Crew Thick...Union host Columbus

Crew Thick...Union host Columbus

The Union face Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew
tonight at PPL Park (8PM/ESPN2) in the first ever match
between these two teams. Peter Nowak’s team looks to rebound from a
disappointing 1-1 draw with New England last
Saturday. The Crew, who “boast” one of the more unfortunate logos in American
professional sports, are coming off a 3-1 loss to Chivas.

Columbus arrives in Chester with one the most
productive designated players in league history. In the course of leading the
Crew to the 2008 MLS Cup Guillermo Barros Schelotto was named the 2008 MLS Most
Valuable Player, MLS Cup 2008 MVP and was a member of the 2008 MLS Best XI team.
He brings a wealth of experience, having appeared in 211 games for Boca
Juniors. He also brings a bit of a nasty streak as he was suspended for a game
earlier this season for throwing an elbow at Chivas USA defender Michael Umaña.

The Crew also feature a few players familiar to anyone who’s
followed the USMNT over the years. Although he did not play against Chivas the
ageless and tireless Frankie Hejduk remains a viable option for the Crew as an
outside back. You think Sebastien Le Toux can run all day? Hejduk, who turns 36
today, never stops running. Ever.

Eddie Gaven, who signed with MLS at the age of 16, is in his
eighth year in the league. Despite looking like he should be playing guitar
next to Chris Robinson with the Black Crowes Gaven was once seen as a potential
cornerstone for the USMNT. Although he has not lived up to expectations on the
international level he has found a niche with Columbus as a midfielder who is able to get
forward and flash in the offensive third. He leads the Crew in minutes played.

Finally, Chad
Marshall holds
things down in the middle of the Crew backline. At 6’4” Marshall provides an imposing presence in the
back. He’ll also pose a challenge for the Union
on set pieces.

What did we learn about the Union from their draw against New England? Well, we learned that Le Toux has no
problems cracking bending balls from the top of the eighteen into the back of
the net. We also learned that goalie Chris Seitz did not do such a great job
setting up his wall on New England’s goal off
of a free kick.

I thought newcomer Eduardo Coudet acquitted himself quite
well in his first MLS game. He provided creativity and passing ability from the
center of the park. He often came back into the defensive third to receive the
ball and jumpstart the Union attack. Although he’s not wearing the #10 shirt he
certainly played like a traditional #10 - at least more so than any other Union
midfielder has so far.

Aside from Coudet’s introduction into the lineup I thought
the Union dominated possession for long stretches of the New
England game. Soccer is just a cruel sport in that the Union seem to continually be punished for their mistakes.
Their inability to get out of their own way has really been the story of the
season thus far.

What, if anything, would I change if I was filling out the
lineup card tonight? Well, assuming he’s healthy I would insert Shea Salinas
into the right back spot Cristian Arrieta has been occupying. Nowak’s been
implementing a get-forward-or-get-out-of-the-way-style all season. Why not then
insert Salinas
into the lineup and let him run at people? He certainly has the pace.

One other change I would make would be to sit down Alejandro
Moreno. Yes, he brings veteran savvy to the field. Yes, he has a wonderful
ability to hold up play and draw fouls. However, he’s shown an inability to put
the ball into the net. The Union have a glut
of midfielders. Why not pair Le Toux and Danny Mwanga up top and go with a
midfield of Fred, Stefani Miglioranzi, Coudet, and Justin Mapp (or any other
midfield combination for that matter)? I’d like to see Nowak shake up his
forward pairing.

The Crew present a serious challenge for the Union. While they’ve been tremendous at home this will be
the stiffest home test they’ve faced thus far. They’ve shown they can play with
anyone. They’ll need to keep things tight in the back and stay away from that
one devastating mistake.

One final note before I throw my final score prediction out
there. The Union announced they’ve come to
terms with Colombian defender Juan Diego Gonzalez Alzate. He’s played in Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico.
No word on when he’ll make his debut, but he brings some much needed depth to
the Union’s central defense.

 

Final Score
Prediction:
Schelotto and his Mitch Albom haircut are too much for the Union as the Crew win it 2-1.

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers – just three wins in their last 14 games – there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory, five-day “bye” week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michael Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do -- to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Stark break.
 
Three of these games are against Metro Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild card that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... Guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kinda scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation – only Colorado [100 GA] has allowed more. Their 3.13 goals against is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those number improve significantly, they won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” said defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently, good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game-to-game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60-minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

VOORHEES, N.J. — When we last left the Flyers on Sunday evening, they were picking up pieces of themselves all over the ice at the Verizon Center after a 5-0 beatdown by the Washington Capitals.

They have had to stew over that defeat all through their five-day NHL mandated bye week, which ended Friday afternoon when they reported to Skate Zone for a rare 4 p.m. practice.

They’ll host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

“You go into the break thinking about [hockey], but the whole point of it is to refresh mentally,” said Wayne Simmonds, who got engaged. “I didn’t drive myself crazy over it. This a little stretch here before the final playoff drive.”

When Claude Giroux became engaged in late November, the Flyers won eight straight as part of their 10-game streak.

“So to replicate that, we need everyone in here to get engaged,” Simmonds said. “We've got a lot of work to do. We know that. We got off to a good start compared to the past and then we faltered.

“We know we've got to be better. We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”

A lot has happened since the loss in Washington. The Flyers remain fifth in the Metropolitan Division, but the layoff has seen them plummet to ninth overall in the Eastern Conference.

None of that, however, is as important as this: the Flyers no longer hold the second wild card. Toronto has it now with the same number of points as the Flyers — 50.

Difference is, the Maple Leafs also have two games in hand on Dave Hakstol’s club. Worse, the Carolina Hurricanes are snapping at the Flyers' skates with 49 points and they have three games in hand.

All of this is entirely the Flyers' fault as they’ve gone 3-8-3 since their 10-game win streak ended.

Yet they remain in striking distance of the wild card, although they are 11 points out of third, which is an automatic playoff spot.

They are fortunate they’re not farther behind in the wild-card standings.

“For sure, over those days there ... our division did lose a little bit,” Brayden Schenn said. “It’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, if we don’t win hockey games, it’s not going to matter what the other team will do.”

After Saturday’s game against the Devils, the Flyers head to Brooklyn for a Sunday night encounter with the Islanders. Sit five days, then play a back-to-back. Ah, the joys of the NHL schedule this season.

“We know we lost all that ground we gained with the 10-game winning streak,” said Jakub Voracek, who shaved off the beard he’s had for a year and a half during the break. “We are right there in a playoff spot. Now we keep pushing.

“We have 36 games left. We go game by game. I don’t remember how many points out we were last year with the playoffs, but we’re in a better position now.”

Last year after 46 games, the Flyers had 48 points, but were seven points out of a wild-card playoff spot. They have two more points now but are in better wild-card shape.

They know they have to get themselves going quickly but the harsh reality is, they seldom play well coming out of a four or five-day break.

Most of the players went away during the break and didn’t think about hockey. They said they wanted to come back refreshed with a new attitude and clean slate. It starts Saturday.

“We have to stop overthinking things,” Voracek said. “When we were winning, we just kept going. When you are losing, you begin to overthink things.

“You’re a half step slower thinking whether you should go or not. That’s our problem. We have to refocus. Everyone is excited to be back. Get back to work. Push this team to the playoffs.”