Archive for April, 2014

flyers-rangers1Tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers put their seasons on the line. There’s nothing quite like a game seven in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The NHL will see three of these masterpieces commence this evening. First, the Flyers will look to continue their miraculous season in Manhattan, where Madison Square Garden will host its fourth game of the series.

When it comes to the final game of a best-of-seven series, everything is up in the air. The grueling grind of an 82-game season, followed by the treacherous trek of a seven-game-series; is rendered completely meaningless by the magnitude of this event. The winner goes on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins beginning on Friday. Meanwhile, the loser heads home with five months ahead of them to ponder what might have been. For the Flyers, tonight’s game is less about completing a successful season (they did that merely by making it to the postseason after their horrid start). Instead, it’s about exercising the demons of MSG. After all, Philadelphia has won in New York only once since early-2011. That victory came in game two of this series, and the Flyers will need every ounce of energy that their tired and bruised legs have left if they’re going to take down the force that is the New York Rangers.

Philadelphia is 2-0 in road game sevens since the 2005 lockout. They defeated Washington at the Verizon Center in 2008, then completed a miraculous comeback against Boston at TD Garden in 2010. Including a home victory over Buffalo in 2011, the Flyers haven’t lost a game seven since 2004, when the Tampa Bay Lightning shocked the Flyers to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Here are three reasons why the Flyers will win this evening’s affair in New York:

1. Momentum is on their side

Sure, New York has won at a steady pace at home against Philadelphia this season. But, the Rangers were one of the worst home teams in the NHL this season (20-17-4) and by far were the worst home team that made the postseason. Meanwhile, the Flyers bring all the momentum with them following a 5-2 blowout win in Philadelphia less than 24-hours ago. The lack of a day off in-between games six and seven serves to not only put added pressure on New York. But, also keeps the confidence that the Flyers gained last night fresh in their minds heading into this evening’s affair.

Just last year, the first round saw two series go to game sevens in which the final game of the series was played a day after game six. The Rangers, down 3-2 to the Capitals returning home for game six, were able to triumph in that game and then carry the momentum over the next night, winning 5-0 at Verizon Center to advance. On the other hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs were unable to hold a 4-1 lead in Boston in game seven after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit. Toronto would blow that 3 goal third period lead en route to a 5-4 overtime loss.

2. Captain Claude is clutch

For all the complaining that Philadelphia fans have emitted over the performance of Claude Giroux this series, #28 already has performed at a point-per-game clip (2 goals, 4 assists in 6 games). Meanwhile, there have been no greater clutch performers than Giroux over the past five years. In elimination games since his career began (that is, games in which either the Flyers or their opponents can close out a series) Giroux has 7 goals and 15 assists (22 points) in 14 games. That’s an impressive clip for the 26-year old. If that trend continues tonight, Philadelphia will likely be traveling to Pittsburgh this weekend.

3. Welcome back, Mase!

The Flyers’ netminder has shown how head-and-shoulders above Ray Emery he truly is. Having played just three games so far, Mason has dominated two (games four and six) while playing well enough to win on the road (game five). He has clearly outperformed Henrik Lundqvist and looks to have found his groove. If the Flyers are going to win the series, Mason is going to have to play nearly as flawlessly as he did in game six.

4. Special teams are indeed special

When this season began, it was the Rangers’ special teams that were dominant. New York started the series 3-8 with the man advantage, and neutralized Philadelphia en route to a game one victory. Since then, the Flyers’ special teams have skated laps around their opponents. New York has gone 0-20 on the power play dating back to game two. That’s right, twenty consecutive failures with the extra-attacker for the Rags. The Flyers even scored a goal as a direct result of the futility when Erik Gustafsson made it 3-0 last night after exiting the box. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s power play has heated up, scoring two more yesterday. If that trend continues, the Rangers will have a difficult time winning this evening. Of course, we’ll see how the refs call the game as that will also have a large affect on the play.

Since it’s not all sunshine and roses at SkoodSports, and we did predict the Rangers in seven to begin the series; let’s take a look at how New York can win tonight’s game.

1. The King must hold court.

Henrik Lundqvist, for all of his regular season success, is nothing more than an average playoff goalie. While his peripheral numbers suggest similarities to his regular season performance, Lundqvist is merely 33-40 in 73 career postseason games. That trend has continued this season, as he has followed up a solid performance with a bad one nearly every night. If “Hank” is on his game by limiting rebounds, the Rangers will have a great chance to advance.

2. Defensive zone responsibility

Yes, Wayne Simmonds is a talented netmouth attacker. After all, that’s where a majority of his goals are tallied. But, there’s really no reason why he should be left alone in front of Lundqvist’s net over-and-over during the course of the game. Either the Flyers’ aggressive and physical nature is finally getting to New York’s defense, or something is physically wrong with Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. While they’re both talented shot blockers and the former is phenomenal as a puck mover, neither is tremendous in front of their own net at clearing out bodies. The Rangers will need to keep the likes of Simmonds and Scott Hartnell away from the crease, or a mimicry of last night could occur.

3. Philadelphia’s defensive zone turnovers

Takeaways were dramatically in New York’s favor last night, and it’s amazing that the Flyers were as successful as they were in game six despite that fact. At one point, Philadelphia had nine giveaways to New York’s one, yet the Flyers led the game 1-0. Steve Mason had a lot to do with the game staying the way it was. But, the Flyers cannot expect similar trends to continue if they want to survive and advance. The Rangers need to capitalize on Philly’s poor passing, especially when it sets them up for easy scoring chances right in front of Mason’s net.

4. New York’s home-ice-advantage

Yes, the Rangers were miserable at home this season. But, they have given Philadelphia nightmares at Madison Square Garden for years. Similarly, New York has never lost at home in a game seven (5-0). Trends like that are meant to be broken. But, the Flyers will need to exercise their MSG demons if they’re going to play streak-stopper.

Ultimately, the key to this evening’s game will be whomever gets on top first. The Rangers have shown all season that they’re an average come-from-behind unit. Their offense just isn’t built to score a lot of goals when trailing. If the Flyers can score first to take the crowd out of the game, it will go a long way to determining whether or not their comeback campaign will continue beyond tonight.

The scene is New York. The setting is game seven. If the Flyers can make it there, they can make it anywhere. Tonight is the night, there will be no more hockey for one of these two talented foes. All that’s left to do now is to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

1376616334000-claude-giroux-00330 hours from now, the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2013-14 season could be over. Facing a win-twice or go home scenario against the New York Rangers, the Flyers have a daunting task ahead of them. Win or lose, it’s been a solid season for the organization as a whole. They rebounded from a dismal 1-7 start to capture a postseason berth after falling short of that goal a year ago. While no Flyers fan will be happy with a bad result on Tuesday or Wednesday, they should be at the least content with how the season evolved. After all, this was a team that could do no right in October. Many of us halfheartedly believed that the Flyers were lottery bound when Claude Giroux was goalless and Peter Laviolette was fired.

Unfortunately, the Flyers got a tough matchup in round one. A series against Pittsburgh or Columbus would have likely resulted in a victory for Philadelphia. But, their kryptonite, personified on ice in the form of those blue “Rangers” sweaters, has handicapped the captain, and made him look much more like Tennille. Hope still remains, as two consecutive wins on back-to-back nights against New York would keep the Flyers playing for at least a couple more weeks. But, that hope is dwindling, as the Flyers’ performances the last few games haven’t suggested that they’re capable of such a statement.

Regardless of that outcome, the possible end of days for this Flyers team gives us an opportunity here at SkoodSports to give our report cards. Each player is graded (in typical A+-F fashion) based on their performance through game 5 of this series.

