2010 Eagles Met, If Not Exceeded Expectations

2010 Eagles Met, If Not Exceeded Expectations

The negative reactions are understandable and natural. Once again the Eagles will not be crowned world champions, and until they finally cast off the proverbial monkey, there will always exist a void inside many fans. Another season has concluded with disappointment.

As the initial gloom subsides, and we begin to put a wrap on the season that was, it's time to acknowledge this outcome was not even remotely surprising. Nobody predicted the Eagles would go all the way. Most people thought they would miss the playoffs and finish below .500.

This team was incomplete, and everybody knew it. Why such outrage after they came up short?

Play the blame game if it makes you feel better. Question why Michael Vick was targeting Riley Cooper when it mattered most. Point your finger at the receivers who dropped the ball. Shake your head as Winston Justice regresses right before our very eyes. Ponder how the front office can fix a defense that was historically bad in the red zone, and not great anywhere else. Ask how David Akers, in the midst of one of his best seasons, blows two makeable field goals. Criticize Andy Reid for, among other things, being Andy Reid.

Then breathe.

The Green Bay Packers are a better team. They entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, and the Philadelphia Eagles did not. Neither club wound up anyplace we didn't assume they would five months ago.

In professional sports, it's nearly impossible to compete for a championship every season. Somewhere along the way, barring flawless scouting and/or unlimited resources, every franchise inevitably must go through a period of transition. Sometimes it can take years, with one or more complete overhauls of the roster, coaching staff, and front office.

That's the traditional definition of rebuilding, which was supposedly happening here this season. The Eagles jettisoned the majority of their aging veterans, most notably the starting quarterback, and filled out their roster with a league high 13 draft picks. Even if the organization didn't outwardly say it, the moves marked a purposeful shift in direction.

Yet despite the notion they were "rebuilding," the Eagles still won 10 games and went to the playoffs. They matched the loftiest of goals set by prognosticators, and squashed the popular opinion they were not contenders.

Given the circumstances, that sounds like a successful season.

Obviously it's not successful in terms of winning the ultimate prize. If you're of the mindset that is the only way the campaign can be described as successful, I can't help you.

By any realistic standard, the Eagles had a quality season. They beat some long odds to go as far as they did. Between the youth movement, changes under center, and a bevy of injuries, most NFL teams would have crumbled.

The Eagles won the division like that, which suggests good things are still to come.

Yes, they have holes, or in some cases just tough questions. Right at the top of the list is what to do with their quarterbacks. They have needs along the offensive line and throughout the defense. Several key players are free agents, such as Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell, and David Akers. Marty Mornhinweg could be named the head coach in Cleveland, and Sean McDermott's performance will come under increased scrutiny.

Those holes and questions were always going to be there at the end of the season though, because they already existed when it began. Nothing suddenly changed on Sunday. The Eagles needed a right corner whether they advanced or not. They were going to draft some offensive linemen either way. There are difficult personnel decisions during any off-season. These issues surely did not catch anybody off guard.

They were just as imperfect in a loss as they were before the game, and before the season began. A deep playoff run was always a longshot.

Now the Eagles have another off-season to address those needs, and complete the sweeping changes that actually have been in progress for years. They'll use free agency and the draft to fortify those positions, like they would after any other season. Plus, a promising collection of young talent and prospects will have another year under their belts, returning in 2011 much stronger, healthier, and wiser.

Until then, while it may be hard to shake the fact that you're dissatisfied with this finish, it deserves to be put in proper perspective. Nobody on the coaching staff deserves to lose their jobs over this effort. By not only avoiding a total collapse, and instead taking back the NFC East and earning a home playoff game in the process, the Eagles put next season's opponents on notice. With the right moves, and a little luck, the Eagles can take a step forward from this and perhaps rejoin the rank of the elite.

If there is a next season.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).