The Faceoff at Fenway: Classic Teams, Classic Venue...

The Faceoff at Fenway: Classic Teams, Classic Venue...

It's finally here. The game we've been waiting for all season. 


2010 Winter Classic - building the rink 18, originally uploaded by misconmike.

Although the pond hockey concept itself is among the most primitive aspects of the sport, two professional teams playing on an outdoor rink on New Year's Day has become the most unique experience in hockey. The NHL's missteps in recent years are well-documented, but one thing they continue to get right is the Winter Classic. I'm not just saying that because the Flyers are in it this year; I've watched every one of them, geeking out over camera angles that capture an expanse of white ice against a stadium backdrop and players skating in throwback jerseys. This year, we'll see those shots set against backdrops that include the Green Monster and Pesky Pole. 

The game has a distinct nostalgic feel despite this being just the third Winter Classic, and the fact that it's played in a structure built and widely known for another sport. By all accounts, the league has done an outstanding job of setting up the 2010 Winter Classic, from selecting two teams with amazing histories and pairing that matchup with a legendary venue, to constructing an ice surface that the players say is perfect despite the obvious challenges by the elements. 

We're in for an amazing experience today, and that's before we even look at the game itself. 

The rivalry between the Flyers and Bruins remains strong today, renewed annually with games characterized by big hits and gamesmanship, despite the fact that these teams virtually never face each other in the playoffs. Seven points separate them in the Eastern Conference, representing four places in the EC standings. Maybe we'll see them in the 'offs this year—what a matchup that would be.  

Michael Leighton gets the start over Woonsocket, Rhode Island, native Brian Boucher. I'd have loved to have seen Boosh get the hometown start (imagine yourself getting to start in net at CBP for context), but Leighton is the man of the moment, coming off of four wins including a shutout in his last. Leighton Master MUST keep that going today. There's no other option. 

The B's aren't known for their attack as much as they are for their defensive strengths, and Tuukka Rask has the league's best GAA by a large margin and a slight lead in save percentage. Plus, he's got a sweet mask just for the occasion. [Update: Tim Thomas will start for the Bruins] With the elements possibly imposing on the festivities today, scoring could be at a premium. Fortunately, the Flyers look as though they've shaken the snake, with their goal-scoring ability on display in a 6-0 rout of the Rangers in their last game before the Classic. 

Ideally, we'll be seeing a continuation of that today, with Peter Laviolette's system finally in fruition. Lavvy emphasizes sending wave after wave into the offensive zone, which requires active defensemen to start the rush yet be ready for any counters that should arise. It's the kind of hockey the national audience will want to see, more so than a dominant performance by Thomas. So let's give the people what they want, eh, Flyers?   

You'll hear it said that when it comes down to it, this game matters only as much as all the others—it all comes down to the points in the standings. I don't buy it. You can see it in the players' faces that this one is different. The Bruins have something amazing to give the fans of Boston; the Flyers can announce to the league that they've regrouped and are once again a threat to hoist the Cup this year. 

Andrew is the lucky Leveler who will get to see the game from the Fenway bleachers, while I'm feeling pretty good hosting some of my Flyers peeps back here in the Philly area. As always, we're looking forward to watching it with all you. 


 LET'S GO FLYERS!

Temple at No. 19 Navy: Owls go for first AAC title

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Temple at No. 19 Navy: Owls go for first AAC title

Temple (9-3) at No. 19 Navy (9-2)
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Saturday, noon, ABC

It would have been hard to picture Temple in the American Athletic Conference championship game after the Owls’ first game of the season, a 28-13 loss to Army.

But that’s exactly where they are three months later, as Temple will take on No. 19 Navy in the conference championship game Saturday.

The Owls and Midshipmen have both been handling opponents as of late. Temple’s won its last four games by at least three touchdowns, while Navy has outscored opponents 141-62 in its past two games.

Let’s take a look at how one of the country’s top offenses and one of the country’s top defenses match up.

Scouting Temple
The Owls' defense seems to get better every week. Temple ranks No. 3 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense and No. 10 in scoring defense. The only two teams that rank higher than the Owls in both categories are Alabama and Michigan.

Teams haven’t scored more than 13 points against the Owls in their last four games, and Temple is outscoring opponents 123-23 during that stretch.

Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick was named a first team all-conference selection earlier this week. He leads the FBS in tackles for loss. Redshirt-senior Praise Martin-Oguike is coming off one of his best games of the season last week against East Carolina, in which he had two sacks, including a forced fumble. He has seven sacks this season.

On offense, Temple’s goal this week will be to sustain drives and keep Navy’s offense off the field. The Owls are currently No. 5 in the FBS in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 34 minutes per game.

Earlier in the week, coach Matt Rhule said senior quarterback Phillip Walker was questionable for Saturday’s game. Walker will likely play, but the Owls might be without one of their top offensive weapons.

Rhule said sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead is doubtful. Armstead has 842 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Scouting Navy
The Midshipmen have one of the simplest — yet at that same time one of the best — offenses in the country. Navy ranks No. 2 in rushing yards at 342 yards per game.

Quarterback Will Worth runs the triple option for Navy. He has 2,544 total yards of offense and 33 total touchdowns. He’s passed for 1,363 yards and rushed for 1,181 more.  Worth has a touchdown in 11 straight games.

Worth has attempted 258 rushes compared to 115 passing attempts. Four other Navy players have at least 40 rushing attempts this season.

Senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman is the Midshipmen’s best receiving threat. The 6-foot-4 wideout has 32 catches for 533 yards and two touchdowns.

Navy’s defense hasn’t been quite as elite as its offense. The Midshipmen have allowed 30 or more points in four of their last five games.

The Midshipmen are allowing 265 passing yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged 313 yards and three touchdowns in their last three contests.

Storyline to watch: Can Temple find a way to stop the triple option?
The last time these two teams played was in 2014, when Navy ran for 487 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 win against the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple’s most recent matchup against the triple option was when it lost to Army in its season opener. The Black Knights ran for 329 yards and four touchdowns. With only a week to prepare, Temple will have to find a way to cure its option woes if it wants a chance to win Saturday.

What’s at stake?
The Owls have only won one other conference championship in program history, when they won the Mid-Atlantic Conference in 1967. A win would also give Temple its third 10-win season in program history. If Western Michigan loses Friday night, Temple also puts itself in contention for a spot in the Cotton Bowl with a win.

Prediction
Temple has to figure out this option thing at some point, right? The Owls’ ability to convert on third down and sustain long drives will help slow Navy's offense. This one will most likely come down to who has the ball last, but the Owls are a little bit more well-rounded, so they get the edge. Temple 31, Navy 28