Saturday, April 30, 2011

Philadelphia Eagles 2011 Draft Round-up

The 2011 NFL Draft is now in the books and the Eagles came away with a bunch of intriguing prospects. It was a somewhat curious draft for the Birds, who didn't target some of their biggest needs in the first two rounds, leading many to speculate that they might be counting on free agency to shore up their defensive line and cornerback situations. Andy Reid is never one to make all of the expected moves in the draft and this year was no exception as he grabbed several players a round or two ahead of when most draft pundits had them projected. Clearly, the Eagles trust their judgement and don't take stock in what everyone else thinks about who they target in the draft. Here's a look at every player the Eagles selected in the 2011 draft:

Round 1, pick 23 (23): Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor
If you watched the Eagles at all last year, you know how much the offensive line struggled to block for Michael Vick. Drafting Watkins should help to shore up at least one spot along the line as he figures to step into the starting right guard spot. While much has been made about his age (26), Watkins doesn't have a lot of miles on his body and should be able to play well into his 30's. Nearly every expert raves about his toughness and his work ethic, so, with the help of Howard Mudd, he should make a smooth transition to the NFL.

Round 2, pick 22 (54): Jaiquawn Jarrett, S, Temple
The Eagles go local with their second pick, snapping up Jarrett from nearby Temple. Jarrett was a four year starter at Temple and is known as a big hitter. That the Eagles used a second round pick on a safety for the second year in a row tells you they either are planning to get rid of Quintin Mikell or they aren't sure if Nate Allen will be healthy at the start of the season. Andy Reid has made it pretty clear that Jarrett will be a safety in the NFL, a smart move given his questionable cover skills.

Round 3, pick 26 (90): Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah St.
The Eagles finally addressed possibly their biggest need in the third round, picking up Marsh after trading down and picking up an extra 6th round pick. There are some questions surrounding Marsh, who played running back at the start of his college career and only recently transitioned to corner. He probably isn't the answer as the starting CB opposite of Asante Samuel but he could slide into a nickel role with an impressive training camp. Given that they waited this long to take a corner, the Eagles must have someone targeted in free agency (Nnamdi Asomugha?).

Round 4, pick 19 (116): Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
After moving down and picking up a 4th rounder next year, the Eagles addressed another need and picked up a linebacker. Matthews has a great pedigree, as his dad played 19 years at linebacker in the NFL and his brother is a star linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Packers. He has all of the characteristics of everyone in his family as he is hard-working, tough and plays the game the way it should be played. While he won't be as good as his brother Clay, Casey could have a solid NFL career as more of a role player and special teams contributor. If he plays with the same intensity and instincts of the rest of his bloodline, he will be a great pick.

Round 4, pick 23 (120): Alex Henery, K, Nebraska
Thanks for all the great years, David Akers. I'm not even going to pretend like I know how to evaluate kickers, but Henery's selection surely means that Akers, who refused to sign a transition tag, won't be coming back to the Eagles. You don't take the first kicker of the draft if you don't plan on having him be the guy. As much as we all like Akers for everything he has done, he is getting up there in years and he hasn't been very good on kickoffs. Henery was the best kicker in the draft and has a strong leg, so he should be a solid replacement.

Round 5, pick 18 (149): Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh
If you had success with one running back from Pitt, why not take another? Lewis, who succeeded LeSean McCoy at Pitt, is a small (5 foot 7, 193 pounds) back with a lot of shiftiness. He's a little like McCoy in terms of his elusiveness but he doesn't have much in the way of power or hands and he doesn't figure to be someone who can carry a heavy load. With the Eagles set at running back with McCoy and (hopefully) Jerome Harrison, Lewis could slot into the 3rd running back role and finally push Eldra Buckley out of the picture.

Round 5, pick 30 (161): Julian Vandervelde, OL, Iowa
After moving down a few spots and turning a 7th round pick into a 6th round pick, the Eagles picked up their second offensive lineman of the draft in Vandervelde. At 6 foot 2, 301 pounds, he's a big dude and figures to compete for a backup spot along the offensive line. It's not clear exactly what position he will play in the NFL but count on him somewhere in the interior of the line. Physicality is his specialty so he could develop into a starter down the road.

Round 6, pick 26 (191): Jason Kelce, G/C, Cincinnati
The Eagles went with their second offensive lineman in a row, picking up another interior lineman in Kelce. He's listed as a center but could also compete at guard. Best case scenario for Kelce is probably earning a backup spot but he's probably a candidate to spend a year on the practice squad.

Round 6, pick 28 (193): Brian Rolle, LB, Ohio State
After swapping this pick with the Patriots for pick 194 for no reason, the Eagles selected their second linebacker of the draft in Rolle. Rolle was productive at Ohio State and was a first team All-Big Ten selection last year. At 5 foot 10, 229 pounds he's pretty small for a linebacker and there is even some speculation on his profile that he could move to safety in the NFL. He is the cousin of Giants defensive back Antrel Rolle.

Round 7, pick 34 (237): Greg Lloyd, LB, Connecticut
Grabbing another linebacker, the Eagles go with Lloyd, who is the son of former Steeler linebacker Greg Lloyd, though they've had a checkered relationship. Lloyd has some issues with injuries but he is physical and projects to be a middle linebacker in the NFL. Some experts thought he was a mid-round pick so the Eagles might have themselves a nice value pick here.

Round 7, pick 38 (240): Stanley Havili, FB, USC
The Eagles wrap things up with a fullback. With Leonard Weaver's future looking dicey, Havili could get a chance to compete for the starting fullback spot. He is a good pass-catching threat out of the backfield, something the Eagles obviously value. Isn't known as much of a blocker or a runner so he's going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to make the team.

That's all 11 players the Eagles took in the 2011 draft. Be sure to add your comments on the Eagles draft below and grade their draft in the poll to the left!

Defense scuffles as Bruins spank Flyers in Game 1

If the Flyers are going to win their second round series against the Bruins, they are going to need to make another comeback. Only one team showed up in Game 1 and it was Boston, who used a big second period to crush the Flyers, 7-3, and earn a big 1-0 series lead.

There isn't much to break down about this game as the Bruins were simply the better team from beginning to end. The Flyers nearly made a game out of things in the third period when they cut the lead down to two goals but Boston simply flipped the switch again and sealed the win with a pair of late goals. Offensively, the Flyers were even good at times, generating a number of chances and forcing Tim Thomas to have to make several big stops, but they couldn't dig themselves out of their massive hole.

While much will be made about the Flyers switching goaltenders in-game again, having to go from Brian Boucher to Sergei Bobrovsky, the defense deserves much of the blame for the loss. Boosh let in 5 goals before being pulled but he was really only at fault for at most two of them with the rest falling squarely on the defense that hung him out to dry. Too often, the Bruins went unchecked in front of Boucher, allowing them to get multiple scoring chances while the Flyers D seemed to sit back and watch. Knowing that the goals were not his fault, look for the Flyers to stick with Boucher in net for Game 2.

Game 1 was an ugly loss for the Flyers but, as they know, it was still just one loss. Expect the Flyers to re-group, shift their focus to playing better defense in their own end, and have a much better effort in Game 2. Inconsistency has been something that has plagued the Flyers all season long so don't be surprised to see them flying around the ice and playing great hockey in Game 2.

Akers era over: Eagles draft kicker

David Akers has likely played his last game as an Eagle. In the 4th round of the 2011 NFL draft, the Eagles took the best kicker available, Alex Henery from Nebraska. All indications are that Henery has a strong leg and is very accurate from long distance and that he should have good career in the NFL.

What this means for Akers, whose contract is up and hasn't signed the transition tag the Birds offered him, is there is little chance he kicks for the Eagles again. Teams don't use 4th round picks on kickers if they don't intend to keep them on the roster. If the Eagles were planning on signing Akers and they just wanted to have some competition for him in camp, they would have waited until the last round or even picked up a free agent kicker.

