Monday, April 30, 2012

Phildelphia vs. San Jose Recap

So I had to work during this match. I'm 15 minutes into the 1st half, and I've noticed 2 things. I know the outcome of the match, but without Zack MacMath, the first 15 minutes could have been ugly. He has made some spectacular saves. After his first couple games, he has turned his season around and is on his way to becoming the goalie we need him to be. And Lionard Pajoy looks disinterested. Giving up in balls before they hit the ground, not running towards passes, he just looks bored with the game. He's beginning to look like a certain striker from last season, just minus the scoring.

I'm sorry, wrong picture, my mistake, completely the same, I mean different player.

There's our guy.

This could be a problem. The offense has been anemic, any union fan can admit that. But one thing Philly fans hate is a player who gives up. And that's what I'm seeing from Pajoy. Yes, some of the balls directed his way were way out of reach. But other balls seemed to be 50/50. And any ball that is 50/50, i expect to see some fight for it. And instead, Pajoy would slow up, and just let the Quakes deal with it. And i don't like seeing that.

Now I know the Union tend to leave Pajoy out to dry. He's seems to be the lone striker up top. And that's not easy to do. But he needs to fight a little harder. Or else the fan base is going to turn on him just like they turned on Carlos Ruiz. Quicker even, since at least Ruiz scored every once in a while. Pajoy can't even find a way into the back of the net. But enough of the bad, let's talk about the good.

 This guy has turned into one helluva pic. With the injury to Califf and the suspension of Garfan, Gaddis has seen more playing time early on than most people expected. And he has taken advantage of his time on the field. He has shown a lot of grit playing in the field, and he has played against some top level talent. He faced off against 2nd leading goal scored in the MLS this season, Chris Wonodolowski, and held his own against him. And all this is in his rookie season. He can only go up from here. I know there has been a lot of buzz around the first pick for the Union, Chandler Hoffman, but Gaddis has outshown his fellow draftpick so far this season.

And finally Zac MacMath. Yes he let in 2 goals. But the 'Quakes should have had more, and the reason they didn't is MacMath. He made some superman saves, especially in the first 15 minutes of this game. The goalless streak had to end at some point, and  it ended in a loss. That's unfortunate. But MacMath is the reason it was only a one goal loss, and he is the reason the Union picked up the 2 victories that they have. For the first month of the season, MacMath was a liability for the Union, but for the last 4 games, MacMath has been one of the strongest players on the field for the Union.

On the whole, this is a fixable team. The defense and goal tending are playing well right now. The midfield has flashes of brilliance, but can't play consistently well. And the strikers? They need work. A lot of work. And just a little bit more hustle.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Philadelphia Union vs. San Jose Earthquakes Preview

This match scares me. I can admit it. When I looked at the schedule before the season started, and I looked at records from 2011, I penciled this in as a 3 point match. But now, a month and a half into the schedule, this is anything but an easy 3 points.

The Earthquakes bring a lot to the table. San Jose leads the Western Conference right now, and they have beaten some quality opponents. Granted this match is on the East coast, which should help the Union, but still, the Earthquakes present a unique challenge. And the biggest challenge will be their emotional and scoring leader, Chris Wondolowski.

Wondo has been a wonder this season. An ball hawk, and a player who can turn a touch into a goal, he has scored more goals this season than the whole Union team have. Even if you multiply their goal total by 2. So San Jose has something the Union do not. An offense. But that offense, prolific though it is compared to the U's, is facing a defense that has not allowed a goal in over 300 minutes.

So that becomes the main focus of this matchup. Can Chris Wondolowski beat Zac Macmath and company? maybe its the homer in me, but I still see 3 points here. And not only do I see 3 points, but I see a statement game for the Union. After a tumultuous match against Chivas U.S.A., the Union will come out full of fire and brimstone, and they will play like we haven't seen them play all season. I see a game where the Union offense finally clicks, and a game where the defense continues their dominance. My prediction? Hold on to your hats...

Union 3- Earthquakes 0

Post Chivas U.S.A. Fallout

Well that was one helluva match on Saturday. We finally scored a goal from the run of play. That was good. But we had two reckless tackles at the end of the match that resulted in reds. That's bad. And oh yeah, Nowak ran onto the field during the ensuing scuffle over Gabe Farfan's red. That was really bad. Sure we go 3 points in a critical road match. But there is still a lot to fix.

First on the list is discipline. Normally I would say offense needs work, because the offense has struggled since I've been following the Union. But discipline, or lack there of, was the name of the game this past weekend. I think most Union fans would agree that there was quite a bit of extracurricular shoving on the part of Chivas U.S.A. And also a few dives here or there. But they had exactly the effect that Chivas wanted. They got the better of us and got us off of our game.

Keon Daniel had a challenge that was completely unnecessary. But at least he appeared to initially be going for the ball. And this is very unlike Daniel, so as frustrating as it might be to lose him for a match, history says that he won't make the same mistake twice, at least not quickly. So despite the annoyance of losing him for a match, I'll give him a pass for this one. But just this one.