Centers

Claude Giroux – A-

His struggles this postseason is the only reason that Giroux’s grade is not an A. After a dismal start, in which the All Star was held without a goal for the first 16 games, Giroux blossomed into the scorer we knew him to be. 28 goals and 58 assists left “G” as a point-per-game player (3rd in the NHL) and a likely Hart Trophy nominee.

Sean Couturier – B+

“Couts” has developed his defensive game as well as any Flyers’ prospect in decades. It’s ever arguable whether or not he is already at a Selke level as a defensive forward. The problem with Couturier, however, is his offense. The #8 pick in the 2011 draft did put together career highs in assists (26) and points (39). But, he’s still very slow on his skates and doesn’t possess the high end offensive moves that some other centers in his draft class do. One would hope to see Couturier’s role get larger next season, including some time on the power play.

Vincent Lecavalier – C-

A C- for Lecavalier, Paul Holmgren’s only big money offensive signing last summer, seems generous. The former Hart Trophy nominee was an albatross at times for the Flyers, though he did finish with 20 goals. Still, just 17 assists, a -16 rating, and porous defensive metrics suggest that Lecavalier was one of the worst signings in the NHL last year. It doesn’t help that “Vinny” has been an absolute no-show in the playoffs, so far. He’s already a buyout candidate with 3 years remaining on his contract.

Jason Akeson – B

Yes, Akeson has looked solid through 5 postseason games. But, let’s give the kid some time to get acclimated to the NHL game before we go putting labels on his success. One thing is certain, he should have been playing long before Tye McGinn.

Left WingNHL: Preseason-New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Hartnell – C

For all the money that the Flyers are paying Hartnell ($4.75 million per year through 2019), they expect him to return to his 35+ goal effort in 2012. That, unfortunately, looks unlikely. Hartnell followed up a brutally poor lockout shortened season with a 52 point campaign (20 goals, 32 assists). That’s okay, and right on par with his career averages. The problem comes with that contract, as well as his propensity to take atrocious penalties at the worse times while making even uglier turnovers look routine. If Hartnell can keep up this production while making becoming a little smarter, he’ll be worth the money. If not, it’s going to get ugly very fast.

Brayden Schenn – B-

Schenn the Junior sneakily set career highs in almost every statistical category. That’s not really surprising, though, when one considers that this was his first full NHL season. Schenn was one of the team’s seven 20 goal scorers, and he finished the season even in +-. The problem with Brayden is similar to Hartnell in that he commits stupid penalties (this will be a trend with this team) and struggles in his own end. The good news is that Schenn is just 22-years old. The bad news is that he’s a restricted free agent, so the Flyers are going to have to pay him a bit to keep him.

Michael Raffl – B

The 25-year old Austrian forward emerged out of nowhere to be an integral part of the Flyers’ forward corps. Raffl had not played a single game in North America prior to this season, though he did contribute 46 points in 49 games for Leksands in the top Swedish league last year. His 22 points in 68 games aren’t that impressive. What was really special about Raffl was his ability to move from the top-6 to the bottom-6 with ease, looking capable on all four lines over the course of the season. He’s a cheap player who will fit in nicely for a few years.

Tye McGinn – C

Your classic energy player, McGinn isn’t going to wow you in any single aspect of the game. But, he’s a solid AHL player and a decent 13th forward. Though, as I mentioned, he should not have been playing over Jason Akeson this season.

Jay Rosehill – C-

It’s difficult to grade a player who never plays. Rosehill has been what the Flyers have wanted, a gritty fighter who plays sparingly and is only called upon in games where physicality is more important than results. Granted, he did score a dazzling goal against Boston last month. But, his 2 goals (0 assists) in 34 games are about all you can ask from Rosehill.

Right Wing

Jakub Voracek – A

The best player on the ice this postseason, Voracek has elevated his game at the most opportune times this season. After setting a career high in goals during the lockout shortened 2013 season, the Czech winger shattered his career marks in assists, points, and shots on goal this season. It would be nice if he could improve his shooting accuracy. But, Voracek has been the best piece acquired in the Jeff Carter deal.

Wayne Simmonds – A-

The “Simmer” was always considered a tough, two-way threat even prior to joining the Flyers. But, 2014 saw this Canadian power forward emerge as one of the team’s best offensive threats. His 29 goals led the team (and set a career high), and Simmonds’ 60 points were the best of his career, as well. The only gripe one could have is that Simmonds hasn’t yet emerged in the postseason, a time when his gritty play should be at the top of its game.

Matt Read – B

When Matt Read broke into the NHL in 2012, he was seen as a solid third line scoring winger with defensive liabilities. Two years later, and Read is one of the team’s best penalty killers. If nothing else, he should be commended for greatly improving that part of his game. With the team’s depth at center, his face off responsibilities (over 300 taken in 2012) have evaporated. If Read could become more consistent offensively, he would be a real steal. For now, he’s a $3 million third line winger, which wouldn’t be great if it weren’t for his tremendous defensive ability.

Adam Hall – C+

Adam Hall is what he is; a solid fourth liner who can take faceoffs and play on the penalty kill. The gritty forward will never be anything more than that. But, the Flyers have gotten exactly what they’ve wanted from him.

Steve Downie – D

When the Flyers landed Steve Downie from Colorado for Max Talbot last winter, they expected to receive a gritty, two-way, top-6 forward. Instead, they landed a penalty machine with no finishing touch and a propensity for head injuries. Downie recorded just 3 goals and 14 assists in 51 games with the Flyers before his season was ended by a concussion. The forward is probably healthy enough to go now. But, Paul Holmgren and Co. have no interested throwing him out there anymore. An unrestricted free agent, you’ve probably seen the end of Downie in a Flyers uniform.

Zac Rinaldo – D-

Rinaldo is heralded by Flyers fans as a gritty, more-spit-than-polish fourth liner who personifies the “Broad Street Bully” mentality. While he is certainly a penalty machine with a nice right hook, Rinaldo is nothing more than an AHL goon. His 2 goals (4 points) in 67 games were on par with the rest of his mediocre career. There’s little reason why Rinaldo is still in the lineup this postseason over top prospect Scott Laughton, and his grade reflects the fact that he hasn’t even brought a single physical element to this series against New York.

Defense

Mark Streit – B+

When the Flyers landed Mark Streit last summer, he was expected to contribute massively on the powerplay and in transition. Well, that has come to fruition. The former Islanders’ All Star led Flyers’ d-men in goals (10), points (44), and power play goals (4). He’s sometimes a liability in his own end. But, when paired with a solid, stay at home defender like Luke Schenn, Streit is as valuable a blue liner as the Flyers have.

Kimmo Timonen – C-

For all the credit that Timonen gets, he’s really struggled this season. Whether it’s age getting the best of him (39-years old) or injuries beginning to pile on, Timonen has not looked himself for much of the season. It has only gotten worse here in the playoffs, where his lack of speed and hesitance on the power play are sticking out like a sore thumb. Timonen’s one year, $6 million contract expires this summer. Whether or not he returns remains to be seen.

Luke Schenn – C+

Following last year’s dismal campaign, the James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn trade looked absolutely atrocious for the Flyers. It’s still probably going to go in Toronto’s favor. But, the performance of Schenn this season has at least moved the pendulum closer towards the center. Schenn is never going to be confused with an offensive catalyst. But, his solid defensive responsibilities are exactly what the Flyers need. Schenn is also a solid penalty killer, and contributed nicely when he was called up in that role. The best part of the older Schenn is his contract, as the 24-year old is signed at $3.6 million per year for two more seasons.