Thanks for all of the memories, David Akers. While his last game in an Eagles uniform was one to forget, he was one of the best kickers in the league for the last decade. Now that he is getting up their in years and is starting to lose leg strength, it's probably best to cut bait and move on. The Eagles are pretty good about knowing when their veterans just don't have it anymore so it's pretty safe to trust their judgement on this one.

Flyers vs. Bruins: Second Round Breakdown of the rematch

On April 30, 2010, I wrote a post breaking down the Flyers and Bruins and their upcoming second round series. Exactly one year later, here I am again, writing a post breaking down a series between these same two teams. A lot has changed in the last year, particularly the expectations surrounding the Flyers, who are supposed to make another deep Stanley Cup run this year after playing the role of underdog last year. Much has changed with the Bruins as well, as they have spent the last year hoping to erase the nightmare of their postseason collapse against these same Flyers. Do the Bruins have what it takes to close out the Flyers this year? Let's take a closer look.

Offense: Depth is the name of the game for both teams, with Boston being the only team in the Eastern Conference that can even come close to matching the Flyers top three lines. Where the Bruins struggled in the playoffs to score, however, the Flyers did not, getting to stud goalie Ryan Miller early and often in 5 of the 7 games of their first round series. No team in the East can match what the Flyers bring to the table on offense, from playoff beast Danny Briere to young upstart James van Riemsdyk. Even without Jeff Carter, the Flyers can hurt you with basically any line. The Bruins have weapons of their own, like Patrice Bergeron and the ageless Mark Recchi, but they don't have one guy who should scare the Flyers and they haven't gotten much secondary scoring. With their depth making them virtually slump-proof, I give the edge on offense to the Flyers.

Defense: With Chris Pronger returning to the fold, the deep Flyers defense gets that much stronger. You could feel the impact that Pronger has immediately in the Sabres series as the Flyers played like a completely different team when he took the ice. The Bruins have a game-changer of their own in Zdeno Chara, but they don't have the complimentary pieces like Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros to back him up. With their ability to clamp down on multiple scoring lines, the Flyers have the edge on defense.

Goaltending: Tim Thomas vs. the Flyers goaltender carousel is a lopsided comparison. In this round, though, expect the Flyers to stick with Brian Boucher as their starter and not have a circus of netminders. Thomas is certainly the more talented goaltender, but if the Flyers play their usual strong defense in front of Boosh, all he has to do is be average and they should limit the Bruins to about two goals per game. While the Bruins have the big edge in net, the Flyers have plenty of experience beating superstar goaltenders; just ask Ryan Miller.

Special Teams: Both teams have struggled mightily with the man advantage, with the Bruins being one of the few teams worse than the Flyers on the power play. The penalty kill for each team has been pretty average, though the Bruins had the slight advantage in the first round. Call the special teams a wash.

One year after their epic series, these two teams square off once again for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Things should be much different this time around, as the Flyers won't be giving away three games before deciding to start the series. With their depth and tremendous goaltending, the Bruins are a dangerous matchup for the Flyers, who are always prone to taking long lapses in games. Tim Thomas is good enough to win a game or two on his own for the Bruins but I don't see much else on their roster that the Flyers can't handle. I'm going with the Flyers to win the series in 6, especially after their awakening at the end of the first round against the Sabres. Honestly, if the Flyers can play anything like they did in Games 6 and 7 of the first round, Boston is going to have some serious trouble even winning one game.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Eagles target secondary help on second day of draft

Day 2 of the NFL Draft is over and the Eagles, after making their obligatory trade, made a pair of picks. While the Eagles stood pat and used their 2nd round pick, they moved 5 spots down in the 3rd round and picked up an extra 6th round pick. The Eagles are very good about targeting a player they want and then moving down and still selecting him, all the while picking up an extra pick or two in the later rounds. As for who they ended up taking, after going for an offensive lineman yesterday, the Eagles spent some time shoring up their secondary.

Round 2, pick 23 (55th overall): Jaiquawn Jarrett, S, Temple
For the second year in a row, the Eagles drafted a safety in the second round, this time pulling in a local kid. Jarrett was a very good player at Temple, starting all four years, and was a big contributor on special teams as an underclassman. He is known as a big hitter and a great tackler, though he isn't particularly big or fast. There are some questions about how good he is in coverage, something that might limit him to safety and not allow him to move to corner in the NFL. Jarrett was seen as a bit of a reach by draft pundits, with many targeting him as a 3rd round selection. The Eagles clearly see something in him and may need him to step in right away if Nate Allen is still banged up or if Quintin Mikell doesn't come back. Even if he is a reach, all indications are that he is a great kid and a hard worker, so he could develop into a solid contributor down the road.

Round 3, pick 26 (90th overall): Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah St.
Finally, the Eagles address their most glaring need: cornerback. Marsh is another pick that could be viewed as a reach for the Eagles, as "experts" saw him as a middle to late round pick. Marsh was originally a RB at Utah Sate but converted to corner for the last two seasons. With how much work Marsh is going to need to develop into an NFL caliber cornerback, I wouldn't count on him starting opposite Asante Samuel in his first game, let alone in his first season. He doesn't have a lot of experience at corner but he has size and speed to develop into a nice piece.

The Eagles still have eight more selections to make tomorrow, when rounds 4-7 take place. I would look for them to pick up a linebacker and some more help along the offensive and defensive lines.

Here are the Eagles remaining picks:
Round 4, 104st overall
Round 4, 120th overall
Round 5, 149th overall
Round 5, 153rd overall
Round 6, 191st overall
Round 7, 227th overall
Round 7, 237th overall
Round 7, 240th overall

2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second Round Predictions

Even if you aren't a hockey fan, you have to be excited with the NHL Playoffs after all that went down in the first round. From the defending champs almost pulling off a huge upset to a handful of seven game series to amazing in-game comebacks, hockey has never been more entertaining. With how closely matched the second round series appear to be, things could get even better. After going a perfect 8 for 8 on my first round picks, here are my picks for the second round:

Eastern Conference:
(1) Washington vs. (5) Tampa Bay

Washington in 6

While the Capitals are much better defensively now, this series could still be a shootout since both teams have a ton of top-line scoring talent and neither has a shutdown goaltender. If the Lightning can continue to get goals from their 3rd and 4th lines, they will be very difficult to stop, even for a Capitals team that has more responsibility in their own zone. With fairly even offenses, goaltending and special teams, this series likely will come down to defense, something the Capitals don't suck at anymore.

(2)Philadelphia vs. (3) Boston
Philadelphia in 6

Here we go again! Right off the bat, if the Flyers play like they did in Game 7 against the Sabres, this could be a quick series. While the Bruins take pride in their depth at forward and on defense, the Flyers are still the deeper team, especially now that Chris Pronger is back full-time. The biggest edge the Bruins have is in goal, and while that could be a huge edge if the Flyers continue their goaltender carousel, the Flyers have already beaten one world-class goalie in the playoffs. With things (hopefully) stabilizing in net with Brian Boucher, the Bruins might not even have that big of an edge. Both teams struggled on the power play in the first round, so this series could hinge on which team is better with the man advantage. Bottom line: if the Flyers get even average goaltending and aren't terrible on the power play, they will win this series.

Western Conference:
(1) Vancouver vs. (5) Nashville

Vancouver in 5

The Canucks got a big scare in the first round but things should be a little easier for them against the Predators. Not that Nashville should be taken lightly, but they don't bring with them the playoff experience that the entire Blackhawks team had. The Canucks appear to be the better team in nearly every facet of the game, from their incredible depth on defense and forward to their top-notch special teams. Where things are a little closer is in net, where Robert Luongo is a talented headcase and Pekka Rinne can be unbeatable but also inconsistent. I liken this series to the Heat/Sixers series in the NBA Playoffs as the Predators will make the Canucks work in every game but they will have a hard time actually closing the deal and getting wins.

(2) San Jose vs. (3) Red Wings
Red Wings in 7

This series is a tough one to call, especially after how good the Red Wings looked in the first round. Are the Sharks finally over their playoff ineptitude after conquering the Kings with three overtime wins? Or, despite their age, do the Red Wings have one last run in them? These teams are pretty even down the line, with the Red Wings getting the slight edge on defense and in goal. Given their playoff histories, it's hard not to lean towards the Red Wings. Prove me wrong, Sharks.