Gabe Farfan does not get the same pass. A two footed cleats up tackle. Blatantly unnecessary, especially with the Union already down to 10 men. And Gabe Farfan is a little bit more, shall we say prone to outbursts? I like having a player who can intimidate the opposition, don't get me wrong. But this isn't hockey. It's not 5 minutes in the sin bin and then everything is ok. It's down a man and losing a match. And we were already down a man.

But the impact is greater than just time spent down two men. Losing Nowak for this match is vital. We're facing a Western Conference leading San Jose, and we lost one of the key players on a backline that hasn't allowed a goal in 332 minutes. When you are clicking like that, keeping the same players on the pitch match in and match out is important. And Gabe Farfan threw that away for a stupid tackle. And now we are absent Nowak against the strongest opponent we've faced all season.

So it will be an interesting match this weekend. And the Union have a tough test to face. Chris Wondolowski is tied with Thierry Henry for the most goals scored so far this season. And San Jose will be looking to take 3 points from the Union, especially since they will be missing a key component of their backline. And the Union will most likely bunker down, and just look for chances on the counter. And this works fine against a team like Chivas, but it will be a tough sell against a team like San Jose. Can they win? Sure. Philadelphia is a tough place to play, and the Union defense and goalie are playing as good as anyone in the league. The question is not can the defense keep us in the match, the question is can the offense produce for us this weekend.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Flyers Blow Past the Penguins.

The Flyers did it! They triumphed over the Penguins in one of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL. And in doing so, they closed the books on one of the oddest playoff series in recent memory. Everyone has seen sweeps. Everyone has seen comebacks. You even occasionally see a high scoring game. But 3 games where a team scores 8 or more? And a game with 10 goals scored by one team? It's practically unheard of. The question is, was it a tough enough test to prepare the Flyers for the 2nd round?

For one man it was. Claude Giroux made his mark on the NHL this season with an astonishing performance in this series. Coming in, this series was about 2 players, and how they would simply dominate the opposition. Those two players? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And what did those two players do in this series? Well, Evgeni Malkin was completely overshadowed by rookie Sean Coturier. The rookie didn't care about how many goals or points Malkin had collected during the regular season. He simply shut Malkin down, and scored himself. Notably his first career hat trick.

And Sidney Crosby? Well, I won't go too deeply into how Sidney Crosby comported himself on the ice. True, he did score. But he behaved the way a 4 year old does when he doesn't get his way. And for the leading star, supposedly, in the NHL, this is not what they needed. Did Wayne Gretzky ever shove away a players glove? Or pull a player down by his hair? No. And Sidney Crosby did just that.

But let's look at what's really important. Giroux had a break out series. And not just as a player, but as a leader. He had goals, he had assists, he stood up for his team mates. He did everything Flyers fans wanted Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to do. And most importantly, when the team needed a lift after 2 straight losses, he asked for the spotlight. He asked for the first shift, he wanted to make something happen. And he did. 32 second into game 6, Giroux, scored a goal. And the Flyers never looked back.

So are they ready for the rest of the playoffs? I think so. They have a proven leader in Claude Giroux. They have veteran talent in Talbot, Jagr, and Timmonen. And they have rising young stars like Sean Coturier, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds to provide that youthful energy. And now that they have beaten a team loaded with stars, the have the confidence they need to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Philadelphia Union vs. Chivas U.S.A. Recap

So they've won two straight. It's a 3 game undefeated streak. And Union fans can now see a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. Not only is it 2 wins in a row, its 3 straight shutouts. Zac MacMath has been stellar in net. And the Union backline, even without Captain Danny Califf, has returned to its 2011 form. A fearsome foursome that offenses need to respect. And speaking of offenses...

The Union have finally scored another goal from the run of play. And it was a beauty. Michael Farfan had some of the best footwork I've seen from a Union player all year to set up Freddy Adu's nifty backheel goal. And what a relief it was. The Union have really needed 2 things. A goal from the run of play, and for Freddy Adu to step up and play like the player we've expected him to become.

The only problem for the Union was possession. Part of that could be due to the 2 men the Union had sent off. Gabe Farfan and Keon Daniel were both shown red. And Peter Nowak was ejected for entering the field of play. Both cards were easily avoidable, and both cards were deserved. But it brought the Union down to 9 men, and that seriously hampered the Union ability to hold on to the ball. But again, the defense stepped it up, and MacMath stopped shots, and kept the Union in the lead.

This victory was important for a number of reasons. The Union have not been able to reliably pick up points on the West Coast, and 3 points from Chivas is exactly what the Union needed. It also allowed them to move up in the standings, picking us up out of the basement. Are the Union a top team in the East? They are no match for Kansas City, that's for sure, but they are not a cellar dweller either. And if they continue to gel as a team, they can continue to climb in the standings. And finally, it let the offense know that they can score through the run of play. And if they weren't down men in the second half, who knows what could have happened. All I know, is I'm a lot more excited for the coming matches than I have been in a long time.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Philadelphia Union vs. Chivas U.S.A.

