Flyers-Habs Face Off to Start Round 2

Flyers-Habs Face Off to Start Round 2

Just two days after closing out a 7-game series the Caps, the Flyers take the ice again tonight with their second round opponent, the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens. No team in the history of the sport can boast the success that the Habs have had, and even though it's a new building, the 24 championships earned on Montreal ice are undoubtedly intimidating.

Their fans are insane. Like, riot gear and arson insane. Just like they did in the regular season, they will boo the hell out of Danny Briere any time he touches the puck. Why? Because he speaks French, and when he became a free agent this past summer, he didn't sign there. He's not even from Montreal; he's from Ottawa. Get over it. But I digress. (Also, Carey Price might hate him for this.)

Danny's also the hottest player on the ice in these playoffs, leading the league in playoff goals (6) and points (11). The Flyers will need him to keep it up, because Montreal is one of the best offensive teams in hockey. They're faster than the Capitals, and we saw how Washington's speed and finesse gave the Flyers fits at times, but they're also deeper. In the end, depth was one of the biggest keys to beating the Caps, but Montreal has it in spades. From a Canadiens blog, we've learned that the top two lines for tonight will be as follows:

It has been confirmed that Carbonneau will stick with
Higgins-Koivu-Kovalev line for the first game of the second round
tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. That means that the Kostitsyn
brothers will again be centered by Tomas Plekanec.

They might not be the biggest household names, but those guys can fire the puck. The Habs also have a hot goaltender in Carey Price. Don't be fooled by his age; this franchise knows how to find soon-to-be legends in goal. A fella by the name of Patrick Roy lead the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup victory in 1986, his rookie year, so maybe postseason experience isn't always as important as it's made out to be. Price was good enough this season to let Montreal send Cristobal Huet to the Caps for chump change, and he notched two shutouts in the series against Boston.

The Bruins did show that Montreal can be beat, taking them to seven games, and the Flyers are arguably a superior team to Boston. However, if they want to advance to the next round, they have to stay out of the penalty box. The Canadiens had an amazing power play unit this past season, converting on 24.2% of their opportunities to lead the NHL in that category. The Flyers were second, with 21.8% success, so Montreal will need to take it easy with the stick play as well. The Bruins managed to stifle the Habs PP unit, holding them to 3 goals on 32 man-ups, so you can bet John Stevens and the boys will be hitting the tape throughout the series.

Marty Biron was the star of the first round for the Flyers, and he's playing at the top his game. He'll need to stay there against the shooting gallery that's about to start, but that's nothing new in the playoffs, where a hot goalie can take a team all the way to glory. The Flyers lost all four games of the season series, outscored 15-6. But they don't call it the second season for nothing, and the Flyers have shown a lot of character any time they've been counted out.   

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

CINCINNATI — There’s one thing the Eagles are very consistent at, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Eagles continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and with 10 more infractions in their 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, they increased their 12-game total to 100 — second-most in the NFL this year.

Five times they’ve been called for 10 or more penalties, and that’s one shy of the most games in franchise history with double-digit penalties in a season.

And there’s four games to go.

The Eagles have been cited for penalties seven or more times in all but three games. They’re on pace for the third-most penalties in franchise history.

Earlier this year, the Eagles committed seven or more penalties in four straight games for the first time in six years. The last month, they did that again.

This is not a disciplined football team. Not remotely.

“The penalties are hurting us,” said Brandon Graham, who was called for a personal foul after a low hit on Andy Dalton Sunday. “You kind of get frustrated a little bit and sometimes a lot of stuff starts happening. But we have to clean that up.”

The Eagles are on pace for 133 penalties. The franchise high is 138, set in 1994 by a Rich Kotite team that lost its last seven games. The 2005 team — torn apart by the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud — committed 134.

The only team with more penalties than the Eagles this year is the Raiders with 112. They always lead the league in penalties and at least this year they’re winning anyway.

The Eagles aren’t. Their lack of discipline has contributed greatly to their current stretch of seven losses in a nine-game span.

For the Eagles, it’s been just another part of the season that’s gotten away from coach Doug Pederson and his players.

“Penalties have got to stop,” Pederson said Sunday night. “Obviously, the turnovers and things like that too. It’s just not characteristic of how we coach and how we play.”