Those are my picks for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Bruins series.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Eagles select OL Danny Watkins in first round

While many hoped the Eagles would target a cornerback with their first pick, Andy Reid just couldn't resist taking an offensive lineman. So, with the Birds 23rd pick in the first round, they took Baylor OL Danny Watkins. Given all of the issues the Eagles had along the offensive line, it's hard to blame Reid for pulling the trigger on someone who can potentially stabilize the line in front of Michael Vick.

What is most interesting about Watkins is the story of how get got to the NFL, given that he didn't start playing football until a few years ago. Growing up in Canada, Watkins was a firefighter after high school and didn't start playing football until he went to community college. He dominated immediately, then moved on to Baylor and excelled for two seasons there. At 26, while he is old for a NFL rookie, Watkins hasn't played a ton of football so he doesn't have much wear and tear on his body.

Talent-wise, Watkins looks like a great fit for the Eagles. At Baylor, Watkins played tackle, but he likely will have to move over to guard given his size (6 foot 3, 210 pounds). He is good in the running game, though the Eagles never run the ball anyway, and is willing to work his tail off to get better. The biggest knock against Watkins is his age; you do have to wonder how much upside he can possibly have if he will be 30 before his rookie contract is up.

While I would have preferred the Eagles draft a corner to help out Asante Samuel in the secondary, it's hard to find much fault in going with help along the offensive line. Given all of the issues the Eagles had last year trying to block for Vick, the team had to address their protection issues. Don't forget the Eagles also added one of the best offensive line coaches around in Howard Mudd, so Watkins should get plenty of help in his transition to the NFL.

A solid start for the Eagles on day one. With plenty of picks left to go, the Eagles will have several more opportunities to address their secondary needs plus pick up a few more linemen along the way.

Phillies place Blanton on DL, call up Worley

In a move that seemingly came from nowhere, the Phillies have announced that Joe Blanton, who was supposed to start tomorrow against the Mets, will go on the disabled list due to a medial impingement in his right elbow. In his place, the Phillies have called up Vance Worley, who will immediately join the rotation and will face the Mets tomorrow.

There had been no news about Blanton being injured until today and there is no information about how long he will be out. The injury doesn't seem too serious, with surgery not a likely option, so Blanton could be out for just a short time. While he is out, the Phillies don't figure to drop off to much with Worley. Besides the fact that Blanton hasn't exactly lit the world on fire this year, Worley was very good in the 2 starts the Phillies gave him last year, posting a 1.38 ERA and .923 WHIP. While those numbers are not going to continue, there is no reason why Worley can't give the Phils 6 solid innings each start.

The disabled list just continues to grow for the Phillies, as Blanton joins fellow pitchers Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge on the DL. Add in Chase Utley and Dominic Brown, plus the recent injury to Carlos Ruiz, and the Phillies have a ton of talent just sitting on the sidelines. The fact that they are still in first place without all of these guys is a real testament to their starting pitching.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Flyers vs. Bruins: Second Round Schedule

In a rematch of one of the best series in sports history, at least in Philadelphia, the Flyers and Bruins will once again meet in the second round of the playoffs. With the series set to start on Saturday, both teams get a decent rest. Here is the complete schedule for the entire series:

Game 1: Saturday, April 30th, Boston at Philadelphia, 3:05 pm
Game 2: Monday, May 2nd, Boston at Philadelphia, 7:35 pm
Game 3: Wednesday, May 4th, Philadelphia at Boston, 7:05 pm
Game 4: Friday, May 6th, Philadelphia at Boston, 8:05 pm
Game 5: Sunday, May 8th, Boston at Philadelphia, 3:05 pm
Game 6: Tuesday, May 10th, Philadelphia at Boston, TBD
Game 7: Thursday, May 12th, Boston at Philadelphia, TBD

Should be a great series! Look for more on this series in the coming days.

Flyers get a familiar second round opponent: the Bruins

The Flyers finished off the Sabres yesterday but had to wait to find out their opponent until after the Canadiens and Bruins played Game 7 of their series today. In a thrilling overtime win, the Bruins have won the right to play the Flyers in the second round of the playoffs. If that matchup sounds familiar, it's because these two teams faced each other last year in the second round and the Flyers pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports. With the Bruins looking for revenge this year, expect a tough, long series.

The series will likely begin either Friday or Saturday and I will have much more on it in the coming days, including a prediction and a breakdown. The Bruins will be a tough matchup for the Flyers, what with their quality depth and one of the best goaltenders in the league. If the Flyers play anything like they did in Game 7 against he Sabres, though, I can't really see any team being able to handle them. Check back soon for the complete second round schedule.

Sixers eliminated by Heat but show plenty of heart

The Heat did what everyone expected on Wednesday night and knocked the Sixers out of the first round. Of course, if you had told me before their series that the Heat would eliminate the Sixers in 5 games, I would have said that was about right. In fact, I even picked that exact outcome before the playoffs started. So, while the result of their series with the Heat isn't all that surprising, the way that the Sixers played certainly was.

On paper, the Sixers clearly had much less talent than the Miami Heat. On paper, they didn't have anyone who could guard LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, let alone anyone that could score on them. Nevertheless, the Sixers played the Heat close in nearly every game, only getting blown out in Game 2 of the series. The Sixers showed a ton of heart in every time they took the floor, forcing the Heat to have to earn every victory as they pushed them from beginning to end in every game.

While the Sixers season has ended, they have plenty to look forward to in the future. It all starts with Doug Collins, who immediately brought credibility to the team and deserves a ton of credit for how he has molded all of the young talent of the Sixers. Jrue Holiday and Thad Young are two pieces who blossomed under Collins this year and they are stars in the making. Elton Brand also had a bit of a renaissance, having his best season yet with the Sixers. Even Evan Turner, who had an up and down year to say the least, showed flashes in the playoffs of someone who can be a bigger contributor for the Sixers in a few years.

The Sixers deserve a standing ovation from all of us in Philadelphia. This team has been overlooked for the past few seasons but the light appears to be at the end of the tunnel. In a few more years if the Sixers can add a few more pieces, they have the makings of a team that can make a deep run into the playoffs.

No Madden Curse: Peyton Hillis beats out Michael Vick for Madden 12 Cover

First, the bad news: Michael Vick won't be on the cover of Madden 12. Now, the good news: no Madden Curse! Running back Peyton Hillis, by an overwhelming margin (66% of the vote), has defeated Vick in the final vote for the Madden 12 cover.

Does Hillis really deserve to be on the cover of Madden 12 over Vick? Probably not. Is it something worth getting upset about? Nope. It would have been nice to have an Eagle on the cover of Madden but, at the end of the day, it's pretty meaningless.

Oswalt leaves Phillies to deal with storms in Mississippi

Roy Oswalt left the Phillies immediately following his start yesterday against the Diamondbacks. According to the team, Oswalt left the team due to "personal reasons" and they did not say when they expected him back. While many on Twitter wildly speculated that Oswalt had injury issues or some marriage problems, the Phillies have cleared things up by releasing another statement: Oswalt left the team out of concern for his family and his home after the recent storms in Mississippi. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro also thinks he could be back for his next start.

Hopefully things are okay with Oswalt's family and he can make a quick return to the club. I won't even bother speculating how long he will be gone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On to the second round! Flyers dominate Sabres in Game 7

Two things plagued the Flyers in their first round series against the Sabres: goaltending and the power play. Flyers fans have argued throughout the course of the series as to which has been more at fault as the team struggled against a scrappy but ultimately inferior Sabres team. Was it the rotating mess of goaltenders that seemed to be following each good performance with a terrible one? Or, was it the power play, which was scoring at a 9.7% clip in the first six games of the series? Fortunately, in Game 7, neither was an issue as the Flyers dominated the Sabres, 5-2, and have now moved on to the second round of the playoffs.