So we have a match against Chivas U.S.A. this weekend. This is a big game for the Union. Especially because we need to score a goal in the run of play. I think every Union fan was relieved to see a goal from Gomez, even if it was from the penalty spot. And the offense had chances, they just couldn't finish again. So now is your chance to do what the Union can't. Pick the player who will score the first goal this weekend against Chivas U.S.A., and you'll win a brand new white Philadelphia Union hat. Or blue if that's you style. Leave your guess in the comments, and your color preference, and after Saturday's match, the hat will be yours if you can guess correctly.

Or if you prefer...
Leave you guess in the comment below, and good luck!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

5 Keys to Game 4

Let's face it. Tonight is a decisive game for the Flyers. They can close out the series in 4 games tonight. They can eliminate the odds on cup favorite tonight. But the Penguins aren't going to go down without a fight. Literally and figuratively. So here are the 5 players the game hinges on.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins has played terribly for the first 3 games in this series. And if the Penguins expect to extend their season by even a game, Fleury needs to turn his play around. Fleury is a Stanley Cup winner, so he knows what it takes to get there. But his play has not been up to par. In fact, his play has been some of the worst in recent Cup playoff memory. And I don't think that terrible play will extend to 4 games. I don't think he'll be perfect, but I also don't foresee another 8 goal game for the Flyers. Which brings us to important player number 2.

2. Ilya Bryzgalov
Bryzgalov has played well enough to win in this series. But that won't be good enough tonight. Bryzgalov and the Flyers have allowed the first goal in every game this series. That also won't be good enough tonight. Tonight the Flyers need a game from the Bryzgalov we were seeing a month ago. A shutout would be nice, but I would settle for only allowing a goal or two. Regardless, i don't think the 4th game will be the goal fest that the first 3 have been. So a good game in net is imperative for Bryz.

3. Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux has been a dominant force in this series. He has a hat trick. He also has a Gordie Howe hat trick. But more importantly, he has been unstoppable in this series. He is racking up the playoff points and goals. And he is establishing himself as a true force in the NHL. A player who can take a hit, get back up, and take it to the opponent. It's time for the Penguins to wake up and realize that Giroux is coming. And a goal or two tonight will go a long way in deciding this series.

4. Sidney Crosby

You can admire his fine ability to grow a playoff beard in the picture above. But regardless of facial hair prowess, when Crosby isn't acting like a child who can hide behind Mommy's, I mean the refs legs, Crosby is a scoring force on the ice. And if he realizes that he can do his team more good scoring than he can trying to start a fight, this could be a long game for the Flyers. The Penguins offense shows up for the 1st period of every game, then strangely disappears. If Crosby decides to play a whole game, and can convince a couple of other Penguins to do the same, they can make this a tough go for the Flyers.

5. Malkin vs. Coturier
 Evgeni Malkin was unstoppable in the regular season. No one scored more goals than he did. And coming into this playoff series, the biggest worry among many for the Flyers was how to stop him. In stepped Sean Coturier, a 19 year old rookie. Most people would have hoped for a goal a game with a rookie sticking to Malkin. But he has been stymied by Coturier. A couple of assists is all he's shown in this series. In fact, Coturier has been the better player in this series. He's notched his first career hat trick in this series, and held the NHL's top scorer to practically nothing. If he can keep this up, The Flyers should be in good shape tonight.
So there you have it. The Flyers have a chance to close out the series, and give themselves a little rest. Thoroughly deserved rest. With how physical the playoffs have been so far, rest could give the Flyers a decisive advantage in the 2nd round of the playoffs. So here's my prediction, 3-2 Flyers. Get out the brooms Philly, we're going to the 2nd round.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On the Verge of a Sweep

The Flyers are on the verge of sweeping the Penguins out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And it's been a rough go for the Penguins. The Flyers have scored 20 goals in 3 games. They've come back to take the lead against the Penguins in every game. And the Penguins are frustrated and showing it. Players who are know throughout the league are venting and losing their cool. Sidney Crosby is the biggest offender. Little things, like flicking away a glove, seem to be the actions of a petulant child, not the League's favored son.

But other Penguins are getting in on the fun too. Aaron Asham smashed some faces. And James Neal launched one of the most unnecessary hits I've ever seen on Sean Coturier. And its hits like this that worry me. Because the Flyers, despite their reputation, have been playing a clean series. But the Penguins have not. And now the Penguins face elimination.

And with the way the Flyers have been scoring, the Penguins could know before the final seconds that their season is done. And if they were willing to perpetrate vicious, uncalled for, blindside hits on Flyers while their season still has a chance at survival, what will they do if they find themselves down 3 goals with a period left? The optimist in me says that they will play a clean game, and try to come back. Fight the valiant fight, but go down in the end.

