Things Continue to Fall Apart: Backlund Hurt, Flyers Lose to Pens

Things Continue to Fall Apart: Backlund Hurt, Flyers Lose to Pens

Discussing the Flyers hasn't been too much fun lately. They continue to lose, building on their own poor trends and getting screwed by some outside factors (including a bone in Jeff Carter's foot literally being screwed in place). It really gives me no joy to bitch about the refs, but I continue to be amazed at the decisions they make, and get away with making game after game. I'm not calling "conspiracy," because via the powers of the internet, we regularly hear about the amazing inconsistency of the officiating throughout the league. I'm just talking about our little corner of that, with the full caveat that the Flyers need to find a way to play dominant hockey so that few close calls don't matter. However, with yet another injured goalie, how much can we expect to change for the better?

For those who missed the game and those who like to relive painful experiences, here are some of the moments that made up a frustrating Saturday afternoon for Flyers fans. 

First, they started off the game fairly well. Johan Backlund looked sharp early and for most of his time in the crease during this start. Things were looking up when Arron Asham tossed a bloop shot on Pittsburgh's net, and it handcuffed Marc-Andre Fleury, falling into the goal behind him. 

That was the start of a theme for the day—weird shit happening in and around MAF's crease.

Backlund would give up two goals, both on rebounds. Judging a goalie on the rebounds he gives up is tricky business, and we'll reserve any such discussion here. They were big, but better than getting beat by the first attempt. Overall, Backlund played well, making a few saves of the "how the hell did that stay out?" variety.

It should come as a surprise to no one though, that Backlund would leave the game between the second and third periods with a lower-body injury. Tim Panaccio says it was a groin pull, which makes sense given that Backlund missed time in the AHL last week due to a groin issue. Backlund becomes the fourth Flyers goalie to miss time due to injury this season, joining Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton. We simply can't catch a break in net. No word yet on how long he'll be out, but after seeing him step up and play well for two periods today, we hope he's back very soon. Groin injuries are obviously not easy on goalies though. 

Flyers haters will enjoy this, but once again, the big bad Bullies were jobbed by the refs in this one. First, the stuff involving Fleury and his fortress of solitude. Toward the beginning of the second period, JVR was in front of the crease, tangled with a Pens defender. Their contact was fairly incidental, but JVR was spun off and into Fleury. There was no real effect on the play other than a little flop from MAF, but the arm went up, and JVR went off for the third of three straight Flyers penalties to start the game. 

The more controversial call, however, came when Simon Gagne scored on Fleury, was awarded the goal by the closest ref to the play, only to later wave it off after discussing with the other officials... 

Ville Leino came in hard to the goal area, made contact with a defender, whose stick was in his skates. Leino then collided with Fleury, who was a foot out in front of the crease, throwing his head back as he fell to the ice. Gags put the puck in, and the ref on the goal line pointed to it in the net, signaling the goal. Why the refs would change the call, I'm not sure. If they had waved it off due to interference, I might have less to say about it. But they called the contact incidental, albeit long after originally calling it a good goal. I guess it really hinges on whether you think Leino deliberately made contact, and where that contact was made, because here is how the rule reads:

Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. [...]

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. [emphasis mine]

Whether or not you think the contact could be avoided is a point worth debating. But, the location of the contact is pretty clear cut. All eyes and sticks are focused on the puck, so the argument could be made that Fleury's being out of the crease was the reason the attacker made contact with him. I think Leino could've avoided it if he tried, and this picture doesn't show how significant the contact ended up being, but his primary objective there is scoring, and as you can see, Leino is 3 feet away from the crease at the point of initial contact. 
Interpret it as you will, but I think the biggest factor in MAF's being unable to play the puck was that he was way too far out of the crease, resulting in getting hit by a guy whose stick was on the puck at the time. 

[Update: The rules also state, very clearly, that these plays will be governed by on-ice calls only—NOT by video replay. However, Panotch points out that Simon Gagne and Peter Laviolette each said the officials watched the play on the big screen over the ice before ultimately overturning it. They'd rather violate the rulebook than piss off the home fans? I can see wanting to get the call right, but have some respect for the rules. What's next, overturning it because your buddy at home texted you that it was interference?]

