Monday, October 31, 2011

No Tricks, Just Treats

When I got home from work Friday evening, I had absolutely nothing planned for the entire Halloween weekend — nothing to do, nowhere to be, no parties to attend or people I planned to hang out with. Honestly, I thought it would be a low-key, boring weekend filled with watching movies and sports but not much else.

Next thing you know, I end up at a strip club on Friday, the Flyers-Hurricanes game on Saturday and the Eagles-Cowboys game last night, with lots of bodily harm in between. Talk about a healthy dose of treats.

As I'm sitting on my couch relaxing Friday night, my buddy Tommy calls me and says he's going to the Flyers game Saturday night and wanted to meet up afterward to get drunk. Not 20 minutes later, Adam EatShit calls to see what I'm up to for the night … and adds, "Oh, I forgot I got Flyers tickets for tomorrow — want to go?" Of course I say yes. And to celebrate the occasion, Adam came over to watch game 7 of the World Series with me and my roommate. We headed down to the bar after a few innings, proceeded to drink and take back a few shots, and next thing you know we're at the local hole-in-the-wall strip club entirely too early after the Cardinals finish off the Rangers to win another World Series title.

Surprisingly, I felt fine the next day when I awoke, getting some things done before Penn State kicked off at 3:30. Tommy showed up at my house right before the game and we sat and watched one of the most horrific offensive games in the history of ever. Missed field goals, botched snaps, and quarterbacks who could not complete a pass to save their lives. In fact, one of them literally could not complete a single pass, and if you've been paying attention to Penn State at all this year, it's not very difficult to figure out who.

Listen, Matt McGloin is not a perfect quarterback — far from it. Truthfully, I don't even like McGloin. But the fact of the matter is that Matt McGloin is an infinitely better passer than Rob Bolden. There is no disputing this. Even in a game where McGloin is just absolutely dreadful, completing just 9-24 for 98 yards and an interception, he is still light years better than Bolden. This has been firmly established throughout the season. It's plain for everyone to see. And after McGloin took every snap and played extremely well at Northwestern, it looked as though the Penn State coaching staff had finally admitted as much.

Then this putrid game happened, with Bolden playing nearly the entire second quarter and looking as horrible as ever. Enough is enough already. Listen, I have been a guy who was firmly entrenched in the "let Joe go whenever the hell he wants" camp. Joe Paterno is Penn State football. He made the university and the football program what it is today. But this whole quarterback debacle has finally pushed me over the edge. Joe must step aside for the good of the program. The fact that he will not use his position to make McGloin the guy 100 percent of the way, now 9 games into the season, is absolutely indefensible and proof that it's time for the epic Joe Paterno era to end. It's painful to admit, because I honestly love the guy, but he's about to turn 85 and won't do the things a head coach has to do. The time has come. Simple as that.

Anyway, back to the game at hand. If it wasn't for Silas Redd, Penn State would not have been able to move the ball at all. Thankfully, Redd is on this team, and he is now establishing himself as the best running back in the Big Ten. He was Penn State's offense Saturday, gaining 137 yards on 30 carries and scoring the game-winning touchdown.

It took the Penn State running game a few games to get going, but ever since the Iowa game, the offensive line has been moving people off the ball and Redd has done the rest. It's not every day that a school loses its all-time leading rusher and actually gets stronger at the position, but Redd is on his way to making people forget Evan Royster was as good as he was. The guy is just dynamite to watch.

Sadly, I didn't see the final drive of the game live, the one good one, but I did listen to it. That's because we were in the car on the way to the Flyers game as it was taking place, with Derek Moye coming in in an emergency role with his foot injury and getting things going with a 20-yeard catch on the first play of that game-winning drive.

And while Redd was the offensive hero and Moye did his best Willis Reed impersonation, it was the defense that truly won this game. And it is because of this defense that the Nittany Lions, despite looking absolutely horrific on offense at times this season, sit at 8-1 and are the only Big Ten team undefeated in conference play.

Devon Still may be the best player in the entire conference. He's certainly in the conversation. Every game he plays, he ups his draft stock, to the point where he's knocking on the door of the top 10. Saturday, he was outstanding again — 10 tackles, 3.5 for loss and a sack. He is an absolute monster.

And his fellow starting defensive tackle is not too shabby either. Jordan Hill had himself a day as well, also notching 10 tackles, including one for a loss. The way these two guys are playing rivals any defensive tackle pairing I've ever seen at Penn State. The only one that comes immediately to mind to rival Hill and Still is Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams, but these two have been even more disruptive than I remember Adams and Kennedy being. It's nice to have two interior d-linemen who can dominate.

Speaking of dominating, holy hell has Gerald Hodges emerged since Michael Mauti went down. Fresh off winning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, all Hodges did for an encore performance was rack up 19 tackles, force a fumble, break up two passes and register a sack. Good god, he is starting to show Navorro Bowman-like flashes out there. It's fun seeing him mature before our very eyes, especially given how he sometimes looked lost early in the season. Not anymore. Gerald Hodges is playing some fantastic football right now.

As is the entire defense. Drew Astorino made some great plays Saturday, and he's rebounded nicely this year after a couple down seasons. He always seems like he's in position to make the play this year. Nick Sukay absolutely laid the wood on a couple plays and helped change momentum. D'Anton Lynn had an interception as he gets back into game shape. And the defense again carried an embarrassing effort by the offense to stave off a loss and remain in the driver's seat in the Leaders division. In fact, unbelievably, Penn State has a two-game cushion in the loss column in the Leaders division. With Wisconsin's loss to Ohio State, Penn State sits at 5-0 in the Big Ten with Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue tied for second in the Leaders division at 2-2. Try and wrap your head around that.

It was a relief to hear Penn State won, and the timing was perfect. Just as the game ended, we parked and headed in to the Flyers game, where old friend Brian Boucher was in net for Carolina.

That was unfortunate for Boucher, because the Flyers came out angry after their pathetic 9-8 loss to the Jets, and then put it on the Canes in the 3rd period.

It was nice to see the Flyers and Ilya Bryzgalov respond with a 5-1 thumping, outshooting the Canes 34-25 and surrendering just one goal one game after letting 9 go by. Bryz was excellent in net, stopping everything he could. The lone goal that he surrendered was largely Scott Hartnell's fault — Hartnell tried to make a diving poke check and instead slid about 15 yards and rammed right into his goaltender, leaving Bryz down and out for Jussi Jokinen.

Though Hartnell did his part, opening the scoring on the night thanks to a nice feed by Claude Giroux, and that theme continued. Giroux and Jaromir Jagr have been playing well together all season, but ever since Peter Laviolette replaced James van Riemsdyk with Scott Hartnell, that top line has taken things to even greater heights. Hartnell, who was struggling for ice time earlier in the year, is now getting a ton of minutes and found his scoring touch again. Jagr looks every bit like the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer he is and nothing like a 39-year-old who has been away from the NHL, and Giroux has simply blossomed into one the best players in the entire NHL.

On Saturday night, that line scored 4 of the 5 Flyers' goals, with Hartnell and Giroux each scoring once and Jagr netting two, including this highlight-reel beauty.

In all, Hartnell, Giroux and Jagr combined for 9 points on the night and were a combined plus-10. That line might score 500 freakin goals this year, it's that good. Watching Jagr and Giroux work together is truly remarkable, and the sky is the limit for any line that has those two unreal playmakers on it.

Max Talbot added a shorthanded goal as well to cap off the scoring, and the defense was stout all night, yielding just 25 shots. Really nice way to rebound from that travesty of a game the other night.

Afterward, Tommy and I headed out to Center City with his sister, brother-in-law and met up with our other friend at McGlinchey's.

McGlinchey's is a rarity in the City of the Brotherly Love — a bar that allows smoking inside. Now, I don't smoke, but I've never been opposed to smoking in bars. The two just seem go hand in hand. And McGlinchey's is the spot for the smokers who want to smoke indoors. There we drank in celebration and were even treated to free apples. That's right, the guy who checks IDs was giving out apples.

After that, it was off to Good Dog for a few more, a stop for some late-night pizza and then bed.

I had planned on relaxing all Sunday and watching the Eagles-Cowboys game in solitude at night. My roommates had tickets to the game, and I was perfectly content to watch the game in the warmth and comfort of my own home. Then a little after noon, I hear my phone ring as I'm brushing my teeth in the bathroom. When I get to it, there's a missed call and a text from Arkansas Fred offering me a ticket to the game. Only an idiot would decline such an offer.

I spent the rest of the day semi-watching the terrible early games and taking an insanely long nap before finally heading down to the Linc around 7.

Even though Andy Reid was 12-0 after a regular-season bye as head coach of the Eagles, I went into the game believing the Eagles would lose a close game. I just thought that the stout Dallas defense would be able to make enough stops and that Jason Witten would have his usual big game against the Eagles. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Last night, everything clicked for the Eagles. Finally, they looked like the team everyone envisioned when they brought in a slew of talent in the offseason, while Dallas looked like the Eagles did during their foibles this season only worse.

Before you could blink, it was 14-0 after 15 minutes of play and 24-0 at halftime, and the Birds never looked back. They completely dominated every phase of the game, looking far superior for 4 quarters. For a while, it even looked like this much-maligned defense would pitch a shutout until a coverage breakdown and missed play by Kurt Coleman allowed Laurent Robinson to score. It was unreal.

This game was easily one of the finest coaching performances of Andy Reid's career. Everything he instilled in the game plan worked to perfection, and the guy even went 2-for-2 on challenges. You know things are going well when Andy Reid wins not only one, but two challenges in the same game. I'm not sure he's won two challenges in an entire season prior to last night. It was so amazing to witness that at one point near the end of the first half Adam sent me this text:

We are running the ball, he won a challenge and they have 2 timeouts remaining. Who are these people?