The realist in me knows that they won't do that. That every Penguin from Sidney Crosby on down will be looking for a chance to take a cheap shot, a low blow, a slash, hell, maybe even pull some hair like a little girl(Crosby). And the Flyers know this too. So I have 2 hopes for this game. The first would be a clean sweep, and an end to what has become a very violent series. The other is a game that the Flyers escape injury free. Regardless of the outcome, the Penguins seem to think the only way they can win is knock out key Flyers. So the Flyers need to be prepared for that. And if the Pens do goon it up?

Sid the Kid better look out.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Philadelphia Union vs. Cloumbus Crew Recap

Well I was wrong. And I was wrong on a lot of things. First of all, I thought Danny Mwanga would start up top with Lionard Pajoy. He didn't Nowak went with yet another formation. I also thought that the Union offense would find a way to open up the scoring again, but they didn't. Not that the game was a poor effort. Far from it in fact.

First off, lets give kudos where they are deserved. Even with a pregame injury to Captain Danny Califf, the back line performed well for the Union. The Crew created a couple of tense moments, but the Union defensively are looking better every game. Whether this is a function of playing with 4 instead of 3 on the backline, or shaking off the rust a weak preseason didn't, I couldn't tell you. But I do know that the Union defense has pitched 2 straight shutouts, and they look like they are spoiling for a fight.

And Zack MacMath has performed well too. I think the defense and MacMath are complementing each other well. When MacMath knows he has quality on the line in front of him, he plays better. He makes gutsy calls in net, and comes off his line to make key saves. Against Vancouver, he stopped Le Toux on two occasions, and he continued this trend against the Crew, coming off his line to make a fantastic save. So defensively, the Union are looking more and more like the Beast of the East they were last season. And boy do the Union need it.

Because the offense can't produce. The midfield performed better this week. There is no denying that. Crosses were on point, through balls were so close. But the Union offense just cannot seem to put the ball in the back of the net. Gomez scored his second goal of the season on a PK that was just pretty to watch if you were a Union fan. But the Union continue to be unable to produce a goal in the run of play. And I can't for the life of me figure out why. Because they had chances in this game.

Pajoy had a beautiful ball come to him in the area, he played it off his chest, but couldn't settle it for a shot. Michael Farfan split defenders to take a shot that curled just wide of the post. And Adu sent a beautiful cross off his left foot to a streaking Keon Daniel who headed the ball just over the crossbar.  So the chances are there. And just like last season, the Union can't seem to finish them. Defensively, this team is beginning to return to their form last season. Unfortunately, the offense is doing the same thing.

So what can they do to convert these chances? I wish I knew. I think Peter Nowak would like to know too. Because the Union are taking chances. The defense is stopping balls. the midfield is feeding the balls in to the area, and putting players in good position. And players are taking shots. Pajoy is trying, Farfan is trying, it's clear the effort is there. No one is denying that. This team does not look like they did at the start of the season. But the finishing isn't. And they won't be able to take that next step until the goals start coming.

You Can't Beat Us

That's the chant that the Penguins heard as the 3rd period came to an end. And as they skated off the ice, the Penguins had to be wondering if that was true. For the third game in a row, they had taken an early lead. And for the third game in a row, they had been completely blown off the ice. Another beatdown by the Flyers, and this time Fleury was forced from the ice. 8-4 was the final score. This playoff series has shown the best and worst of NHL playoff hockey. Lets take a look.

The Best
1. Young Talent
The Flyers are putting on an offensive clinic. And much of there scoring has come from young players. Most notable was a hat trick from rookie Sean Coturier. But the Flyers have had other young players getting in on the action. Wayne Simmonds has made contributions. Even though he isn't a rookie, rising young star Claude Giroux has been a dominating force this postseason. He has a hat trick in game 2, and a Gordie Howe hat trick in game 3. The Flyers are using young talent to take it to the Penguins.

2. The Fans
I'm not normally one to complement another city's fans. But the Pittsburgh fans showed a lot of spirit, especially after hearing Bryzgalov's comment about being more afraid of a bear in the woods than of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And what can be said about Flyer's fans that hasn't already been said? That building was rocking today, and the fans came out in force and in orange. The crowd looked great on TV, and had to be getting into the Penguins heads. The NHL cannot ask for more from the fans of either city. Great enthusiasm in both cities, and there have been no stories about fan violence. Everyone enjoys a good hockey game, even if it doesn't go the way of the home team.

The Worst
1. The Violence
This series was predicted to be a rough one. And I'm not one to shy away from rough hockey. But the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs has been unusually rough, and the Flyers vs. Penguins series has been no exception. But the surprise today was who was perpetrating the violence. Yes, 4th liners were mixing it up, everyone expected that. But this game had someone else involved in the fighting that no one expected to see.

