Who are these Flyers? Tonight's visit to Chicago could go a long way in answering that question

Who are these Flyers? Tonight's visit to Chicago could go a long way in answering that question

Patrick Kane… Michael Leighton’s five hole… Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final... Yada, yada, yada.

Whatever. That all happened three-and-a-half years ago.

Snap back to reality and focus on the here and now because the Philadelphia Flyers finish up their six-game road trip tonight with a visit to Chicago to take on the once-again defending Stanley Cup champion and red-hot Blackhawks, who have the most points in the NHL with 49.

The Blackhawks are the most well-oiled machine the league has to offer.

They lead the league with an average of 3.58 goals per game. They’re second in the league with 33.7 shots on net per game. Don’t forget their lethal power play, which is fifth-best in the league with a 22.9 percent success rate.

Kane is well on the way to having the best season of his career. With 40 points, he trails Sidney Crosby by just three points for the league lead. He’s also scored 17 goals, which puts him at fourth-best in the league. Captain Jonathan Toews is one of the best players in the universe. Duncan Keith is second among all defensemen with 27 points, third among defensemen with a plus-15 rating and is back playing at his 2010 Norris Trophy-winning form.

To wrap things up here in Christmas paper and put a pretty little bow on top, this is one of those litmus test games for Flyers that could help us figure out of the they are contenders or pretenders. Tonight help show us who these Flyers really are.

The up-and-down road trip has pretty much been a microcosm of the season so far.

On this trip, the Flyers won a shootout (!) in Nashville, sleepwalked to a shutout loss in Minnesota, exploded in the third period to win in Detroit, got blitzed in the second period of a loss in Dallas and blew a third-period lead and lost in a shootout in Ottawa.

The trip really hasn’t shed much light on what the team is or isn’t. The same questions about goal scoring, defense and consistent play still linger. It doesn’t help that second-line center Vinny Lecavalier was injured on the trip could miss up to a month.

Getting back to tonight’s visit to Chicago, look for Sean Couturier and his line to play a big role.

If Flyers’ head coach Craig Berube has his way and gets the matchups he wants, Couturier and his line will be out there as much as possible against Toews and his line.  Whichever line gets the best of the other will have a huge say in the way the game goes. Keep in mind that Couturier’s line has been the Flyers’ best offensive line recently, too. If the matchup evens itself out, it’ll be up to the respective teams’ secondary scoring. With guys like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw, just to name a few, it’s a clear advantage to the Blackhawks.

Ray Emery goes tonight between the pipes for the Flyers. Steve Mason has allowed eight goals in his last two starts – the first two times he let in more than three goals as a Flyer – so he gets the night off. Expect Mason to be back in net tomorrow night when the Flyers finally come home and face the Montreal Canadiens in the second game of a back-to-back.

Emery, of course, won a Cup with the ‘Hawks last season and will be facing his old mates for the first time since. Last season with the ‘Hawks, “Razor” went 17-1-0 with a .922 save percentage and a 1.94 goals-against average in 21 games played. This season in his second stint as a Flyer, Emery is 3-5-0 with a .908 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average in 10 games played.

Let’s just say the quality of defense in front of the goaltender helps. But that’s another story for another day.

The last time the Flyers had a big game like this, Emery started and the Flyers won, 2-1, in Pittsburgh.

Long story short, this game will go a long in proving whether the Flyers can hang with the big boys of the NHL or whether they aren’t much better than a middle of the pack team.

Either way, it’s never a bad thing to have an excuse to look at the Blackhawks’ beautiful sweaters. Best uniform in pro sports right there.

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies rallied for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Tommy Joseph won it with a single up the middle with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The hit scored Aaron Altherr, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.

The Phils have won just six of their last 27 games. Joseph has had a walk-off, game-winning hit in the last two wins.

In addition to Joseph, who also homered, the star of the game was the Phillies' bullpen. Four Phils' relievers combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff exited. The Phillies' bullpen is riding a 19 2/3-innings scoreless streak.

Starting pitching report
Eickhoff allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a bunt hit and a two-run homer to the first two batters of the game but took a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff single and a one-out RBI double in that inning as the Reds tied the game at 3-3.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, back in action at age 40 after recovering from surgery the last two seasons, gave up three runs — all on solo homers — over five innings.

Bullpen report
Good work by Edubray Ramos to get two outs in the sixth to strand a runner in scoring position and preserve a 3-3 tie. Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each followed with a scoreless inning. Neris struck out dangerous Joey Votto on a splitter with a man on base to end the top of the ninth. He got the win.

Austin Brice pitched two scoreless innings for the Reds. Michael Lorenzen took the loss. He gave up two hits in the ninth. Joseph's game-winning hit came on a 97 mph heater.

At the plate
Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all clouted solo homers for the Phillies. Joseph has six homers in his last 21 games.

Zack Cozart smacked a two-run homer against Eickhoff in the first inning. The Reds tied the game on a one-out double by Scooter Gennett in the sixth.

Remembering Bunning
Jim Bunning died Friday night. Larry Bowa recalled the impact that the Hall of Famer had on his career (see story).

Up next
The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) and Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99) are the pitchers.