Braydon Coburn – C+

Gone are the days when Braydon Coburn was Philadelphia’s best defender. The 29-year old was hot-and-cold at times this year, and showed an embarrassing propensity for brutal turnovers that led directly to goals. His errant pass for Hal Gill in game 5 that set up the Rangers’ third goal of the game was just another example. Coburn’s speed is valuable to the team at his position. But, his effort is sometimes in question.

Andrew MacDonald – B

The Flyers traded 2nd and 3rd round picks to Long Island at the deadline to land this two-way blue liner. They then rewarded MacDonald with a 6 year, $30 million extension. At $5 million a season, MacDonald is far from a steal. But, his ability to play significant minutes (he’s led the Flyers’ defense in minutes since the trade) as well as on the power play makes him a solid pickup for Philadelphia.

Nicklas Grossman – D

Once considered one of the team’s best stay-at-home defensemen, Nick Grossman has had a season to forget. A lot of his struggles (bad with the puck on his stick, terrible passer, limp noodle shot) were always evident even when he was healthy. But, Grossman’s leg injury, one that he’d been playing through all season, clearly inhibited his ability to perform at even a replacement level. It’s a wonder why the team stayed with him over Erik Gustafsson for so long. Regardless, Grossman’s season is now over, and it would be prudent of the Flyers to find a way to unload his contract after this season.

Erik Gustafsson – B-

When he is given a chance to shine, Gustafsson does. The 25-year old Swedish defenseman scored 2 goals and recorded 10 points in just 31 games this season. All the more impressive was his +7 rating on a team with very few + defenders (he’s joined by Timonen and Streit in that regard). “Gus” is expected to play in game 6. So, he’ll have his chance to shine.

Hal Gill – D

Hal Gill is what he is. The team signed him after training camp to fulfill the role that he has all season. That is, seat filler in the press box. At nearly 40-years old, Gill played in just 6 games this season. He was okay when he was on the ice. The problem is that Craig Berube felt it necessary to play Gill over Gustafsson in game 5. That decision might have cost the Flyers the game, as Gill’s inability to cash in on a wide open shot from the point was only made uglier by a goal scored in front of his face moments later to give New York a 3-0 lead.

Goaltender

Steve Mason – B

stevemasonMason began the season the same way he left off 2013 with the Flyers. That is, he was electric between the pipes. In October and November, the Flyers’ netminder had a GAA of just over 2.00. The winter doldrums then set in, and Mason’s goals against totals skyrocketed. The veteran then settled down to have a solid spring. But, his legacy will likely be further defined by his performance on Tuesday (and hopefully Wednesday) night. The team did give him an extension. So, expect to see Mason as the starter again in 2014-15.

Ray Emery – C-

Ray Emery is never going to be the goalie that he was during his first go around with the Flyers. You can thank a degenerative hip condition for that. But, he was solid at times, especially late in the season when Steve Mason was on the mend. His terrible lateral movement and propensity for back-breaking goals soured him in the eyes of many Flyers fans. But, there aren’t many more experienced backup netminders in the league. If nothing else, Emery should get credit for beating the snot out of Braden Holtby in November, setting up the Flyers’ eventual return to prominence.

Coaching and Front Office

Craig Berube – B-

Berube gets a lot of credit for turning around a sinking ship in the fall and winter. But, his failures in managing time-on-ice here in April have soured his legacy a bit. The Flyers’ coach decided to start Ray Emery in a winnable game 3 against New York despite Steve Mason’s alleged health. He also has kept Claude Giroux’s line off the ice late in games, instead opting to send out the fourth line in their place. Berube did what he had to do to earn another season at the helm. But, there will be no honeymoon period should the Flyers flame out in round one.

Paul Holmgren – D

This grade is solely based on Holmgren’s performance both last summer and during this season. First, the GM went out and spent millions (over 4 years each) on Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit. While the latter has lived up to his name, the former has been an albatross. After buying out both Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere last year (moves that will cost the team millions upon millions for years), Holmgren may be forced to do the same with Lecavalier. Meanwhile, his decision to give Andrew MacDonald $5 million a year for six years is a head scratcher, especially considering that most of the Flyers’ prospect pool is invested on defense. Finally, trading Andrej Meszaros, a capable bottom-pairing defender, to Boston for nothing more than a 2nd round pick is confusing considering that, when healthy, Meszaros is arguably a similar player to MacDonald at a cheaper price. Holmgren will likely stick around after this season. But, his leash is beginning to get shorter.

NFL-Draft-logo

1. 34Houston Texans – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (Stock up)

It looks like Houston might pass on a franchise QB in round one to grab one in a later round. The thinking is that Clowney is a once in a generation type pass rusher, and that the difference between the round one and round two quarterbacks isn’t wide enough to justify selecting Bortles or Manziel here. Clowney it is.

2. 14-1 St. Louis Rams (From Washington) – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Stock up)

The Rams have lacked a game breaking wide receiver since Torry Holt declined and then departed. Watkins is the best WR prospect since AJ Green, and would immediately bring credibility to their passing game opposite Tavon Austin.

3. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Blake Bortles, UCF (Stock down)

The Jaguars failed in their last effort to find a franchise QB (Blaine Gabbert). Now, Bortles has the potential to bust. But, the consensus is that he raises fewer red flags than Johnny Manziel, and offers more of an upside than Teddy Bridgewater.

4. cle Cleveland Browns – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (Stock up)

Cleveland needs a franchise quarterback. Manziel presents the best option at this point. He’s likely going to be a rockstar in Cleveland. Whether or not he brings them their first Super Bowl is another question altogether.

5. oak Oakland Raiders – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn (Stock down)

The Raiders could still consider a QB despite their acquisition of Matt Schaub. But, it wouldn’t be very smart. They’re spending $11 million a year on the former Houston Texans’ star, and could certainly use some linemen to protect him.

6. atl Atlanta Falcons – OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo (Stock down)

Atlanta is probably taking a pass rusher or an offensive tackle here. If they can’t trade up for Clowney, Mack is a solid fallback option.

7. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (Stock down)

Tampa Bay is starting a new era under Lovie Smith. They could use a young quarterback to groom behind Josh McCown (since they don’t seem to believe in Mike Glennon). But, they’ll instead look to boost their line with the best player available at this pick.

8. min Minnesota Vikings – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

I’m not in love with this pick being mocked here because I’m not 100% sure that the Vikings are interested in going QB number one. Matt Cassel could conceivably start for them in 2014, though it would be a tough sell to fans who will be sitting outside in the frozen tundra for the next two years. They, however, appear to have Bridgewater high on their list.

9. buf Buffalo Bills – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Lewan had a solid combine and could find himself taken higher than expected thanks to a usual run on offensive tackles. The Bills desperately need to improve their line if they want to see EJ Manuel play 16 games next year.

10. lions8 Detroit Lions – OT/OG Zack Martin, Notre Dame (Stock up)

Cornerback would be a solid selection. But, the Lions opt to go with the best available offensive lineman instead. Martin would fill a need, as Detroit is weak at tackle. Keeping Matt Stafford upright for the entire season has to be a priority.

11. ten Tennessee Titans – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (Stock up)

The Titans seemingly want to improve their defense in round one. That could mean either Barr or a cornerback like Justin Gilbert. Barr seems like the BPA here.

12. giants19 New York Giants – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

The Giants have addressed a lot of their needs already this offseason. One spot they haven’t addressed in years is tight end, where Ebron waits as the best player at the position. The pass catcher put up magical numbers on Chapel Hill a year ago and would give Eli Manning a deadly weapon on third down.

13. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Stock down)

The Rams land the best wide receiver and the best cornerback in the draft with their two top-13 picks. Not a bad day in May for Jeff Fisher and Co.

14. chi3 Chicago Bears – S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (Stock up)

Clinton-Dix figures to go somewhere between 12 and 17 in this draft. Chicago could use an upgrade to their defensive front. But, grabbing the best safety might be too tempting.

15. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

The Steelers didn’t have the deepest WR corps in the league a year ago. Now, they’ve lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery. Evans would be a perfect compliment to the speedy Antonio Brown as his height (6’5) and hands are perfect for red zone scoring drives.

16. dal6 Dallas Cowboys – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (Stock down)

DeMarcus Ware is gone. Jason Hatcher is gone. Anthony Spencer is on his way out. The Dallas Cowboys are desperate for defensive line help. All of these things are true, which is why Jerry and Jason will grab the best available defensive lineman in the first round.

17. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – ILB CJ Mosley, Alabama

Baltimore’s defense has taken quite a few hits in recent years. Gone are the days when Ray Lewis and Ed Reed struck fear into the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators. Now, Baltimore has a younger, less aggressive defensive unit. But, they could still use some reinforcements to replace those that have moved on in recent years. Mosley is the best inside linebacker prospect in the draft. His combination of speed, size, and aggressiveness would be a valuable fit in Baltimore’s attacking 3-4 scheme.

18. 20 New York Jets – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (Stock down)

The Jets should probably address their offensive playmakers. But, this is a draft littered with talent at the wide receiver position. Dennard, meanwhile, would be a solid compliment to last year’s first round pick, Dee Milliner, on the outside.

19. mia15 Miami Dolphins – DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (Stock down)

With the rush on offensive tackles earlier, Miami doesn’t have a real value pick to lean on here. They’ll then be forced to address another flaw in their roster, the defensive front. They lost Paul Soliai to free agency, so they need to find a starter next to Randy Starks at tackle.

20. cards22 Arizona Cardinals – S Calvin Pryor, Louisville (Stock up)

Arizona has a few holes in their secondary that they’d love to sure up here in the draft. Pryor is one of two elite safeties in this draft (with Clinton-Dix being the other). Landing him would immediately take pressure off of Patrick Peterson and present a formidable duo with “The Honey Badger” for years to come.

21. pack9 Green Bay Packers – DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

Green Bay may have brought back BJ Raji. But, they could still use an improvement in depth at the position. Nix stands at 345 pounds and would be an adequate replacement for Raji down the line.

22. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles – DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (Stock up)

A lot of people will be clamoring for Philadelphia to select a wide receiver to replace DeSean Jackson. Others will claim that they still need to address the safety position. But, Philadelphia has said all along that they’ll go with the best player available in round one. Tuitt is probably that guy, and he still fits a definite need at 3-4 defensive end. At 6-5, 303 pounds, the former Notre Dame star is a perfect fit for the Eagles’ scheme. He recorded 19.5 sacks the last two years with the Irish and is a physical freak. Neither Fletcher Cox or Cedric Thornton really exhibited anything beyond above-average end play last year. Tuitt would be an immediate starter on a team dying for help on defense.

23. kc12 Kansas City Chiefs – WR Odell Beckham Jr.

After flirting with DeSean Jackson, the Chiefs grab a player with D-Jax’s speed and none of his baggage.

24.  ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – CB Jason Verrett, TCU

There was a time when cornerback was a strength of the Bengals’ defense. That’s not the case anymore. Cincinnati could look to find a replacement for free agent DE Michael Johnson. But, the value pick here is Verrett. The TCU product has solid size and speed and would immediately be a dramatic upgrade in the secondary.

25. cha24  San Diego Chargers – CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

Other than Eric Weddle, San Diego’s secondary is a mess. Fuller, while not the top cornerback in this draft, is still a solid get at 25. The Chargers could also look to beef up their offensive line, as going another year with King Dunlap as their starting left tackle would seem imprudent.

26. cle Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis) – WR Marqise Lee, USC (Stock down)

I’m a little bit uncomfortable putting this many wide receivers in the first round. That position has seen a sharp drop in instances where they’re drafted early in recent years. But, the Browns definitely have depth issues at the position (and a lot of others as well). After Cleveland grabs Johnny Manziel earlier in the round, they find their young gunslinger a big target in Lee.

27. saints18 New Orleans Saints – DE Dee Ford, Auburn

A fluid athlete with impressive burst, Ford emerged from the Senior Bowl as one of the most coveted pass rushers in this draft. Saints’ Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan knows the importance of a good pass rush (and a good breakfast). With the loss of Will Smith, New Orleans could use a boost of youth at defensive end.

28. panth29 Carolina Panthers – OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (Stock down)

The Panthers possess a ton of holes, and they could look to address their beleaguered secondary or receiving corps here. But, the loss of Jordan Gross to retirement opens up a pressing need at tackle. Kouandjio played and thrived at the highest level of College Football. He’d be a steal at this pick.

29. new17 New England Patriots – DE Kony Ealy, Missouri (Stock down)

The Patriots really struggled to get after the passer in 2013. Other than Chandler Jones, New England doesn’t possess a real bonafide every down rusher. Ealy would greatly supplement Jones’ cause, while allowing Rob Ninkovich to slide into the supporting role that he fits into.

30. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – DT/DE RaShede Hageman, Minnesota

Justin Smith is aging and the Pro Bowl DE won’t be around for too much longer. Hageman is the type of hybrid lineman that can either play 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end. In San Francisco’s case, grooming him to supplant Smith as 3-4 end would give them a big piece to keep the pressure off their superstar duo at LB, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.

31. sanf7 Denver Broncos – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

The Broncos may have beefed up their pass rush and secondary this offseason. But, they still could very much use an improvement at the linebacker position. Von Miller is phenomenal on one side. But, his injury problems may give Denver incentive to find a supplement to him in Shazier, who projects as a steal at this position in round one.

32. sea26 Seattle Seahawks – WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Stock up)

The run on receivers continues as we conclude round one. Cooks possesses elite speed and dramatic upside for the Seahawks, who lost their most consistent receiver in Golden Tate this offseason.

33. 34Houston Texans – QB Derek Carr, Fresno State (Stock up)

After passing on a quarterback in round one, the Texans snag a guy who could go as high as #8 to Minnesota. Carr has all the upside that his older brother did when the Texans drafted him 12 years ago. It would be quite interesting to see Houston snag Derek after David failed so miserably.

34. skinsWashington Redskins – SS Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois (Stock up)

The Redskins improved their defensive line by signing Jason Hatcher away from Dallas. But, their secondary could still use some serious work. Ward is the top safety available at this point and would be an improvement over the garbage that Washington sent out last year.

35. cle Cleveland Browns – CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State (Stock up)

The Browns doubled-down on offense in round one. They’ll begin to boost their defensive depth in round two. Roby could be a first round pick, as he is soaring up the charts as the draft approaches. Still, the former Buckeye might find his way to Cleveland, where he’d be a great compliment to Joe Haden.

36. oak Oakland Raiders – TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech (Stock down)

The Raiders have always been ones to grab the athletic prospect even if he’s got off the field issues. Amaro had the best numbers of any tight end in the nation in 2013. He’s also a physical freak who creates immense matchup problems for defenses.

37. atl Atlanta Falcons – OT Morgan Moses, Virginia (Stock up)

The Falcons addressed their need at pass rusher with Mack in round one. They now need to better protect Matt Ryan in 2014. Moses is the best available tackle, and he’ll immediately start on Atlanta’s beleaguered offensive line.

38. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA (Stock up)

The Buccaneers grabbed Jake Matthews in round one. It would seem imprudent to double-down on offensive line in round two. But, you can never have too much line depth in the NFL. Add that to the fact that Su’a-Filo is easily the best available lineman, and you have a solid fit. Tampa could also look at a QB or a WR here.

39. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Trent Murphy, Stanford (Stock down)

Jacksonville could use a weapon or two for Bortles. But, knowing Gus Bradley, they’ll want to address defense early. Murphy is a heady player and one of the best 4-3 ends remaining on the board.

40. min Minnesota Vikings – CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (Stock up)

At 5-8, Joyner is a bit undersized. But, he makes up for that with an excellent motor, blazing speed, and a fearless attitude when tackling. Minnesota is desperate for secondary help, and Joyner would fit the bill.

41.  buf Buffalo Bills – TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame (Stock up)

Scott Chandler is a nice player. But, he’s not a solid contributor for a team that hopes to find itself back in the playoff hunt in 2014. Niklas’ size (6-7, 270) makes him a brilliant blocker and an easy target to find over the middle. Just what the doctor ordered for EJ Manuel.

42. ten Tennessee Titans – CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida

Tennessee lost Alterraun Verner to Tampa Bay this offseason, so they’ll need to replace him early in the draft.

43. giants19 New York Giants – DT Dominique Easley, Florida (Stock up)

Injury concerns aside, Easley is a solid fit for the Giants. A bit undersized (6-2, 288), Easley makes up for it with excellent speed and a solid burst off the LOS. New York has lost a lot from their formerly dominant defensive front and needs to replenish it soon.

44. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – OT JaWuan James, Tennessee (Stock up)

St. Louis neglected to address their needs on the offensive line in round one. They’ll do that here.

45. lions8 Detroit Lions – FS Terrence Brooks, Florida State (Stock up)

Detroit’s secondary was among the worst in the league in 2013. Brooks would serve as an adequate replacement for Louis Delmas, who left for Miami this offseason.

46. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – DT DaQuan Jones, Penn State (Stock up)

In need of depth on their 3-4 front, Pittsburgh grabs Jones, who could play nose tackle or outside.

47. dal6 Dallas Cowboys –  DE DeMarcus Lawrence, Boise State (Stock up)

Your classic speed rusher, Lawrence had a fantastic pro day and combine to soar up the charts. Dallas certainly has a need at pass rusher, after losing their old DeMarcus to Denver.

48. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – C Weston Richburg, Colorado State (Stock up)

When Matt Birk retired last year, it last a gaping chasm in the middle of Baltimore’s line. Replacing him this season should be a high priority.

49. 20 New York Jets – WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (Stock down)

New York’s offense won’t look so bad on paper with Vick, Johnson, Decker, and Benjamin being added to it. At 6’5, he’s another tall target for Vick or Geno Smith to find.

50. mia15 Miami Dolphins – OG Joel Bitonio, Nevada (Stock up)

The Dolphins could use help across the entire offensive line. They’ll grab Bitonio here, who projects as a solid starting left guard in the future.

51. chi3 Chicago Bears – DT Will Sutton, Arizona State (Stock up)

The Bears were brutal against the run last year. They also failed to hold any team under 20 points the entirety of the season. That’s the first time in Chicago Bears history that had happened. They’ll address these concerns early in the draft.

52. cards22 Arizona Cardinals – QB Tom Savage, Pittsburgh (Stock up)

The late riser in the QB rankings in Tom Savage, who played for Rutgers, Arizona, and Pittsburgh over the course of his collegiate career. At 6-4, 228, he’s got the prototypical size of an NFL gunslinger. He’s also got a rocket arm and experts are “savagely” clamoring about him late here in the pre-draft process.

53.  pack9 Green Bay Packers – WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss (Stock up)

Green Bay likes to surround Aaron Rodgers with as many weapons as possible. With the loss of James Jones to Oakland, Green Bay would be wise to find another piece to the championship puzzle.

54. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles – WR Allen Robinson, Penn State (Stock up)

With DeSean Jackson a Redskin, Philadelphia really needs to add depth early to their receiving corps. Yes, the team figures to use more 2 RB and 2 TE sets with Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz taking a larger role in the offense. But, behind Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, the team is devoid of talent at receiver. Robinson has size (6-3) and set several single-season school and Big Ten records whilst a Nittany Lion.

55. ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU (Stock down)

Cincinnati’s linebacking corps needs serious revamping. Van Noy is easily the best available OLB here.

56. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – WR Davante Adams, Fresno State (Stock up)

San Francisco’s talent base allows them to draft more for upside here in round two. Adams fills a need and also could contribute smartly on special teams.

57. cha24  San Diego Chargers – DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee

The Chargers are reaching for a positional need here. They desperately need to find a nose tackle and there aren’t a ton of big, bad defensive tackles left in the draft. McCullers is projected to be a 3rd or 4th round pick, so it’s not an outrageous reach towards the end of the second round. The former Tennessee Volunteer is an astounding 6-7, 352 pounds. Perfect for clogging up the middle in their 3-4 defense.

58. saints18 New Orleans Saints – CB Keith McGill, Utah (Stock up)

The Saints are seemingly always looking to improve their secondary depth in the draft. McGill fits the mold of their previous cornerback selections, Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins. He’s big (6-2, 211) and versatile.

59. colts Indianapolis Colts – S Deone Bucannon, Washington State (Stock up)

The Colts lost Antoine Bethea to San Francisco this offseason. They need to find a future leader on the back end of their defense.

60. panth29 Carolina Panthers – WR Paul Richardson, Colorado (Stock down)

Unfortunately for Carolina, most of the impact weapons have gone off the board already. With their pressing need at receiver, they have to grab Richardson, who is actually a decent value at 60.

61. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – C Travis Swanson,  Arkansas (Stock down)

The one weakness on San Francisco’s offensive line is center. Swanson figures to be a starter from day one.

62. new17 New England Patriots – TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington

New England was at its best with multiple tight end sets. Who knows if Rob Gronkowski is going to stay healthy? Seferian-Jenkins is probably BPA and certainly the best tight end around at 62.

63. sanf7 Denver Broncos – RB Tre Mason, Arizona (Stock down)

It took 63 picks for the first RB to go. Mason had an electrifying career as a Wildcat. With the loss of Knowshon Moreno, Denver needs to boost the depth of their running backs.

64. sea26 Seattle Seahawks – OLB/DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (Stock up)

Having won the Super Bowl, Seattle can afford to take BPA at the end of round two. Attaochu possesses a long, fluid build and can act as a pass rusher in a 4-3 or 3-4.

looking for answers

Heading home, the Philadelphia Flyers appeared to have the upper hand. They had just regained home ice advantage by upending the New York Rangers in game two, 4-2. But, everything reverted back to the way it was previously with their 4-1 loss to New York on Tuesday. If Philadelphia is going to once again tie the series, they’ll need to improve in a variety of ways. The good news is that they’ll have until Friday night to do so. The bad news is that they now need to win 3 of the next 4 games to keep their season alive.

The Good

– The home crowd was electric as usual. Philadelphia has made this routine come playoff time. It’s unfortunate that the Flyers fell behind so early, as that took a little bit of the charge out of the sold out crowd. Including standing room only, the Wells Fargo Center was 103.1% full. Expect a similar scenario on Friday, when the Rangers visit Philly for game 4.