That's right. NHL darling Sidney Crosby has officially started to throw temper tantrums. His team is losing. And in the worst way possible. So what is the answer from the Penguins and Sidney Crosby? Cheap shots and violence. Sidney Crosby flipped away the glove of a Flyer to try to get a rise out of the Flyers. Then he fought Claude Giroux. And all the while, you couldn't help but watch and think, what the hell are you doing Crosby?

I'm no Crosby fan, I won't make any false positions about my own views. But he always seemed to be a player who tried to emulate Gretzky. Score lots of goals, get lots of calls to go his way, but stay out hte rough stuff. That's the job for his 4th liners. But today Crosby was a weasel. No other word for it. A weasel. He instigated fights behind the refs backs, then backed out of the way and let his goons take over. He whined. He was exactly the kind of player everyone loves to hate. And he did it out of frustration.

Which is exactly the opposite of what a true great like Gretzky would have done. Sometimes you just need to take your lumps, and move on with life. Not whine because a team is playing far better than yours. Instead of pulling hair or starting fights, inspire your team. Play good hockey, do your part, and try to bring your team back. I don't want the Penguins to win, but if they keep playing this way, both teams are going to lose. The Penguins will lose, simply because they are losers. The Flyers will lose because the Penguins have become head hunters, and seem to be out for blood.

So there you have it. A great series so far to watch. Goals galore. Fans any team would be proud. And one whiny little b***h who can't seem to get over the fact that the Flyers aren't rolling over and losing to him, simply because he wears 87.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Can You Believe It???

I can't. The Flyers did it again. They came back again. Down 3-1 at the end of the 1st period, they came roaring back to win game 2 8-5. You read that right, 8-5. And game 2 can be summed up with the play of one player.
Sean Coturier had the game of his career, and it was at a vital time. he held the league points leader Evgeni Malkin to 2 assists. But more importanly, Coturier scored his first career hat trick. Away. In the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's right. A 19 year old rookie scored a hat trick while leading his team to an 8-5 victory in a hostile Pittsburgh, and helped his team take a commanding 2-0 lead in the playoff series with the Pens.

But this game was not without its flaws for the Flyers. Bryzgalov made some amazing saves, but he also let in 5 goals. And they weren't all his fault, the defense needs to answer for some of those goals as well. And the Flyers had to fight back from a deficit again. I know they have the nickname the Comeback Kids, but that can only last for so long. Now that the series is back in Philadelphia, I want to see the Flyers play with the same passion and intensity for 3 periods in Philadelphia, as opposed to the 2 periods of passion we've seen in Pittsburgh.

But you can't argue with results. People had the Penguins pegged as a Cup favorite, a hot team with a returning superstar in Sidney Crosby who would steamroll the Flyers. But the opposite has been true. Despite falling behind by multiple goals in the first two games, the Flyers have made the Penguins pay on home ice. Now the series comes back to Philly, and Flyers fans are excited to see a team who doesn't quit take it to the Penguins on home ice.

Philadelphia Union vs Columbus Crew Preview

  It's that time again. Time for another match preview. The Union are set to host the Columbus Crew. Everybody knows the story for the Union so far. Turmoil. in the lineup, on the field, in the media, turmoil everywhere. Is Nowak's system working? Is Danny Califf injured? Can Zack MacMath handle his role? Can the Union score? Who knows, no, yes, and God I hope so. But the Columbus Crew are a different story. They are .500. They play solid defense, and they don't score much. But their last game holds a key for the Union.

 The New York Red Bulls showed the way to beat the Crew. Attack. Early and Often. If we can get behind the defense, we can score. I realize that this seems pretty basic. But the Crew broke down after New York scored their opening goal. And New York could pile on the pressure and score the goals. And the Union need to exploit this. We need to strike quick, and then let the Crew take chances. Once they are taking chances, we can set up attacking runs to cut through their midfield and defense, since they will have to push to keep up. Despite their record, the Crew are not an offensive juggernaut. Nor have they beaten quality opponent,s with victories over cellar dwelling Toronto F.C. and the Montreal Impact.

Now I realize this is bold statement, since the Union currently reside in the cellar as well. But I've seen good things from the Union in the past 2 matches. They've had good  chances, and good offensive possession. All they need is for a couple of breaks to go their way. And to me, the stars are aligning this weekend. Think about. A home match after a week off. Olympic qualifying players are back. And a lot of time to work on offense. If the Union don't come out firing tomorrow, I'll be sorely disappointed. And I realize I have been down on the Union in my predictions the last couple of matches. But this week feels different. This week has potential I haven't seen in the last few matches.

In front of a raucous crowd, and a pumped up Sons of Ben, I think the Union will roll. 3-1 Union, with goals by Pajoy and Mwanga. And MacMath will have a solid game in net, only allowing 1 goal in. The Union will never fall behind, and will press their chances, and have a couple close balls. This game could easily end 5-1 if everything goes the Union's way.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Other 4v5 series and the laughable NHL Playoff Structure

This a guest post from a good friend and reader, Eric Pecuch. Enjoy guys!

