Random Observations, Pics, and Video From a Great Night at the Wach

Random Observations, Pics, and Video From a Great Night at the Wach

Walking from FDR Park to the Wachovia Center last night, I was hit with a wave of nervous energy. It was mostly some positive excitement about going to see a crucial Flyers playoff game, but there was also just that moment where you think, man, this same walk out of here is either going to be a chanting celebration or head-hanging pity party. 

FDR was packed, and I really wished I'd been able to get there earlier. The mix of slightly improving weather, tailgate games, and the occasional amateur fireworks are something you don't get to see as often for Flyers games, most of which are played in cold weather months. After heading back to the car to get the tickets we'd left in the cup holder and making the whole trek ah-gain, we walked inside and were greeted by the customary XL orange t-shirts and a few stars of the Broad Street Bullies documentary I've seen four times in the past week. 

The late start and lack of a Phillies game helped with the traffic situation some (although the traffic on the Blue Route was like cruel punishment), and the fans packed the concourses earlier than usual. Everyone was jumping out of their skin ready for this game. 

We got a few pints of Grolsch at that one little stand with good beer on the upstairs concourse (directly next to the big standalone bar), grabbed a few hot dogs and some of the... oh how should I phrase this... GREATEST PRETZELS EVER, and made for our seats in the top row of the Wach.

On our way up, I saw the early candidate for Jersey of the Night—a Ville Leino Flyers sweater. Now that's some threadication, sir. Sadly, he would be dethroned by another jersey on the way out. An older fan was rocking an Ilka Sinisalo jersey with the Pelle Lindbergh number patches on the sleeve. I don't know if anyone's taking down that champion this year. 

The seats filled up early, a sea of dimly lit orange around the pristine ice before the teams came back out.

The game action was pretty intense, with the Flyers owning the first period and Bruins taking much of the swing in the second despite the Flyers scoring the only goals in either frame. When Richie found that rebound in the first, I nearly went deaf. After the exaltation, the Tuuu-kkaaaa chants started, although Rask was playing pretty well. The defense that helped him out so much in the first three games was nonexistent in the first period, and the shot that beat him wasn't remotely his fault. But this wasn't a court of law, so we serenaded the sorry bastard throughout the night.

All the energy from the first seemed to be lost for stretches of the second. The Flyers were sluggish, and they couldn't clear the zone to save their lives. Fortunately, they were able to stifle the dangerousness of the scoring attempts, and Michael Leighton's first playoff start was a thing of beauty. During a stoppage mid-way through the second period, the video board started playing some highlights of Brian Boucher in action. A BOOOSH chant started to emerge, picking up steam as the video panned Boucher in a suit and tie, out for the foreseeable future with injuries to both knees. The crowd went nuts. 

The emotion in his face says so much. Sometimes "It's just a game" is just a bunch of bull. Much respect, Boosh. In game 3, Ian Laperriere got the same treatment, but this was no crowd-hyping gimmick. 

One of the amazing things about this team has been its ability to show up just when everyone is ready to count them out, whether due to poor play or an insane amount of key injuries. Whatever happens next, they've earned a lot of respect for stepping up when it's really mattered, and picking up for their injured teammates. 

A few player notes, observed from the top row of the building. If you watched from home, you probably saw more details and had a lot of replays and commentary, so I'll keep this part short. 

Scott Hartnell looked every bit the player who'd regained his swagger. He rifled big shots on Rask and played some physical hockey. Danny Briere is a playoff monster. His goal deflated the Bruins, and the crowd went nuts every time the replay showed him crippling Rask's glove hand with his top-shelf licker. Michael Leighton made saves on everything from equipment testers to all-alone breakaways. All that time off, and not a speck of rust on his game. Seeing the birds-eye view of the ice gave a great reminder to how important Simon Gagne's two-way play is to this team's success. Their record with and without him in this series can attest to that too, but he was a beast in the neutral zone. Richie too, what an amazing game from the Captain. Ville Leino was awarded a penalty shot, and although he made some pretty moves, he couldn't get Rask to move laterally enough to find a hole. Leino, Briere, and Hartnell were a force together, with the Finnish newcomer showing some jaw-dropping moves with the puck. Claude Giroux had a few of his own, which was no surprise, but still had me catching flies. JVR seems to have walled out, which really shouldn't be much of a surprise. 

Both sides had huge hits, and the Bruins played a physical game without the level of dirtiness we saw in game 5. Playoff freakin' hockey out there. 

Forget Sidney Crosby (should be easy after last night!). He's cleaned up his diving act some, and anyway, it's nothing compared to Zdeno Chara's. I counted three times when the ogre just flopped to the ice, one of which drew a call on Chris Pronger (okay maybe the call was legit, but it still looked like a dive as well), who had been exchanging some light stuff with Chara in front of the net. After that though, the refs didn't take the bait. 

Thy Name Is Schadenfreude
Some of the biggest cheers on the night came with each score update from the Canadiens' elimination of the Penguins. Should the Flyers win on Friday, they'll actually host the 8th seeded Habs in the Eastern Conference Finals. You ALWAYS want your NHL team to make the playoffs. 

Standout Fans
Here's that guy again.

I'm still a sucker for Green Man, even with the oversaturation that's seen him at pretty much every sporting event these days.

At one point, security was talking to him though, and he had his head thing off. Creeped me out, like I was on the train in Spiderman. 

Dancing Shawny was in rare form, even for him. He seems to have added a new move to his repertoire to play up the playoff beard.


There were very few Bruins fans that I could see—just one guy sitting quietly other than to occasionally cheer, and a young couple who walked up the aisle toward the top of the section just begging for it. Arms raised, Bruins and Red Sox gear, plenty of pluck, mostly from the girl. I leaned over to my friend and said, "She's going to get him beat up." 

Wouldn't ya know it? They got real quiet after the Flyers scored a pair of goals. That wouldn't last though. I couldn't hear what she was saying, only the several voices telling her to just shut up already. A fracas did in fact ensue after the last seconds of the game ticked off, but the Flyers fans policed themselves pretty well from what I saw, just a few pushes and a couple of spilled drinks. Finally, dragged away by her boyfriend, she got to the bottom of the stairs and flipped everyone off, screaming the whole way. 

Pretty rough week for Bruins fans everywhere—so far. 

Struttin
I think my favorite part about Flyers' home playoff games is the walk out of the building after a win. The concourse erupts with LET'S GO FLYERS chants that don't stop until you're outside, and even then they only dissipate. 

Game 7 can't come soon enough. 

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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