The final MAF Laff came when Claude Giroux was skating in on the Pittsburgh net with a great scoring opportunity. Knowing Giroux can make some moves with the puck, Fleury drops his stick along on ice at Giroux's feet. No call, and even the homer FSN Pittsburgh announcer asks, "Did he throw his stick?" 

While we're bitchin it out here, I'll also point to the Matt Cooke goal, which was another blind-ref moment. Cooke had the puck behind the Flyers net, marked by Ryan Parent. He skated through Parent's check, catching Parent's stick under his arm, clamping down on it, falling to the ice while pulling the stick out of Parent's hand. But as you can see, the ref didn't get a good look at that one. 

In the freeze frame, he looks wounded or something, but he went down of his own accord. Parent dropped the stick to get after the puck, which had gone to the front of the net, where Ruslan Fedotenko crosschecked Blair Betts from behind, then passed it back to Cooke, who scored. 

Two possible penalties right in the vicinity of the puck, and no calls. Full disclosure: I'd have no problem with the Flyers doing what either Penguin did in that sequence, and I don't fault the Pens for gaming it up in that way. 

Anyway, aside from all that, the Flyers were once again unable to contain Sidney Crosby, who had three assists on the day. He's everything you don't want your rival to have, and today he was even feistier than usual. Something happened late in the game along the boards between Hartnell and Crosby, which in a quick glance looked like Crosby getting the better of Hartnell with a hit (yeah, I know). We never saw a replay on the Philly feed, but it somehow resulted in Hartnell going off for his second consecutive roughing penalty, and then a Penguins goal.  

With the three points, he moved ahead of Mario Lemieux for most points per game all time versus the Flyers. Chris Pronger was brought here to contain him, but he can't play for 60 minutes. Pronger was a plus-1 in a game the Flyers lost 4-1. Very symbolic for this season.  

Things don't get any easier tomorrow, with the Devils coming to the Wachovia Center for a 7PM start. 

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Prospect Franklyn Kilome is the second-highest rated pitcher in the Phillies' organization, and the right-hander lived up to the billing Sunday, as the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' Class A Advanced affiliate, closed a three-game series at St. Lucie.

The right-hander twirled seven sparkling innings, shutting down the Mets’ hot bats, as the Threshers blanked St. Lucie 1-0 behind an unearned run at First Data Field to salvage the final game of the series.

Kilome, 21, allowed five hits, struck out six and didn’t issue a walk in winning for the first time since April 27. Only one St. Lucie player managed to reach second base against the 6-foot-6, 175-pound pitcher.

The Dominican pitcher is ranked No. 7 overall by Baseball America among Phillies' prospects. Only 18-year-old Lakewood hurler Sixto Sanchez (fifth overall) is rated above him in the organization.

“He’s got a chance to be a workhorse. Good body, very good arm, but still learning how to pitch a little bit,” pitching coach Aaron Fultz said of Kilome, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

“He’s up to 97 (mph) with a good curveball and slider. He’s learning a changeup. He’s learning the game, but he’s got a huge upside.”

Jose Taveras (4-2, 2.26) has been another reliable arm on Clearwater’s staff. He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts last season and has 54 in 55 2/3 innings this year.

Taveras also handled St. Lucie on Saturday, but he was left with a no-decision after the bullpen gave up three runs in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. The 23-year-old worked six strong innings and yielded just a run on four hits.  

“Taveras is just a very good competitor," Fultz said. "His fastball is average, pretty decent breaking ball and his changeup is good, but the thing that makes him good is he’s just a competitor. He studies the game and the hitters and is very advanced with that.”

Added Threshers manager Shawn Williams: “There are times when he may not have his usual command, and he’ll change an arm angle, which shows he’s got a good feel for what he’s doing. He’ll crossfire, has deception … he’s got something where they don’t pick up his fastball and are always late.”

A third Dominican right-hander, Seranthony Dominguez (3-0, 2.02), has been a big part of the rotation as well and has won three times in six starts but is currently sidelined with shoulder soreness. An MRI returned a clean report.

“The first three or four weeks we were ridiculously good," Fultz said. "We’ve had a few bumps in the road since then, but we’re getting the job done.”

Zach, not Francis Ford
Zach Coppola has a famous Hollywood last name, but the Clearwater corner outfielder has spent 2017 making a name for himself with his defense, at the plate and on the bases.

Coppola, 23, was 5 for 12 with two runs scored in the St. Lucie series, including Sunday’s lone run. He made a pair of outstanding run-saving catches in the outfield over the weekend and raised his average to .346, second to Chris Paul (.351) of Fort Myers.