A Bourque comes through in the playoffs
            The Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings put on a show for a sold out crowd at Bridgestone Arena.  In a game full of late 3rd period drama, Gabriel Bourque scored 2 goals, including the game winner, and put the Nashville Predators up 1-0 in the series.  The game also showcased two of the league’s better goaltenders in Jimmy Howard and Pekka Rinne, who made 26 and 35 saves respectively.  Paul Gaustad struck first for the Preds after netting a goal that neatly deflected past Jimmy Howard.  Henrik Zetterberg equalized in the second period putting the game back to the stalemate that it had been all game.  It was at that point that the game’s number 1 star came alive and scored his 2 goals to put the game out of reach for Detroit.  Thomas Holmstrom scored a consolation power play goal for Detroit with just over 2 minutes to go.  The Preds killed off a late 5 on 3 power play as well as a second power play as time expired to send the 17,000 fans at Bridgestone Arena home happy.

Special Teams dominated the game

            After the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL advertised itself as “The New NHL”, a league where the stars would shine and the game would be cleaned up.  The games that following season were officiated on a much finer line, and penalties were called more frequently.  Game 1 sure looked like a game in The New NHL; neither team appeared to be able to gain any momentum due to the constant stoppage of play.  Nashville and Detroit were the league’s two least penalized teams during the regular season, but neither team showed it tonight.  The teams combined for 17 penalties and a dreadful pace that put training wheels on a game that could have possibly stolen the show from the Flyers and Penguins.

Problems with the NHL playoff structure

            Both the NSH/DET and PHI/PIT games bring to the light the huge flaw in the NHL playoff structure.  In the last 5 years of the NHL playoffs, the 3 seed has had a lower point total than the 4 seed in 8 of the 10 conference finishes.  The Predators and Red Wings are rewarded with each other, while 6th place Chicago is rewarded with a series against the inferior Phoenix Coyotes.  Similarly in the Eastern Conference, The Flyers and Penguins are forced to square off, while New Jersey is rewarded for its inferior season with a laughable series with the Florida Panthers.  It is especially evident this season in which both the Atlantic and Central divisions have 4 teams that have eclipsed the 100 point plateau.   In the current playoff structure, the champions of the Southeast division (Florida) and Pacific division (Phoenix), neither of which reached 100 points, leapfrog 6 of the teams that did reach 100 points in the regular season. 

            Don’t expect the problem of the NHL playoff structure to change anytime soon, even if the league goes through with its proposed new conference realignment the Central and Atlantic divisions will be the victims yet again.  Even if the team executives vote to push through the new alignment, there will still be injustice.  In the new realignment the league would be broken down into 4 smaller conferences.  Each conference sends 4 teams to the playoffs and the first 2 rounds are exclusively in-conference.  One of the conferences would be:  Philadelphia, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Carolina and Washington.  Good luck getting out of that conference.  Similarly another conference would be:  Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas, and Winnipeg.  Good luck getting out of that division as well.  So years down the road when the Flyers are battling year in and year out with Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey and the Rangers just to get out of the conference, teams like Boston can cakewalk past under 100 point teams and find themselves deep in the playoffs on a consistent basis.  Moral of the story, it will be tougher for an Atlantic or a Central division team to win the Stanley Cup every year, no matter what the league playoff format looks like. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And They Win!!!

The Flyers did it. Even though they did exactly the opposite of what I said they needed to do. They went down 3-0 by the end of the 1st period. 3-0. You don't come back from down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Unless that is you're this guy.
Danny Briere is the biggest reason the Flyers won tonight. Say what you will about his regular season play. yes he had a very long goal slump. No he did not produce the way he has in seasons past. But come playoff time, Briere knows how to turn it on. And tonight was no exception. He scored the Flyers first two goal, and brought life back into a team that looks disorganized and lost after the 1st period.

So what does this mean for the series? It's a good start. The Flyers have played well on the road, and have dominated the Penguins in Pittsburgh. But you don't come back from down 3-0 in the playoffs often.(Unless it's game 7, and you're down 3-0 in Boston.) So as nice as it is that the Flyers won this game, they need to carry the 2nd and 3rd period play into the next game. Because the Penguins aren't going to let them come back twice.

So overall it was a decent game for the Flyers. Neither team played a full 60 minutes. The Flyers just had the good fortune of playing the better part of their game at the end instead of in the 1st period. But the Penguins won't let that happen again. And make no mistake, this will not be a sweep for the Flyers. The Penguins have too strong a lineup to let that happen, and they have too much firepower. I would like to see one less goal a game from Bryzgalov and I think the Flyers can win this in 6. If he keeps letting 3 in the net though, this series will go to game 7, and at that point it's a coin flip. 

So a good start for the Flyers. Now we just need to build on it.

If the Union Can Learn One Thing From This Flyers Game...

