Series in Review: Flyers-Capitals 2016

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The Flyers weren’t supposed to be in the playoffs in 2016. Not with a new head coach with no prior professional experience behind the bench and a group of upstart players that used a strong second half run to even enter the discussion. 

But there they were, on what was technically the NHL’s final day of the regular season -- it was only Game 81 for the Flyers due to a prior postponement -- clinching a playoff spot by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins at home.

Before the game, Lauren Hart sang God Bless America and held up a phone that had Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider on the other end of the line. The man who made the Flyers possible was in failing health and sat back to watch as the team reached the postseason. Two days later, Snider passed away.

The Flyers, with the series and playoff run dedicated to their founder, were set to face the Washington Capitals, the team that had won the President’s Trophy with a staggering 120 points, 11 more than any other team. So the odds were already stacked against the Flyers, but it turned out to be a much closer series than the results showed.

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Series in Review: Flyers-Penguins 2018

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The Stanley Cup Playoffs were slated to start today and as the season progressed into the final 13 games, the Flyers were in all likelihood going to be a part of them. While the playoffs and the rest of the 2019-20 season for that matter have no real timetable for returning, here’s a way to fill the void a bit.

For the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back on several playoff series in Flyers history, both won and lost by the Flyers, and review them to see some of the turning points within the series and how the result could have been different. The series will be reviewed in reverse chronological order starting with some of the most recent.

We begin with the Flyers last playoff series back in 2018 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Game 1: Penguins 7, Flyers 0

Really a disaster from start to finish. The Penguins jump out to a 3-0 advantage and never looked back. Sidney Crosby scored the final three goals of a the 7-0 defeat in a lopsided Game 1.

Perhaps the Flyers best chance to make a game of this was in the first period. They had one power play while trailing 2-0 and another shortly after falling behind 3-0 and could not take advantage. 

The Penguins finished the game outshooting the Flyers, 33-24, with Matt Murray recording a shutout.

Game 2: Flyers 5, Penguins 1

This was a very different game for the Flyers, though it took until the final minute of the period for them to get on the board. Shayne Gostisbehere scored on the power play with 37 seconds remaining to give the Flyers their first goal and lead of the series.

Just 47 seconds into the second period, Sean Couturier got a bounce off Kris Letang for the second goal of the game for the Flyers, giving them a 2-0 lead. 

A big moment came in the middle of the period as Claude Giroux coughed up the puck to Sidney Crosby and sent him away on a breakaway, but Brian Elliott made the save. Crosby had another great chance as Phil Kessel fed him on the backdoor in the final seconds of the period and he put the chance through the blue paint, slamming his stick over the crossbar in frustration.

That proved to be a huge turning point. Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick scored goals in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 4-0 lead. Though Patrik Hornqvist answered with a goal just 17 seconds later, the Flyers capped off the 5-1 win with an empty-net goal by Andrew MacDonald.

Game 3: Penguins 5, Flyers 1

The series returned to Philadelphia and offered the Flyers a chance to take the series lead. Instead, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions weathered an early storm before taking control of the game.

Patrick breezed by Olli Maatta in the first two minutes of the game, getting stopped by the glove of Murray. Murray made another save on Travis Sanheim moments later off the rush, keeping the game scoreless. Midway through the period, Crosby got on the board again with a wraparound to give the Penguins the only goal of the first, but things quickly got out of hand in the second.

The Penguins struck for two quick power-play goals, the first on a feed from Kessel to Derick Brassard in the slot and the second on a one-timer from Evgeni Malkin on a 4-on-3. Just five seconds later, with the game back at 4-on-4, Brian Dumoulin scored to make it 4-0, essentially putting a fork in the game.

Sanheim scored his first playoff goal with 6:18 left in the period, but the damage had been done. The Penguins added another power-play goal from Justin Schultz in the third, capping off a 5-1 result in their favor.

Game 4: Penguins 5, Flyers 0

More of the same for the Penguins in Game 4. An early power play allowed them to vault to the lead with Malkin scoring off a nice passing play. As the period progressed, the Flyers were starting to get the better chances, but after a flurry of chances on Murray, a counter-rush for Malkin and Kessel resulted in a goal as Kessel finished on his chance to make it 2-0.

Again, the Flyers had the better chances late in the period, including a breakaway for Konecny in the final minute of the period, but could not take advantage.

Midway through the second, the Penguins did what they had in their two wins in the series and broke the game open in short order. Letang scored on a rising shot to make it 3-0 at 8:04 and Crosby buried a puck at the side of the net less than three minutes later to make it 4-0.

By that point, the result was pretty well decided, with the Flyers best chance to even make it a game again coming when Malkin took a double-minor for high-sticking late in the period. The Penguins scored the lone goal of the third, with Riley Sheahan scoring in the final five minutes of the game to cap off the 5-0 defeat for the Flyers and put their season on the brink.

Game 5: Flyers 4, Penguins 2

With their season on the line, the Flyers needed their top players to step up and they did. It started in the first with Claude Giroux getting the first goal of the game to give the Flyers a lead late in the first period. 

