Flyers, Briere Need a Slump Buster... Will It Be Sabres on Saturday?

Flyers, Briere Need a Slump Buster... Will It Be Sabres on Saturday?

A little over a week ago, there were a few stories running about how the Flyers' remaining stretch wasn't too bad, facing mostly teams outside the playoff bubble, nothing to worry about, etc. Then said stretch began, and with it, a bit of what you might call a Flyers slump. Three of their last four losses have been to teams with sub-.500 records, two of which were below the current eighth seeding, with one coming against the last place team in the East. 

What may have been overlooked or glossed over when poring at the favorable remains of the schedule was that the teams just outside the playoffs are playing to get inside that bubble, with their remaining games requiring a playoff-like intensity. The Flyers, meanwhile, are comfortably going to make the postseason, although they obviously have seeding to play for, if not the pride of being the best. 

Maybe the reminder of what it feels like to lose and have to answer questions about "intensity" and "wanting it" and your mistakes rather than the gorgeous goals and big saves you made will help the Flyers get back on track today. Let's hope so, because although they're set to face a team not currently in the playoff seedings, if we've learned anything this week, it's that a ninth place team can be pretty dangerous. 

The Sabres are three points out of eighth and four points out of seventh, but also neck and neck with the surging Maple Leafs in trying to oust a team above them. On Thursday, we got a good look at what kind of motivation that can impart in a team, when Toronto came in and took down the top team in the conference. The Sabres will no doubt see the Flyers as somewhat more beatable than they appeared during the stretch leading up to the All-Star Game. 

The Flyers may be without Jeff Carter again today, although not due to the flu that kept him out of Thursday's action along with Darroll Powe and Dan Carcillo. Carter's grandfather passed away. No word yet on today's actives and inactives. 

Before the Maple Leafs game, we importuned Kris Versteeg to light the Flyer fire against his former team. He kindly obliged. Today, we wouldn't mind seeing Danny Briere do the honors against his former team. It's been over two weeks since Danny last scored, and he has only two points in his last six games. After a hot January, Briere scored only twice in the month of February. What gives, Danny?

Briere has six points in two games against the Sabres this season, and the Flyers scored in bunches both times (11 total goals).

In a perfect little Flyers Saturday, Briere would net a pair, both on the power play, the Flyers would win, and we'd have three slumps busted at least temporarily. We'll settle for the W any way it comes though, and again, we're not worried about the team or any of its players. This type of slump is about as normal a thing as there is in hockey. 

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue on. Or at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday with John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4 but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

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Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has a word of advice for rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere when the two meet each other as opponents in this fall's World Cup of Hockey.

"The last few weeks, I told him to keep his head up," Giroux said Friday night on a conference call after both players were added to World Cup rosters.

"I'm pretty excited to go on the forecheck against him. It's pretty impressive what this kid has been able to do this year. To see it right beside him, he's got so much potential.
 
"To be on this team will only help him be better."
 
Giroux was named to Team Canada's roster, while Gostisbehere, the NHL's top rookie defenseman, was penciled in on Team North America (see story).

You may recall Giroux was overlooked by Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
 
"That was a little disappointing," Giroux said. "Any time you have a chance to represent your country and go play for them, you hope to get the call. I was a little disappointed for that. To be able to be on this team, I'm excited and I"m ready for the challenge."

Team North America is a unique blend of age 23-and-under players who will compete in the eight-team tournament starting in mid-September.

Whether the veteran athletes competing for other countries take this young stars contingent seriously on the international stage is subject to debate.

"I hope some teams would take us seriously," Gostisbehere said, "because I think we're pretty darn good. It's a different dynamic.
  
“You don’t have the veteran presence per say, but some of the guys on the team have been playing in the NHL for three years already. It’s definitely going to be a fun experience.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was also named to the tournament, playing for Team Europe.
 
“I am really surprised and excited,” Bellemare said in a statement. “I am happy that the way I played with the Flyers has helped me get a chance to play in the World Cup for Team Europe. I think this is going to be a celebration of hockey and it is surreal that I get to be in the middle of it.”
 
Both Giroux and Gostisbehere have been rehabbing at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, since their hip and abdominal surgeries on May 17.

Bellemare will go into the tournament fully healthy, while Giroux and Gostisbehere will not. Giroux had reservations about undergoing surgery if it meant his exclusion from the tournament, sources said.
 
“The surgery was a little question mark,” Giroux said. “Maybe not so much for me, but for them. I don’t know what they were thinking. The rehab has gone very well right now. There’s no issue as to why I wouldn’t be ready for that tournament.”
 
Gostisbehere is no stranger to serious rehab from surgery. He missed nearly all of the 2014-15 season as a Phantom with a torn ACL in his left knee.
 
“It’s the same sort of rehab I did with my knee,” Gostisbehere said of his current rehab.  “We’re going to keep going down the line knowing something is at the end of the line for us. We gotta really focus.”
 
The 23-year-old Gostisbehere, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which will be announced in late June, said he was humbled by the selection.
 
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “The whole format of the tournament is pretty cool to see. … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
 
The Flyers have eight players competing. Chicago has an NHL-high of 12.

Eagles mailbag: Pederson as a coach; running backs; Spikes

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Eagles mailbag: Pederson as a coach; running backs; Spikes

The Eagles are in the middle of Phase 3 of the NFL's offseason program in the CBA. That means they're well into OTAs, with another round set to start Tuesday and run through Friday. 

After that, the team will have a mandatory minicamp June 7-9, followed by a long break before training camp. 

There's plenty to talk about on this Memorial Day Weekend, so let's hop into your questions: 

This question is referring to the yearly USA Today list of the best coaches in the NFL. The list ranked Pederson at No. 30 in a group with the other first-year coaches. Adam Gase is 28, Ben McAdoo 29, Pederson 30 and Dirk Koetter 31.

"We’re lumping all of the first-year coaches together, because no one really knows how they’ll fare as head coaches," Steven Ruiz writes. 

OK, sure. 

Really, this isn't saying Pederson is a bad coach, just an unknown, which is true. I guess for the purpose of the list, he has to go somewhere. Actually, I'm surprised he's higher than Koetter, who has more experience. 

We're not sure how Pederson will be as a coach. Shortly after he was hired, I penned this column, which still holds true. Just because the Pederson hire wasn't very popular, it doesn't mean he won't be a good head coach.

Really, we won't know for a while. 

I've been asked this a few times over the last few weeks, and I understand why. The Eagles are certainly weak at the running back spot, with Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner. But I still don't see them adding anyone. 

The team drafted Smallwood and he's the key to this. They should see how he looks in training camp and even in preseason games before trying to pick anyone else up. If he can be a decent contributor this year, they can start to bring him along and groom him to be the starter. If he isn't going to be a contributor, then maybe it's time to look around a little bit. 

Another thing: there's not a ton of talent out there right now. And if anyone is still on the street, there's probably a reason for that. 

Q: Dave, you think Brandon Spikes should get a chance? He has played for Jim Schwartz before. - Joey (@MrJoey98)

Interesting name. Yes, Spikes did play for Jim Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014 and the Eagles already have three players on that team with these Eagles. 

But the team would have to weigh the positives and negatives of bringing him in. Spikes was released by the Patriots last season — he didn't' take a snap in 2015 — after he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a car crash. 

The Eagles have nearly no depth at linebacker, but would Spikes, now 28, be worth it? Not sure. Probably not, though.