Flyers-Kings: 10 Questions With Battle of California's Rudy Kelly

Flyers-Kings: 10 Questions With Battle of California's Rudy Kelly

In advance of today's Flyers-Kings game at the Wells Fargo Center, we checked in with a Kings blogger to give us a closer look at a team we don't often get to see in action. Here's our exchange with Rudy Kelly of Battle of California

So… “Rudy Kelly”… How many of your younger readers have no idea what that’s about?

You wouldn't believe how many people read the site for 6 months and then say, "Oh, I get your user name!" Or how many times the other guys who write for the site call me Rudy in person and then are confused when I don't know who the hell they're talking to. But yeah, Kelly Hrudey is the best goalie ever and I wore a bandana when I played goal until I was like 10 (AKA the age I realized wearing a bandana was stupid). 

The Kings are currently in last place in the Pacific division, yet only five points out of first and two points under of the playoff bubble. Heading into the season, where did you expect they’d be at this point? What do you think their ceiling for this season is? 

The whole West is weird, with everyone from 3rd place to 14th place all bunched together. I expected the Kings and Sharks to compete for the top of the division but I didn't expect the Ducks or Stars to have the record they do. The Kings had an 8-game home stand in January and promptly went 2-6; that's a big reason they're near the bottom. Still, I think talent-wise the Kings are better than the teams around them and I'm hopeful they keep this point streak of theirs going.

Looking back over their schedule, they appear to be a pretty streaky team, including a terrible run through most of January that actually started just before they last played the Flyers on 12/30. Is there any specific reason for their peaks and valleys?

None that I can really see. The Kings went on a lousy run in December where they couldn't defend, then they fixed that and couldn't score. Kopitar plays well, everyone else sucks; then everyone else gets back on track and Kopitar can't score. It's just one of those things that they have to work through. When everything's clicking, from goalie to defense to forward, the Kings can be pretty formidable.

They’ve gotten a point in their last 8 games, but it can be hard for an outsider to evaluate having not seen the games. How are they looking as they head into Philly on the heels of a W in DC?

It hasn't really felt like they've won 6 of their last 8, definitely. The Kings have been in 1-goal games 5 out of the last 8, and their 3-goal win yesterday was the largest margin of victory in a while. The Kings have been very solid defensively recently, and their defense is probably one of the best corps in the NHL. They've had troubles scoring but they're winning on the road (3-0-2 on this road trip) and that's all that really matters.

After the jump, Rudy's thoughts on today's game, how the Flyers can beat the Kings, what the former Flyers are up to in LA, and the ever popular topic of Philly-LA player swaps. 

Coming directly off a pair of away games against two of the top Eastern teams in Pittsburgh and Washington, the schedule gods continue to bone your Kings with a trip to Philly on no rest. The Flyers meanwhile have played only once since last Saturday but have sometimes shown rust early in games when well rested. What are you expecting on Sunday?

Yeah, the schedulers (along with the Grammys and NBA All-Star Game) really screwed the Kings this year. The Kings have two 3-games-in-4-night scenarios, with a 2-day break separating them; after today, the Kings play Columbus and the Rangers, wait a day, then play the Islanders. I'm not too optimistic about this particular game against any team, let alone the Flyers, but I'd expect the Kings to start strong and then fade as the Flyers come on later in the game. It would be funny if the Kings won this game, though, because they would have beaten the Flyers and Capitals while losing to the Crosby & Malkin-less Penguins. Funny in a "Shoot yourself in the head" kind of way, but funny nonetheless.

If you were to turn Benedict Arnold and do an opposition scouting report for the Flyers, what would you say they need to do to beat the Kings?

It kind of depends on how the Kings skate today; yesterday they put their best 2 defensive players up with Kopitar to counteract the Capitals line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin, so I don't know if they're going to change up again to counter the depth of the Flyers. But I imagine the Flyers will put Mike Richards on Kopitar, attack the Smyth-Stoll-Williams line with Jeff Carter's line, and then mop up with Briere's line. It's possible all of this is wrong because I don't care about your stupid team, though.

The most surprising thing about the last time these 2 teams met was how dominant the Flyers were in front of the Kings' net. The Kings usually own that area but the Flyers were finding room in that 10-foot area in front of the crease constantly. Here's a look at where the Flyers scored their goals last time: That was probably the worst the Kings have been in defensive coverage this season, and I'd be shocked if the Flyers can duplicate that performance.