The Flyers jumped on the Sabres early, thoroughly controlling the play throughout the entire first period and outshot Buffalo 16-2. Ryan Miller looked solid in net for Buffalo, however, and turned aside everything the Flyers tossed his way until Braydon Coburn scored with just under 20 seconds left in the first. The second period was more of the same for the Flyers as they continued to dominate play and even managed to score a pair of power play goals to bust the lead wide open. While the Sabres did manage to rob the Flyers of their first shutout of the season with two 3rd period goals, Philly was in complete control the whole time and finally showed why they were one of the best teams in hockey for most of the regular season.

Of course, it helped that the Flyers got some steady goaltending for once, with Brian Boucher playing above average in net. While Boosh didn't have a particularly busy night, he did make the necessary saves to keep the Sabres from making a comeback and finished with 26 saves. The defense, aided by Chris Pronger playing full-time, also was much stronger in front of him, minimizing the need for Boucher to have to stand on his head. There is no question that Boucher will be the goaltender for the Flyers going forward, let's just hope he doesn't have another meltdown like he did in Game 5. Even if he does, I would expect Peter Laviolette to give him a longer leash rather than play goaltender roulette again.

For the second year in a row, the Flyers have moved on to the second round. They now must wait to find out their opponent, which could be either the Bruins if they beat the Canadiens in their series or the Lightning/Penguins series winner if the Canadiens win. No matter who they face, the Flyers have to feel confident that they can beat anyone if they play like they did in Game 7 against the Sabres. Based on their play in Game 7, all the Flyers really need is solid goaltending and a power play goal or two and they should do just fine.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The NFL Lockout is (not really) over!

My goal of not talking about the NFL again until the lockout is over took at least one small step in the right direction today as U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an end to the lockout. Of course, it's just a temporary end to the lockout, as the owners are going to appeal the decision and things will basically be right back where they already were.

This is just the first step of the process and there isn't much for fans to get excited about. Now that a Judge has made a ruling, things will escalate from here and get increasingly more complicated. Not being a lawyer, I can't begin to explain what this decision means for the players, who apparently are planning to report to their teams to workout tomorrow since the lockout is technically over.

While we are still a long way from this being settled, let's hope it gets figured out sometime shortly after the draft because otherwise we won't have anything to talk about in regards to the NFL. Sure, we still have other sports to tide us over, but something won't feel right this fall if there is no Sunday football.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Flyers overcome shaky goaltending to force Game 7

Well that was on hell of an Easter. After wins earlier in the day by the Sixers and Phillies, the Flyers followed suit by overcoming a terrible start in Game 6 to beat the Sabres, 5-4, in overtime. The win keeps the Flyers alive and brings the series back to Philadelphia for a do-or-die Game 7.

The Flyers went with Michael Leighton in goal for Game 6 and it quickly proved to be the wrong decision as he allowed 3 goals on just 8 shots in the first period. While the Flyers did manage one goal in the first period, they still found themselves in a 3-1 hole and forced to turn to Brian Boucher, the goat of their Game 5 loss.

Luckily, Boucher was up to the task, bouncing back nicely as he stopped 24 of the 25 shots he saw, including several huge saves that would have given the Sabres a two goal lead in the third period. With Boucher locking things down, the Flyers offense proceeded to peck away at the Sabres lead until Scott Hartnell tied the game halfway through the 3rd period.

The hero in overtime for the Flyers was Ville Leino, who punched a rebound past Ryan Miller for the game winner. Thankfully, Leino's goal was early on in the period and it spared us from the heart attacks that come from a prolonged overtime game when elimination is on the line.

The Flyers proved, once again, that they are a resilient hockey team. No goaltending is too terrible and no deficit is too great for this team to overcome. Why they have to keep making things so difficult for themselves is beyond me but at least they have the ability to find another gear when the chips are down. With the series shifting back to Philly for Game 7, the Flyers have a chance to prove that they really are the better team in the series. With Peter Laviolette already announcing that Boucher will be the starter in Game 7, hopefully the Flyers get the goaltending that allows them to prove it.

Could you have asked for a better Easter, Philly Sports fans? Last year, Donovan McNabb was shipped out of town on Easter. This year, every team in the city won. I'd call it an Easter miracle.

Late rally helps Sixers stave off elimination

With their season on the line, the Sixers stepped up just in time. With the team trailing by 6 with just over a minute and a half remaining in Game 4, the Sixers got key 3's by Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams as they scored the final 10 points of the game to win, 86-82. The win pushes the series back to Miami for Game 5 on Wednesday.

The game started just as most in the series have, with the Sixers jumping out to an early lead before the Heat take over in the second quarter. Just like they did in Game 3, the Sixers hung tough into the 4th quarter, never letting the Heat stretch out their lead, but this time they had one last run in them. Evan Turner, getting some rare late game action, hit a tough shot before Holiday made his three to pull the Sixers within one. After Dwyane Wade missed a shot, the Sixers found themselves with a chance to win with 25 seconds left and Williams stepped up, hitting a huge three with just 8 seconds left.

LeBron and Wade were the stars for Miami once again, combining for 53 points, 10 assists and 15 boards. Both had their chances to put the Sixers away late in the game and both failed, as each missed big shots in the final moments of the game.

While the Sixers feel good about knocking off the Heat in Game 4, they have to know it's only a matter of time before the Heat eliminate them. Not only has no team ever won a series in the NBA after trailing 3-0, the Heat stars have proven they can do whatever they want and no one on the Sixers can stop them. You can expect the Heat to come out and try to put the Sixers away early in Game 5, though you can expect the Sixers to not go down without a fight.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Flyers comeback for naught as Sabres win Game 5 in OT

Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions. From the pain of the the ridiculously terrible start to the joy of a thrilling comeback to the depression of an overtime loss, Game 5 was all over the place for the Flyers. Unfortunately, as the ride came to an end, the Flyers find themselves trailing in the series to the Sabres, 3-2.

Simply getting to overtime was quite a task for the Flyers, who had to overcome an atrocious start in net by Brian Boucher. Boosh was not himself tonight, giving up 3 weak goals on 11 shots before getting pulled in the first period. Enter Michael Leighton (yes, really), who found some of that playoff magic and didn't give up a goal for the rest of regulation.

Facing a 3-0 deficit is nothing new to the Flyers and the offense starting working their way out of it in the second period, beginning with a goal by James van Riemsdyk. While JVR hasn't put up a ton of points in the playoffs, an argument can still be made that he is playing the best out of all the Flyers forwards. Andrej Meszaros added another goal just over a minute later and they Flyers were well on their way to another comeback.

After several close calls, the Flyers finally tied the game early in the third period after Kris Versteeg, while on his backside, made a pass to Mike Richards who fed Danny Briere in front. After the obligatory Briere fist-pump, the Flyers had all of the momentum and controlled the play for the rest of regulation, even getting a powerplay with just over two minutes left. When they couldn't capitalize, the writing seemed to be on the wall, and the Sabres took advantage in overtime when Tyler Ennis put a big Leighton rebound in the back of the net.

Now trailing 3 games to 2, the Flyers find themselves in a difficult, but hardly impossible, situation. Anyone who followed this team last year knows that you can't count the Flyers out until the final buzzer sounds in their 4th loss in the series. With plenty of questions also surrounding who will start in goal for the Flyers in Game 6, the team finds themselves in an almost familiar situation. Now is the time where we find out whether this Flyers team still has some of that magic leftover from last year. If they get another terrible goaltending performance, though, all of the magic in the world isn't going to help them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sixers best not enough as Heat take Game 3

Sometimes your best just isn't good enough. Such is the case for the Sixers, who can't seem to beat the Heat no matter how well they play. It happened once again in Game 3, as the Sixers played their best basketball of the series yet still managed to find themselves losing another game to the Heat, 100-94, and are now one loss away from being swept out of the playoffs.

Game 3 started exactly like Game 1 of the series as the Sixers seemed to catch the Heat napping early on and built a 9-0 lead. From there it was all about holding off the Heat, who slowly but surely had their way with the Sixers, eventually riding Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in the 4th quarter for the win.

