Flyers Shut Out Habs, Bring Series Back to Philly up 3-1

Flyers Shut Out Habs, Bring Series Back to Philly up 3-1

Less frequently than we might imagine, the final score of a hockey game says it all. Today's 3-0 Flyers blanking of the Habs is one of those occasions. There was no subplot in which the losing team played better but the winners had the lucky bounces. The Flyers dominated the Habs for the better part of 50 minutes after weathering a tentative start to the game in a hostile environment, and Michael Leighton has now put up three shutouts in four games this series. He's the first Flyers goalie to ever notch three perfect games in a playoff series. Welcome to history, Leights. You're in amazing company all of your own. 

After going from confident to cocky in less than a game, the Habs felt the bitter end of that pill in game 4.

Here's a look at the goals and storylines, including ... SANDGATE. 

Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere each played well in their respective returns for injury, and Claude Giroux was our hero on offense, ripping the skates off of Josh Gorges and then shelfing Jaroslav Halak for the opening goal. 

As you can see in the replay there, Giroux was barely a factor in the goal, so was the pass by Timonen; it was all the Gorges skate issue, right boys? /sarcasm

But for a quick memory refresher, it was Gorges who whacked Giroux in the mouth in game 3, breaking some teeth while Gorges laughed and wasn't penalized. Glad the Habs had a good time yukking it up in that game, because they got blown off their home ice in this one. 

Giroux would also score the game's final goal, a contested empty netter from the side board that drew the admiration of the NBC crew.

SANDGATE
One story we'll be interested to hear more about is the possibility that there was dirt or sand outside of the Flyers locker room. In the first period, multiple Flyers had to leave the ice because of skate blade issues, and the NBC crew alerted us to the fact that towels had to be placed over the runway outside the locker room because something was on the ground there. The Flyers wouldn't give much in the way of comments on the issue after the game, but there's no masking the fact that several guys had to leave the ice a few times to have their skates sharpened before they put those towels down. I guess 21,000 fans isn't enough of a home ice advantage. 

On the heels of a win, the Flyers had zero complaints when the mics were in front of them after the game. Some seemed to think there was something there, but wouldn't take the bait, while others had no idea where the sand questions were coming from. 

THE SHUTOUT SHUT UP
In this series, we've tried to equally credit Leighton and his defensemen, who've complemented each other well enough to generate three shutouts in four games. Tonight, the defense had incredibly active sticks, deflecting Montreal shots and breaking up rushes before they got too close to the cage. It was like a clinic out there, and it was the perfect answer to the defense's shakiest game in weeks. 

The Flyers closed out the first period strongly but again were outshot. They responded by smothering the sleeping Canadiens with a pillow in the second, outshooting them 13-1 in the frame. There's no taking anything away from the shutout goaltender, but Leighton had just 17 shots to stop in this one. Funny thing for us Flyers fans? The Leigh-taaauuuuoon chants by the Habs faithful that started with in the opening shifts and continued at various points throughout what would be a shut out. In Philly, we only do that when the other goalie gets touched up, and more so when he's torched. 

Chris Pronger logged 31 minutes of ice time in this one, a good three minutes more than his average in the playoffs. He also put a long breakout pass on the tape of Ville Leino for the Flyers' second goal, showing about the best accuracy with long-distance passing you could possibly ask for. Good recovery, Mav.

THE BEST OF RETURN TO FOREVER
So how about Lappy and Carter? There was some question as to whether they were rushed back for this game, but a 3-0 win should quiet any of that noise right quick. Lappy was strong and even mixed it up with Roman Hamrlik, taking the Habs d-man off with him for a pair of coincidentals. 

Carter was used in an interesting fashion early on, skating tiny shifts with several lines. Maybe it was to get the feel of the game back into his skates, but after seeing the Flyers shock everyone by pulling a bait and switch with his playing status, I saw that as further gamesmanship on the part of Peter Laviolette. The Canadiens had no ability to plan for Carter before the game, and then Lavvy wiped out their home ice second-change matchup ability in the first by switching up the lines fast and early. Carter was held without a point, but his shifts built up as the game went on, and he did manage 4 shots on goal, tying Mike Richards for the team lead in that category. 

After both of the first two shutout wins to start this series, the Flyers spoke about not being content with their performances, citing the need to be better. In game 3, they took a step back and got embarrassed. But today, they played their best game of the series, which now heads back to Philadelphia for what should be a great game 5. Who has tickets? This guy. 

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week. 
 
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. 
 
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.

“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past. 

"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
 
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds. 
 
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands. 
 
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play? 
 
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
 
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing. 
 
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon. 
 
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarter, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and ever play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
 
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season. 
 
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free agent deal with the Eagles this offseason. 
 
Hard work and effort are what got him here. 
 
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
 
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed. 
 
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged. 
 
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod. 
 
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work, all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”