The better question is where has this team been. I mean, it was honestly a nearly flawless performance. Mike Vick had by far his best game of the season, competing 21 of 28 for 279 and two scores and not turning the ball over once. He was hitting everyone in stride and honestly only made one or two poor throws all night long. He was spreading it around to all his weapons, particularly reestablishing Brent Celek as a receiving threat. In fact, Celek had the best game he's had in a long time, leading the Eagles with 7 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Though as good as Vick and Celek were, the offense was led once again by LeSean McCoy, who continues to be the best player on the field week in and week out.

Wisely, Andy and Marty have been calling McCoy's number more and more, and the third-year running back is rewarding his coaches. McCoy had 185 yards on 30 carries last night and two touchdowns. He's reached the point where he absolutely must get 20-plus carries and 25-plus touches every week. And he's now even reaching the point where he's firmly in the conversation of best running back in the NFL. I know there isn't anyone I'd rather have on this team right now than LeSean, not the way he's playing this year. Honestly, I feel like he's been the best player every single game the Eagles have played this year, for either team.

Though it wasn't just the offense doing the heavy lifting in this one. After weeks and weeks and weeks of fans and pundits alike begging Juan Castillo to let his insanely talented cornerbacks play man coverage, the Eagles went out and played man coverage practically the entire game. The result? By far the best defensive performance of the season, holding the Cowboys to just seven meaningless late-game points, just 267 yards of offense and forcing a turnover.

This year, we've grown accustomed to everyone on defense pretty much contributing to the losses and blown leads. Last night, everyone contributed to the win. Jamar Chaney and Brian Rolle put forth easily the most impressive showing out of the linebackers this year, particularly in blanketing Jason Witten. Witten, often being covered by Chaney or Nnamdi Asomugha, had just four catches for 28 yards. Considering Tony Gonzalez absolutely torched the Eagles, I thought Witten would have a huge game. He did not, thanks to Castillo's game plan.

All night long, Castillo let Asante Samuel, Nnamdi and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie go man, and they completely shut down the passing game. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin were invisible. And really, the majority of Tony Romo's 203 yards through the air came on the one 70-yard touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson, a result of a blown assignment and late reaction by Coleman.

Finally, Castillo let his talented corners do what they do, and it had a profound effect. Nnamdi looked like the best or second-best cornerback in the league as he was touted to be, blanketing everyone he was assigned to and coming up with his second interception of the season. Asante did just as good a job, even making a few tackles. And DRC had his most productive game as an Eagle as well.

Add in the defensive line picking up 4 more sacks and clogging the running lanes — Dallas had just 85 yards rushing, with DeMarco Murray gaining just 74 yards a week after setting a franchise record — and you had yourself a complete team effort.

That was the team everyone expected heading into the season, and if they can somehow keep it going, the Eagles could just turn what looked to be a lost season three weeks ago around. Hell, the Birds are just two game behind the Giants, and it's not inconceivable that New York could fall back to the pack. The G-men are a lot like Penn State, a team that looks horrible but finds a way to win. However, if the Eagles can play to the level they did last night, they could easily rattle off a nice winning streak and be right in the thick of it. Given where this team was prior to the Washington win, I wasn't sure they could get there.

In a weekend devoid of tricks and full of treats, being at the Linc to watch the Birds blow out the Cowboys as Andy Reid and Juan Castillo completely outcoached Jason Garrett and Roy Ryan was the best treat of all. So was watching my favorite Eagle of all time, Eric Allen, get honored at halftime.

I'm gonna celebrate by eating a shit ton of candy tonight.

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Since the NBA lockout (and possible end?) is in the news and the Flyers just played an infuriating 17-goal game last night, it feels appropriate to show some footage of Led Zeppelin at the Spectrum, former home of your Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Flyers. Of course, now the Spectrum is completely gone.

Seriously, that 9-8 loss last night was dumb, and if you think that was a good hockey game, I hate you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'm Tired, Here's Video of Penn State & Jaromir Jagr

I had a long weekend that included a bachelor party, not enough sleep and a Monday that was incredibly busy. Frankly, I'm worn out. So here are a just a few of the points I'd like to make about Penn State's 34-24 victory over Northwestern Saturday night and the Flyers' 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs last night:

Penn State-Northwestern
- Dan Persa really plays with a chip on his shoulder against Penn State, and it's really annoying. I know he was pretty damn good last year before he got hurt, and he's getting better the healthier he gets this year, but I refuse to believe this guy can be good for a sustained period of time. I just do.

- Oh hey, look at that — Penn State plays one quarterback, the better quarterback, the entire game, and the offense puts up 34 points and could actually move the ball through the air. Don't be dumb and go back to playing Rob Bolden anymore.

-Gerald Hodges has the best game of his career, though I'm not sure what the hell happened there at the end of his interception return.

- Silas Redd is the truth. Nothing more needs to be said.

- Devon Smith just kept running right by the pathetic Northwestern defense. Since I said he wasn't a football player, Devon has been playing really good football. You're welcome.

- Jordan Hill and Devon Still may be the best defensive tackle I've ever seen at Penn State.

- Nice to see Stephfon Green and Curtis Drake are alive.

- Somehow this team is 7-1 and first in their division thanks to that crazy ending in the Michigan State-Wisconsin game.

- Jaromir Jagr looked a lot like the old Jaromir Jagr last night.

- I don't remember Scott Hartnell falling on his own once … and he played pretty damn awesome.

- Sergei Bobrovsky looked really good, especially on some acrobatic saves. The guy is quick as hell from pipe to pipe.

- That Chris Pronger play is scary as hell. Two fluke injuries in back-to-back years for the guy. Hope he regains full vision quickly and gets back out there in 2-3 weeks.

- Watching Jagr do his thing, I'm assuming the three no-doubt-about-it guys for any shootouts this year are Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Jagr. Gotta be, right?

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Apparently, this is what NBA players are doing during the lockout — at least the ones in Russia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Flyers Under-25 Crew Making an Early Impact

The new-look 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers are off to a hot start, now 4-0-1 on this young season following the 7-2 pounding they laid on the Senators last night.

Six of the Flyers' seven goals came from players 25 years old or younger, including 18-year-old Sean Couturier's first career NHL goal. Matt Read (25) led the way with a goal and three assists. Wayne Simmonds (23) netted his second goal of the year. Claude Giroux (23) scored for the fourth time in five games and added an assist. James van Riemsdyk (22) tallied on the power play with an assist from fellow 22-year-old Jakub Voracek. And Harry Zolnierczyk (24) even got on the board with a goal in his first ever NHL game. Oh, and 23-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 21 shots to pick up the victory in net.

Really, last night's impressive performance across the board from the youngsters is simply par for the course during this young season. Yes, the Flyers have plenty of steady veterans leading the way — Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen (who played awesome last night), Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, to name a few — but the 25-and-under guys are contributing just as much as the elder statesmen.

As it currently stands, the Flyers have dressed 10 players age 25 or younger this season: Sergei Bobrovsky (23), Sean Couturier (18), Claude Giroux (23), Andreas Nodl (24), Matt Read (25), Zac Rinaldo (21), Wayne Simmonds (23), Jakub Voracek (22), Harry Zolnierczyk (24) and James van Riemsdyk (22). That number should bump up to 11 tomorrow night, seeing as the Flyers just brought up 20-year-old Brayden Schenn, the top prospect in the LA organization who came over in the Mike Richards trade.

The Flyers' top five goal scorers thus far are all 25 or younger. Claude Giroux leads the way with 4, while Read, JVR, Simmonds and Voracek each have lit the lamp twice. Add in the goals by Couturier and Zolnierczyk last night, and 14 of Philadelphia's 19 goals have come from players a quarter century old or younger. Claude and Read are also 1-2 on the team in points, and overall, the 25-and-under crew has combined for 28 points and skated to a plus-11 (led by Read and Couturier at plus-4, which is incredibly impressive given they both kill penalties).

Clearly, these aren't your run-of-the-mill young players the Flyers are trotting out there. Giroux is a bona fide star. JVR broke out in last season's playoffs. Simmonds and Voracek are flourishing with their change of scenery. Andreas Nodl has been around for a few years and does his role well. Couturier and Read look much more like grizzled veterans than rookies, evident by the trust Peter Laviolette has in them. Couturier often mans the PK's top unit with Max Talbot, and Read gets time on both special-teams units, manning the point on the top power-play unit and killing penalties as well. Bobrovsky was this team's number 1 goalie most of last season, and he's just 23 and learning from one of the game's best.

Zac Rinaldo is a good banger for Laviolette, though clearly nowhere near as talented as the rest of this bunch — and it's clear he'll struggle to stay with the team. Jody Shelley's suspension is up, and with the recall of Schenn, Rinaldo is back down to the minors, as is Zonierczyk. Still, it's nice to see them not look completely overwhelmed by NHL competition (though I certainly won't miss Rinaldo's dumb penalties).

And it's only going to get more exciting watching the under-25 crew do its thing, especially now that the most celebrated prospect is set to make his Flyers debut tomorrow night.

Look at Schenn pummel former Flyer Luca Sbisa

I gotta admit, I was upset with the Flyers this summer, but man is it fun watching this team and these young guys play right now. And as the great Roy Halladay once said, it's only gonna get funner.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Some Things I Just Don't Understand

Three sporting events dominated my weekend: Penn State hosting Purdue, the Flyers hosting the Kings and the Eagles taking on the Redskins. In all three instances, things I just don't understand kept happening.

I don't understand Penn State still insisting on playing two quarterbacks now seven games into the season. I don't understand why some people felt the need to boo Mike Richards every time he touched the puck. And I don't understand anything about the Eagles at all.

