Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti

Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti


Al Morganti has provided entertaining and informative coverage of the Flyers and
Philadelphia sports for years,
and he's currently a co-host of the 610 WIP Morning Show and Comcast's
Flyers game day coverage. His columns during his days with The Hockey News shaped my view of the league, and he continues to be one of the most respected voices in hockey. We're grateful for the opportunity to discuss
the upcoming Flyers-Caps series with Al and share his insights with
you.

What's been the most pleasant surprise about this Flyers season?

The rapid development of defenseman Braydon Coburn. He still makes some big mistakes, which is normal for a young defenseman, but he has displayed a real ability to skate the puck out of trouble, and he has been coached into a player who is willing to launch a shot from the point. Of all the moves that general manager Paul Holmgren made last season, the deal to bring Coburn to Philadelphia from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik was his best. Coburn has a chance to be to the Flyers what Brian Rafalski was to the Devils in terms of skating the puck through any trap, and he has a better upside in terms of booming a shot for goals and points.

Has the team met, exceeded, or fallen short of where you thought they'd be?
At the beginning of the season I said the team would battle to make the playoffs, and after their quick start I thought I had seriously undervalued their talent. However, the Flyers stumbled and then regained their balance. Overall, I think they are perhaps a little ahead of where I thought they would be at this time. Remember—they were the worst team in the NHL last season, and the fact that they could recover from a serious slump is even more impressive than their quick start.

Chris Therien suggested that Scottie Upshall might be the key to the series with the Capitals, in that he could be the forward who harasses Alex Ovechkin the way Keith Jones once did Jaromir Jagr. Would you agree?
I
love Jonesey, but I don’t think he is going to keep Jagr out of the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Upshall will be able to upset Ovechkin. I would also worry that if Upshall got too involved in that stuff he would wind up in the penalty box too often in the first two games in Washington, and Ovechkin would be seen with that gap-toothed grin after scoring on the power play. However, I do agree with Chris that Upshall is the sort of player who can have a huge impact in a playoff series. He has the kind of game that can be very effective in the playoffs – if he stays under control.

(Much more with Al Morganti, including his pick for the series, after the jump.)

How else do you think the Flyers can eliminate, or at least minimize the 8 Factor?

I really think they have to just assume Ovechkin will get his goals,
and they have such a balanced offense that can score more goals. Rather
than worry about Ovechkin, it would be far better to make sure other
players such as Semin are taken out of the equation. No matter how
great they are, no player (other than a goalie) can beat you alone, and that
includes Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr.


Which team is the tougher squad? To what degree do you think rough play
will be a factor in this series, as some have touted it will be?

The Flyers are the more physical squad, but Washington is tough in that
the Caps can take a hit without losing their wits. If the Flyers think
they can bash Ovechkin and watch him shrink they will be badly
mistaken. If they bash Ovechkin, he will bash back. The Flyers biggest physical advantage will be their willingness to use
a hard two-man forecheck and thump the Caps defensemen in the
Washington zone.


Does Marty Biron have what it takes to carry a team deep into the playoffs? Does Cristobal Huet?

I believe Biron does, but there is no track record. Nobody has any idea
about Huet. I don’t believe either goalie will be the hero or the goat
in this series.


Other than Ovechkin and Huet, what are the most dangerous elements of
the Caps' game? What are their most glaring (exploitable) weaknesses?

The weakness will be their defense, especially if their injured regulars Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn cannot play. The Caps' biggest weapons will be their skilled forwards, especially the
Russian quartet of Ovechkin, Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov—the only Russian to win the Hart (MVP), and he could be a huge
factor in this series

What's your series prediction?
I think the Flyers have too much scoring balance, I like Philly in six.


What is the Flyers biggest off-season need, and how do you think they'll address it?

I don’t think there are huge needs. I suppose it's to replace captain Smith and
maybe Hatcher if his injury status (knee) is a problem. The bigger
issue might be how to deal with the concussion problems of Simon Gagne, can
they count on him? Or do they have to sign Vinny Prospal?

MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

ap_841901862648.jpg

MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins is worried David Wright may wind up on the disabled list because of a neck injury.

New York's captain and third baseman was out of the starting lineup for the third straight day Monday because of his neck. He was given anti-inflammatory medicine over the weekend.

Now 33, Wright was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24 last year when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He has a lengthy physical therapy routine he must go through before each game.

Wright homered in three straight games last week before getting hurt. He is batting .226 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.

White Sox: Shuck called up with Jackson injured
NEW YORK -- With Austin Jackson bothered by turf toe, the Chicago White Sox recalled outfielder J.B. Shuck from Charlotte and optioned right-hander Tommy Kahnle to the Triple-A farm team.

Jackson left Sunday's game in the eighth inning because of his left foot.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Monday's series opener against the New York Mets that he doesn't think Jackson's injury at this point merits a move to the disabled list. He adds that the team does not "necessarily want to lose him for two weeks right away."

Shuck was batting fifth and playing center field Monday. He was 0 for 9 with the White Sox before he was sent down April 18 when Chicago needed to add a pitcher. He is hitting .299 at Charlotte with two homers and 17 RBIs.

Kahnle is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four games over three stints with Chicago this season.

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

052716_okafor_noel_slide.jpg

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as the No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

usa-stephen-curry-golden-state-warriors.jpg
USA Today Images

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."