It's that scoring matters. The Flyers have looked much better in the 2nd period. They've held possession. They've dictated tempo. Much like the Union have in their matches. In fact, if you look at the Union and the Flyers, you can't help but see the similarities. Both are teams built around a young core. Both teams have had trouble scoring. The only difference is that the Flyers have figured out how to score and the Union have not.
So what do the Union have to do? Simple. They need to do what the Flyers did, and rely on their young talent to carry the load. Stop fiddling with the starting 11. Danny Mwanga has the talent and the guts to make a good striker. But he needs to be in the match to take shots. Same thing with the Farfan brothers. And with Torres and Okugo. The young players for the Union have a lot of promise. And I know the season is young, and a few matches won could see the Union climbing the table. But did anyone pay attention to the reserve match?

That's what I want to see. A young team with a lot of fight and fire. A team that scores. A lot. A team that works together, plays balls up through the midfield, and controls the run of play. Did I mention that they score, by the way? And if Nowak really wants to go to a young team, that's what he needs to do. Go young, I'm all for it. But keep the same starting 11, and let them gel as unit. Give them a chance.

Besides, it's not like they'll score less.

Flyers vs. Penguins Preview

This post isn't just a preview for game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's a preview for the series. And it's going to be one helluva series. As the world knows, there is no love lost between the Pen and the Flyers. The Penguins, to Flyers fans, are a bunch of pretty boys who the refs always make calls for. Kind of like this guy.
And let's face it. He always gets the call.

This is of course contrasted by what Pittsburgh fans think of Philly. A though most people share about the Flyers. When they think Flyers, they think of this.
And let's face it. Philly fans like that teams fear us. And that's what I want to see from the Penguins tonight. Fear. And I want to see fight from the Flyers. Not fisticuffs, because that will only benefit the Penguins. With NHL darling Crosby on the ice, most calls will go the way of the Penguins. So the Flyers need to play efficient hockey, protect the puck, and score. They need to score first too. The Penguins have a high powered offense, and Malkin and Crosby are the focal point for their offense. So the Flyers need to nip that in the bud, and score first. If they can play a clean game, and score first just 4 times, they will win this series.

And hopefully push Crosby around a little bit in the process.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Can the Union score? Of course they can, provided the reserve squad is the squad on the field. The reserve squad played to a dominating 4-2 victory over the New England Revolution reserve side. And in doing so, they double the offensive output of the big boys by 2 to 1. In one game. And the main squad has had 4 games. So what did we learn from this game?

1. Josue Martinez deserves a shot to start.
And I think he should be paired with Danny Mwanga. Call me crazy, but if Nowak wants to go with youth, stick Danny out there with him. I want to see the Union play an up tempo game, and Danny loves to run. And the Union today stated they wanted to play an uptempo game. "It's something (coach John Hackworth) always tries to push," Burke explained. "We talked about it in the locker room today: tempo. We talk about tempo all the time, and finding a rhythm. Everyone (was playing) one or two touch passes in our middle third and our defensive third, and it was just about connecting the dots and moving the pieces around defensively.  hat's where you see the windows start to open up and we can use a guy like Antoine, a guy like Chandler (Hoffman), a guy like Josue. They all did well today." So Martinez can play uptempo and score. So lets see what Danny and Josue can do. The very idea of it gets my blood racing.

2. Amobi Okugo looks good.
 Really good. I think he deserves a chance too. i know the midfield seems to be a little crowded., with Adu, Okugo, Gomez, Torres, Carroll, and the Farfan brothers all fighting for spots. But if the downward trend continues for the starting 11, lets give Okugo a chance, and see what he can do. Because after a 4 goal performance from the offence today, and a clicking offense running through him, I'm willing to give Okugo a shot in place of Adu to see if he can jump start the offense a bit.

3.  Nowak may be on to something.
I didn't think I would be saying that any time soon this season. But he may be on to something. Our young guys looked good. Really good. The offense was up tempo and attacking. If you take a away a controversial  penalty that resulted in a goal in the first half, the Union backline allowed only 1 goal in the game. So the young guys are good. And maybe we aren't seeing that product on the field just yet. but Nowak wants a young, attacking team. And his reserve squad appears to have all the pieces he needs. Now he just needs to figure out how transfer the tempo and play up to the first squad.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Flyers Punch Their Playoff Ticket

And this is the guy we have to thank. Not that the issue was really in doubt, of course the Flyers were going to the playoffs. But who they were playing was still a question. And what seed they were. But with a 2-1 win over Buffalo, and a penguin victory, the Flyers have locked up the 5th seed in the East and a 1st round date with the Penguins. But before they can dance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they need to finish off the regular season. 

At Pittsburgh.