Let's start with Penn State's hideous 23-18 victory over Purdue, which had plenty more things I just don't understand beyond the quarterback situation — though that's exactly where we must start.

I'm as guilty as anyone in flip-flopping on the Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin debate. After the Alabama game, I was convinced Bolden was the guy. But as the season has gone on, it's become abundantly clear in my eyes that McGloin is the better option. Chris Spielman and Urban Meyer both endorsed McGloin as impartial outside observers, and everyone who watches this team outside of the locker room sees the same thing: the offense moves the ball better and has more confidence with McGloin under center.

After outshining Bolden for weeks and essentially finishing off the game against Iowa in the second half, damn near everyone thought the quarterback carousel would finally be over. McGloin is the starter, Bolden the backup and that's that. So of course on Saturday, Rob Bolden trots out for the opening series and handles the duties in the first quarter as usual, and the carousel continues. Unreal.

Bolden led Penn State down the field on its first scoring possession with two big plays through the air, both to Brandon Moseby-Felder, but after that, he looked lost yet again. Those were his only two completions of the game, and the offense really couldn't do anything with him in the game after that.

McGloin on the other hand led Penn State on the remainder of its scoring drives, and the coaches clearly showed more confidence in him by dialing up much more pass plays for the junior. Don't get me wrong, McGloin is far from perfect at this point. His numbers weren't very good (8-17 for 145) and he threw an absolutely horrible, stupid interception, but it's clear this offense moves better with him out there. I don't understand why a team that is still in the mix in the Big 10 continues to rotate quarterbacks. I just don't.

One explanation that was given during the game is that Joe Paterno said one of his biggest coaching regrets is the way he handled the Pat Devlin-Darryl Clark situation, in which he ultimately picked Clark as the starter, which led Devlin to transfer to Delaware. Obviously it would have been nice to keep Devlin around, especially to be the unquestioned starter as a fifth-year senior last season. But the simple fact that Paterno regrets how he handled the decision to go with Darryl Clark proves to me that Joe really can't be involved in the big decisions anymore. How could a coach regret picking a guy who won a Big 10 title and had two 11-win seasons? He made the right choice picking Clark, and he needs to make a choice for this team. Yet he won't and it's hurting the offense far more than it's helping.

I also don't understand, even though it worked, why on earth Penn State went for it on 4th-and-1 with less than 2 minutes left and up 5 at the Purdue 10 instead of kicking the chip shot field goal to go up 8. I know Penn State picked up the first and won the game, and I know that Penn State's defense is good, but if they would have been stopped, Purdue could have won the game with a touchdown. And as hard as it is to score on this Penn State defense, Purdue would have had more than a minute and a half left, and the Boilermakers had hit on some big plays already. All it would have taken was a stop and one big play for Purdue to upset Penn State. Had they kicked the field goal to go up 8, there was virtually no possible way the Nittany Lions could lose in regulation. Baffling decision to me, even though it worked.

I also don't understand how tossing a ball up in the air after a big play because you're excited constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct, but that's what happened Chaz Powell, a la Jake Locker.

What I do understand is that Silas Redd is turning into everything expected of him. The sophomore running back had his third straight 100-yard game, proving to be a workhorse and Penn State's best offensive player with 131 yards on 28 carries. After a slow start to the season, the offensive line is finally giving Redd some holes to run through, and he's making the most of them. That guy is good.

I also understand that Justin Brown has star potential. With Derek Moye out, Brown stepped up to lead Penn State with 4 catches for 86 yards, including an absolutely sensational catch before McGloin threw his inexplicable interception.

He is definitely my favorite player on this team.

I also have to give huge praise to Anthony Fera. After doing his time for some off-the-field trouble, the do-it-all kicker/punter is showing why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. Fera once again hit all three field goals, continuing to be perfect this season, boomed a few kickoffs and averaged 44.5 yards per punt, including an absolutely awesome 69-yarder that was downed at the Purdue 1 on a nice play by Nick Sukay.

And as always, Devon Still and Jordan Hill were beasts, though the defense wasn't on its A game this week. And that game was incredibly painful to watch. A not very good Purdue team hung with Penn State for 60 minutes. That's not good. I have to think this is the worst 6-1 team I've ever seen. For real.

I honestly couldn't wait for the game to be over just so I no longer had to watch it. Viewing Penn State is extremely unpleasant right now, even with that 6-1 record.

Thankfully I had something other than drinking to look forward to because for a nightcap I attended Mike Richards' homecoming to Philadelphia.

It was, of course, a homecoming for several former Flyers, as the Kings employ Justin Williams, Simon Gagne, Terry Murray, John Stevens and Ron Hextall in addition to the former captain. And as it turns out, the former Flyers had a huge hand in the outcome, with Justin Williams scoring two goals, Gagne notching an assist and Richards setting up the overtime game-winner in vintage Mike Richards fashion.

The game itself was a good, tough contest. Even though the Flyers suffered their first loss of the season, they still picked up a point, played a pretty good game and lost a tough one to a good team. Danny Briere and Matt Carle both tallied on the power play, and the Flyers had plenty of chances, outshooting the Kings 34-26. But they just couldn't quite finish it off.

The game itself was sort of secondary to be honest. This was more about Richards' return and the reaction he would get. When he was named as a starter prior to the game, he got a pretty nice ovation. After the first stoppage in play, the Flyers then put up on the jumbotron a note welcoming Richards back along with an announcement from the PA system. That's when he received a rousing, thrilling standing ovation from the crowd, us Flyers fans showing our appreciation for all the hard work Richards put in during his time in Philadelphia.

That was a moment to be proud of, though that feeling didn't last all that long for me. Why? Because after that initial show of appreciation, a good number of fans decided to boo Richards the remainder of the game every time he touched the puck the way they do when Sidney Crosby comes to play in Philadelphia, and frankly, I just don't get it.

Listen, I'm not going to say people were wrong for booing Richards or shouldn't have done it — after all, I wrote this. If you want to boo, by all means boo. I just don't understand it. I really don't. What is there to boo about Richards? The fact that he liked to drink and maybe wasn't the most vocal leader? All right, I guess. But I don't really get that when you look at the indisputable facts: Mike Richards played really, really hard every game he took the ice here in Philadelphia, he played in all situations, he was one of the game's best two-way forwards, he was the best penalty killer on the team, he threw crushing body checks, he was a really good player, and he wanted to stay here. He loved Philadelphia. He never said a bad word about the organization or the fans. He signed what he thought was a lifetime contract because he wanted to be here. I'm not sure what reason there is to boo a guy like that.

Sure, he wasn't perfect, but he was really good, worked really hard and loved being a Flyer. Doesn't make sense to me to boo him for that. He didn't ask to be traded. And I didn't see anyone booing Gagne or Williams, two other guys who were traded away.

I could understand booing him if he scored or something like that, because after all, he is no longer a Flyer. But to treat him with the same type of contempt as Crosby, a heated rival, I just don't get it.

Such is life. And regardless, it didn't seem to affect Richards' play. He was his normal self, doing a masterful job on the PK for L.A., manning the point on the power play, doing great work at both ends of the ice, and in my humble opinion playing as well, if not better, than anyone on the ice. He also had a Mike Richards special, leveling Jakub Voracek.

And he of course set up the game-winner with the primary assist on a perfect slap pass.

It was a little bit of poetic justice. And no matter what goes on moving forward, I will always be a Mike Richards fan. Of course, I'm a Flyers fan first and foremost, so booing that assist I completely understand. It's giving him the Crosby treatment that baffles me.

Then there is the Eagles. Winning that game yesterday was a very Eagles thing to do, bringing everyone back in just when you thought they were dead. And they did it all as some bizarro team.

We grew accustomed this season to the defense playing terrible football, especially the safeties, with the corners underachieving and the run defense as a sieve. Only the pass rush lived up to the hype. So naturally on Sunday, the defense played really well, surrendering just 13 points and forcing four turnovers. The safeties actually stood out, with Kurt Coleman playing the game of his life, picking off Rex Grossman three times, and Nate Allen continuing to look better and healthier, also intercepting Grossman. The corners took away the receivers, as only tight end Fred Davis could find any room to roam, and Nnamdi Asomugha even took out Chris Cooley with a vicious hit, finally deciding to do something during this 2011 season.

Furthermore, the run defense was impeccable, holding Washington to just 42 yards on the ground. Only the pass rush looked lackluster with Trent Cole absent. Like I said, it was a bizarro performance.

The same could be said offensively to an extent as well. Brent Celek, who had been MIA ever since Mike Vick became the regular quarterback, finally broke out with a four-catch game and a score, including an acrobatic grab thanks to his own doing.

And in some odd twist of fate or Andy just playing a cruel trick on us, LeSean McCoy actually carried the ball 28 times as the Eagles won 20-13. He also added 2 catches for 13 yards. Go figure that when you give your best player the ball 30 times you actually win. Seriously, LeSean should be touching the ball 25-35 times every week. The guy is the best player on the team.

This week, he did, and the Eagles won. At some point this year, he'll only get 9 or 11 carries, like he did the last two weeks, and the Eagles will lose, and you just won't understand.

That's the way of the world, I guess. Some things you just won't understand.

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

The League is a fantastic show, and if you don't watch it, you should. This is how this season started.

Enough said.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Killer Penalties and Penalty Killers

As I stated after the Flyers' season-opener, I came into the season worried about Philadelphia's penalty kill units. The team's three top forwards on the PK from last year are no longer around, with Mike Richards traded to Los Angeles, Darroll Powe allowed to walk in free agency, and Blair Betts waived, though ultimately still property of the Flyers after a waiver claim was negated due to health issues.