“Zach has been doing a great job as a leadoff hitter,” Williams said of the Iowa native. “He gets big hits, bunts, but the thing for me is he does something every night to help you win, whether it’s a bunt hit or a great diving play in left-center. He’ll throw a guy out or get a great dirtball read and score the winning run.

“He’s a very good baseball player who does all the little things.”

Good contributors
The Threshers (28-23) have sat atop the FSL’s North Division for most of the first half, but a series loss at St. Lucie over the weekend left them trailing Dunedin by one game after both clubs won Sunday.

Williams said his first season skippering the club has been highlighted by a full-team effort.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “Early on our pitching was very, very good. Cole (Irvin) was really dealing (see more on Irvin). Dominguez, everybody was. We were getting the big hits, and our defense has been very consistent. Overall, we’ve just played good baseball.”

One standout playing good ball has been 5-foot-5 middle infielder Grenny Cumana, who went 7 for 10 in the series and made a spectacular catch-and-throw on the grass behind the bag while playing second base to rob St. Lucie’s Vinny Siena of an infield hit Sunday.

Tenacious P
Fultz said one immeasurable he likes in his pitchers is a bulldog-like tenacity that has them wanting the ball in key moments, regardless of previous outcomes.

“I don’t have to have the guy who’s always going to succeed in the big situation, but I always want the guy that wants to be out there in that situation. To me, that’s the selling point,” he said. “It’s not always being successful; it’s always wanting to be in that situation, which is a big plus.”

Fultz said his favorite battler was Jamie Brewington, a teammate of his in the San Francisco farm system, who appeared in 40 games over two MLB seasons.

“He went right after hitters, and it was fun to watch,” Fultz said.

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Hidden in the Phillies' sub-par Sunday was one bright spot: Andrew Knapp.

The young backup catcher blasted a long home run into the Phillies' bullpen that gave them an early lead they would soon relinquish in an 8-4 loss to the Reds. The long ball comes on the heels of Knapp's first back-to-back starts earlier in the week.

"The more playing time you get, the better you feel," he said. "That's just the way it goes. I'm just trying to take my opportunities and take advantage of them. Unfortunately, we didn't win today, but the more at-bats I get, the better I feel."

The 25-year-old rookie was handed a prime opportunity in the second inning with two men on and one out. Starter Scott Feldman put him behind 0-2 with consecutive fastballs and tried to put him away upstairs. Knapp stayed poised and laid off both pitches, waiting for a mistake.

And the mistake came with a belt-high curveball that Knapp barreled 434 feet for a three-run homer.

"I wasn't really looking for it," he said. "I knew he liked to throw it with two strikes. It was kind of in the back of my head. But I was just looking for something out over the dish. He was pounding me in, but I was going to make him beat me away. I thankfully got that one out in front a bit."

Knapp is now 53 at-bats into his MLB career and has an impressive .264/.371/.509 batting line with three home runs and seven RBIs. He's played well enough to push starting catcher Cameron Rupp for more playing time and earn himself some extra starts beyond day games after night games.

"I feel good," Knapp said. "I'm learning a lot. Each at-bat in itself is its own thing and you can't really have much rollover. At the same time, the more I get in there, the better I feel and the more experience I get. So I feel good so far."

Rupp has been solid at the plate, although he dealt with some issues defensively last week. As Knapp got consecutive starts, Rupp sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies. He rebounded with a three-walk game Thursday afternoon.

With Knapp swinging the bat well, manager Pete Mackanin hopes it will only push Rupp to level his game up.

"Competition is great for pitchers and for position players and I think it's good," Mackanin said. "Knapp hit that home run today. He's been swinging the bat pretty well, catching pretty well and that's only, in my opinion, going to make Rupp better."

On Friday, Mackanin said he would give Knapp more playing time, looking to possibly split starts between Rupp and Knapp at four and three starts, respectively, per week. That's how it worked out during this past homestand.

The manager was unsure what the upward limit on Knapp's starts could be, but he was pleased about his catching situation despite the team's overall issues.

"Cam hasn't been swinging the bat that well lately, but they're both going to get playing time," Mackanin said. "Cam will get the brunt of the playing time. For me, it's a great situation. Now we have two guys that we think a lot of."