The Sixers got good performances from several players, including Elton Brand, who led the team with 21 points and 11 boards and seemed determined to keep the team from losing the game. Jrue Holiday also had a nice touch on his shot, hitting 4 of 5 from three and finishing with 20 points. Unfortunately, nothing they did could match Wade (32 points, 10 boards, 8 assists) and LeBron (24 points, 15 boards, 6 assists) as they pretty much did whatever they wanted to down the stretch.

While the series isn't officially over, the Heat have basically proven that the Sixers can't beat them. The Sixers deserve a ton of credit for playing hard and giving Miami a challenge within each game but they simply don't have the weapons to score with the Heat nor the defenders to stop them. The Heat were the worst possible matchup for the Sixers, who have the talent and athleticism to make even the best teams in the league have to sweat out every victory. While it sounds like a bunch of excuses, the team has nothing to be ashamed about; their best simply isn't good enough to beat an elite team like Miami.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Miller shuts out Flyers as Sabres even series

Sometimes a goalie simply gets too hot to be beaten. Ryan Miller was that goalie tonight for the Sabres, stopping every puck the Flyers tossed his way in a 1-0 win for the Sabres in Game 4. The win ties the series at 2 games apiece as the teams return to Philadelphia for Game 5 on Friday.

Miller was stellar in net, making some of his best stops in the series amongst his 32 saves. It was his second shutout of the series and more than made up for his mediocre play in Games 2 and 3. After a so-so regular season, Miller has proven that he is still the same goaltender that backstopped the US hockey team to some big wins in the Olympics.

These two teams are really starting to hate each other, as things got ugly towards the end of the game with skirmishes breaking out after nearly every whistle. With Sabre Patrick Kaleta acting like a punk and goading every Flyer to fight him, you can bet that there will be sparks, and blood, when these two teams take the ice in Game 5.

The other big story in Game 4 was Jeff Carter, who was injured in the first period after he had a knee on knee hit with Tyler Myers. While Carter was able to play out the rest of the first, he didn't return to the game in the second period and the Flyers have announced that he has a lower body injury. While Carter isn't exactly a stud in the playoffs, the Flyers are a much deeper team when he is in the lineup.

Chalk up Game 4 as an opportunity wasted for the Flyers. They could have taken a stranglehold in the series and instead have allowed the Sabres to even things up. It's clear that when Ryan Miller stands on his head, the Flyers are going to have to play a perfect game to win. While the Sabres don't have much firepower, when Miller is on, they only need to score once and sit back and defend their net. While the Flyers are still the better team in this series, they have their work cut out for them if they want to get past a hot goaltender and into the second round.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eagles 2011 schedule released

We already knew which teams they were going to face but now we know exactly who the Eagles will play each week in the 2011 season:

Week 1: 9/11 Eagles @ Rams, 1 pm
Week 2: 9/18 Eagles @ Falcons, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 3: 9/25 Giants @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 4: 10/2 Niners @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 5: 10/9 Eagles @ Bills, 1 pm
Week 6: 10/16 Eagles @ Redskins, 1 pm
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: 10/30 Cowboys @ Eagles, 8:30 (Sunday Night)
Week 9: 11/7 Bears @ Eagles, 8:30 pm (Monday Night)
Week 10: 11/13 Cardinals @ Eagles, 1 pm
Week 11: 11/20 Eagles @ Giants, 8:20 pm (Sunday Night)
Week 12: 11/27 Patriots @ Eagles, 4:15 pm
Week 13: 12/1 Eagles @ Seahawks, 8:20 pm (Thursday Night)
Week 14: 12/11 Eagles @ Dolphins, 1 pm
Week 15: 12/18 Jets @ Eagles, 4:15 pm
Week 16: 12/24 Eagles @ Cowboys, 4:15 pm (Saturday)
Week 17: 1/1 Redskins @ Eagles, 1 pm

Note the Sunday Night games in Weeks 2, 8, 11, the Monday Night game in Week 9 and the Thursday Night game in Week 13.

You can't tell anything about a schedule in April but things look pretty good for the Eagles. It starts off pretty easy with only one 2010 playoff team in the first eight weeks, though they do have to play 4 of their first 6 games on the road. The middle stretch with games against the Bears and Patriots gets a little tougher, though both of those games are at home. For the first time in a long time the Eagles don't end the season against the Cowboys, instead playing them in Week 16 while taking on the Redskins in Week 17.

Of course, the lockout has to be lifted for any of these games to actually be played.

Latest NHL History Will be Made video features Brian Boucher

The NHL unveiled their latest "History Will Be Made" video and it features our very own Brian Boucher after his performance in Game 3 for the Flyers:

Expect Sergei Bobrovsky or Michael Leighton to get his own commercial sometime down the road.

Eagles 2011 schedule coming today, opponents already known

Even though we still aren't sure if/when the 2011 NFL season will start, the league is still going to release the schedule tonight at 7 pm. Of course, we already know who the Eagles will be playing, we just don't know when. The NFL released the list of teams the Eagles will play back in January:

Division Games:
Cowboys (2x)
Giants (2x)
Redskins (2x)

Home games:

Away Games:

The Eagles will be playing the entire AFC East and the NFC West. While you can't tell anything about how good these teams will be next year, you can bet the Birds are happy to be playing the crummy teams from the West. Check back later today for the complete schedule

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flyers take back home ice advantage after Game 3 victory

With all the questions surrounding the Flyers goaltending situation, Brian Boucher made the most out of his starting opportunity, backstopping the Flyers to a 4-2 win over the Sabres in Game 3 of the series. The win puts the Flyers back in the drivers seat and gives them their home ice advantage back.

Boucher was solid in net, making 35 saves while looking sharp in net. He's been through the ups and downs of the playoffs a few times already in his career and he proved that the Flyers made the right decision to let him start. Boosh showed tonight that he wants to take that starting spot and run with it, though, with the way things seem to go in Philly, don't be surprised to see the Flyers have to turn to Sergei Bobrovsky or (gasp) Michael Leighton at some point down the road.

Offensively, the Flyers got goals from two unlikely sources: Jeff Carter and Nikolay Zherdev. For Carter, it was his first goal of the playoffs and it even came on the struggling Flyers power play. As for Zherdev, he only saw action tonight because of an injury to Andreas Nodl but he took full advantage, scoring a goal despite getting just 8 minutes of ice time.

The Flyers now find themselves in a great position to take control of this series in Game 4. As each game passes, they seem to be gaining confidence in beating Ryan Miller while also getting stronger in their own end. Plus, at some point in this series, they still have the Chris Pronger card to play, a move that will surely boost them even further. One thing is for sure: the Flyers have already gone a long way to make us forget about that team that didn't seem to care at the end of the regular season.

Heat spank Sixers in Game 2

To beat the Heat, the Sixers need to play a nearly flawless game. They need to contain LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they can't turn the ball over and they need to hit their shots. None of the above happened for the Sixers in Game 2 against the Heat as they lost 94-73.

It was over fairly early on for the Sixers as they started cold from the field, shooting 25.6% in the first half, and never recovered despite shooting slightly better in the second half. The Sixers simply don't have anyone besides Jodie Meeks that you can trust to hit a shot outside of 15 feet, and with Meeks not getting many open looks, the Heat defense was able to collapse and contest everything near the basket. Andre Iguodala once again came up small for the Sixers offensively, shooting 2 for 8 with just 5 points on the night.

On top of the poor shooting, the Sixers also struggled to guard anyone on the Heat, allowing Wade, James and Chris Bosh to score a combined 64 points while playing fewer minutes than they did in Game 1. While Evan Turner came off the bench and gave the Sixers a spark offensively, he repeatedly looked foolish as Wade and LeBron schooled Turner for easy baskets. Much was made before the series about how bad of a matchup the Heat are for the Sixers and that has so far been the case.

