Yo, Flyers, start being selfish and shoot the puck more

Yo, Flyers, start being selfish and shoot the puck more

The Philadelphia Flyers are currently riding a five-game home winning streak.

That’s cool and all, but it doesn’t mean squat these days because they're are in the midst of six-game road trip - which continues tonight in Detroit - that has them away from Wells Fargo Center until next Thursday.

And while the Orange and Black picked up a win – a shootout win (!) at that – this past Saturday in Nashville against the Predators, the first two games of the trip haven’t been pretty.

The Flyers have been badly outplayed to start the road swing.

What’s to blame? Look no further than the offense, which has reverted back to its October ways.

I know you remember that offense from the beginning of the season that was historically bad and helped that Flyers get off the worst start in franchise history. Well, that’s what we’ve seen two games into this trip.

The main reason the offense has been putrid lately is the fact that the Flyers haven’t shot the puck enough.

Instead of shooting, they instead have tried low-percentage passing plays that opposing defenders have gladly eaten up and taken the other way for scoring chances. You know, the things that anchored them at the beginning of the year.

If you’ve watched the games, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Flyers have tried to pass through multiple defenders, pass cross-ice or pass to an unaware teammate instead of shooting when there are clear lanes to the net.

The most glaring example came in the first period of Monday night’s clunker of a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild when Claude Giroux broke into the Wild zone on a partial breakaway. Instead of taking a shot, Giroux, the most dangerous Flyer, decided to cut to the side of the net and try to hit a trailing Scott Hartnell. Hartsy didn’t have an angle to the net and the play was easily broken up and resulted in a huge missed opportunity.

The Flyers finished Monday’s game with just 21 shots on net in 60 minutes of play. With as good as NHL defenses and goaltenders are these days, putting just 21 shots on net isn't a recipe for winning.

To make matters worse, outside of the diving save Wild goalie Josh Harding made on Jake Voracek in the third period, how many of those 21 shots actually tested Harding? Very few.

The story was much the same in Nashville. The Flyers recorded just 24 shots in 65 minutes of play against Predators rookie goalie Marek Mazanec. If it weren’t for a defensive breakdown that left Sean Couturier open in front of the net in the third period and Steve Mason’s wizardry between the pipes, the Flyers would have suffered another inept defeat.

You can even go back to the Thanksgiving Eve stinker in Tampa if you want. In that game the Flyers had just 21 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Lightning.

A quadratic formula here, use the FOIL method there, carry the one over this way… and that averages out to 22 shots for the Flyers over their last three road games.

Anyway, an average of 22 shots on net won’t get a team anywhere but the loss column unless a goalie stands on his head like Mason did in Nashville.

The moral of the story is that if the Flyers want to get the offense back on track, they better start shooting  a whole lot more.

Stop the overpassing and low-percentage plays and just shoot if there’s a lane. They have to be a lot more selfish and just shoot the damn puck.

If there’s one thing Gary Dornhoefer taught me during the hockey telecasts of my youth it’s that it’s almost never a bad play to get the puck toward the net. You never know what’s going to happen.

Tonight’s game in Detroit against the Red Wings would be a good place to start.

The Red Wings will be without their entire top line of Todd Bertuzzi, Henrik Zetterberg and puck-handling magician Pavel Datsyuk. That’s 28 goals out of the lineup tonight for Detroit. That should work in the Flyers advantage.

What shouldn’t work in the Flyers advantage is the fact they’ve won just one game in Detroit since 1988. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the Flyers win JUST ONE FREAKIN’ GAME in Detroit.  That win came in January 2011 and is the only victory in the Flyers last 18 games in Joe Louis Arena.

More than 22 shots on net would be a step in the right direction for the Flyers if they are to get just their second win in Detroit that these green eyes of mine have ever seen.

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

Bryan Colangelo on Joel Embiid setback: 'We're reacting in a way that's proactive'

The timetable for Joel Embiid's return to the court keeps getting murkier.

Embiid was ruled out indefinitely on Monday and will now have an MRI on his injured left knee (see story). He initially suffered a bone bruise on Jan. 20 and it was revealed on Feb. 11 that he had a minor meniscal tear.

The Sixers previously had a plan of rest and rehab in place and targeted a March 4 return for the big man. 

"With respect to what's developed over the last couple of days, it's quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday's edition of Philly Sports Talk. "We're reacting in a way that's proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there's less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely."

That's a quick change of events. As recently as Friday, Embiid was on track to be back in uniform this week.

"I was in a situation where the latest update on Friday was that he was doing well through his planned progression toward returning to play," Colangelo said. "In recent days, his training has developed a reaction with swelling and soreness, and thus we wanted to take a step back, put him on ice for a minute and make sure that we do everything possible, including getting another scan done."

Embiid initially suffered the injury against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20. The rookie sensation missed three games before coming back vs. the Houston Rockets in a national TV matchup on Jan. 27. He has missed all 13 games since facing the Rockets.

Even with Embiid’s diagnosed tear of his meniscus and recent flaring up of the knee after rehab sessions, the Sixers are being supremely cautious when it comes to any potential procedures. The team is not in a rush to put the center back under the knife after he missed the first two seasons of his career because of a pair of foot surgeries.

"With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention," Colangelo said. "When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone's knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he's reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors."

The quick decision to label Embiid out indefinitely is a sharp contrast to prior updates on the phenom. Just last week, Embiid lamented how the Sixers never announced a true timetable for his return (see story).

Now just days later, Embiid has a prognosis that could technically keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. 

Embiid has proven his worth in 31 games this season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes a night. But with only 23 games left on the schedule, will he suit up again this season?

"Out indefinitely means just that. It's indeterminate at this point," Colangelo said. "I think we're all hopeful to get him out there. It would be beneficial for the fans to see him again. It would be great for us as a unit to have him out there as we continue to strive toward winning as the season concludes.

"But at the end of the day, the health and performance of our athletes is first and foremost. We don't want to jeopardize the long-term health."

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B