In the final eight minutes of the second, the Penguins struck twice quickly to once again take control of a game. Bryan Rust tucked in a wraparound with eight minutes left in the period, then Jake Guentzel beat Michal Neuvirth through the five-hole to make it 2-1 with under four minutes to play in the period.

The Flyers could have been buried in the final minutes of the period when the Penguins got a power play, but the Flyers struck for a shorthanded goal with Valtteri Filppula getting a rebound to tie the game at two.

The third period was a chess match with the Penguins getting the bulk of the chances. Just days before this game, Sean Couturier had collided with Radko Gudas in practice and suffered a torn MCL in the process. Playing despite the injury, Couturier provided the heroics with a goal with 1:16 remaining in the third.

Just seconds later, Crosby had the tying goal on his stick and Neuvirth robbed him with the glove, preserving the lead for the Flyers. Matt Read scored into an empty net and the Flyers survived to extend the series. 

Game 6: Penguins 8, Flyers 5

Late in Game 5, Ivan Provorov suffered a separated shoulder but played in the game anyway. Couturier was also suiting up for another game while injured and the Penguins were playing without Evgeni Malkin due to injury.

Couturier started things early, scoring on a rebound at 2:15 to give the Flyers the lead. Crosby answered by jumping on a rebound off Neuvirth to tie the game at one at 6:30. Carl Hagelin gave the Penguins the lead just 47 seconds later, being left alone in front for a one-timer from in tight. The Flyers tied things back up with 4:12 left in the period with a one-timer from MacDonald.

In the second, the Flyers appeared to take control, getting an early breakaway goal from Couturier just 40 seconds into the period and Scott Laughton scoring off a rush with 7:46 remaining in the period.

At this point, things were starting to shift the Flyers way and the thought of a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh was definitely on the table. But as they had done throughout the series, the Penguins struck quickly and turned the game in their favor. 

Just 1:21 after the Flyers had gained a two-goal lead, Hornqvist scored to cut it back to one. Then with under a minute to play, Guentzel scored on a deflection that leaked through Neuvirth to tie the game at four.

In the third, the injuries just started to catch up to the Flyers. Kessel stole the puck from Provorov in the opening minute and fed Guentzel on a 2-on-0 to give Pittsburgh the 5-4 lead. Despite the goal, the Flyers had their chances to even things back up, getting a 4-on-3 power play with 9:23 remaining. They could not score and shortly after the penalty expired, everything unraveled.

With Letang exiting the box, Neuvirth took control of a clear and played it around the endboards to Couturier to keep it away from Letang. Letang took Couturier’s legs out, flipping him and forcing a turnover. There was no penalty called, and the puck went into the slot for Guentzel to fire the one-timer to complete the hat trick and make it 6-4 with 7:12 remaining. Ten seconds later and right off the face-off, Guentzel cut to the net and scored again off a feed from Hornqvist to make it 7-4 and essentially put an end to the Flyers season.

Couturier capped off a five-point game with a hat trick of his own with 2:53 to play, but Rust sealed the final result with an empty-net goal to make it 8-5.

In the end, the Flyers were far too battered and couldn’t match the talent of the Penguins on paper, but they were certainly able to make things interesting in the series at times. While Games 1, 3 and 4 were ultimately never that close, the fact that the Flyers were past the halfway point of Game 6 with a two-goal lead showed that they did have the potential to at least get the series back to a winner-takes-all Game 7.

It’s interesting to look back at a series this recent and see the differences in this roster as opposed to the one today. Nolan Patrick was a rookie. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny were playing in their first playoff series. Three of the seven defensemen that played in the series are no longer on the team. Only eight of the 14 forwards who played in the series are also on the roster. 

Among the 13 players on the roster that have survived to this season, three have missed significant playing time -- Patrick has been out for the entire year, Oskar Lindblom has been out since his December diagnosis with Ewing’s sarcoma and Gostisbehere has been in and out of the lineup both due to injury and as a healthy scratch.

What is also interesting in analyzing this series is that this was a very likely playoff matchup for the Flyers this season. The Flyers would have held home ice in the series against the Penguins should the season have ended as of the stoppage on March 12 and there was reason to believe that this year’s team had the chops to compete with the Penguins and make it a highly-competitive series. 

Tomorrow, we will continue the series by looking at the Flyers playoff appearance against the Capitals from back in 2016.


Phillies 1980 Abstention Sunk Designated Hitter

Pg 28 Champions Bill Giles Ruly Carpenter AP
By Matt Albertson, Historical Columnist 
 
Rule changes make baseball traditionalists sqwuak an hiss. In recent years, Major League Baseball's willingness to contemplate significant alterations to the game has traditionalists mad - the Buster Posey rule, pitch clocks, relief pitcher's minimum batter rule, and, of course, the designated hitter. For some, it's common knowledge that Abner Doubleday invented baseball way back in Cooperstown, New York in 1839, and while the game has changed some since then, the game has pretty much remained the same for well over one hundred years. They say that's what makes baseball so timeless. Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth, as Doubleday myth has been disproven repeatedly over the past one hundred years and baseball has never remained the same. The one constant through all the years, reader, has been that baseball continued to evolve each and every year. MLB now tests some of its more radical ideas, such as the computerized strike zone, in the independent leagues. Baseball is prepared to enact radical rule changes in an effort to balance the "boredom" conundrum - action vs. inaction combined with the amount of time it takes to complete a game. 
 