With the series now shifting to Philadelphia, the Sixers face quite an uphill battle to get back into the series. Normally, a series doesn't really start until someone wins a game on the road, but with how badly the Heat outclassed the Sixers in Game 2, it doesn't look promising for the Sixers to even win a single game. It's looking more and more like the only thing the Sixers are going to get out of the playoffs this year is experience.
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Vick a finalist in Madden 12 cover vote

Michael Vick is one step away from being on the cover of Madden 12. After beating Adrian Peterson with 59% of the vote, Vick now enters the finals against Peyton Hillis, who knocked off Aaron Rodgers in the semi-finals. Vick has already knocked off some big names in DeMarcus Ware, Andre Johnson, Patrick Willis and Peterson but will need a big vote total to take down Hillis, who has gotten a ton of support to be the first Brown on the cover. Vick was already on the cover of Madden 2004.

Yes, this is the only Eagles news I can come up with.

Boucher to start Game 3 for Flyers, Leighton the backup

The Flyers goaltending carousel continues to turn. After his poor performance in Game 2, Sergei Bobrovsky has lost the starting gig to Brian Boucher, who looked solid after taking over for Bob. Even more surprising is that the Flyers appear to be turning to Michael Leighton to be the backup.

Word out of Flyers-land from the beat reporters is that Bobrovsky doesn't even have a locker stall for all of his equipment in Buffalo while Leighton does, implying that Bob isn't even the backup tonight. I'm not sure what the Flyers are thinking dropping him to third goalie but it does make sense to have a veteran backup you can trust. The Flyers must feel that Bobrovsky is too inconsistent to be a reliable backup goaltender.

In other Flyers news, Andreas Nodl is out of the lineup tonight, and Nikolay Zherdev will get his first playoff action.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Offense awakens as Flyers even series with Sabres

Whew, it's safe to breathe again. After failing to score a goal in Game 1 against the Sabres, the Flyers offense came alive in Game 2, solving Ryan Miller to the tune of 5 goals in a 5-4 win to tie the series up at 1 game apiece.

The Flyers jumped out of the gate with an early goal by Claude Giroux but then proceeded to give the goal right back after a penalty to Kimmo Timonen. Things got wild from there, as Dan Carcillo scored less than a minute later and the Sabres added two more goals of their own shortly after that. After allowing those 3 goals on just 7 shots, Sergei Bobrovsky was then pulled from the game and then things settled down from there. The mere presence of Brian Boucher seemed to calm the Flyers down as the defense tightened up and the Sabres chances became fewer and farther between. The Flyers took the lead on goals by Ville Leino and Danny Briere and coasted the rest of the way for the win.

Getting the win in Game 2 was crucial for the Flyers as they now head to Buffalo for a pair of games. While they haven't played their best hockey yet in the series, they aren't playing bad and seem to have figured out their gameplan against Ryan Miller. The Flyers still have a ton of work to do to figure out their power play, which scored just once on 10 attempts after going 0 for 5 in Game 1.

Of course, the biggest question facing the Flyers now will be whether Bobrovksy or Boucher starts in net in Game 3. While I would be much more comfortable with a consistent goaltender like Boucher in net, the Flyers might give Bobrovsky another crack at the starting spot. Bob seemed out of sorts in Game 2 but if the Flyers give up on him now they may not be able to turn back to him should Boucher falter.

As the series shifts to Buffalo, the Flyers find themselves in a pretty good position. Ryan Miller isn't in their heads and the mistakes they have made in the first two games are fixable. After a solid win in Game 2 and the imminent return of Chris Pronger, the Flyers and their fans have to feel good about their chances to win 3 of the next 5 against the Sabres.

Heat overcome, outlast Sixers in Game 1

The Sixers came out firing on all cylinders against the Heat in Game 1, making nearly every shot as they jumped out to an early double digit lead. The Heat unfortunately took over from there, using a big second quarter to build a lead that the Sixers couldn't quite overcome despite a late rally. In the end, while the Sixers can take away several positives from their performance, they still lost, 97-89.

Several Sixers had good individual games, including Thaddeus Young, who had 12 4th quarter points and 20 overall, and Jrue Holiday, who had 19 points, 5 assists and 5 boards. Young was his usual park off the bench while Holiday came up big late in the game, hitting a pair of 3's that pulled the Sixers within 3 in the late stages. Supposed team leader Andre Iguodala did not play well offensively, scoring just 4 points on 2 of 7 shooting while turning the ball over 4 times. Iggy did have 8 board and 9 assists but the Sixers need more from him if they want to pull out close games.

The Big Three for the Heat did exactly what they are expected to do, scoring a combined 63 points and 33 rebounds as they took over the game after the Sixers cooled off after a hot first quarter. The Heat also did a tremendous job getting to the line, earning 39 free throw attempts, dwarfing the Sixers 15 attempts.

While they fell short on the scoreboard, the Sixers can take a lot of positives out of Game 1. The Sixers did a good job in transition, shot the ball pretty well and didn't have a large number of turnovers. The Sixers also guarded LeBron and Dwyane Wade about as well as you can, although I would like to see less of Jodie Meeks trying to guard Wade. With their early lead and their late run, the Sixers showed that they won't just lay down because the Heat are the more talented team. If they can just hit a few more shots and not hack the Heat quite as often, the Sixers could make this into a very interesting series.

Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Round One

While the NBA Playoffs don't have the same excitement level as the NHL Playoffs, we are still in store for some intriguing series in the coming weeks. Especially interesting will be seeing just who gets out of the Eastern Conference, whether it be the upstart Bulls, the ancient Celtics, or the hated Heat. Here are my first round predictions with a quick thought on each series:

Western Conference
Spurs (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)

Spurs in 5

The Grizzlies did everything in their power to face the Spurs in the first round. They must be seeing something I don't because the Spurs not only play their usual great defense but they are also hitting three pointers at a ridiculous rate, making them a difficult team to knock off.

Lakers (2) vs. Hornets (7)
Lakers in 5

I'm being generous and giving the Hornets one game simply because of Chris Paul. This one could very easily be a sweep as the Lakers big men dominate inside.

Mavericks (3) vs. Blazers (6)
Blazers in 7

Wait, who is the favorite in this one? Maybe we are all too used to seeing the Mavs bow out early in the playoffs but this one has upset written all over it. No matter what, this one goes at least 6 games between two evenly matched opponents.

Thunder (4) vs. Nuggets (5)
Thunder in 6

This is potentially the best series of the first round with two highly entertaining teams. The Nuggets have been shockingly good since shipping Carmelo Anthony out of town, but I think they will be exposed in the playoffs when they have no go-to guy to feed the ball to down the stretch. The Thunder need to take the next step and get out of the first round.

Eastern Conference
Bulls (1) vs. Pacers (8)

Bulls in 5

The Bulls have made quite a jump, going from the 8th seed in the East last year to the 1st seed this year. Their reward is getting to spank the mediocre Pacers.

Heat (2) vs. Sixers (7)
Heat in 5

I went into greater depth on this series in my breakdown, but the Sixers just don't match up with the Heat. Best case scenario for the Sixers will be to stretch this out into a 7th game, but their lack of a clutch shooter at the end of the game will kill them in the end.

Celtics (3) vs. Knicks (6)
Celtics in 7

This one should be a fun, an old-fashioned Atlantic Division battle. The Celtics should get past the Knicks, but the longer the series goes, the more worn out they will be for their inevitable showdown with the Heat.

Orlando (4) vs. Hawks (5)
Magic in 6

With the way the Hawks stumbled into the playoffs, losing their final 6 games, there is almost no chance they pull off the upset over the Magic. It's funny how the Magic are suddenly an afterthought in the East this season, although they don't have much depth this time around.

Those are my picks for the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Let me know if you agree or disagree!

Sixers vs. Heat: First Round Breakdown

After one season away, the Sixers have climbed out of the abyss of the NBA and have gotten themselves back into the playoffs. Unfortunately, they are up against a Heat team that will likely be too much for them to handle. While I don't expect the Sixers to get blown out in any one game in the series, it will nevertheless likely be over quick. Here is my breakdown of the series.

