Monday, October 5, 2009

Flyers on 82-0 Pace, Penn State Rebounds and the MLB Hates Philadelphia

That's right, 82-0. The Flyers played their first two games over the weekend, and they looked as advertised, shutting out the Hurricanes 2-0 on Friday and lighting up Martin Brodeur and the Devils on Saturday 5-2.

The team is on pace to surrender just 41 goals all season, on pace to score 3.5 per game. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards just very well may score in every game this season. They both have so far. What I'm trying to say is, this team is good. Real good. And they aren't waiting around to show it like they did last season.

Obviously, the Flyers won't go 82-0. Ray Emery won't finished with a 1.00 goals against average, and there will be plenty of games where Mike Richards and/or Jeff Carter do not find the back of the net. But if those first two games don't make you excited, well, I'm not sure you're physically capable of feeling the emotion of excitement. On Friday night, against a fundamentally sound, tough Carolina team, the Flyers played smart, physical hockey.

Ray Emery lived up to his moniker, playing razor sharp in his first game in orange and black. The new netminder stopped all 28 shots he faced, and the most impressive part about it in my eyes was how he rarely gave up rebounds. While Cam Ward, who did have a fine game himself, was leaving pucks out all over the place, Emery was swallowing every shot fired at him.

And he had plenty of help from his defense. The Flyers bore down, from forwards to defensemen, to limit Carolina's chances. Sure, they still took way too many penalties, giving the Hurricanes 8 chances on the power play, but it didn't matter. The penalty kill, which was so good a season ago, looks like it has the potential to be even better. The Flyers killed off all 8 Carolina man advantages, and their depth of penalty killers will be a huge advantage all season long. Blair Betts, Ian Laperriere, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Mika Pyorala and Darroll Powe were all used to kill penalties Friday night. Name another team with nine forwards they trust in those situations.

As far as defense goes, Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen look as though they've recaptured their magic from two seasons ago, and Chris Pronger, in his first game as a Flyer, only led all players in ice time with 27:41, having a particularly awesome shift on the penalty kill in the third period. It was a stellar game for both headlining newcomers, with Emery getting the shutout and Pronger lending a helping hand.

But there is no question that the Flyers look to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to lead them, and the two did not disappoint. Thanks to a four-minute double minor by Sergei Samsonov right before the first intermission, the Flyers had 3:30 of power play time to open the 2nd. Twenty-five seconds in, Jeff Carter lit the lamp to put the Flyers up 1-0. Still on the power play, Richards matched his fellow all-star, scoring just 22 seconds later.

That duo wasn't finished. On Saturday, Carter got the Flyers started, scoring the first goal of the game, and Richards followed suit in the second, putting the Flyers up 3-0 following an uncharacteristically weak goal surrendered by Martin Brodeur at the hands of Ian Laperriere. Even more surprisingly, the Flyers jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Brodeur and netted five goals in all on just 27 shots. It was nice to see the Flyers dominate Brodeur for a change.

But again, it was the penalty kill and goaltending that stole the show for Philadelphia. In the first, the Flyers killed off a 2-minute 5-on-3, demoralizing New Jersey, and while they did surrender one power play tally on the night, they also killed off three other chances. And Emery followed up his shutout debut by stopping 24 of 26 shots, several of them in remarkable fashion, like this one:

Through two games, Emery has stopped 52 of 54 shots, good for a .963 save percentage. So far, so good. After the first two contests, the team resembled what I expected, playing strong defense, killing penalties, scoring goals — both even strength and on the power play — and getting excellent goaltending.

Also this weekend, Penn State's offensive line actually resembled a good offensive line against Illinois. Well, for a half at least.

Penn State did rebound nicely, handling Illinois 35-17 in a game that wasn't even really that close. The Illini scored two late touchdowns to make the final look a little more respectable.

Now, the first half was one of the most boring halves of football ever played. After a scoreless first quarter that basically saw neither team do anything on offense, Stephfon Green broke a 52-yard touchdown run in the 2nd to put Penn State up 7-0.

Illinois responded to make it 7-3 before the half, and Craig James actually said that both offenses were playing well. In a 7-3 game. After 30 minutes of football. Craig James is an idiot. If by playing well, you mean not scoring points and generally not moving the football very much, then yeah, they were playing well. What I think he meant to say is that both offenses weren't making mistakes, as in turning the ball over. Because they weren't. Both teams took care of the football in the first half. At least that's what I hope he meant, because if he thinks those offenses played well in those opening 30 minutes, well, he should get his head examined.

Fortunately, in the second half, the Penn State offense did play well. Really well. The offensive line that has been missing in action through the first four weeks finally seemed to put things together, blowing the Illinois defense off the line of scrimmage and manhandling an inferior opponent. For the first time all season, Penn State ran the ball at will, racking up 338 yards on the ground, led by the two-headed monster of Stephfon Green and Evan Royster, who each rushed for over 100 yards, with Green gaining 120 yards on 13 carries (9.2 ypc) and Royster going for 105 on 17 touches (6.2 ypc).

Hell, Daryll Clark even remembered he could run, adding 83 yards on the ground of his own on just 7 carries. It was the dominant run game we've come to expect from Penn State over the years. The one that had been absent so far this season. All six Nittany Lion scores came on the ground, with Royster and Green each scoring once, Clark twice and Brent Carter adding one for good measure. It was the offensive line that led the way. Finally, this looked like a unit that's ready to play big-time college football. Too bad it came one week too late.

But it was a nice bounceback game for sure. Clark rebounded from his horrific performance last weekend, completing 68 percent of his passes and finding his running legs again. And that game really had to feel good for an offensive line that has been much maligned through the first four weeks of the season. Good win on the road against a conference opponent. No complaints here.

Oh, and the Phillies played or something this weekend. Apparently, they lost Friday and Saturday, ruining any hope of the best record in the NL, but they did win Sunday to clinch home field for the first round, where they take on Colorado.

On a sour note, in a big fuck you to all us Philadelphia fans who actually have jobs, the Phillies are slated to play at 2:37 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. What the fuck? That's some bullshit right there. I hope Bud Selig and the schedule makers choke on a dick and die. And of course, I hope the Phillies can return the favor of 2007, handing the Rockies a quick 3-game sweep.

It's playoff time yet again. LET'S GO PHILS!!!!

BallHype: hype it up!

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