The National League and American League have operated under significantly different rule structures twice. The first was between 1901-1902 when the National League approved the "foul strike rule", where a foul counts as a strike until there are two strikes. After serious deliberation, the American League relented and adopted the rule for play beginning in 1903. The leagues operated under the same rules, by and large, until 1973 when the American League adopted the designated hitter for a three-year trial run. No rule change/proposition has received more attention or opinion for so long. It's a bar room discussion/debate. I've debated the rule with a friend at the ballpark through the middle innings. It's great. It's horrible. It's divisive. And It's coming to a National League park near you sooner than you think. 
 
Dh
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures offensive value in relation to league average (100).
Since the American League adopted the designated hitter for a trial run in 1973, the American League has outscored the National League by 28,437 runs. Last season, the American League scored 11,859 runs while the National League scored 11,608 runs. The American League could cease play for roughly two and a half season before the National League evens the run total. And since 1973, the National League has scored more runs than the American League only 17 times over the past 46 seasons (1974, 1998-2012). The National League's "rein of run terror" coincided with the steroid era. Home run hitters like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield were often tied to steroid use, whether proven or hearsay. That National League power surge helped decrease the gap but the numbers don't lie. The American League scores more runs because the pitcher doesn't have to hit. 
 
In August 1980, National League owners met in Detroit to discuss financial stability. In 1979, only 11 of the 26 clubs made money. In 1978, only eight made money. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn opined "On the one hand, baseball's popularity has never been higher. But in the gloomy science of economics, we don't do so well. We really don't...the biggest problems of the 1980s in my mind are economics, which are not good, and player relations, which are not as good as they should be." Why was this? Free agency officially began after the 1976 season.  Owners were concerned player contract demands would ruin the game and kill profits. Nobody knew how free agency would affect the industry long term. This is possibly why NL owners took a vote on the DH in Detroit in 1980. Baseball was popular, profits are down, and exploding offense generates more interest. Seems logical.
 
The play was championed by St. Louis' young GM John Claiborne, whom owner August A. Busch Jr. hired away from Boston for his forward thinking ideas. Passage required seven votes. Ruly Carpenter, then-Phillies owner, told then-Vice President Bill Giles to vote for the DH. The club had Greg Luzinski and Keith Moreland and wanted to get both of their bats in the lineup. Unfortunately, both were poor defensively so the DH seemed a logical solution. But prior to the vote, it was announced that if passed, the DH would not go into effect until 1982. The reason was because the players union would need to approve the measure. Giles tried to call Carpenter, who was on a fishing trip, but did not get a hold of him. Unsure of what to do, Giles abstained. Meanwhile, the Pirates were directed to vote as the Phillies voted. Giles explained in his book that this was due to the interstate rivalry between the clubs. Nevertheless, both clubs abstained as did Houston. The final vote was four clubs in favor (Atlanta, New York, St. Louis, and San Diego), five against (Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Montreal, and San Francisco, and three abstentions. Commissioner Kuhn was disappointed in the result, given his support of the DH and desire to have both leagues operate under the same rules.
 
 
The club brass were not unified in their desire for the DH. Manager Dallas Green was staunchly against it. "I'm not a DH man...I just don't think it's good for the game of baseball...tell me why it's good for the game." Vice President Paul Owens favored it and said that Ruly Carpenter was neutral. Bill Giles, meanwhile, said in his book that he was not a DH advocate. Regardless, the issue was expected to come up again at the winter meetings. It didn't, however. St. Louis GM John Claiborne, who got the measure on the August docket, was fired a week after the meetings concluded in Detroit and the measure was never taken up again.
 
In an alternate universe, ponder these scenarios: Pete Incaviglia or Milt Thompson as the DH in 1993, Jim Thome or Ryan Howard as the DH in 2005, Rhys Hoskins or Jay Bruce, or Alec Bohm as the DH in 2020.

Powder Blue Podcast: Is the DH in the National League Inevitable?

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Frank Klose, Hunter Brody, and Matt Albertson talk about how it's inevitable the National League will have a DH very soon. Albertson gives us the history of the DH and he describes how close it was from happening in the past - perhaps because the owner of the Phillies was on a fishing drop.

Also, Andrew McCutchen and Seranthony Dominguez have injury updates while Bryce Harper says Phillies fans should not worry about  JT Realmuto's contract.



Flyers Top 10 Games of 2019-20...So Far 

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Over the course of the season suspension, the NHL put together lists of the top plays for each team. While no list of top games was created, there are still several games Flyers fans can look back on with great fondness this season, especially as the team started to make a push for the playoffs and challenged for a division title.

So with that, here are our Top 10 games of the Flyers 2019-20 season (so far).

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