Recap: Ho-Hum... Game 1.

Recap: Ho-Hum... Game 1.

A lot of you were prepared for this.  I read it in the comments here and on other hockey forums.  You kept telling yourself “After ten minutes, I’ll know which team shows up for this game.”  You were referring to the Jekyl and Hyde that is the Philadelphia Flyers.  Would the team that backed into the playoffs while losing home ice and seeming disinterested face the Penguins in Game 1 of Round 1, or would the tenacious team with 6 twenty plus goal scorers that beat the Penguins and Devils a few weeks back show up?  That answer can be derived from the 4-1 final score in favor of the Penguins.  But along with that sobering bit of bad news, there’s always a silver lining.

Truth be told, you didn’t have to wait 10 minutes to know which Flyers team was set to face the Penguins.  At 4:41 of the first period, the most hated of all Flyers killers, Sid the Kid, notched a power play goal that will be scrutinized for quite some time.  It all began with Malkin dishing a pass out front to a cutting Crosby.  Sid kicked the puck from his skate to his stick, past Biron, off the post… back off Biron and into the net. 

“Upon further review, the puck was not kicked in with a distinct kicking motion.”  This was Van-whosit-whatsits’s call that gave the Pens the early lead.  First of all, if there was no distinct kicking motion, you’re fooling yourself.  I’ve read quite a few post-game comments from Pittsburgh fans saying it was a hockey stop or it was directing, not kicking.  Crosby was KICKING the puck to his stick with the intentions of shooting the puck in.  Now, as a Flyers fan who thinks the goal wasn’t good… you’re also delusional.  While Donnie Van-Mass might have given an invalid or incorrect reason for the goal standing, word from the War-Room and further inspection gave alternative reasons for the 1-0 lead.  Some say it hit his stick “ever so gently.”  The rest of you will take notice of the puck hitting the post and then nicking off of Biron’s pad and going in.

What may have been more controversial was the call that gave the Penguins the power play to begin with.  Aaron Asham, at the end of his shift tapped the arm of a passing Penguin and was called for hooking.  When Billy Clement says its weak, you know its weak.  But regardless, when you’re the most penalized team in the league, you gain a reputation, and all those seeds the Flyers planted during the regular season are appearing to bloom.  Despite the fact they didn’t show up till late in the first period and despite the fact they took three minor penalties, the Flyers left the 1st down by one goal.

I have to say that I was more impressed with the Penguins’ third line than the ones that were centered by the league’s top two points getters.  Staal in particular gave the Flyers fits throughout the game and skilled pest Tyler Kennedy scored on a 3 on 1 to make the score 2-0.  The second period was actually a good one for the Flyers and as it progressed it seemed the ice was slowly but surely tipping in their favor.  But a common theme of the Flyers’ season returned in the form of bad bounces and bad penalties.  Any time the team gained momentum, something would happen to force them back on their heels.  One instance in particular, a goalie interference penalty on Scott Hartnell comes to mind.  To be completely honest… I thought this one was also weak.  Hartnell crashed the net and got a decent shot off, and was shouldered into “MAF” by Kris Letang.  In retrospect, I wish Hartsy had gotten a little more bang for his buck, knowing that his team would eventually lose the game.
Mike Knuble’s attempted wrap around the boards paved the way for Pittsburgh’s third goal, basically ending the game.  The puck took a funny bounce right out in front of a bewildered Biron.  The league’s top scorer and potential MVP was there to collect it, delay, and slip a backhander into the yawning net.  This came just after the announcers had mentioned that they HADN’T mentioned Malkin’s name in forever, which further solidifies the point that both Crosby and Malkin, each with an goal and assist, didn’t have their best games.  And they didn’t need to.  Add former Flyer/current Penguin Mark Eaton’s goal for good measure, and you have a 4-0 game.

Mike Richards provided the only real Flyers offensive threat in this game, which kinda reminds you of the way last year’s eastern conference final ended up.  All told, he hit three posts, with the last one leading to a power play rebound shot and score by Simon Gagne.  Yay… no shutout for the Pens fans to boast over.  Throw in a smidge of final minute tomfoolery and penalties and that was pretty much the game.

Bad News
Kimmo Timonen looked gimpy, courtesy of a Charlie horse from early in the game.  You have to know he’s a target of the Pens forecheckers, just like Gonchar will be for ours.  To see him limping around EARLY in the first period was not a good sign.  Another concern for the Flyers has to be that both Crosby and Malkin had okay games, but are both capable of much more damage.  That being said, Philadelphia STILL lost the game 4-1.  Not a good sign.  The biggest bit of bad news I received was when I watched Game 2 of the Vs double header, Vancouver/St. Louis.  If you wanted to see what playoff intensity means, watch that game.  It was physical, fast, and exciting.  I realize the score was not in our favor last night, but even more than that, the game wasn’t all that interesting.  This malaise that the Flyers have suffered from during their most inconsistent stretches in the regular season was present in Game 1.

Good News
The Flyers lost game one in all three series last year.  Two of them they went on to win.  Also, there is room for improvement.  It isn’t like the Flyers played their best game and still couldn’t beat the Penguins.  They played a so-so game and for the most part were losing by 2 goals.  I also thought the play of Biron was somewhat encouraging.  Three of the four goals he has absolutely no chance, with the second goal trickling through his five hole.  Replays show the puck deflected off Matt Carle, but you’d still like to see Marty keep it 1-0 at that point.  Biron faced a lot of shots from the Pens in the slot and was up to the task.  It must be encouraging to say “Biron didn’t lose us game 1…”  right?  

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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USA Today Images

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.