Well, consider me worried no more, because last night against the incredibly potent Vancouver Canucks, the Flyers' penalty-killing unit essentially won them this wild game in the third period. That may sound odd when you strictly look at the stats — after all, the Canucks did strike twice on the power play — but if you watched that strange third period unfold, you know what I'm talking about.

The Flyers went into their home opener last night stressing one major point above all others against last season's Stanley Cup runners up: stay out of the penalty box. Vancouver had the top power play unit the NHL last season, led by the Sedin twins and their incredible puck movement and chemistry. Putting the Canucks on the power play is like playing with fire.

So naturally, after the Flyers scored two power play goals themselves to open the game — with Giroux and Pronger each getting a goal and an assist (great work by Wayne Simmonds with an awesome screen of Roberto Luongo on Pronger's goal) — Scott Hartnell did what Scott Hartnell does, taking a god-awful high-sticking penalty away from the puck. And of course, the Canucks capitalized, making it a 2-1 game.

Thankfully JVR responded just over a minute later, but as the period ended, Hartnell picked up yet another stupid roughing penalty … this despite the Flyers stressing that they'd like to stay out of the box against Vancouver. Nice to see Scottie is in midseason form already.

The good news for the Flyers is that they didn't take any penalties in the 2nd period. The bad news is the Canucks outscored them 2-1 in the second, making it a 4-3 game heading into the third. You could see the Canucks begin to assert themselves in the period, outshooting the Flyers 14-6 and keeping the play down in Philadelphia's end. On one goal-scoring shift in particular, the Canucks simply would not let the Flyers out of their zone, and eventually they capitalized. The entire shift, Vancouver's forecheck and pinching defensemen kept picking on Andreas Nodl, who just could not clear the puck despite about four chances to do so. It was an example of the kind of night Nodl had. He was not very good or strong with the puck the entire game, though he had a few good shifts on the PK.

The good news, however, besides staying out of the penalty box once Hartnell's minor expired, was that the goal by Jakub Voracek was a thing of beauty, from the nice play off the wall by rookie Sean Couturier, to the incredible pass Courturier made to Voracek, to the perfect shot by Jakub to beat Luongo.

That play made it official, Sean Couturier is my new favorite player on the team, joining Claude and Kimmo. The assist was the 18-year-old's first NHL point.

And it wasn't the last time the Flyers would need some strong play from the rookie on the night. Because in the third period, the Flyers began to take a steady march to the penalty box, kicked off by an absolutely stupid move by James van Riemsdyk. JVR turned on his speed and got behind the defense as he cut in on Luongo. As he was starting to make his move for a shot, he got a stick on his hand and in his midsection, clearly a hook by Vancouver. But the officials let it slide, JVR could only get a late shot off, and then he went to plead his case to the officials. The only problem is he did it a little too aggressively, even if he did have a point, and got two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Stupid penalty No. 3 for the Flyers on the night, and killer one at that.

This time, the Canucks would not let the Flyers off the hook. Daniel Sedin buried one by Bryzgalov and tied the game. Horrible, horrible penalty by JVR.

But, just as this team did all night long, the Flyers responded. Just a minute later, Danny Briere weaved his way into the Canucks' zone and laid a perfect pass to Andrej Meszaros, who fired a missile in the top corner to put the Flyers ahead yet again.

Great pass. Awesome shot. Lead restored. And it looked like the Flyers might regain all the momentum and improve to 3-0 in front of the home crowd. That is until Zac Rinaldo took yet another horrid penalty, picking up a useless, senseless roughing minor. Listen, I understand that Rinaldo is a tough guy and good banger, the type of player who can throw his body around on the forecheck the way Peter Laviolette likes. But he has no discernible skills other than hitting and taking stupid penalties. I don't really understand his presence on the team, and I really don't understand why the Flyers can't just keep Blair Betts around and get rid of Rinaldo. Betts is a smart, veteran player, a great defensive forward, a good faceoff guy and an excellent penalty killer. Rinaldo is none of those things. What am I missing here?

Luckily for Rinaldo, the PK bailed him out, just as it did the rest of the night as the Flyers took three more really bad penalties to tempt fate. Jaromir Jagr, a freakin 39-year-old, 18-year veteran, took a lazy, stupid hooking penalty in the neutral zone — though I do have to say he looks awesome with Claude and JVR offensively. Jagr should definitely know better. At least Rinaldo is only a 21-year-old, so he has an excuse. Jagr has none.

Then Voracek made a poor decision in hitting former Flyer Andrew Alberts from behind into the boards for a boarding penalty, and finally Chris Pronger got caught with a rough shove that he normally gets away with right after the Flyers had killed off the Voracek minor. Really dumb, killer penalties. At least they could have been given the prowess of Vancouver's power play.

But the Flyers were able to kill off those final four penalties and escape with the 5-4 victory thanks to some absolutely great work down a man and awesome goaltending by Ilya Bryzgalov. Claude Giroux may have been awarded the game's first star, but it was Max Talbot and Bryzgalov who really did yeoman's work in that 3rd period.

I was really pissed when the Flyers signed Talbot because I hated him so much in Pittsburgh, but after the way he played last night, my hate has officially vanished. Talbot was easily the best penalty killer as far as skaters are concerned last night, blocking a ton of shots, clearing the puck every chance he could, taking away shooting and passing lanes, and coming up with the play of the game in my eyes, somehow managing to block a shot despite being without a stick for nearly a minute and ultimately getting a clear. Awesome work by Talbot.

And if Talbot wasn't the MVP of the third period, then Bryzgalov was.

Bryz faced 17 shots in that third period, stopping all but one of them. He made some spectacular ones to be sure, but the most impressive thing of all was how routine he made most of them look. The guy never seems to be caught out of position, and he smothers damn near everything fired his way. It may sound strange in a game in which he saw four goals go by him, but Ilya was awesome last night. He really had no chance on any of the four goals, and he still managed to stop 36 shots on the night and help steal a victory. As good as Talbot was on the PK, nothing tops a goaltender who can be your best penalty killer.

I also have to give some praise to the other PK players. Couturier has been so damn impressive that he's really helping Laviolette limit Giroux's PK time. He was great again last night, though I have to admit I'd like to see Claude out there a little more down a man — he's really good at it too. Matt Read did some great work as well, playing smart and showing that Laviolette isn't afraid to trust rookies with vital roles. Not only does Read kill penalties, but Laviolette had him manning the point on the power play as well. And of course Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen did what they always do, blocking shots and working hard to prevent the power play from doing too much harm. Braydon Coburn also had a really strong game, not showing up in the box score but doing just about everything right.

It wasn't exactly the way you'd draw it up, putting the Canucks on the power play 7 times with killer penalties late, but the penalty killers bailed out the guilty parties and carried the Flyers to victory in the third. And in the process, they helped quell my concerns over this year's penalty kill.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Man the Eagles' Defense Needs

Please, everyone, go read my thoughts on Vontaze Burfict over at Ed the Sports Fan. Burfict is the player I desperately want the Eagles to find a way to draft in 2012 should the junior from Arizona State declare because he is big, mean, hits like a truck and puts the fear of god into quarterbacks and ball carriers. Though I know they won't even if they are in position to draft him, because the Eagles hate linebackers.

They shouldn't. Here's why.

Yes please.

Oh, and just because I thought this was funny, enjoy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Familiar Feeling

Throughout my 27-plus years on earth, there has been one common theme to being a Philadelphia sports fan: disappointment. It is something I grew up experiencing as a sports fan in this city. The Phillies being perennial losers. Two blown saves in the World Series. Buddy Ryan. Rich Kotite. Ray Rhodes. Four NFC Championship losses. One Super Bowl loss. The Flyers bowing out spectacularly, whether way too early or painfully too late. John Lucas and everything else the Sixers have done. It's been a city full of sports teams destined to disappoint.

The 2008 Phillies changed all that for a time.

And what the Phillies have done since, becoming a National League powerhouse and bringing in big-name pitcher after big-name pitcher, has spoiled us. But in the back of all our minds, that old familiar feeling began to creep up. When the Phillies couldn't repeat despite Cliff Lee's brilliance, the thought started to resurface. When Michael Leighton let in the softest Stanley Cup winning goal of all time, you could really feel it coming. When the bats went silent last year against the Giants, the first real tinge of disappointment reappeared. And now this. That old, familiar feeling is back in full force.

This was supposed to be the year of Philadelphia. The Phillies pulled off the biggest offseason coup in recent memory, reacquiring Cliff Lee to join Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt to all but ensure another parade down Broad Street. The Eagles nearly matched them, bringing in high-priced free agent after high-priced free agent, headlined by Nnamdi Asomugha and the trade of Kevin Kolb for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. In August, there was no better place to be as a sports fan than Philadelphia.

Now here we are, two months later, with the Phillies sent home after just five games in October and the "Dream Team" sitting at a disgusting 1-4. If that's not disappointment, I don't know what disappointment is.

The real shame of it all is that Roy Halladay has to get lumped into this disappointing team that the Phillies ultimately became. That man deserved way better. Yes, his first-inning troubles were incredibly annoying this series, spotting the Cardinals three runs in game 1 and another in game 5, but all he did is retire 21 in row to win game 1 and go 8 innings of 6-hit, 1-run ball in the final game. That man pitched his balls off for this team, and his teammates let him down.

I honestly don't know how his teammates can look him in the eyes after Friday night. I really don't. Sure, Roy is the one who gave up consecutive extra-base hits to start the game and spot the Cards a run, but the Phils were left with nine god damn innings to just put one or two on the board to stay alive and they couldn't do it. Without a doubt, give Chris Carpenter credit. He deserves all the credit in the world. The guy showed exactly why he is an ace, pitching an incredible game, finishing off the complete-game shutout. But it's inexcusable for this team to do so little at the plate, and compound that with boneheaded plays in the field, on the base paths and at the dish.

