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.

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week. 
 
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. 
 
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.

“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past. 

"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
 
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds. 
 
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands. 
 
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play? 
 
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
 
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing. 
 
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon. 
 
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarter, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and ever play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
 
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season. 
 
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free agent deal with the Eagles this offseason. 
 
Hard work and effort are what got him here. 
 
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
 
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed. 
 
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged. 
 
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod. 
 
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work, all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”