– The blue line continues to put the pedal to the metal offensively. Mark Streit scored the Flyers’ only goal of the game on a redirection of a beautiful one-time feed from Jakub Voracek. The Flyers’ defensemen have now scored 3 of the team’s 6 goals this postseason.

The Bad

– The Flyers’ power play was just atrocious. They finally got a majority of the calls from the referees, and Philadelphia’s man-advantage went a pathetic 0-5. To make matters worse, the team only managed 4 shots combined in 5 PP opportunities.

– Compounding the Flyers’ issues was the Rangers’ shot blocking prowess. But, Philadelphia made little effort to alter the game plan from what they’ve been doing all season. That is, pass the puck from point to point and fire away from the blue line. That may have worked in February and March. But, it’s not going to work against a Rangers team that is familiar with this strategy and has always been dominant in the realm of blocking shots.

– Scott Hartnell might be the most overpaid player on the team. The formerly gifted power forward is now little more than a bad penalty waiting to happen. Hartnell was called for boarding in the first, and missed on numerous chances on the power play over the course of the game. It’s time Craig Berube finally made an adjustment and took Hartnell off of Giroux’s line. He does nothing but devalue the unit when Voracek and Giroux are playing 110% and Hartnell is out there falling down and turning the puck over. Move Raffl or Akeson up and banish Sideshow Scott to the bottom-six.

– While Luke Schenn has been a pleasant surprise this postseason, there’s no reason why the defensively oriented d-man should lead your team in shots. Schenn recorded 5 shots on Tuesday. No one else had more than 3.

The Ugly

– Or, maybe Vincent Lecavalier is the most overpaid player on the Flyers. Last year’s big acquisition has become nothing but a major liability this postseason. Another -2 day for Lecavalier came on the heels of his promotion back to the team’s second line. Along with Brayden Schenn (another liability) and Wayne Simmonds, this formerly potent unit has been thoroughly neutered by the Rangers’ blue line.

– It may be time to say goodbye to Kimmo Timonen following this season. The 39-year old defenseman, who has been a rock for years on the Flyers’ blue line, has looked slow and weak this postseason. I get that he’s probably playing with an injury. But, it’s unlikely that Timonen becomes any less injury prone once he hits his 40th birthday. The Flyers cannot afford to waste another $6 million on a 40-year old defenseman who can’t score or play defense. It’s also time for Berube to grow a spine and remove Timonen from the first powerplay unit. Moving Streit to the first unit would give them a bonafide offensive threat at the point.

– Well, Ray, it was fun while it lasted. Ray Emery looked solid in game two. But, this Cinderella story turned back into a pumpkin on Tuesday. It’s unfortunate that Berube went with Emery instead of a seemingly healthy Steve Mason. Now, Mason returns for game 4, knowing that he needs to win 3 out of the next 4 to keep this team’s season alive.

– What’s up with Craig Berube’s atrocious handling of the time on ice? Jakub Voracek has probably been Philadelphia’s best forward. Yet, he played only 13:51 on Tuesday. Claude Giroux similarly played just 17 minutes. Meanwhile, both Sean Couturier and Matt Read played 20 minutes or more. I understand that Couturier’s line is the best defensive unit and plays significant shorthanded minutes. But, you’re at home. Now’s the time to take advantage of last change and get your best playmakers out there. It’s a shame that Berube hasn’t adjusted at all.

– Finally, Daniel Carcillo was once again the center of attention on Tuesday. The former Flyers’ grinder/scumbag proved that, regardless of the jersey that he wears, he’s just as much a piece of garbage whenever and wherever he plays. Philadelphia (and the leaky five-hole of Emery) allowed “Carbomb” to score the Rangers’ fourth goal of the game, moments after the ECHL talent left the penalty box. One can only hope that Zac Rinaldo grows a pair and sends Carcillo back to New York with a few sore muscles and a jersey redder than the rose.

The comeback kids have done it again. After setting a franchise record for most third period deficits overcome during the regular season, the Philadelphia 'Flyers evened up their best-of-seven series with the New York Rangers at one apiece after 4-2 victory on Sunday. Down 2-0 in the first period, the Flyers used a dominant second frame to overcome New York’s home ice advantage. The two teams will travel down I-95 to Philadelphia in anticipation for game three on Tuesday evening. Having regained home ice advantage in their favor, the Flyers will look to take the reigns of the series at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers were 2-0 against the Rangers at home this season, and have experienced much greater success against their division rivals at the Wells Fargo Center in recent years. Now, that doesn’t guarantee anything, as the Rangers had the best road record of any team in the league this season. One thing is for sure, this series is only beginning. Anyone who thought that the Rangers would cruise to victory is sorely mistaken. This one is likely going seven.

The Good

– Ray Emery was even better than his game one performance. The veteran netminder earned the first star of the game by stopping 31 of 33 shots, many of which were high quality chances late in the game. Today, the team named Emery as their starter for game three on Tuesday. It’s obvious that Steve Mason is not yet 100%. But, even more obvious is the fact that Emery has earned a start in front of the hometown faithful.

– The elder Schenn has emerged as a primetime playoff performer. While Brayden Schenn still remains relatively anonymous (though he did get credit with an assist), older brother Luke scored the game winning goal after pinching on a delayed penalty during the second period. Luke has always been known as a phenomenal hitter. But, his offensive game is relatively unrefined. The Flyers have now scored two of their five goals from the blue liners.

– Jason Akeson with retribution for his brutal game one penalty. The young winger scored the game-tying goal on the power play to give Philadelphia hope yet again. Not only is he solidifying his spot on the roster for the remainder of the playoffs. But, the former Kitchener Rangers star is quickly cementing a roster spot for next year, as well.

– Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek were again the best players on the ice. The latter scored the Flyers’ first goal on a beautiful backhand-fake to forehand snipe. The Captain, meanwhile, tallied an assist and a +2 rating despite still not recording a shot on goal. All in a days work for the two best offensive players in orange-and-black.

The Bad

– Still too many bad penalties taken early in the game that contributed to their 2-0 deficit. Granted, the Wayne Simmonds hooking call was probably the most egregious penalty in hockey history. But, the Flyers cannot afford to take stupid penalties early in games that lead to Rangers power plays.

– Sean Couturier continues to struggle in the faceoff circle. Granted, Couts had a phenomenal game and has been a plus player during the course of this series. But, his 36.8% face off winning percentage was near the bottom of the list. The only center worse was Brayden Schenn.

– Speaking of Brayden Schenn, the young center is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to head into restricted free agency with any sort of bargaining chips. The former top prospect looked better in game two, recording an assist as well as three hits. But, he disappears for long stretches, and it’s clear that Craig Berube doesn’t trust his line enough to put him out there in their own defensive zone.

The Ugly

– Zac Rinaldo is considered one of the Flyers’ energy players. Well, they didn’t get much use out of him on Sunday. Rinaldo played just 4:27 of ice time, fewest of any player on either team. He was also the Flyers’ only minus player, as he finished the afternoon -1.

– The Rangers’ penchant for embellishment is growing. I know that this series is coined “Broad Street vs. Broadway.” But, is New York trying for a Tony Award nomination with all the acting and diving they’re committing? New York was penalized for two dives, and it could have been much more. This is the NHL, not the Ice Capades. Clean it up, New York.

– Finally, the refereeing continues to be shaky at best. The Rangers once again doubled up the Flyers on power plays in game two. We’ll see whether or not those numbers even out when Philadelphia returns home on Tuesday.

jasonakesonIn order to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole, the Philadelphia Flyers will have to do what they haven’t been able to do since 2011, and what they were unable to accomplish on Thursday; win in Manhattan.

Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers looked like a carbon copy of the Flyers’ previous performances at Madison Square Garden this season. The team came out flat, and was never able to duplicate the pace of the Rangers. The Flyers were ultimately outshot 36-15, and looked baffled when it came to executing the forecheck and getting the puck into the Rangers’ zone for prolonged periods of time.

Despite this, the game was still tied 1-1 in the third before a tough break for Jason Akeson (pictured) and the Flyers put them shorthanded for 4 minutes. The resulting power play saw two goals scored, and the rest was history. Below is a look at the good things the Flyers did, as well as the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

– Ray Emery looked on his game. The Flyers’ backup netminder, forced into duty due to Steve Mason’s upper-body injury, was a bit shaky early on. But, he picked it up as the Rangers dominated play. “Razor” made 32 saves on 36 shots, and those that he didn’t stop would not have been saved by anything short of a brick wall. Mason rejoined the team Thursday night. Though, there’s no news on who will start game two.

– Jason Akeson was perhaps the team’s best energy player. Despite his unlucky double-minor penalty in the third period, Akeson truly did have a strong first playoff game. The young forward, who led the Phantoms in points this season, looked solid as part of the team’s third line with Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl. We’ll see if Craig Berube sticks with that young line in game two.

– That third line was by far the Flyers’ best. Raffl and Akeson combined for 6 shots, while Couturier was solid with the exception of New York’s first goal.

– Andrew MacDonald continued to prove that he is a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Fresh off signing a 6 year, $30 million contract earlier this week, the Flyers’ blue liner led the team with 22:15 TOI and recorded their only goal, a snipe from the point in the first period. If Kimmo Timonen is going to be hobbled for the majority of this series, Philadelphia’s success is going to hinge on MacDonald’s ability.

– The team was rather aggressive physically, especially against the Rangers’ defensemen. With Ryan McDonagh still nursing a sore shoulder, that type of physicality will prove crucial later in the series.

– Jakub Voracek, despite a scoreless day, was impressively aggressive. He looked as good as he has all season, and should be a force for the remainder of the series.

The Bad

– Claude Giroux now has zero shots against the Rangers in his last three games in MSG. That’s unacceptable for a player who is considered by most as one of the top-5 in the world. Philadelphia will need more out of him if they’re going anywhere this series.

– The refereeing was rather atrocious. I get that you want to let them play in the playoffs. But, not calling the blatant interference on Wayne Simmonds in the first, or the rather obvious slash on Scott Hartnell in the second, was ridiculous. The refs had no problem whipping out the whistle in the third, when they called Philadelphia for four penalties. In all, the Flyers only got two calls their way. Meanwhile, the Rangers got six. The Flyers cannot win this series unless their power play gets time on the ice.

– The Flyers’ netmouth coverage was once again abysmal. This has been happening all season. So, expecting anything to change now would be insane. On the first Rangers’ goal, Mats Zuccarello out-muscled Sean Couturier (a player twice his size) for the puck on the rebound. Philadelphia has had trouble clearing the puck out of their zone for awhile. It will probably come back to haunt them again.

– Kimmo Timonen is clearly injured. The Flyers’ veteran blue liner was a -2, and looked uncomfortable all night. Philadelphia will have to decide whether to stick with a hobbled Timonen, or go with Hal Gill or Erik Gustafsson.

The Ugly

– Brayden Schenn was an absolute albatross in game one. The only times you even heard the kid’s name is when he was going offsides or committing an atrocious penalty when the Flyers were set to go on the power play in the second period. Schenn is a restricted free agent this offseason, so his play the rest of the way could go a long way in deciding whether or not the Flyers deal him at some point.

– Meanwhile, the team’s big acquisition last year, Vincent Lecavalier, might have been even worse. It’s one thing to not be the scoring machine that he once was. It’s an entirely different disaster to be as bad with the puck on his stick as Vinny is. There’s a reason Lecavalier was demoted to the fourth line, and he showed it on Thursday. Just a ridiculous performance by him. The stat line? Goose eggs. Lecavalier, in 7:42 of ice time (lowest of any player on Philadelphia) didn’t record a single statistic. The Invisible Man.

– Craig Berube’s ice-time distribution was odd to say the least. Giroux only played 17:08. Voracek got 14:22. Meanwhile, Couturier and Matt Read each got over 20 minutes of ice time. The Flyers want to keep Giroux and the top line away from the Rangers’ best defenders. But, at some point, you need to have them out there if they’re going to contribute to your team.

– While I respect what Nick Grossman has brought to the team this season, it’s pretty clear that his foot is so banged up that even skating with the puck is a hardship. Philadelphia has a solid, young blue liner in Gustafsson just sitting on the bench. He should probably be active instead of Nick. But, he won’t be. For some reason, Berube really likes this veteran defenseman.

– Finally, the ice at MSG was as slushy as it has ever been. I understand southern teams having a hard time keeping their ice in pristine shape. But, New York should be able to figure it out eventually, right? This has been going on for years, and keeping the puck from going on its edge has become a lesson in infamy. I’m not saying that the ice is responsible for the Flyers’ losing streak in New York. But, it certainly hasn’t helped.

Stanley Cup Playoff Picks

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

The best time of the year is finally here. On Wednesday night, the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs will commence. 16 teams enter with dreams of hoisting the Cup two months from now. But, only one well oiled machine will capture the 16 victories necessary to hoist Lord Stanley’s epic trophy. Below is Skood Sports’ postseason prediction blog. All selections are guaranteed to be unbiased, and equally guaranteed to be dead wrong.

First Round

avs30

(1-C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (1-WC) Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche enjoyed a banner year following a lockout shortened season in which they finished among the worst teams in hockey. New coach Patrick Roy has instilled a fantastic system, and presses his players to play hard for 60 minutes every night. Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, meanwhile, has emerged as a Vezina candidate, and he could prove the difference maker in a series against a very sound defensive team in Minnesota.

The Wild, meanwhile, are going to be dragged down a bit by their goaltending situation. Ilya Bryzgalov has emerged as their starter, and every Philadelphia Flyers (and Phoenix Coyotes) fan knows that can spell certain doom come playoff time. Minnesota has high end talent in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. So, I doubt they end up swept in this series. But, the considerable offensive depth that Colorado enjoys will prove too much for “the universe” to handle. Avalanche in 6

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(2-C) St. Louis Blues vs. (3-C) Chicago Blackhawks

It was only a week or two ago that St. Louis was considered the frontrunner to win the West. However, a string of 6 consecutive losses by the Blues to end the season cost them the division and forced them into a brutal first round matchup against the defending Cup champions.

St. Louis still boasts impressive defensive depth and a strong goaltending situation with Ryan Miller. But, the injuries that the Blues suffered late in the season are the type that typically spell doom to Cup contending teams.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks return to the playoffs looking to win their third championship in five years. Chicago is getting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back for this series, so their offense should be as potent as ever. Corey Crawford, who won the Cup with the team a year ago, now has more experience and should be a force in this series. Either of these teams could win the Cup. But, only one will even get out of the first round. Something tells me that St. Louis, who has won the second most World Series in history, will continue to wait for their first Stanley Cup. Blackhawks in 7.

25star

(1-P) Anaheim Ducks vs. (2-WC) Dallas Stars

The Ducks are primed to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals. That is, if head coach Bruce Boudreau is finally able to get over the playoff hump that he failed to hurdle with Washington. Anaheim boasts high end offensive talent in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as well as impressive defensive depth, most of whom are younger than 25. Meanwhile, 24-year old goalie Frederik Andersen looks like the choice between the pipes. The rookie went 20-5 this season with a sparkling .923 save percentage.