Three hits with the season on the line, with two of them coming off of Shane Victorino's bat. Chase Utley getting thrown out on the base paths yet again. No production from the high-priced slugger, a guy who ended the season as terribly as you can, making the final out for the second straight season and then seriously injuring his achilles. God knows what effect that will have on Ryan Howard. Placido Polanco became a dinosaur overnight. Carlos Ruiz seems to have used up all his October magic. Cliff Lee let us all down with his game 2 performance. The only guys you can really say didn't disappoint are Doc and Hamels. Maybe Jimmy, who had a great series, but ultimately even he failed to get a hit in game 5 as the Phils went out with a whimper.

A franchise record in wins, four supposed aces and a lineup full of accomplished players turned into one giant ball of disappointment. The Phillies have reached the point that those Andy Reid teams with Donovan McNabb did all those years. Making the playoffs and having a good record no longer matter, it's what you do in the postseason. And just like the Eagles always found a way to come up short, so have these Phillies since that surprising 2008 title. Every year, this team got better in the standings and added more talent on paper, yet ultimately they came up short, seeing diminishing returns in playoffs year after year.

It would be foolish to say that the Phillies are done. Roy and Cliff and Cole are all coming back, and some youth will be infused with the veterans in the lineup. But Chase and Ryan and Polanco aren't getting any younger. Shortstop is a question mark if Rollins walks. No one knows what to expect from John Mayberry and Dom Brown. Oswalt may be gone. There are question marks where this team had so few. This was supposed to be the year, just like it was supposed to be the year for so many years for McNabb and Reid. Then it wasn't.

Sadly, that theme is back with the Eagles as well, and with them, it's not even possible to get worked up anymore. No one on the planet thought they should run a play with 8 seconds left in the half and no timeouts except for the morons on that sideline, so of course Michael Vick held on to the ball too long, then tossed it out of the end zone as time expired, leaving three points on the field.

Of course this defense gave up 24 points and couldn't stop the run. Jarrad Page keeps exposing himself as a terrible football player. Killer penalties from rookie Danny Watkins, making his first start, and King Dunlap derailed a touchdown drive. Vick got pounded all day, and made things worse by throwing four horrendous interceptions. Fred Jackson had a field day running all over this team. Jason Avant, who had an otherwise outstanding game — 9 catches for 139 yards — had a killer a fumble and another ball that got ripped from him for another turnover. That's become another habit for this team, a wide receiver having a huge game only to make a crippling mistake at an inopportune time.

LeSean McCoy, clearly this team's best player period, got too few touches yet again, as Reid and Mornhinweg abandoned run for the thousandth time in their tenure. And then all hope ends when Juqua Thomas Parker jumps offsides on a 4th and 1 when all the Bills were trying to do was get the Eagles to jump offsides.

He should be cut today for something so stupid. He really should. It's not like Parker is any good anyway. Cut him now. Send these players a message, because it's clear they need a wake-up call. Or maybe a new head coach.

Plain and simple, this is beyond a bad football team, it's an absolutely terrible one. They can't tackle, they can't protect the quarterback, they can't even cover despite having three of the best cover corners in the league. It is the softest football team in the NFL, one that looks defeated. One that looks like it has lost respect or at least stopped listening to its coaches, especially the fat one with the mustache.

Before the season started, everyone expected the Super Bowl to at least be in the equation. Now it's looking more like Andrew Luck could be the best prize this franchise could win. Pathetic. Disgusting. And disappointing. A familiar feeling that has resurfaced here in Philadelphia.

The only saving grace is that the Flyers have done things in two games that they failed to do in 82 last year. In the opener, they scored two goals in the final minute of the first period, after not scoring a single goal in the final minute of any period in any game the entire 2010-11 season. Then on Saturday night, Ilya Bryzgalov shut out the Devils in a dominant 3-0 victory, stopping all 20 shots he faced. As we all know, the 2010-11 Flyers, with their goalie carousel, didn't record a single shutout all year. Through two games, Bryzgalov has surrendered a grand total of 1 goal, earning a shutout in just his second game in the Orange and Black.

It's impossible not to be impressed with the Flyers in their first two outings. Claude Giroux has scored in both games, Matt Read got his first NHL goal and newcomer Wayne Simmonds scored his first as a Flyers Saturday night. Sean Couturier is quickly becoming my new favorite Flyer, doing an excellent job on the penalty kill. And there is no lack of toughness, evident by Simmonds absolutely destroyed David Clarkson.

Very good start for the Flyers.

Plus, Penn State actually came out and physically dominated a BCS conference team for the first time in a long time, besting Iowa 13-3 by completely controlling the line of scrimmage. Exercising some of the demons, the Nittany Lions were able to run all over the Hawkeyes, racking up 231 yards on the ground led by Silas Redd and his 142 yards.

It was without a doubt the most impressive performance by Penn State all season. The defense continued to dominate, with everyone making plays. I was particularly impressed with Devon Still and Jordan Hill yet again, the two guys who continue to be the best players on the team, along with Malcolm Willis, who finally saw a lot of playing time. Willis played really well last year when Nick Sukay went down, to the point where I thought he was Penn State's best safety, and he impressed me again. He looked like the best safety out there again Saturday to me.

True freshman Adrian Amos also did an outstanding job at corner filling in for the injured D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris. It's easy to see why the coaches are so high on him. Amos did an outstanding job on McNutt all game.

Offensively, things started to look a little better as well. The offensive line for the first time really all season got consistent push, clearing the path for Redd and Curtis Dukes to gash the Iowa defense. And once and for all, a Penn State quarterback clearly set himself apart. I don't see any possible way Rob Bolden should see the field again unless Matt McGloin gets hurt.

I was openly pulling for Bolden to take the job, but McGloin simply has been and is better than Bolden. Honestly, Bolden couldn't even make the simplest of throws on Saturday, while McGloin was making plays and controlling the huddle. He still made some mind-blowingly stupid throws, namely his inexcusable interception in the red zone and another jump ball tossed into triple coverage, but he is clearly the guy. Even with how ugly and terrible this team has looked this season, Penn State sits at 5-1 and 2-0 in the conference following this win. If Penn State sticks with McGloin and lets him grow, hopefully the offense can build on Saturday's performance against Purdue and Northwestern in preparation for the tough games to close out the season.

A surprising run by the Nittany Lions and continued success from the Flyers would go a long way to distracting us from the disappointment of the Phillies and Eagles. Though we all know that feeling is back, so disappointment for those teams could be right around the corner.

That familiar feeling of disappointment has returned, and really it probably never left. Now it's back out there for everyone to see, and I have to admit, it feels like Philadelphia again.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New-Look Flyers Make Good First Impression

Don't look now, but your 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers are on pace to go 82-0 and this season. Maybe Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the problem all along. Who knew?

Obviously, I'm kidding. As we are all way too familiar with at this point, hockey is a long, long season, one that can go from dominating the league to stumbling into the playoffs in a blink of an eye. But it's hard not to be encouraged by the first impression these new-look Flyers gave us, defeating the very team that eviscerated them in the playoffs en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup 2-1.

The game did not exactly start out as one would hope … in fact, it didn't even start remotely on time. The Bruins understandably held a ceremony to raise the banner for last season's champions, which is all well and good. But said ceremony was obnoxiously long, to the point where what seemed like a dozen people spoke, and it delayed the drop of the puck by more than a half hour. I have absolutely no problem with Versus televising this and the Bruins celebrating their championship. I'd expect the same thing if the Flyers were to ever win a Stanley Cup again. What I do have a problem with, a big problem in fact, is that the NHL and Versus insisted on telling me that the game started at 7. The puck didn't drop until 7:35 at the earliest. That's bullshit. Just tell me there will be a pre-game ceremony and that the puck will drop at 7:20 or 7:30, not 7. That's all I ask.

Also, fuck Boston, for real.

From there, things didn't exactly get a whole lot better. The Bruins came out and physically imposed their will on the Flyers early, the same way they did in the 2011 postseason. It really was looking like deja vu. And when Tyler Seguin sprung Brad Marchand, who streaked behind Kimmo Timonen, on the power play for the season's opening goal, I thought we may be in for a long night. I also thought about how much I really, really hate Brad Marchand. He may be my new least favorite player in the league now that Sean Avery is unemployed and Max Talbot is a Flyer (that still doesn't seem right).

Just try and tell me with a straight face that that guy doesn't look like a rat. You can't. The man has a rat face.

But after about the 10-minute mark of the first period, the Flyers looked to get their feet under them and even the play. Before it was all said and done, the Flyers started to take it to Boston. And then on their first power play of the year, Claude Giroux dazzled with a highlight-reel goal on a great pass by Jaromir Jagr.

It was Jagr's 1,600th career point, and the first of hopefully many in his Flyers career. Didn't take long for him to have an impact on the man advantage. And honestly, all game long, the chemistry between Jagr and Giroux was remarkable. It looked as though those two had been playing together all their lives despite the fact that Jaromir is almost old enough to be Claude's father. If Jagr can stay healthy and motivated all season, that line of Jagr, Giroux and James van Riemsdyk has the potential to be otherworldly.

That goal got the Flyers on the board with just 50 ticks left in the period, and just 47 seconds later, another newcomer made his presence felt, as Jakub Voracek turned and fired on a puck out front to beat Tim Thomas with just three seconds remaining, 2-1 Fly guys.

At the intermission, I was informed that the Flyers somehow did not score a single goal all season in the final minute of any period last year. I find incredibly hard to fathom, not scoring once in the final minute of any period in 82 regluar-season games and all the postseason contests, but apparently that was so. Then they went out and did it twice in the first game this season. Go figure.

