Serenity Now

Serenity Now

By Chamomiles Davis 

If there is one that I, speaking as
a Philadelphia sports fan, have in short supply it is serenity. The
word itself means little to me. It is a state of mind experienced elsewhere

Living in a town with four major sporting
franchises that did nothing but get gut-punched season after ringless
season for twenty-five years, the words best used to describe our own
state of mind would be, to suggest a few: "anguish," "turmoil,"
"despair," "disgust," "belligerence,"
"self-hatred," "stress leading to premature baldness,"
and "drunk." Not necessarily in that order, mind you.

The Phillies finally ended the drought
last October which, don't get me wrong, was absolutely beautiful. I
cried, let me put it that way. But I'm not talking about the Fightins.
Or the Flyers. Or, um... (Geez, what's their name? You know, that basketball
team that used to play in Philly? They were pretty good, too. What were
they called? Oh, right -- the Warriors.)

Every year at an Eagles press conference
that follows yet another fruitless season (this year makes 49, for those
masochists who keep count), I'm supposed to be sucked in by a self-deluded
cabal of owners and coaches who want us to believe that "this is
the year," when I'm not entirely sure these people are convinced
by their own words.

Or maybe they are, when I hear some
of the insane quotes emanating from the Eagles team president. We're
the "gold standard," Mr. Banner? Really? So then I guess that
would make the Patriots the platinum standard, and the Steelers some
kind of ultra-precious metal that hasn't been discovered yet.

Banner also likes to point out that
for the last several years the best team has NOT been the one who won
the Super Bowl. Riiiiight. And I'll bet the teams that keep beating
Philly in the NFC Championship Game must downright SUCK. Please.

Getting back to this "serenity"
concept: Each year Eagles fans are taunted with the recurring notion
that the missing pieces are finally in place. Everyone's happy, sufficiently
healthy and focused on one goal: Mr. Lombardi's trophy. Experts will
wax endlessly about how much of a threat the Eagles are going to be
in the NFC, blah blah blah, then generously present Philadelphia with
10-12 gift-wrapped wins before a single meaningful down has been played.

Then we as a fan base get to spend
an evening in early February following a decades-long tradition: Watching
another team win the Super Bowl. What fun, especially when that team
we're watching happens to be the Cowboys, Giants or Redskins. Suddenly
their fans crawl out from the sewers, appearing before our eyes as if
by magic. They take great pleasure in reminding us that, with the departure
of Arizona to the NFC West, that we are the only team in our division
not only without a single championship, but at least three.

The summer months just fly by after
that, I can tell you. Then we have to perform a collective lobotomy,
block out the pain, and renew our hopes that this year, Joe Banner and
Jeff Lurie aren't just talking out of their asses. Well, you can; I'm

I've decided that it is time that serenity
trumps crushed expectations. In order to achieve this elusive mindset,
I've had to come to grips with one sad, yet undeniable fact.

No matter how good they become, no
matter how weak the competition may seem, the Philadelphia Eagles are
never, EVER going to win the Super Bowl. Ever.

If the National Football League lasts
for another 200 years, I am convinced that every team (yes, even Arizona)
will win at least one Super Bowl. Except the Eagles.

The Lions can't suck this bad forever.
The Browns were once a mighty and glorious team and I believe they will
be again. Houston will stumble into a championship sooner or later.
Tennessee is due. Buffalo and Minnesota are WAYYYYY due.

The Eagles will never win one, though,
because they've never been able to defeat their toughest opponent: themselves.
Whenever they are poised on the brink of glory, there is a self-manufactured
catastrophe brewing on the horizon. I'll blame the fog for what happened
in 1988. But I blame nerves for 1980, overconfidence for 2002, weak
receivers for 2003, and vomit for 2004.

No game plan devised by an opposing
team's coach could have done more damage than the Eagles did to themselves
in those years, years in which the Promised Land was just in sight,
tantalizingly close.

Don't get me wrong. I WANT the Eagles
to win a Super Bowl. I want them to win ten of them, all in a row. I
want the fans of other teams to hate us for something other than our
reputation as a sports town. But ask me if I think they will, and my
answer remains, "No way. Never."

There's my conundrum. How can I root
for a team that both my gut and my brain says has no shot to soothe
the anguish which has been accumulating ever since Buck Shaw(!) outcoached
Vince Lombardi in December of 1960? Why put myself through this?

Why? Because I love football, and because
I could never root for another team. I could especially never root for
a team that has already experienced success, which would make me that
despicable breed of sub-human known as a front-runner.

