver lining.

Truth be told, you didn’t have to wait 10 minutes to know which Flyers team was set to face the Penguins.  At 4:41 of the first period, the most hated of all Flyers killers, Sid the Kid, notched a power play goal that will be scrutinized for quite some time.  It all began with Malkin dishing a pass out front to a cutting Crosby.  Sid kicked the puck from his skate to his stick, past Biron, off the post… back off Biron and into the net. 

“Upon further review, the puck was not kicked in with a distinct kicking motion.”  This was Van-whosit-whatsits’s call that gave the Pens the early lead.  First of all, if there was no distinct kicking motion, you’re fooling yourself.  I’ve read quite a few post-game comments from Pittsburgh fans saying it was a hockey stop or it was directing, not kicking.  Crosby was KICKING the puck to his stick with the intentions of shooting the puck in.  Now, as a Flyers fan who thinks the goal wasn’t good… you’re also delusional.  While Donnie Van-Mass might have given an invalid or incorrect reason for the goal standing, word from the War-Room and further inspection gave alternative reasons for the 1-0 lead.  Some say it hit his stick “ever so gently.”  The rest of you will take notice of the puck hitting the post and then nicking off of Biron’s pad and going in.

What may have been more controversial was the call that gave the Penguins the power play to begin with.  Aaron Asham, at the end of his shift tapped the arm of a passing Penguin and was called for hooking.  When Billy Clement says its weak, you know its weak.  But regardless, when you’re the most penalized team in the league, you gain a reputation, and all those seeds the Flyers planted during the regular season are appearing to bloom.  Despite the fact they didn’t show up till late in the first period and despite the fact they took three minor penalties, the Flyers left the 1st down by one goal.

I have to say that I was more impressed with the Penguins’ third line than the ones that were centered by the league’s top two points getters.  Staal in particular gave the Flyers fits throughout the game and skilled pest Tyler Kennedy scored on a 3 on 1 to make the score 2-0.  The second period was actually a good one for the Flyers and as it progressed it seemed the ice was slowly but surely tipping in their favor.  But a common theme of the Flyers’ season returned in the form of bad bounces and bad penalties.  Any time the team gained momentum, something would happen to force them back on their heels.  One instance in particular, a goalie interference penalty on Scott Hartnell comes to mind.  To be completely honest… I thought this one was also weak.  Hartnell crashed the net and got a decent shot off, and was shouldered into “MAF” by Kris Letang.  In retrospect, I wish Hartsy had gotten a little more bang for his buck, knowing that his team would eventually lose the game.
Mike Knuble’s attempted wrap around the boards paved the way for Pittsburgh’s third goal, basically ending the game.  The puck took a funny bounce right out in front of a bewildered Biron.  The league’s top scorer and potential MVP was there to collect it, delay, and slip a backhander into the yawning net.  This came just after the announcers had mentioned that they HADN’T mentioned Malkin’s name in forever, which further solidifies the point that both Crosby and Malkin, each with an goal and assist, didn’t have their best games.  And they didn’t need to.  Add former Flyer/current Penguin Mark Eaton’s goal for good measure, and you have a 4-0 game.

Mike Richards provided the only real Flyers offensive threat in this game, which kinda reminds you of the way last year’s eastern conference final ended up.  All told, he hit three posts, with the last one leading to a power play rebound shot and score by Simon Gagne.  Yay… no shutout for the Pens fans to boast over.  Throw in a smidge of final minute tomfoolery and penalties and that was pretty much the game.

Bad News
Kimmo Timonen looked gimpy, courtesy of a Charlie horse from early in the game.  You have to know he’s a target of the Pens forecheckers, just like Gonchar will be for ours.  To see him limping around EARLY in the first period was not a good sign.  Another concern for the Flyers has to be that both Crosby and Malkin had okay games, but are both capable of much more damage.  That being said, Philadelphia STILL lost the game 4-1.  Not a good sign.  The biggest bit of bad news I received was when I watched Game 2 of the Vs double header, Vancouver/St. Louis.  If you wanted to see what playoff intensity means, watch that game.  It was physical, fast, and exciting.  I realize the score was not in our favor last night, but even more than that, the game wasn’t all that interesting.  This malaise that the Flyers have suffered from during their most inconsistent stretches in the regular season was present in Game 1.