That would be the end of the scoring on the night, but the game had plenty of action. The Flyers really stepped it up defensively after the initial push by the Bruins, holding Boston to just 12 shots through two periods. And when the team needed its new high-priced goaltender to come up with a big stop, he did.

Bryz looked to be as advertised last night. His defense limited the Boston shots early, and in the third period, as Boston was furiously trying to come back, he stonewalled the Bruins on all 11 shots. Only once all night did he even remotely have trouble with a puck, but he quickly pounced on it. I don't foresee too many problems in net this year, which is exactly why Bryzgalov was brought in.

Speaking of his defensemen, they were stout as always. Chris Pronger looked to be just fine, leading the Flyers in ice time, while Mezsaros, Coburn and Carle looked like their normal selves. And Timonen, despite getting beat on Boston's lone goal, was outstanding, doing a great job of shutting down the Bruins all night and even making a stick save on a would-be game-tying goal.

I really love watching that guy play hockey. His style is so understated, but he's so god damn good.

I have to admit, the team looked really sound fundamentally and played a good game. The newcomers fit in very nicely, with Max Talbot doing a great job killing penalties, Wayne Simmonds showing his strength and determination, and Voracek scoring in his Flyers debut.

But most impressive of all to me was the work of rookies Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

When the Flyers traded away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, then let Darroll Powe walk and finally waived Blair Betts, I was admittedly concerned with who in the hell outside of Max Talbot and Claude Giroux was going to penalties. Enter the 25-year-old Read and 18-year-old Couturier.

Last night, Peter Laviolette used the two rookies all game on the penalty kill, to the point where in the third period, they saw more PK time than Giroux. Talk about confidence from the head coach, and why not? The youngsters did a great job. Couturier was often out there with Talbot, and that duo did a hell of a job to help the Flyers maintain their lead and win the game. Really strong debut for those guys.

And really strong debut from the team. Though I do have to point out that this team could potentially be the worst face-off team of all time. Claude is probably their best guy in the circle, and he's only OK. Briere is terrible, as is Talbot, and who knows what we'll get from the young guys. Last night it was a huge problem, as the Flyers only won 33 percent of the draws. That's gonna annoy the hell out of me, because I am big on faceoffs. The centers better work on that.

I do have to say that I disagreed with the commentary from Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire regarding that hit by Zdeno Chara on Claude Giroux that wasn't called a penalty. I know Giroux kind of turned at the last minute, but Chara absolutely drilled him from behind right in the numbers a few feet from the boards. Last year, that was called boarding damn near 100 percent of the time, and it's why JVR jumped to the defense of his teammate to take on Chara and why Braydon Coburn sped in to do the same. I thought it should have been called.

Also, I found it extremely odd that when they mentioned that Zac Rinaldo was similar in stature and fearlessness to Rob DiMaio, they didn't even mention that DiMaio was a former Flyer as well. They only discussed his days as a Bruin.

Seems like they should have mentioned that DiMaio played for both the Flyers and the Bruins, not just the Bruins.

Regardless, I really enjoy listening to Doc and Olczyk call a game, and Pierre doesn't annoy me as much as he seems to annoy other people. Though I can't wait to hear Jim Jackson, Keith Jones and Bill Clement call games this year.

It's hockey season, everyone, and the new-look Flyers started it off on the right foot.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

The NHL dropped the puck on the 2011-12 season last night, with the new-look Flyers looking pretty good after a rough start and earning a 2-1 win over the team that ousted them in the playoffs en route to hoisting the Cup. With hockey season now underway, it's only natural to expect the NBA season to tip off any day now. As we all know, the lockout is preventing that, and there's a good chance there won't be any season at all.

The thought of that is pretty depressing for NBA fans, but at least we still have ballers spending their free time rapping. For instance, Jamario Moon.

I think his money is behind him.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hunting Fastballs, Not Squirrels

If you happened to watch game 4 between the Phillies and Cardinals, you undoubtedly noticed how many times Bob Brenly — who I actually think has done a fine job calling this series — mentioned that the St. Louis hitters were "hunting fastballs" last night.

The Phillies began the game doing the exact same thing, attacking Edwin Jackson right out of the gate and not waiting around for him to unveil his slider. That strategy worked extremely well in the first inning, with Jimmy Rollins mashing a leadoff ground-rule double — with a little help from the sun and John Jay's lack of vision — that bounced off the warning track, Chase Utley ripping a triple down the line and Hunter Pence driving Chase home with an RBI single. Sadly, that was the end of the Phillies hunting fastballs.

Despite scoring those two runs on three hits to start the game, the offense essentially shut down after that. Ryan Howard and Pence combined for a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play to relieve the first-inning pressure, and the Phils stopped attacking balls in the strike zone after that. No one outside of Rollins and Utley took notice as to what Edwin Jackson was doing on the mound. Maybe they needed Joe Blanton out there.

To Jackson's credit, he adjusted by throwing more sliders to start hitters off, but it was almost as if the Phillies stopped looking for fastballs early in the count to hit. And that's been the case all series long actually. In game 3, Jaime Garcia was making a habit of throwing first-pitch fastballs, no harder than 89 mph, right down the middle of the plate to get ahead, yet time and time again, the Phillies were taking for strike one. It took a pinch hitter in the 7th inning to finally attack on the first pitch, and it turned into the game-winning home run.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been showing exactly why they were the top hitting club in the NL. In a lineup full of smart hitters, the Cardinals have been attacking any and all gimme fastballs early in the count, and then laying off the low pitches just waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake and elevate the ball. That's why they have so many hits in this series.

I don't think anyone would dispute that heading into the series the Phillies had the better team on paper, particularly with the starting rotation. Yes, St. Louis has a potent lineup, but the Phils have guys who can hit as well. But what has been the biggest difference is the Cardinals are playing smarter baseball all across the board — smarter at-bats, smarter in-game decisions, smarter plays in the field.

Just look at the at-bats put together by the Cards last night. If they saw a meatball, they went right after it. Roy Oswalt left some pitches up and over the plate, and they made him pay, just as they did with Roy Halladay in the first inning of the series, like they did the entire game against Cliff Lee, and like they did early in making Hamels earn every out he got in game 3.

They've been running the bases extremely well, like Matt Holliday of all people scoring from first on a double to left field. And they've been making the smart defensive plays, like somehow holding a runner on second on a grounder hit to the right side, and a guy like Albert Pujols wisely coming off the bag to nail Chase Utley at third.

Meanwhile, you have Roy Oswalt leading off an inning by walking the first batter and hitting the second before leaving a meatball out over the plate for David Freese, or hanging an 0-2 pitch to Matt Holliday for a hit instead of burying one in the dirt.

You have Chase Utley making an absolutely boneheaded, indefensible base-running gaff, one that took the air out of the balloon for a rally, though probably wouldn't have mattered given how god-awful Ryan Howard has been in his home town. And don't give me the bullshit line that Chase was just trying to make something happen on that play. It was stupid, infinitely more stupid when you consider Rafael Furcal has a gun at short, meaning the ball is getting to the first baseman very quickly, and that Albert Pujols easily has the best arm of any first baseman in the league, one so strong that Tony La Russa didn't hesitate to put him at third, the position he used to play back in the day, this year when David Freese was hurt. The chances of making it there are not very good. It was a dumb play, plain and simple, like the time Chase hurt himself trying to stretch a single into a double even though there was absolutely no chance he could. There's a difference between aggressive and stupid. Normally, Chase toes that line really well. Last night he did not.

Though it's hard to get on Chase too much, because even if he stayed at second, Pence would have been thrown out at first for out 1. Then Howard flew out for out two, and Victorino got out as well. Still, he would have been on second as the tying run in the 6th, with RBI-machine Howard up. It could have changed the complexion of the inning. Instead Chase killed a rally before it started.

Though to be fair, at least Utley is hitting the ball. He and Rollins have been the two guys consistently putting together quality at-bats and getting on base. It's the rest of the lineup that is killing them. Howard has two huge hits in this series, but that's it. Since coming to St. Louis, his hometown where he usually mashes, Howard has been invisible. Literally. The guy did not get a single hit or even reach base once in games 3 or 4, going a combined 0-for-8 with 5 strikeouts. That's not going to cut it if the Phillies expect to win.

And Howard has hardly been alone. Pence has gotten some hits, but he's yet to be close to the hitter he was closing out the regular season in the red pinstripes. The 7-8-9 hole has been just that, a black hole. Where the Cards have given the Phils problems at the bottom of the order, whether it be good at-bats by John Jay, soul-crushing hits by Ryan Theriot or last night David Freese mashing a double and the basically game-clinching home run for a 4-RBI night, the 7 and 8 hitters for St. Louis have been excellent. For the Phillies, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz haven't done shit. Polanco is so anemic at the plate right now that I wouldn't even mind seeing Wilson Valdez or Michael Martinez get a start, which speaks volumes considering those two can't hit for shit. And Ruiz, who finished the regular season with an impressive .283 batting average, has been anything but El Senor Octubre.

The good news is that the Phillies have their man on the mound tomorrow night, the guy they brought in exactly for this moment. It's hard to feel anything but confident with Roy Halladay taking the ball. Though it certainly won't be an easy task. The Cards have their ace on the hill as well, this time on full rest, and if it comes down to the bullpen, well, the Cardinals have had the advantage in the series to everyone's surprise. It may take a complete-game shutout by Doc to advance, and honestly, there's no one I'd rather have out there to do just that.

On a side note, what's up with the squirrels in St. Louis?

