Flyers-Caps: Part the Red Sea Edition

Flyers-Caps: Part the Red Sea Edition

What up Flyers fans. I'm sorry to say I'm not among you back in Philly, nor getting ready to descend on the Verizon Center this afternoon. Instead I'm in Florida for a bit, and it ain't a bad day to be here. 

But enough about partly cloudy and 81. You can bet I'll be done outside by 3PM, because we should be a helluva game between the Caps and Flyers. The Capitals are a legitimate, no-joke contender of a team, and winning in their barn won't be easy. Say what you will about their fair-weather fans, but there's little question it's a tough building these days, and that's a great thing for hockey and the budding mini-rivalry between these teams. 

The Caps are playing for the top seed in the conference, tied with the Sabres at just a point behind the Devils. The Flyers have obviously made some progress recently, but they're still sitting a point out of the way-too-early playoff picture. Funny thing is, while those two scenarios show how critical two points in the standings would be for both teams, I don't think either club is thinking about the leaderboard this afternoon. 

The recent history between these teams should be more than enough motivation to fire both sides up. For the Flyers, getting past an awful loss to the Maple Leafs and beating a team like the Capitals will help them stay on the course they've set with 8 wins in their last 11 games. Maybe falling to earth against Toronto was a good reality check that they won't all come as easy as they have lately, especially not today. The Caps are also coming off of a game against the Leafs—but they won theirs by a 6-1 count. 

Fella by the name of Mike Knuble scored two of those goals. We wish Knuble well and all, but I really hope we don't see a repeat performance. Of all the departed Flyers from last season, his absence has been the one the team has felt the most. With 12 goals and 12 assists, it hasn't been quite the great season many were expecting from Knuble on the high-scoring Caps, but he's on a bit of a hot streak now, so he could be a handful for the Flyers' d-men. Oh, and that newly captain'd Ovechkin guy hasn't been too bad either (29 goals, 33 assists, 62 points). 

We've seen 60-minute shootouts between these two teams before, and there's a good chance this one will go that way too. Sorry to cut this short, but there's a beach run between me and this nice little boardwalk breakfast joint, then some pooltime calling me. I'll be testing out NHL.com's Gamecenter Live for the first time today, which sounds like a good fix for my out-of-market Flyers jones. 

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”