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.

After epically bad game, Odubel Herrera maintains he's 'making good swings'

After epically bad game, Odubel Herrera maintains he's 'making good swings'

Don't be shocked if Pete Mackanin gives Odubel Herrera the Maikel Franco treatment this weekend after Herrera's epically bad game Thursday afternoon.

Herrera, batting third for the first time since May 9, went 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in the Phillies' 2-1, extra-inning win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five Ks and the first Phillie to do so since Pat Burrell in September 2008.

(And no, that doesn't mean the Phillies are winning the World Series this season.)

Herrera is in a very bad place right now. He's hitting .226 with a .275 on-base percentage, and he has 28 strikeouts with one walk in May.

But you wouldn't know it from talking to him after the game Thursday. Herrera wasn't downtrodden or beside himself. He was typical Odubel, flashing a few smiles and remaining positive.

"I feel that I am making good swings but I'm just missing the pitches," Herrera said. "But I feel I am swinging the bat well. 

"I don't really know what it is exactly. But I am seeing the ball well. I don't know if it's when I charge at the ball or the timing of my swing. It's definitely at that point. Maybe it has something to do with the balance of the bat and my body. 

"Besides being positive, I have to check the video to see what I'm doing wrong and make some adjustment. But I'm staying positive, for sure."

Herrera and Franco, batting third and fourth, went 1 for 10 with seven strikeouts Thursday. They're both hitting below .230. They're supposed to be cornerstone pieces for the Phillies, so it's extremely troubling. Even if the Phillies were winning games recently it would be troubling.

Mackanin was elusive when asked if he'd consider benching Herrera Friday. But there's no real reason to believe it would do any good anyway. There's a fine line between giving a player time to clear his head and preventing him from having chances to bounce back.

"You know what, let me enjoy this. We'll discuss that tomorrow. Let me smile for a while," Mackanin said. 

"It's a tough decision. That's a tough decision. You wonder if he needs to be in there seeing pitches and batting or does he need time off? I'll think about that."

Herrera did say that he and Franco have leaned on each other during this rough period. They talk and try to motivate each other every day, but right now the results aren't there. Both are swinging wildly at too many pitches out of the strike zone and just making it too easy for opposing pitchers. When that's coming from the middle of your order, you're going to have problems scoring runs. 

On this date a year ago, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. Franco was hitting .260 with a .748 OPS.

Some of the struggles are because of pitchers adjusting to Herrera and Franco as the book on them expands. 

When asked if that's the case for his two young players, Mackanin referenced the Phillies' own adjustment to Rockies slugger Charlie Blackmon.

"I was pretty happy we got to Blackmon, that guy is a heckuva hitter and we pitched him really well today. There's an example of what you're talking about," Mackanin said. "Little by little, we're going to get there. We're going to start playing better."

Like Herrera and Franco, Mackanin has no choice but to think positive and hope for the best. It's a long summer, after all.

Instant Replay: Phillies 2, Rockies 1 (11 innings)

Instant Replay: Phillies 2, Rockies 1 (11 innings)

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning Thursday to score Michael Saunders and snap the Phillies' five-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Rockies.

The win is their first victory in a game not started by Jeremy Hellickson since May 1. It also prevented the Phillies from being swept by Colorado.

At 16-29, the Phillies have the second-worst record in the majors. The Rockies, 32-17, have the second-best record in the majors.

Starting pitching report
Vince Velasquez pitched well, allowing one run over five innings to a stacked Rockies lineup, but he again had a short outing because of a high pitch count.

Velasquez put nine men on base and struck out seven. He threw 94 pitches, 70 for strikes.

After Velasquez's last start in Pittsburgh, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the right-hander's secondary pitches simply need to improve, that he needs to be able to show more than just a mid-90s fastball.

On Thursday, Velasquez threw 72 fastballs, 14 curveballs, four sliders and four changeups. The Rockies swung through only two of those 22 off-speed pitches and went 4 for 6 when putting them in play.

Mackanin left Velasquez in to hit for himself with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the fifth and Velasquez popped out on a sacrifice attempt. Many fans have already questioned the decision, but let's keep in mind Velasquez has handled the bat well. He's 6 for 17 (.353) on the season and tied for the major-league lead in hits among pitchers. He had an infield single in his first at-bat.

Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson continued the theme of mediocre starting pitchers stymying the Phillies. Anderson allowed just one run on six hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts.

In the series, Rockies starting pitchers allowed three runs in 27 innings. They had a 1.00 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. And these four starters — Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Tyler Chatwood and Anderson — entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA.

Bullpen report
Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez each pitched one scoreless inning. It's understandably been overlooked during the Phillies' skid, but the bullpen is finally in a groove. Over their last seven games, Phillies relievers have allowed just two earned runs in 22 2/3 innings for a 0.79 ERA.

Neris threw 10 pitches, all of them strikes. He's allowed one run in 9 2/3 innings since his meltdown at Dodger Stadium.

At the plate
Before the walk-off hit, Joseph stayed hot with a home run off the ivy wall in dead-center to start the bottom of the seventh.

Joseph is hitting .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

Joseph has now played 148 games with 498 plate appearances in the majors — slightly less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. Those numbers are just above the league average for first basemen over that span.

Batting third, Odubel Herrera went 0 for 5 with five strikeouts. He's the first player in the majors this season to do that and the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in September 2008. Herrera is hitting .226 with a .275 OBP. 

Maikel Franco returned to the lineup after a two-game benching and went 1 for 5, singling up the middle in his first at-bat and flailing at a low-and-away, two-strike breaking ball to strike out with two on and one out in the eighth inning. He then struck out on three pitches to lead off the 11th.

Cameron Rupp walked three times, raising his on-base percentage from .330 to .345.

Up next
The Phillies start a three-game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds, who they haven't seen since the opening week of the season.

Friday, 7:05 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-1, 3.52) vs. Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 6.75)

Saturday, 4:05 p.m. — Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70) vs. Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99)

Sunday, 1:35 p.m. — Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) vs. Amir Garrett (3-3, 6.00)