Ah yes. We remember that

Several front office members (Dean Lombardi and Ron Hextall) and your head coach (Terry Murray) and an  assistant (John Stevens) all have roots in the Flyers organization, causing some fans back here to call the Kings “Flyers West.” How are our former guys doing with the Kings?

Dean Lombardi is probably one of the smartest GM's in the league in terms of drafting and developing talent. He's done a great job of developing a core of players the Kings can build around: Kopitar (& hopefully Schenn) up front, Doughty & Johnson on defense, and Quick & Bernier in net. Lombardi's faults lie in his ability to attract free agents and make trades, as most people will tell you that he's too risk-averse to make the big move that'll put the Kings over the top. The Kings have been also-rans on 3 different forwards that could help take some pressure off Kopitar: Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Kings are in a similar position to where the Sharks were in '05: Lombardi built up a solid core that was then used to trade for an elite player (Joe Thornton). Thing is, another GM traded for that elite forward after Lombardi got fired.

Terry Murray is... pretty cool. Most Kings fans hate him because most fans in general are pretty stupid but he's been fantastic at developing Anze Kopitar as a two-way player and has turned the Kings into a solid, defensively responsible team. The Kings are incredibly predictable, though, and you're going to figure out the Kings' offensive cycle in about 5 minutes. The common thought is that Murray has been good at development but the Kings are going to have to get a new coach before they become contenders.

John Stevens looks like a bird. In fact, all the Kings coaches do. It's weird.

Ron Hextall... I'll say nothing bad about Ron Hextall because I'm afraid he'll read it and beat me up. Hextall's in charge of the Kings' AHL team and yelling at people. He's an intense dude and I never want to get on his bad side.

How about Michal Handzus and Justin Williams? Former Flyers have a way of killing us, and if we lose by a late goal, my money’s on it coming off the stick of Williams.

Handzus is probably the best free agent signing Dean Lombardi has made. The Kings were a defensively inept team when Handzus came in and he's been a bedrock on the Kings' shutdown line. He gave Kopitar cover while Kopitar figured out the defensive game. Handzus will probably be gone next season but all Kings fans appreciate the work he did to develop our younger guys. 

Justin Williams had a rocky start but he's finally healthy and producing like most people thought he would. He's the 2nd most skilled forward on the team and the leader of the Kings' 2nd line. He, Smyth, and Stoll have probably been one of the better 2nd lines in the league, along with Toronto's line and yours. And Malkin before he got his knee broken by a giraffe. 

What are your impressions of the current Flyers team?

My roommate's actually a big Flyers fan so I see them quite a bit. They're the best team in the league and they're going to win the Cup, barring something weird going on in the playoffs. They're probably the deepest team in the league offensively (holy shit, Nik Zherdev barely plays!) and they have Chris Pronger who, while an asshole, is still really, really good. I hate the Flyers and I hate my roommate but yeah, pretty good.

Finally, the Kings are a team often brought up when Flyers fans are playing GM around trade deadlines and free agency periods. If you’re Dean Lombardi, what is one legitimate deal (an even trade, something each side might realistically do) that you’d initiate with the Flyers?

We'll take 1 Ville Leino in the off-season, please!

But yeah, I guess I could see something around one of your offensive guys for younger players that can fill that gap, depending on your cap situation. Not at the deadline, mind you, but in the off-season. We're not trading a goalie for at least 2 seasons. If the Kings fall off pretty soon I think Michal Handzus, Matt Greene, and Ryan Smyth would be available.

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

The Eagles were back to practice on Tuesday without the same four players.

Isaac Seumalo (pec), Wendell Smallwood (concussion), Vinny Curry (knee) and Taylor Hart (knee) were all held out of practice.

On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson said the team would hold Seumalo back from practice until he was 100 percent. Pederson expects Seumalo back next week and then the team will make a decision about the starting offensive line.

Pederson also said he expects Curry and Hart back for the season opener on Sept. 11.

For the second straight day, however, Carson Wentz (ribs) and Jordan Matthews (knee) were practicing. Neither will play on Thursday in the preseason finale against the Jets, but both also said they'll be ready for the opener.

