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.

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre hit his second home run of the game with two outs in the ninth inning, a two-run shot that rallied the Texas Rangers past the Oakland Athletics 7-6 on Monday night for their third straight win.

Beltre, who finished with four hits, had two singles in his first three at-bats before hitting a solo homer in the seventh. His game-winning drive came on the first pitch from Ryan Madson (3-4).

Until then, Texas had trailed since Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer for Oakland with two outs in the first. All 13 runs in the game were scored with two outs.

Texas turned three double plays behind starter Martin Perez, who has induced a major league-best 25 in 21 games.

Valencia also had the first of three run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that gave the A's a 5-1 lead (see full recap).

Blue Jays' Sanchez wins 10th straight decision
TORONTO  -- Aaron Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings to win his 10th consecutive decision, Kevin Pillar had three hits and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Monday night.

Sanchez (11-1) became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win 10 straight since Roy Halladay won 15 decisions in a row in 2003. Halladay and Roger Clemens (1998) hold the club record.

Making their first appearance in Toronto, the Padres were held scoreless until Alex Dickerson hit a two-run homer off Bo Schultz in the ninth.

Dickeerson's drive into the fifth deck extended San Diego's team-record streak of games with at least one home run to 23. The 2006 Atlanta Braves were the last National League team to homer in 23 straight games.

Roberto Osuna replaced Schultz and got two outs for his 21st save (see full recap).

Orioles top Rockies for 5th straight win
BALTIMORE -- Adam Jones scored the winning run in the 10th inning on a low throw to the plate by pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Jones reached on a one-out single off the third-base bag and took third on a single by Jonathan Schoop. Manny Machado followed with a comebacker to Lyles, who fumbled the ball before throwing home. Catcher Nick Hundley caught the ball near the ground and lost the handle while attempting to tag the sliding Jones.

Lyles (2-3) was charged with an error on the play.

Getting two RBIs from Jones, the Orioles climbed a season-high 18 games over .500 (58-40) and improved to 37-14 at home.

Chaz Roe (1-0) worked the 10th for the win (see full recap).

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson was standing in front of his locker speaking with reporters after his second strong outing in a week against the Miami Marlins when Cameron Rupp walked by an offered his take on all the trade talk surrounding the veteran pitcher.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rupp said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Hellickson laughed at his catcher’s commentary.

“I hope not,” he said.

If Hellickson really wants to stay with the Phillies and finish out this rebuilding season instead of moving to a contender for the final two months — and possibly beyond — he did himself a disservice Monday night.

He enhanced his attractiveness to potential buyers by pitching six shutout innings in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, who sports a 3.65 ERA in 21 starts, needed just 70 pitches to get through the six innings. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third and two outs in a scoreless game in the top of the seventh. Ryan Howard struck out, following Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos, as the Phillies whiffed on a golden scoring chance.

“I hated taking Hellickson out of the game there, but we had an opportunity to score and I had to go for it,” manager Pete Mackanin said.

“After we didn’t score, I didn’t think we had a chance to win this game. I just thought that with their bullpen we were in trouble.”

The Phillies ended up winning with a rally against Miami’s bullpen. Tommy Joseph delivered a clutch, two-out double against Fernando Rodney in the eighth to score Maikel Franco from first. That was the only run the Phillies needed. They tacked on three against the sloppy Marlins in the ninth to finish it off.

Hellickson, David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez then combined to allow just one base runner in three innings to finish off the Phillies’ 11th shutout of the season. That’s the most in the majors.

“Our bullpen did a great job,” Mackanin said.

Three of the four pitchers that the Phillies used in the game — Hellickson, Hernandez and Gomez — are very much available for trades. They all pitched well with a gaggle of scouts sitting behind the backstop. A number of contending clubs — the Cubs, Orioles, Giants, Rangers and Blue Jays — had scouts at the game. Pitching, starting and relief, is high on the needs list for most of those teams.

Of course, the Marlins are looking for pitching, too. They have interest in Hellickson, though it’s not clear whether he is a top target of theirs. Maybe he will become a top target after what he’s done to the Marlins in the last week. Hellickson has pitched 14 innings over two starts against the Marlins. He has given up just six hits and a run.

“Just executing,” said the pitcher, explaining his success. “In my last two games the ball has been down for the most part. I’ve just gotten a lot of easy outs. The ball's down and not missing too many spots right now.”

Hellickson will be a free agent this winter and does not appear to be in the club’s future plan. Nonetheless, he has steadfastly said he would like to remain with the club for the rest of this season. Phillies management is not opposed to keeping Hellickson. He provides veteran stability and innings to a young rotation. But management would move Hellickson for a player that has the potential to help in the future.

Trade rumors can be distracting for a player. But Hellickson, who has been dealt twice in his career, is locked in.

“It doesn't bother me,” he said. “Once I'm in this locker room — obviously you still see it on TV and stuff — my focus is on helping us win today. Now it's on to the next start. It's been like this for a few years now so it's pretty easy to go out there right now.”

Mackanin said he had no idea what will become of Hellickson’s fate. But if the pitcher stays, he won’t complain.

“At this point, I don’t want to lose him,” Mackanin said. “I wish he could stay here. He’s that solid for us. He’s been like that the whole year.”

The Phillies needed a good pitching effort to pull this one out. Their hitters struck out 13 times, left 11 men on base and went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

“We don’t show plate discipline,” Mackanin lamented. “We’re taking fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches. If you’re going to take fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches, you cannot swing at breaking balls in the dirt. That’s all I can say about that. We have to have more plate discipline.”

On the positive side of that, Franco and Rupp both walked three times, and Franco’s two-out walk in the eighth became the biggest run of the game on a night when Jeremy Hellickson and his status with the Phillies was the biggest storyline.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson continued to enhance his trade value and Tommy Joseph had the big hit in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

Hellickson shut down the Marlins for the second time in a week. The next time he pitches, it could be for them. The Marlins are one of the teams interested in the veteran right-hander. Scouts from several other contending teams were in attendance for Hellickson’s strong outing.

Joseph’s two-out double in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie.

Phillies pitching held the Marlins to two hits. The Phils have 11 shutouts this season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just a hit and a walk while striking out one. He exited for a pinch-hitter after just 70 pitches. The right-hander has pitched 14 innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, both against the Marlins. He has lowered his season ERA to 3.65.

Miami’s Jarred Cosart came up from Triple A and pitched five scoreless innings. However, he threw 92 pitches. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out one.

Bullpen report 
Trade candidate David Hernandez pitched a strong seventh inning for the Phils, picking up the win. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.

Miami right-hander Kyle Barraclough came up big in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and pinch-hitter Ryan Howard with runners on second and third to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the first two batters in the eighth then gave up a four-pitch walk to Maikel Franco before Joseph’s two-out double delivered the game’s first run.

Rodney took the loss.

A.J. Ramos was charged with three runs in the ninth, two unearned.

At the plate
The Phillies survived 13 strikeouts, a 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base to score the win.

The Phils had just six hits. Joseph had a pair of them and now has 25 RBIs in 54 games.

Cesar Hernandez gave the Phils some cushion with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Miami’s defense fell apart after that and the Phils scored two more runs to put the game away.

Asche had a hit to break an 0-for-26 skid. Bourjos is 0 for his last 17.

Trade talk
Andres Blanco is out for six weeks so he’s no longer a trade candidate, but others are (see story).

Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) pitches against Miami right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) on Tuesday night. Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in beating the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.