But it’s how this team has played. Consistently.

Only against the Bears, Cowboys and Giants have the Eagles committed fewer than seven penalties. When they commit 10 or more, they’re 1-4

“Some of it is focus, and some of it is anticipating the snap count,” Pederson said. “Some of it is a little on the quarterback, because we’re using so many snap counts and cadences to get indicators from the defense to tip their hat a little bit.

“Guys are geared up. We’ve got to focus in on that, because it’s something we work on every single week. Obviously the silent count we work on every week.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 100 penalties:

12 — Jason Peters

8 — Jason Kelce

7 — Nolan Carroll

6 — Zach Ertz, Allen Barbre

5 — Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox

4 — Dorial Green-Beckham, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins

3 — Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Najee Goode, Marcus Smith, Brent Celek

2 — Jaylen Watkins, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Destiny Vaeao, Trey Burton, Matt Tobin

1 — Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Ron Brooks, Jordan Matthews, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Donnie Jones, Bennie Logan, Chris Maragos, Leodis McKelvin, Halapoulivaaati Vaitai.

And here’s a breakdown of the types of penalties the Eagles have been hit with:

22 — False start

16 — Offensive holding

10 — Unncessary roughness

8 — Defensive pass interference, offensive pass interference

7 — Defensive offsides

4 — Delay of game, illegal formation, defensive holding

3 — Roughing the passer, facemask, neutral zone infraction

2 — Chop block, defensive 12 men on the field, encroachment, illegal contact, running into the kicker

1 — Unsportsmanlike conduct, horse collar tackle, illegal block above the waist, illegal shift, offensive 12 men on the field, offensive offsides, illegal use of hands

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State players and coaches rolled hopefully back into Happy Valley on Sunday, greeted as Big Ten champions by cheers and honking car horns.

They got off the team bus, filed into a meeting room and huddled around a giant projector screen as the College Football Playoff selection committee made its picks.

As the contenders were announced, it became clear -- this unexpectedly triumphant season was going to fall frustratingly short of college football's biggest stage.

The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions -- winners of nine straight, including a huge comeback against No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game -- won't be part of the four-team playoff. Despite a head-to-head win against No. 2 Ohio State, the Big Ten title and a run fueled by one of the country's most explosive offenses, Penn State was ranked fifth by the selection committee.

Instead of playing for a national title, Penn State (11-2) will face No. 9 Southern California (9-3) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

"I would say there were a handful of guys that obviously showed a little bit of frustration and body language and things like that," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "But 99 percent of the guys in there are just excited about staying together as a family and being able to play in such a historic bowl game."

News about the bowl destination quelled a bit of that disappointment, and some, including quarterback Trace McSorley , tweeted their excitement with rose emojis Sunday.

Franklin didn't sleep much on the flight back from Indianapolis and is about to start a six-day recruiting trip, but he was still clearly amped for the Rose Bowl during a phone call with reporters -- even though he believed his team had done enough to go to the playoff by winning what he called "the toughest conference in football."

"Obviously, our guys would've loved to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and compete for a national championship," Franklin said. "But like I said during the week, I thought our guys would be appreciative of the opportunity to be able to stay together as a family for another week and play the great game of football."

They'll do so against a team that's on a similar trajectory.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans have combined to win 17-straight games and are among the hottest teams in college football. Both have mounted striking turnarounds after ho-hum starts, energizing historically strong programs that had struggled with the weight of NCAA penalties in recent years.

Franklin arrived at Penn State in 2014 and took over a program heavily sanctioned by the NCAA for the university's role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Although the Nittany Lions have a full scholarship load this season, they're still feeling the impact from reduced scholarship numbers and start just five seniors, with only 17 on the roster.

USC, meanwhile, incurred NCAA penalties, including the loss of 30 scholarships, in the wake of a scandal involving former football player Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo, who the NCAA determined accepted gifts in the mid-2000s.

This will be the third time the programs match up in the Rose Bowl -- the first was in 1923 and the other in 2009.

"I think it makes for fabulous TV, that's for sure," USC coach Clay Helton said. "And it makes for a great bowl experience and that's what this time is all about."