The Eagles wrap up their preseason at the Linc on Thursday with a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Jets.

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

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Photo: Dave Zeitlin

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

As Penn football players spread out around Franklin Field to take photos and do interviews for the program’s annual media day, Justin Watson hung by the track, playing a quick game of tag near the hurdles.

“Come and get me, J-Wat!” cried out Vhito DeCapria, the precocious 5-year-old cancer patient the team adopted last year through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and who’s now back for his “sophomore” season.

Watson, known as “J-Wat” to most, smiled and played along. Being Vhito’s favorite player is just one of the many hats he wears. He’s also one of the team’s hardest-working, smartest and most versatile players — and he enters his junior season as perhaps the top wide receiver in the Ivy League, if not the entire FCS.

“Does he do anything to surprise me?” senior quarterback Alec Torgersen said from media day Monday. “Not anymore. He did at the beginning when he first got here. But now it’s just expected of him. I expect him to make those crazy one-handed grabs. I expect him to catch every ball I throw to him. When he doesn’t, I get disappointed.”

Torgersen has had plenty of opportunities to throw Watson passes — and not only last season when the star receiver caught 74 balls (fourth all-time at Penn) for 1,087 yards (second all-time) and nine touchdowns (third all-time). Throughout the summer, the two friends worked together at the same internship downtown. They ate lunch together every day and, at 5 p.m., they hopped on a subway back to Franklin Field, where they worked out in the weight room and practiced back-shoulder fades and option routes.

“A lot of college quarterbacks and receivers can’t have that type of chemistry but I think us being here all summer really helped,” Watson said. “It’s been cool doing that. It’s a special thing that’s definitely going to help us in the fall.”

In truth, Watson is actually more than just a receiver. Last season, he was also used on running plays, gaining 154 yards on the ground, including a 79-yard scamper that sealed Penn’s huge upset at Harvard. Watson finished with a staggering 249 all-purpose yards that day at Harvard Stadium, helping the Quakers win the game that effectively led to them sharing a piece of the Ivy League title. And he said he was all set to play another position by taking direct snaps in the team’s regular-season finale vs. Cornell before getting hurt.

“The uniqueness about Justin is not only his talent and skill on the field but his football IQ,” second-year head coach Ray Priore said. “During the course of the year, he in theory played every skill position on offense. And he didn’t even blink an eye doing it. That’s a special characteristic.”

Priore laughed when asked if he can find more ways to utilize Watson in 2016 but said he won’t put him back on kick returns, “which he probably could do.” He will, however, play safety when the Quakers line up in their “victory defense” at the end of games, “so you may see an interception.”

Watson says he’s ready for anything.

“That’s so much fun,” he said. “When you’re a kid in middle school, that’s what you do. It’s awesome to be back doing that. Anything I can do to help us win, I’ll do it, whether it’s running back or receiver. I don’t think they’ll let me throw it at quarterback after seeing my arm. But anything else I’m definitely willing and ready to do.”

In the end, though, playing receiver is what Watson loves most, saying that catching a deep ball — and hearing the crowd “hold their breath when the ball’s in the air and then erupt” — is his favorite thing as a football player. It’s also his skills as a receiver that has him earning so much attention heading into Penn’s opener vs. Lehigh on Sept. 17. Among his preseason accolades, the junior was named one of 22 players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — the only Ivy Leaguer to receive such an honor.

But if all of his records and accolades leads to opposing defenses paying more attention to him, Watson isn’t worried. That’s because he knows the team’s other receivers like fifth-year senior Cam Countryman and sophomore Christian Pearson are more than capable of having big years too.

“If you put two guys on me, we’ve got a bunch of other great receivers who will be open and will kill you down the field,” Watson said. “If I’ve got to take two or three guys every game, we’ll be 10-0 because I know everyone else will be making plays.”

It’s that kind of selflessness that has endeared Watson to his teammates, who enjoy the energy he brings to practice and how he always seems to be the first player in the training room.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Countryman, one of Penn’s leaders. “I have the utmost respect for him. When he came in his freshman year, you noticed right away the talent he had. So all of the accomplishments that he gets, I’m not surprised at all. 

“And they’ll keep coming in.”

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.