If nothing else, I can tell myself
that believing the Birds will never achieve total success is simply
a reverse-jinx, and thus I can hope for a parade down Broad Street any
day now. But I'm not holding my breath. Instead I will settle down and
watch my beloved Eagles grunt and sweat their way through another disappointing
season, awash in a sea of newfound serenity.

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers vs. Hurricanes
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

Another season, another slow start for the Flyers.

After dropping their home opener Thursday, the Flyers (1-2-1) welcome the Hurricanes (1-1-2) to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night looking to snap a three-game losing skid.

Here are five things to know for Game 5 of 82.

1. Slow starts
Through four games, there are a few areas behind the Flyers' lousy start.

The defense continuing to abandon the goaltending and the lackluster power play are near the top of the list, but look no further than the first period of games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in first periods through four games. Only Tampa Bay and Vancouver have scored fewer first-period markers with zero. The six first-period goals allowed are tied for the second most in the NHL. Only Calgary has more with seven.

It was an issue last season as well. In 2015-16, the Flyers were outscored, 62-50, in first periods, and the 50 goals ranked in the bottom five of the league. We've talked about slow starts in terms of wins-losses, but this issue extends to first periods too.

While the Flyers have exerted far greater efforts in second periods — leading the league with eight second-period tallies — getting behind so early results in playing from behind, and while resiliency is a trait of winning teams, it's ultimately cost them thus far.

On Saturday night, it doesn't get any easier for the Flyers, either. Carolina is an improved club from last season, which it, too, struggled scoring in opening periods.

That hasn't been the case this season. The 'Canes have outscored opponents, 5-2, in first periods, so it'll be important for the Flyers to come out of the gate with more authority.

2. Read-emption Song
One of the highlights of the early season for the Flyers has been the play of Matt Read.

Read scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season during the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Thursday, dusting off a play that brought back memories of years past.

The 30-year-old got behind the Anaheim defense on the backhand, drove to the net and deposited the puck into the net past John Gibson for a go-ahead score. It was very much a play we saw Read make a few years ago, but has been missing the last two seasons. Read came into training camp early this season hungrier than the previous two seasons, and on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall said Read knew he had to get back to the brand of hockey he was playing in 2013-14.

After the game Thursday, Read said his self-evaluation this offseason resulted in him realizing he has to get into the greasy areas to score and avoid playing the outside.

"I think that's something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player," Read said Thursday. "It's easy to be a perimeter player if you're going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you've got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks."

3. Not so special
Special teams so often decide hockey games and it should factor into Saturday's game, too. Carolina comes into the game with a power play and penalty kill both in the top five.

The Hurricanes' man advantage has found twine five times in 16 chances, and their penalty kill has killed off 15 of 16 power plays against. On the other hand, the Flyers have had their struggles on special teams in the early going.

On Thursday night, the Flyers’ PP played a huge role in their loss. They finished 1 for 7 on the man advantage against Anaheim but were 1 for 5 in the second period alone. With Anaheim asking to be beaten, the Flyers couldn’t make the Ducks pay. 

“I thought we had pretty good power plays, our first power play,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had a good power play during the second, scored a good goal. Had opportunities to stretch to 3-1. It’s disappointing we couldn’t.

“We had one poor power play at the end of the first, where we weren’t able to get set up at all. Our power play was OK. The bigger thing for me is the goal we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals that as a team we can’t give up.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: It hasn't been the smoothest transition to the NHL for Ivan Provorov, one of two 19-year-olds on the roster. Provorov has shown glimpses, but there have been hiccups, as expected. He had a nightmare of a game in Chicago on Tuesday, and followed it up with a not-so-great effort against Anaheim. But we have to remember he's a teenage rookie. Patience is important. Still, the spotlight should remain on him Saturday. How does he respond after a pair of games in which he's made visible mistakes?

Hurricanes: Carolina has a few young players that are a joy to watch, but let’s highlight defenseman Justin Faulk, who quarterbacks the power play. The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in four games, with two of the helpers coming on the man advantage. An extremely gifted blueliner, Faulk has scored 15 and 16 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough to get him on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. We all know how that panned out.

5. This and that
• Read has 14 points in 20 career games against the Hurricanes.

• Dale Weise was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim defenseman Korbinian Holzer. Roman Lyubimov will replace Weise in the lineup.

• Carolina has killed off its last 11 penalties and has scored at least one power-play goal in three of its four games and two power-play goals in two of its four games.

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened toward the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.