Good News
The Flyers lost game one in all three series last year.  Two of them they went on to win.  Also, there is room for improvement.  It isn’t like the Flyers played their best game and still couldn’t beat the Penguins.  They played a so-so game and for the most part were losing by 2 goals.  I also thought the play of Biron was somewhat encouraging.  Three of the four goals he has absolutely no chance, with the second goal trickling through his five hole.  Replays show the puck deflected off Matt Carle, but you’d still like to see Marty keep it 1-0 at that point.  Biron faced a lot of shots from the Pens in the slot and was up to the task.  It must be encouraging to say “Biron didn’t lose us game 1…”  right?  

Howie Kendrick (oblique) finally ready to begin rehab assignment tonight

Howie Kendrick (oblique) finally ready to begin rehab assignment tonight

Phillies corner outfielder/infielder Howie Kendrick is finally nearing a return. He'll begin a rehab assignment tonight with Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Kendrick has been out since April 15 with an oblique strain. He did defensive work during the Phillies' road trip and has been taking outdoor batting practice at home this week.

Kendrick was off to a hot start when the oblique injury sent him to the DL. In 10 games, he went 13 for 39 (.333) with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs. He batted second all 10 games.

The Phillies are in a bad offensive funk and could use Kendrick's bat over Michael Saunders' right now. The Phils' 1-2 hitters were among the most productive in the majors in April, hitting close to .350 for the month. They're down to .282 on the season as Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera have slumped in May.

With Clay Buchholz likely out for the season and Saunders providing little offense so far, the Phillies' trio of offseason veteran additions has not panned out through two months.

Supplement-free Lane Johnson heaviest he's ever been, feels he has much to prove

Supplement-free Lane Johnson heaviest he's ever been, feels he has much to prove

It's only natural to have some reservations about Lane Johnson after he was suspended for 10 games last season for his second violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. One more positive test and the Eagles will lose their starting right tackle for two full years.

Fortunately, Johnson seems determined to avoid any future run-ins with the league. The 27-year-old changed his entire approach this offseason, cutting out negative influences or any other voices at all while preparing for the 2017 season.

"I just trained by myself back in Oklahoma," Johnson said after the Eagles' first full-team practice of OTAs on Tuesday. "Trained by myself and everything went good. I came back, my body weight is about 325, so I'm heavier than I've ever been. I feel in good shape, and I have a lot to prove, so it's a big year for me.

"I did everything by myself. There wasn't going to be any mishaps."

Two suspensions totaling 14 games later, Johnson has gained a healthy fear of being unknowingly steered toward an illegal supplement.

Johnson tested positive for PEDs before the season last year after taking a banned substance known as peptides and was eventually slapped with the full 10-game penalty after a lengthy appeal process. The fifth-year veteran always maintained peptides were not listed on the label of the offending supplement.

Johnson filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the players' association in November after the suspension was upheld. Its status is ongoing.

Johnson also served a four-game suspension in 2014.

When he's not in trouble with the league office, Johnson is a vital cog in the Eagles' offense. They went 5-1 with him and 2-8 without him last season.

"I feel like whenever I'm playing, I try to be the best right tackle in the NFL," Johnson said. "My deal is to just stay on the field, play a complete season, and I think it will be a big year for me."

Johnson isn't concerned about losing a competitive edge, physically or mentally, after dropping supplements altogether.

"I've always been the athlete that I am," Johnson said. "That's what I'll continue to prove. I'm gonna go play and show people what I can do."

Signed in January 2016 to a five-year contract extension worth $56 million, Johnson has plenty to prove. He was working out in place of 35-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, who wasn't at the start of OTAs, on Tuesday and is expected to one day replace the nine-time Pro Bowl selection permanently.

Despite his checkered past, it sounds like Johnson knows exactly what's on the line, which is why he chose to go it alone this offseason. The only person you can trust is yourself.

Then again, Johnson still has his vices, which might raise some eyebrows with the news he's up to 325 pounds — eight more than his listed weight.

"My big deal is cutting out the ice cream, the Ben & Jerry's late at night — the stuff you want to indulge in," Johnson said. "If you get me on an ice cream binge, it's not good."

The Eagles can probably deal with a little extra ice cream, just as long as Johnson remains committed to keeping dodgy supplements out of his body.