Seriously, someone tell those jerks to stay off the field.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forgot About Ben

It must have been strange to be Ben Fracisco in 2011. Think about it. The guy went from the opening-day starting right fielder for the National League favorites, a guy both the Phillies and fans hoped would fill the considerable shoes of the recently departed Jayson Werth.

After a nice start in the first couple series, Francisco started to slump and slump hard. Just like that he went from starting right fielder to goat. Fans were all over him, and everyone under the sun wanted Domonic Brown to take his place. Eventually, he did. And even when Brown adjusted slowly to the majors, no one was calling for Francisco to return to the lineup — they were calling for a new right fielder. Enter Hunter Pence, all but banishing Francisco to a few at-bats a month.

In seemingly a blink of an eye he went from potential breakout star to whipping boy to afterthought. But a funny thing happened to Francisco as his playing time decreased. He became a better player. He started to get consistent hits either in spot starts or a pinch-hitting role. And by the time September was through, Francisco was on a hot streak at the plate.

And boy, did the Phillies ever need Ben Francisco and his bat last night.

It was quite a strange game given its ebb and flow. Right out of the shoot, you could tell the Phils were in trouble at the plate. Not only was Jaime Garcia throwing strikes, but he was throwing nasty strikes. The ball was darting out of his hand, with pitches either running one way or the other or dropping off the table. His stuff was good. Real good. And he was breezing through the Phillies lineup, to the point that it looked completely effortless.

On the flip side, Cole Hamels wasn't his sharpest. He, too, was throwing strikes, but he just couldn't put anyone away. Give the Cardinals credit, they were laying off many of Cole's disappearing changeups, fouling off and spoiling good pitches and just making him work every at bat. Great approach by the Cards.

The way it started out, you got an uneasy feeling if you were a Phillies fan. Especially since once again the bottom of the St. Louis order proved to be a nuisance, particularly Ryan Theriot.

Every playoff series that your favorite team plays in, there will inevitably be a guy on the opposing team that emerges as the guy you absolutely start to hate. Through three games in this series, it's not even close regarding the Cardinals. I hate Ryan Theriot and his stupid face. This guy didn't even start in game 1, and now the Phillies can't get him out as if he's Albert Pujols. For god's sake, the guy had four hits last night and is batting .667 in the series. Read that again, .667, from a guy who hit .271 this year. God I hate him so very much.

Anyway, through five innings, Garcia had barely broken a sweat while Hamels was already approaching 100 pitches. But a funny thing happened. Around the 4th or 5th, the Phillies, even though they weren't getting results, started to work better at-bats, while Hamels, who threw a shit ton of pitches in the first few frames, began to look sharper and throw fewer pitches per inning. You could kind of feel the tide starting to shift.

And in the 6th, the momentum really began to sway in Philadelphia's favor. Hamels led off the inning by absolutely smoking a ball to left field, the hardest hit ball since Hunter Pence's one-pitch laser line out in the first. Unfortunately, Allen Craig made a nice catch on it, but the pitch by Garcia was a sign of things to come. Two batters later, Chase Utley singled, and Hunter Pence was intentionally walked after Utley advanced to second on a wild pitch. Jaime did get Howard to ground out and end the threat, but he labored through the inning and showed some vulnerability.

Cole came out in the bottom half and struck out the side, though he had to work too as that little shit Theriot got a two-out single and John Jay walked. But still, really nice job by Cole, who after laboring a bit early really bore down and pitched a great game.

By the way, my roommate and I have been wondering why the Phillies are not pitching Theriot inside at all. The guy has absolutely no power and never even remotely tries to pull the ball. He looks to go the other way all the time. To us, it seems like pitching him outside is exactly what he wants the Phillies to do. And that's what they've been doing. As a result, they can't get the fucker out. Why not start pounding him inside, either with fastballs or even soft stuff, to make it more difficult for him to go the other way? It's been bothering us that they just keep working him outside. Clearly it's not working. Time to try something different.

Back to the game. The 6th inning proved to be the one that gave the Phils confidence against Garcia, and it carried over immediately in the 7th. For the first time all game, a leadoff batter reached base, as Shane Victorino singled to begin the 7th. He quickly moved to second on an extremely lazy and uncharacteristic passed ball by Yadier Molina, but John Mayberry, despite his best efforts to hit the ball to the right side, could not move Victorino to third, popping out to shallow right. Then Placido Polanco, who has been absolutely nonexistent at the plate, grounded out to third. So a runner at second with no one out turned into a runner at second with two outs. Not good.

Up stepped Carlos Ruiz, who had been struggling almost as much as Polanco at the dish. Earlier in the game, he got his first hit of the series on a high chopper that got over David Freese's head, but it was hardly an intimidating hit. Where Theriot and John Jay were killing the Phillies at the bottom of the order, Polanco and Ruiz were not making St. Louis pay. Despite that, La Russa and Garcia decided to intentionally walk Ruiz to get to pinch-hitter Ben Francisco.

It was a curious decision for sure, but I'd be lying if I said I thought it was a dumb decision. Let's face it, even with Francisco's impressive numbers at the end of the regular season, no one really expects much out of him. Honestly, when he was announced as the hitter, I said I'd almost rather have Raul Ibanez pinch hit against the lefty in an RBI spot than have Francisco in there. Raul has had some pretty clutch hits for this team this year, whereas Francisco hasn't done much at all. And Adam EatShit said there's absolutely no pressure on Francisco here because no one actually expects him to get a hit.

Then just like that, boom, 3-0 Phils.

When he hit it, it was more of a stunned excitement than the normal pure and utter joy from us. I mean, we were pumped and jumping and thrilled, but it was more quiet, more watching in disbelief than exploding with rowdiness. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the biggest hit of Ben Francisco's career. From potential hero, to goat, to afterthought, to the hero we were all hoping for, albeit in an unexpected capacity. Unreal.

However, the game was hardly over. Vance Worley came in for the bottom of the 7th and after getting Rafael Furcal to ground out, he lost Craig and walked him, an absolute no-no. It was the second time on the night that the Phillies walked Craig ahead of Pujols. You cannot do that. Ever. I don't care if you have to throw the ball right down the middle of the plate to Craig, you do not walk him in front of Pujols. That's just asking for trouble.

Of course Pujols followed with a single, his third hit of the night after doubling twice off Hamels, and Freese wound up singling him home to make it 3-1. Still, Vance got out of it, and we all expected Charlie to turn to either Brad Lidge or Antonio Bastardo in the 8th. With Theriot scheduled to lead off, we thought it would be Lidge in to start the inning with Bastardo warming up and ready to go at the drop of a hat.

Manuel went a different, surprising route. Worley, who gave up two hits and a walk, went back out there to start the 8th. None of us knew what the hell was going on, and it backfired. Of course it did, because Worley had to face Theriot. Naturally that fucking guy got his fourth hit of the night, and Worley's night was done. In came Bastardo, who did his job by getting Nick Punto to fly out. And here's where Charlie did another strange thing.

After Bastardo got Punto out, Matt Holliday was introduced as the pinch hitter. Holliday has an injured hand and hasn't started because he says it's too painful and not strong enough to allow him to hit with his hands. With that in mind, it would make sense to pound Holliday inside with a pitcher who throws hard and has a heavy fastball. Bastardo is that guy. And even though he's lefthanded, he's been great against righties and seemed like the perfect guy to attack the injured Holliday. So of course Charlie takes out Bastardo and turns to Brad Lidge, a guy who basically throws 80 percent sliders these days. Baffling decision, and again it did not work.

Lidge gave up a single to Holliday on a looping slider, followed by another single to shallow left that dropped in front of Mayberry, loading the bases. Fuck.

That was it for Lidge, as closer Ryan Madson came in, but the situation was precarious to say the least. We were sitting on pins and needles. But no need, because Madson, who really has been nothing short of awesome this year, got Craig to ground into the inning-ending double play, 3-1 lead still in tact. Holy shit.

It was huge for two reasons. Number one, it got the Phils out of the inning without surrendering a run. And number two, it ensured that Albert Pujols could not come to the plate as the tying run, because he was left sitting in the on-deck circle.

And it's a good thing, because Pujols led off with his fourth hit and third double of the game and wound up scoring. But it didn't matter. Madson shut the door and finished off the five-out save for the 3-2 win, and the Phils are up 2-1 with a favorable pitching matchup of Roy Oswalt taking on Edwin Jackson tonight with a chance to advance.

All thanks to Ben Francisco, the most unlikeliest of heros, a guy many of us forgot about a long time ago.

P.S. Go check me out at Ed the Sports Fan, where I'll be taking over writing duties on Wednesdays.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Past-Their-Prime Flyers Stars

Thursday night, the new-look Flyers' 2011-2012 regular season officially begins up in Boston against the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins. The roster turnover was fast and furious this offseason for the Orange and Black, with more than a few shocking twists.

One of the more surprising signings was the addition of 39-year-old former superstar Jaromir Jagr, who has not played in the NHL since the 2007-08 season with the New York Rangers.

Jagr is unquestionably one of the game's all-time greats. As Mario Lemieux's sidekick in the early '90s, Jagr helped lead Pittsburgh to back-to-back Stanley Cups. He's led the league in points five times, assists three times and has a Hart Trophy to his name. As it currently stands, Jagr is 9th all time in points, entering his inaugural season in Philadelphia just one point shy of 1,600 for his career.

This preseason, he's looked fantastic, providing the type of command on the power play the Flyers have been lacking for years and looking rejuvenated after some time playing in his native country. But his signing stuck out to me because it has been somewhat of a common practice for the Flyers to go out and acquire aging superstars — or all-star caliber players — well past their primes during my lifetime.