Backcourt: While some argue that LeBron James is basically a point guard, the best backcourt player on either team, by a wide margin, is Dwayne Wade. Wade's numbers barely dipped this year even with the arrival of James, and he is still the number one option for the Heat when they really need a basket. Starting opposite Wade in the Heat backcourt is Mike Bibby, who is only useful to hit an occasional three and is a point guard in name only. The Sixers starting backcourt is solid, with Jrue Holiday continuing to come into his own and Jodie Meeks hitting nearly 40% of his three pointers. No matter how you arrange the pieces, though, the Heat have the clear advantage. EDGE: HEAT

Frontcourt: The advantage in the frontcourt is even bigger for the Heat, with James and Chris Bosh trumping anything the Sixers can throw at them. Despite all the negative press he receives, James is still a basketball freak of nature who can't be guarded by anyone. Andre Iguodala is a great defender, and he may even slow James down at times, but even Iggy at the top of his game has no shot at slowing down LeBron. As for Bosh, he is also takes his share of criticism for not being the superstar player he was labeled to be, but he is still putting up nearly 19 points and 8 boards a game, great numbers for the third best player on any team. The Heat start Zydrunas Ilgauskas at center, but he's just a big body and doesn't play a lot of minutes, much like Sixers starter Spencer Hawes. The Sixers frontcourt rounds out with Elton Brand, who has put up better numbers this year while dealing with nagging injuries. EDGE: HEAT

Bench: Finally, a spot where the Sixers have a clear advantage. With Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams coming off the bench, the Sixers have players that make a big impact when they enter the game. The Heat do not, with their best bench guys being one-dimensional, with shooters Mike Miller and James Jones and shot-blocker Joel Anthony being their biggest contributors. The Sixers bench will clearly do some damage when the Heat go to the bench, as Young has begun to develop into a star and even an injured Williams should be able to contribute. EDGE: SIXERS

Prediction: Against any other top Eastern Conference team, I would have believed that the Sixers could have done some damage and made their heavily favored opponent sweat out every win. While things won't be simple for the Heat, the Sixers just don't have the talent to matchup with James and Wade, and they don't have the offensive weapons to pull out close games in the end. For the Sixers, simply getting to the playoffs this season was probably enough, so there is no shame in bowing out quickly. They are still a team building for the future, so any experience they get in the playoffs now will only help them grow as a team down the round. HEAT IN FIVE

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Miller blanks Flyers as Sabres take Game 1

The effort was certainly there for the Flyers; unfortunately, the result was not. Despite playing much better than they had in the final weeks of the regular season, the Flyers were unable to solve Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who pitched a shutout in a 1-0 win for Buffalo in Game 1.

Despite having a mediocre regular season by his standards, Miller flashed the talent that made him an Olympic hero, stopping all 35 Flyers shots. The Flyers worked hard to generate a number of solid chances from a number of different angles but Miller just wouldn't be beat. The lone goal in the game came in the third period after Danny Syvret, only playing because Chris Pronger is hurt, allowed Patrick Kaleta to get position near the net and bury a goal.

While the Flyers did go 0 for 5 on the powerplay, it's hard to find much fault in how they played in Game 1. They limited the Sabres chances, got solid goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and controlled the play for most of the game but simply didn't get the result they wanted. Whether they get frustrated playing against a hot goalie or keep plugging away in Game 2 could be the difference as to whether they make this a series or not.

There is no need for the Flyers or their fans to panic after a Game 1 loss. If the Flyers come out in Game 2 with the same effort, pucks will start finding the back of the net. If they don't, Ryan Miller might just steal the series on his own and then there might not be anything the Flyers can do about it. I'm expecting the Flyers to make a big statement in Game 2, so I'm sticking with Flyers in 6.

Flyers vs. Sabres: First Round Breakdown

What a difference a year makes for the Flyers. Last season, expectations were low for a Flyers team that barely squeaked into the playoffs. This season, expectations are sky high for a Flyers team that was the best in the Eastern Conference until they coasted for the final month of the season. We all know what ended up happening last season as the Flyers went on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, so what lies in store for the Flyers this season?

The biggest question facing the Flyers will be whether they can flip the proverbial switch. Having shown little effort in losing 5 of their last 6 regular season games, it's fair to wonder whether the Flyers can ratchet their play back up to elite level simply because the playoffs have started. While the Sabres don't present a huge threat to the Flyers, they still have great goaltending and are a difficult team to score a bunch of goals against. The key for the Flyers in the series will be to get an early lead in each game and force the Sabres to push the issue offensively, opening them up for a number of odd-man rushes. Of course, if the Flyers play with the amount of effort they've shown in the last few weeks, getting that early lead will be difficult. Read on for a closer look at how these two teams matchup.

Offense: Nobody in the Eastern Conference can match the depth the Flyers have at forward. With 7 players with at least 19 goals and 6 with at least 49 points, the Flyers can beat you with any of their top three forward lines. While they don't have the best top-end talent in the league, the Flyers have more weapons than most teams can handle, even boasting a little-used player like Nikolay Zherdev who can strike at any time. This group also has a ton of playoff experience, as a handful were huge contributors on the Flyers run to the Cup Finals last year and they've even added Kris Versteeg, who was a solid role player for the Blackhawks team that downed the Flyers in the Finals.

As for the Sabres, they don't come anywhere close in matching the Flyers forward depth, though they do have 4 players that chipped in 20 or more goals. Their top two lines are pretty strong, with Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford leading the scoring attack, but things drop down from there, as most of their depth players are muckers and grinders and they aren't big threats with the puck. Because the Sabres simply can't match their depth, I have to give the big edge at forwards to the Flyers.

Defense: While the Flyers will be much, much better with Chris Pronger in the lineup, they still have plenty of depth without him to survive at least one round. The Flyers biggest issue in their Cup run last year was their third defensive pairing that got exposed anytime they stepped out on the ice. With Pronger out, that third pairing is Sean O'Donnell and Nick Boynton or Oskars Bartulis, not a great pair but certainly a solid one. Buffalo once again can't match the Flyers depth, though they are solid in their own end. Tyler Myers is a beast, but he alone isn't enough to slow down the Flyers attack. Give the Flyers the edge on defense, too.

Goaltending: Finally, we get to the one aspect of the series where the Sabres have an advantage. We all know about Olympic hero Ryan Miller and his talents, though he hasn't put up great numbers this season. Still, Miller is capable of getting hot at any time and carrying the Sabres through a few rounds of the playoffs. The Flyers once again have more questions than answers in goal, as Sergei Bobrovsky will be given first crack as the starter. Luckily, the Flyers are strong enough defensively in front of Bobrovksy that he shouldn't have to stand on his head every night to get a win. The Flyers are also fortunate to have one, and possibly two, other goalies to turn to should Bob falter. Regardless, the Sabres have a comfortable edge in goaltending over the Flyers.

On paper, the Flyers are the better team in this series. Sure, the Sabres have a pretty big edge in net, but the Flyers depth at every position just can't be matched. We know that doesn't always translate to the ice, but if they play anything like they did for the first few months of the season, the Flyers should win the series in 6 games. Should Chris Pronger come back early in the series, I would even be tempted to bump that up to 5 games. While Buffalo is no pushover, the Flyers talent should be enough to carry them out of the first round.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sixers vs. Heat: Series begins Saturday

They may not be there for long, but the Sixers indeed are back in the NBA Playoffs this year. While they would have liked to play the Celtics in the first round, the Sixers are stuck having to play a Heat team they simply have no shot at matching up with. Here is the schedule of games for the first round series:

Game 1: Saturday, April 16, Philadelphia at Miami, 3:30 pm
Game 2: Monday, April 18, Philadelphia at Miami, 7:00 pm
Game 3: Thursday, April 21, Miami at Philadelphia, TBD
Game 4: Sunday, April 24, Miami at Philadelphia, 1:00 pm
Game 5: Wednesday, April 27, Philadelphia at Miami, TBD
Game 6: Friday, April 29, Miami at Philadelphia, TBD
Game 7: Sunday, May 1, Philadelphia at Miami, TBD

I'll have more on the series later in the week, including a series breakdown. It's going to be quite a challenge for the Sixers to win more than 1 game in this series.