Opposing them will be the Dallas Stars, who return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. Dallas is led by their premier offseason acquisition, Tyler Seguin. The former #2 overall draft choice notched a career high 84 points this season. He’ll join Jamie Benn to lead a high powered Dallas offensive attack.

While the Stars do have the offense to knock off the Ducks, I just don’t see their defense holding up over the course of a seven game series. Give this team a few years, though. Ducks in 5.

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(2-P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

Foolish or not, many believe that this is finally the year for San Jose to get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. San Jose is still led by Joe Thornton (76 points) and Logan Couture (54 points). But, it’s their further reliance on defense that gives their fanbase added hope. Antti Niemi (who won the Cup with Chicago in ’10) won 39 games this season, and appears primed for the playoffs after stopping 30 of 32 shots in their season finale on Saturday.

The Kings, of course, are never an easy out. Los Angeles possesses a well-rounded roster with two-way players throughout. Back are Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick from their 2012 championship team. Joining that group is Marian Gaborik, who was acquired from Columbus at the deadline. His added offensive skills could be enough to propel the Kings to another Western Conference title. Kings in 7.

16jackets

(1-M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (1-WC) Columbus Blue Jackets

The Penguins are back at the top of the playoff bracket, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone if they flame out entirely too early. While Pittsburgh does possess high-end offensive talent in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal; their deficiencies on the defensive end are still far too evident to have confidence in them. Marc-Andre Fleury showed late in the season that he could be in for another postseason flame out, as well.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are headed to the postseason for just the second time in their history. Their first appearance came five-years ago, when the Jackets were swept by Detroit. Columbus saw Ryan Johansen (63 points) break out in 2014, as the former #3 overall pick led the offense of one of the league’s surprise teams. The Blue Jackets also have one of the best young goalies in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky and an above-average defense in front of him.

The problem, however, is that Columbus hasn’t shown an ability to defeat the much faster Penguins, having lost all five of their games to Pittsburgh this season. I don’t see the Jackets having enough momentum to win four out of seven, though I also don’t see them getting swept for the second time in their short history. Penguins in 6.

13flyers

(2-M) New York Rangers vs. (3-M) Philadelphia Flyers

Having already discussed this series in a previous blog, I’ll leave this excerpt short-and-sweet. If Philadelphia can get better goaltending from Steve Mason than they have gotten from goalies in the past during the postseason, they’ll have a fighting chance against a Rangers team that has owned the Flyers in recent years. Philadelphia hasn’t won in New York since 2011, so finding a way to take one of the first two at MSG would go a long way to deciding the series.

In the end, I’m not sure that Claude Giroux and the offensive catalysts on Philadelphia are enough to overcome the Rangers’ exceptional defense and the man between the pipes, Henrik Lundqvist. Rangers in 7.

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(1-A) Boston Bruins vs. (2-WC) Detroit Red Wings

This is probably the team that Boston least wanted to face in the first round, as they’re the only playoff team that the Bruins didn’t have winning record against this season. Still, the B’s have much greater depth than Detroit, and they also have shown a propensity to rise to the occasion come playoff time.

Detroit is expected to have Pavel Datsyuk back for the series. He instantly becomes the best offensive force on either team. Datsyuk can change a game all by himself, so Boston needs to be wise when he’s on the ice. If Jimmy Howard plays with a chip on his shoulder, Detroit could find themselves pulling off the upset of the year. But, that seems unlikely, as Boston is healthy and ready for a long playoff run. Bruins in 6.

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(2-A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3-A) Montreal Canadiens

Tampa Bay earned home-ice advantage in this series with their shootout win on Sunday. But, it’s the Canadiens who may have dodged a bullet. Playing at the Bell Centre, in front of their pressure packed and fickle hometown crowd, can be enough to turn most Canadian Cinderellas into pumpkins. For the Habs, it’s their superiority in net that should prove the difference. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop was phenomenal all season. He was then injured in the year’s final week and will miss at least game one. Without him, Tampa has to rely on Anders Lindback, who is far inferior to Montreal’s Carey Price, who won the Gold medal with Team Canada in Sochi.

When discussing the skaters in this series, it’s very much even between these two clubs. Tampa boasts top end talents like Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, as well as young phenoms in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. They’re led defensively by Victor Hedman, who has emerged as Norris candidate. Montreal possesses phenomenal talent as well, with midseason acquisition Thomas Vanek combining with American Olympian Max Paccioretty to form one of the top scoring lines in hockey. Former Norris winner P.K. Subban promises to have yet another strong playoff for a Montreal team that believes this is their year. Canadiens in 6.

Second Round

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(1-C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (3-C) Chicago Blackhawks

The ‘Hawks have the experience and the coaching to overcome Colorado’s tremendous offensive talent and Varlamov’s skills between the pipes. I wouldn’t count the Avalanche out of this series because I believe that they have the best goalie. But, I also think that Chicago’s defense is miles better, which always makes a difference come the Spring. Blackhawks in 6.

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(1-P) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

The Duck stops here. While I love Anaheim’s offense and their young depth on the blue line, I think that their youth between the pipes and lack of a playoff proven coach will be the death of them. The Kings have all the ingredients necessary to push them back to the Conference Finals for the third consecutive season, and their names are Doughty, Kopitar, and Quick. Kings in 6.

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(1-M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2-M) New York Rangers

The Penguins have made it a trend of falling apart way too early come playoff time. Will that come prior to the Conference Finals this year, after they were unceremoniously swept by Boston a year ago? Probably. Pittsburgh struggles against physical teams, and while the Rangers haven’t played well against the Penguins in recent years, they have the defense to shut down Crosby and Co. when it matters the most. Rangers in 5.

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(1-A) Boston Bruins vs. (3-A) Montreal Canadiens

Everyone and their mother are picking the Bruins to win the East. If you know Skood Sports, we don’t like to conform to society’s demands. I also know that Boston fans hate it when I pick their teams to win, as it almost always results in a loss via the “SkoodSports Curse.”

I expect the Habs, who got under Boston’s skin in a win against the Bruins the last time they played, to continue that trend. If the Bruins can’t keep their cool and end up shorthanded too often, Montreal will pick them apart. This will be Carey Price’s coming out party, as he leads the Canadiens to their biggest series victory in years by shutting out the Bruins at the TD Garden in game seven. Canadiens in 7.

Conference Finals

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(3-C) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

I said it before and I’ll say it again: The Kings have the ingredients to win another Stanley Cup. Despite Chicago’s offensive talent, it’s Los Angeles’ advantage in net that will prove the difference in their advancement to the Final. Kings in 5.

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(3-A) Montreal Canadiens vs. (2-M) New York Rangers

Ladies and gents, the Montreal Canadiens are headed to the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 20-years. While New York does have King Henrik, the Canadiens have Prime Minister Price. He may well be on his way to becoming the league’s best goalie with his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in tow. Canadiens in 6.

Stanley Cup Final

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Montreal Canadiens vs. Los Angeles Kings

Both of these teams had identical records during the regular season (46-28-8), though, Montreal’s 40 ROW would earn them home-ice over Los Angeles’ 38. The series would not only be a rematch of the 1993 Final, which saw Wayne Gretzky’s Kings lose to Patrick Roy’s Habs. But, it would also present us with another matchup of the two goalies who took on each other in Sochi, as America’s Jonathan Quick gets another chance at revenge with Canada’s Carey Price.

In the end, it’s the Kings’ experience and defensive stability that will prove the difference, as Los Angeles wins their second Cup in three seasons. Kings in 6.