So on the brink of Jaromir Jagr's Flyer career getting underway, I thought it would be interesting to look back at a few of the high-profile, past-their-prime players the Flyers have brought in over the past two decades.

Dale Hawerchuk

During his days in Winnipeg, Dale Hawerchuk was a perennial 100-point scorer, reaching the NHL as a teenager and becoming a captain. The guy finished in the top 10 in scoring four times and is in the top 20 in all-time points and assists. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

As the Flyers were maturing from an up-and-coming franchise into an Eastern Conference power behind Eric Lindros and the Legion of Doom, the Flyers acquired the 32-year-old Hawerchuk in March of the 1995-96 season from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Craig MacTavish, who had the distinction of being the last NHL player to not wear a helmet, being grandfathered in to the old rules.

After being bounced in the Eastern Conference Finals in painful fashion by the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils the year before, the Flyers brought in Hawerchuk in a quest to take the next step. And after the trade, Hawerchuk fit in quite well, notching 20 points in 16 games. But the Flyers would get unceremoniously eliminated in the postseason by John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers in the second round.

Hawerchuk, after having played 15 seasons, played one more year in Philadelphia, posting 34 points and a plus-9 rating in 51 games for the 1996-97 Flyers team that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Hawerchuk contributed with 2 goals and 5 assists in the postseason, but he was hardly the player he was during his days in Winnipeg and Buffalo. Hawerchuk did provide a spark in '96, and he was a part of that Eastern Conference champion team in '97, making his acquisition worth it.

Paul Coffey

Elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, Paul Coffey was the epitome of an offensive defenseman. He is the guy who many of today's offense-first defensemen looked up to. In fact, only the great Ray Bourque had more points, assists and goals than Coffey as a defenseman.

Having the privilege of breaking in with the great Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s, Coffey won three Stanley Cups alongside Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and another in 1991 alongside Lemieux and Jagr in Pittsburgh. He was a three-time Norris Trophy winner for the league's best defenseman, winning it back-to-back seasons in the 80s and then winning his last a decade after he won his first.

A year after the Flyers traded for Hawerchuk, they made another splash by dealing Kevin Haller and a first-round pick to bring in the smooth-skating Coffey. I vividly remember it because my father actually took me to his very first game as a Flyer, a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.

Philadelphia was abuzz that night, with people donning shirts that read, "I like my Coffey Black, with a hint of Orange." And Coffey could not have had a better debut. He dished out 3 assists in the shutout and finished as a plus-3 according to the box score, though I swear I recall him being a plus-5 that night. Then again, I was just 12 years old, so I may have "misremembered."

Coffey, at age 35, was not the player he once was, but he still provided a nice offensive boost from the back end, putting up 26 points in 37 games and finishing as a plus-11. He was considerably less effective during the postseason, however. Father Time started to rear his head, as Coffey was a minus-3, though he did have 9 points in the 17 games on the way to losing to the Red Wings. Unfortunatelly, the postseason was a sign of things to come.

Coffey played one more uneventful season in Philadelphia, posting 29 points in 57 games and finishing as a plus-3. Not terrible, but nowhere near his Norris Trophy and perennial all-star level. Like Hawerchuk, he did play a role in getting the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final, but he had very little left in the tank following that 37-game regular-season run when he first came over.

John Vanbiesbrouck

No one will mistake John Vanbiesbrouck as Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, but he was a very good goaltender with a long list of accomplishments. In just his second full season in the NHL, Bieser won a league-high 31 games for the New York Rangers and took home the Vezina. He led the 1995-96 Florida Panthers all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with an absolutely insane playoff performance before losing to the Colorado Avalanche. And he consistently finished in the top 10 in goals against and save percentage during his prime.

Beyond that, Vanbiesbrouck made a career of killing the Flyers. The only problem is he kept killing them after he was signed as a free agent in the summer of 1998. That offseason, the Flyers were searching for a solution in net after Ron Hextall and Sean Burke were miserable in the 1998 playoffs. The debate was rampant between that year's two top free agent netminders: Vanbiesbrouck and Curtis Joseph. The Flyers went after Bieser and got their man.

In actuality, Vanbiesbrouck was better than he's given credit for during his time in Philadelphia. His win totals and goals against averages are actually quite good in the two seasons he spent in Philadelphia, going 27-18-15 with a 2.18 goals against in his first season and 25-15-9 with a 2.20 goals against in 1999-00. But his pedestrian save percentage that hovered around .904 drove fans nuts, and the Flyers were eliminated in the first round by Toronto in 1999 — though Vanbiesbrouck was actually really good in the series, posting a .938 save percentage and 1.46 goals against.

However, the next year Bieser was supplanted by rookie Brian Boucher late in the year, who got the Flyers all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. And that was all she wrote for Bieser. He played one fantastic playoff series, but ultimately he was not all that was promised.

Adam Oates

Adam Oates is 6th all time in assists and 16th all time in scoring. The man made a career of producing points, topping the 100-point plateau four times in his career and leading the league in assists three times. He also posted 156 points in 163 career playoff games, which is all to say Adam Oates was a very good offensive player.

So when the Flyers were looking for a veteran offensive rental for what they hoped would be another Cup run, they traded a first, a second and a third for Oates in March of 2002. Oates was coming off back-to-back seasons in which he led the NHL in assists, and through 66 games in the 2001-02 season for Washington, he had 57 more. He seemed like the perfect fit.

He was not. Oates did post 10 points in the final 14 games of the regular season, but he also skated to a minus-2 and looked out of sync. Age had finally caught up to the 39-year-old. The Flyers then were embarrassingly eliminated in just five games in the first round by Ottawa, with no one doing anything of consequence, Oates included. And that was it for him in Philadelphia, just 14 regular-season games and five postseason contests in which he recorded a grand total of 12 points. Not worth it.

Tony Amonte

Tony Amonte was one of the better goal-scorers of his day, topping 30 goals 8 times in his career and 40 goals three times. He was a five-time all-star and one of the best American-born players in the league. And at the trade deadline in 2003, the Flyers traded two draft picks and a forgettable player to reunite Amonte with his former Chicago Blackhawks teammate Jeremy Roenick. As has been the theme with everyone else, Amonte, at 32, was starting to decline but still a productive player. He was coming off consecutive seasons of at least 20 goals and 30 assists in Chicago, and had 36 points in 59 games for Phoenix when the Flyers traded for him.

Amonte acclimated very well as first just as Coffey had, scoring 7 goals and dishing out 8 assists in his 13 games after coming over from the Coyotes, though he managed just one goal in 13 games that postseason as the Flyers lost in the second round to Ottawa.

The next year, Amonte's last in Philadelphia, he was very productive, especially for a 33-year-old whose numbers began to trend downward. Amonte notched 20 goals and 33 assists in 80 games and was a plus-13. And in the playoffs, he had 8 points and was a plus-7 in 18 games for a Flyers team that eventually lost a heartbreaking series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What followed was the lockout and then the transition for the Flyers, and Amonte was gone. But he certainly was a key contributor for Ken Hitchcock and the Flyers.

Peter Forsberg

Peter Forsberg is easily the most interesting case of the past-their-prime all-stars. For starters, he was actually drafted by the Flyers way back in 1991 before being traded with a slew of players for the top overall pick, Eric Lindros, who refused to sign with the Quebec Nordiques.

We all know what happened after that. Lindros was a terror on the ice, winning a Hart Trophy and leading the Flyers all the way to the Final before concussions and a rocky relationship with Bobby Clarke derailed his career. Forsberg meanwhile won two Stanley Cups with the Avalance and became one of the absolute best players in the world.

Forsberg won the Calder Trophy in 1994-95 and took home Hart Trophy in 2002-03. He was a five-time all-star, led the league in points and assists in his Hart Trophy season and goes down as one of the all-time greats. In fact, the only thing that could stop him was injuries, which unfortunately he suffered often.

Still, when he played, he was a magician on the ice, so signing him in the 2005 offseason at age 32 was well worth the risk for the Flyers. In his first season for Philadelphia, some 14 years after he was drafted by the franchise, Forsberg posted 75 points in just 60 games, was a plus-21 and led the Flyers to the playoffs, where he put up 8 points in 6 games. Sadly, the Flyers only played six games, getting bounced by the Sabres in the first round.

The next season disaster struck in Philadelphia, as the team plummeted to its worst season in franchise history, turned on Hitchcock and finished with the least amount points in the NHL. Forsberg still managed to notch 40 points in 40 games, but with the team in a rapid rebuilding mode during that terrible season, the Flyers traded Forsberg to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and two draft picks.

Forsberg certainly didn't deliver the team results he did for the Avalanche, but he was brilliant when he played. Hard to fault the Flyers for signing a guy who was considered the best player in the world at the time.

Petr Nedved

Nedved was an enigmatic personality. He was drafted second overall in 1990, but he never reached the superstar status expected of him. Yet he did have several very productive seasons, which is why I included him here. Nedved was a creative offensive player who scored at least 20 goals in 7 straight seasons and 8 overall with the Penguins, Rangers and Canucks. Four times he topped 30 goals, including his career high of 45. He was a very talented player with the puck on his stick.

So during Forsberg's first year, the Flyers brought in Nedved in January in exchange for Dennis Seidenberg. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Nedved's productive offensive years were well behind him. At 34, he basically had nothing left at all. In 28 games he had just 14 points and was a minus-8 after the trade, and the next season he struggled even worse, posting just 7 points in 21 games and skating to a minus-20 before the Flyers got rid of him. Everything about that season was a disaster, and Nedved was no exception.

So there you have it. The reviews are mixed all across the board as far as the Flyers bringing in past-their-prime stars. Hopefully Jagr will be more of the Amonte/Hawerchuk mold and not the Oates/Nedved. I know this much, I'm excited to find out.