2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

Forget March Madness; for my money, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the most exciting tournament in sports. When it comes to non-stop excitement, nail-biting finishes and unpredictable upsets, it simply can't be beat. While my in-depth look at the Flyers series is coming tomorrow, here are my picks for the first round of the playoffs:

Eastern Conference:
(1) Washington vs. (8) N.Y. Rangers
Washington in 6

It must be pretty rough being a Rangers fan, having to wait until the last game of the season the last two years to find out if your team is making the playoffs. Despite being the 8th seed, the Rangers have by far the better goaltending, meaning they actually have a decent shot at knocking off the always susceptible Capitals. Unfortunately, I think this might finally be the year that the Capitals make that deep playoff run we've been talking about for years.

(2)Philadelphia vs. (7) Buffalo
Philadelphia in 6
It's been pretty shocking to see just how many "experts" are picking the Flyers to get knocked out in the first round. Yes, the Flyers have been playing poorly down the stretch. Yes, it is difficult to just flip the switch now that the playoffs have started. Yes, the Sabres finished the season on a nice little roll. Look past all of that and examine the talent on these two teams and, besides goaltending, the Flyers are the much, much better team. No one in the league can match the tremendous depth of the Flyers, as they legitimately have three scoring lines and arguably the best 6 defensemen in the league if/when Chris Pronger is healthy. The Sabres have a few nice players, like Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford, but I don't see any way they can keep up with the Flyers offense. Sure, they have their problems in net, but if the Flyers simply get average goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, they should win this series.

(3) Boston vs. (6) Montreal
Boston in 5

After taking the year off last year, one of the great Original 6 rivalries is back at it in yet another playoff series. On paper, this matchup doesn't seem that close, with the Bruins having the advantage in nearly every facet of play. With the Bruins also determined to erase the memory of their collapse against the Flyers, I wouldn't count on this being a very long series. Unless, of course, Carey Price steps in and does his best Jaroslav Halak impression and carries the team on another magical run.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay in 7

Maybe this is just wishful thinking on the part of this Flyers fan, but the Penguins appear ripe for the picking by the Lightning. With Evgeni Malkin already out for the year and it not sounding like Sidney Crosby will be healthy enough to contribute, the Penguins offense looks incredibly weak. Contrast that with the Lightning, who have tremendous offensive players on the top two lines, and you wonder if the Penguins will be able to keep up. Yes, the Lightning have their holes, like their goaltending (Dwayne Roloson has to be what, like 50?), and their lack of depth, but I think they are going to give the banged up Pens more than they can handle. Of course, if Sidney Crosby is suddenly healthy, everything changes and the Lightning's lack of playoff experience could become an issue.

Western Conference:
(1) Vancouver vs. (8) Chicago
Vancouver in 7

Wow, this one should be fun. With how good the Canucks have been this season, they deserve a much easier first round opponent than the defending champs. Fortunately for Vancouver, this isn't the same Chicago team as last season since they had to jettison the majority of their depth. While the Canucks, like the Capitals, have had their fair share of playoff blunders, they are just too talented to get ousted in the first round. I expect a long, grueling series, but Vancouver's special teams should help them come out on top.

(2) San Jose vs. (7) Los Angeles
San Jose in 5

Even if the Kings had Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar, I'd have a hard time picking them to knock off the Sharks. San Jose actually has some depth this year, something that they haven't had in recent playoff flameouts. While I like the Kings defense, I don't think they have what it takes to shut down the big scorers on the Sharks top line.

(3) Detroit vs. (6) Phoenix
Detroit in 5

In a rematch from last season, I look for a similar result in fewer games. While the Red Wings are getting up there in years, they still have a ton of guys who know what it takes to win in the playoffs, plus they are the only team that can rival the Flyers in forward depth. The Coyotes do have the better goaltender in this series in Ilya Bryzgalov, but the Red Wings are better in every other facet of the game.

(4) Anaheim vs. (5) Nashville
Nashville in 7

I can really go either way in this one. The Ducks have a tremendous first line but not much in the way of depth. Nashville has their usual tremendous defense coupled with a top-notch goalie in Pekka Rinne but not much offense. I'll lean towards the Predators to finally make it out of the first round based solely on Rinne, though I don't feel strongly about it. The Ducks have plenty of experience and could easily make a playoff run this year.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Sabres series.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sixers to face Heat in first round

The Sixers clinched the playoffs over a week ago, but, after their loss to the Magic on Monday, we have just now learned who their opponent will be: the Miami Heat. While the Sixers looked like a strong contender to earn the 6th seed in the East, losing 4 of their last 5 games dropped them below the Knicks and into the 7th seed, forcing them to take on LeBron and the number 2 seeded Heat.

Given how the Sixers fared against the Heat this season, losing all three times they faced them by at least 9 points, it should be a quick playoff showing for Philly. While any of the top teams in the East were going to be difficult for the Sixers, it was no secret that they hoped to get a shot at the Celtics, a team they have shown they can hang with this season. The Heat just aren't a good matchup for the Sixers.

According to John Finger of CSN on Twitter, the Sixers/Heat series will start on Sunday. Check back later for more on this series.

Sergei Bobrovksy unveils new mask for the playoffs

Sergei Bobrovksy has unveiled a new goalie mask just in time for the playoffs. The mask is a definite winner, complete with an American flag, Rocky and Sideshow Bob. Maybe it will help him re-find his game that has gone missing recently or possibly get the first Flyers shutout of the season. Images via Sarah Baicker of CSN on Twitter.

How they were built: Phillies

The following shows every player that has played for the Phillies this season, with their salaries and how they were acquired by the team. Contracts in baseball are hard to find information about and can be confusing to understand, what with arbitration and teams owning players rights, so I did the best I could to gather this information. If you see any errors in the info here, please let me know.

Like the others, this chart will be updated from time to time and will always be found at the link on the right side of the ATPS homepage.

Phillies acquired via:
Draft: 6
Free Agency: 12
Trade: 6
Rule 5/Waivers: 3

Salary and contract information taken from Baseball Reference and Cot's Baseball Contracts

Players listed with "arb" after their contract end date will be arbitration eligible at that time. Players listed with an asterisk (*) after their contract end date will still have their rights owned by the Phillies, so they won't be free agents.

Players without salaries signed minor league deals and I couldn't find any information regarding how much they were making in the majors.

The Phillies have relied heavily on trades and free agency to build their team around the core players they have drafted over the years. They did a great job drafting quality infielders but they haven't done as well drafting outfielders. While there haven't been many drafted players breaking out in recent seasons, several have been used as assets to acquire their stellar pitching staff.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Flyers vs. Sabres: Series begins Thursday

The NHL has released their 2011 playoff schedule and the Flyers and Sabres will begin their series on Thursday, April 14th. Here is the complete schedule of games for the series:

Game 1: Thursday, April 14, Buffalo at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, April 16, Buffalo at Philadelphia, 5:00 p.m.
Game 3: Monday, April 18, Philadelphia at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m.
Game 4: Wednesday, April 20, Philadelphia at Buffalo, 7:30 p.m.
Game 5: Friday, April 22, Buffalo at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
Game 6: Sunday, April 24, Philadelphia at Buffalo, 3:00 p.m.
Game 7: Tuesday, April 26, Buffalo at Philadelphia, TBD

As the favorites in the series, the Flyers find themselves in a much different position than they were at any time in the playoffs last year. They split the season series with the Sabres, 2-2, but outscored Buffalo 17-14 in those games. It should be a great series, be sure to check back in the coming days for a complete breakdown.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Flyers to face Sabres in first round after clinching #2 seed

It was far from pretty, but the Flyers took care of business in their last regular season game, downing the Islanders, 7-4, winning the Atlantic Division for the first time since 2004. The win also clinches the #2 seed in the East for the Flyers and ensures that they will play the 7th seeded Sabres in the first round of the playoffs.

With the poor defense and shaky goaltending they showed against the lowly Islanders, it's hard to have much confidence in the Flyers heading into the postseason. If they can't figure out how to flip the switch and become the team that dominated the league for much of the season, they could be facing a quick out against a Sabres team that has been playing well down the stretch.

Check back to the site in the coming days for my usual playoff previews and predictions. It's time for the best playoffs in professional sports to begin!