The Flyers have dominated the season series with the Pens, and are undefeated this season in the 'burgh. And I have no reason to think this dominance will end. Ilya Bryzgalov played a fantastic game last night, and despite his injury, he looks ready for the playoffs. What I'm worried about in Pittsburgh is a goon game. The final minutes of the last Flyers-Pens game provided a lot of highlights for a big hit and the ensuing fight. And Laviolette standing on the bench, trying to get at the Penguins coaching staff. And that's exactly what we can't have.

The Flyers season has already been marred by injury. Pronger is out for who knows how long, and pretty much every skill player has spent time injured this season. NHL hockey is a rough game, and that's to be expected. But since neither team has anything to gain but pride from this game, and the Pens have been losing to Philly all season, I expect the Pens to come out swinging. Literally. 

If the Flyers can make it through this game against the Pens without any injuries, I think they have a clear advantage in the 1st round. A dominant season over the Penguins, undefeated in Pittsburgh, and playing as the lower seed means the Flyers appear to have an advantage in the 1st round. But nothing is certain in playoff hockey.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Opening Day

Can any Philly sports blog ignore the magic that is opening day? I know I can't. And as a novice baseball at most, I'll tell you what I know about opening day.

1. This guy is a beast.
8 Innings pitched. 5 strike outs. No walks. No runs scored. What else can you ask for from your opening day starter. For people who are worried about the Phillies offense, and a 1-0 win might back them up, 1 out of every 5 games you have this guy on the mound. And he can deal. Roy Halladay is arguably the best pitcher in the major leagues right now, and he showed it today. People might say his velocity is low, that he likes to pitch too many innings. But Roy Halladay is a machine. And his only job is to mow down opposing lineups. And a 2 hit shutout through 8 innings is a great start for the Doc.

2. This guy was worth the money.
Papelbon came in to the game in the 9th inning. And got his first save of the season in his first game. But more importantly, when Charlie Manuel went to the bullpen for Papelbon, the crowd and Manuel weren;t holding their breath. They knew what they would get. A solid 9th inning with no runs scored. And Papelbon delivered. Which is exactly what we are paying him for, and exactly what we need this season.

3.The offense still needs work.
The offense still needs work. Without Utley or Howard, the offense is nothing to be feared. The Phillies already had a fearsome rotation, but they need to rely on it even more now that their 2 star offensive players are out. And other players will need to step up. Will the offense run solely through Howard and Utley? No. But unless Hunter Pence and others can pick it up, there are going to be a lot of tense, low scoring games for the Phillies this season.

So how do the Phillies look this season? They are 1-0. And they can only go up from here. Will they go 162-0? No. Will they win the NL East? Yes. With their pitching, both starters and bullpen, the Phillies are still a force in the NL East. And no one will beat them. It will be closer than years past, but not by much. I might be optimistic here, but I'll give my win total prediction for the regular season. And this win total will win the NL East.

97 wins.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

After a Month...

The Union are still searching for their first victory. They have 1 point through 4 matches. And their defense has been porous. But at least the Vancouver match gave Union fans a little hope. But one thing on the sideline keeps me from being too optimistic about this season for the Union.
The coach. Who has refused to play the same lineup, shuffled positions, shuffled formations, and kept out the captain of the team for an injury I'm still not sure actually existed. And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying just putting Danny Califf in would have won us a match. But it definitely would have helped the backline. Instead of playing a 3 man backline, where everyone was weak because it was something the Union weren't used to playing. Now with a 4 man backline of Valdes, Williams, Califf, and Lopez, we only have to worry about Lopez letting people get the edge on him. One weak link is better than 3 weak links.

Then we come to someone who started the season, and appeared like they were going to be a problem.
But i think MacMath's problems were an extension of the defensive problems. I think defensive lapses left him out of position, and also left him feeling a heavier weight on his shoulders than he really needed to bear. When he had a solid defensive backline in front of him against Vancouver, he played well. He made great saves against a returning Le Toux,  He looked like the goalie we expected him to be. And I think this is the MacMath we will see for the rest of the season.

The only thing left to address is what's in front of the defense. And that needs work. Not on the skill. I think the strikers have the skill to score. I think Adu can be a presence in the midfield. And Okugo, Daniel, and the Farfans look solid. What the attack and midfield need is some confidence. The confidence to pull the trigger more often, and the confidence that when they do, they'll put the ball in the net. And the only way to get that confidence is to play. The defense and keeping can improve with the week off. The offense needs to score against a real opponent to get their confidence up. 

And once they get their confidence? Look out, this team will climb the rankings.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2nd Intermission Update

Well the Flyers are fighting back. 2 goals, including a goal by this guy:

But it's kind of tough to beat a team that has this guy on their team:

Normally I'm not a guy to complain about refs. Refs are human, you deal with them. But when 3 players get in a scuffle, 2 Rangers and 1 Flyer, and only the Flyer gets a penalty? And the Rangers score on the ensuing power play? Come on guys, that's just crazy.

The 3rd period looms, lets see if the Flyers can turn it up and get back in this game.

After the 1st...

Now I'm not one to post during game time. Twitter yes, and you can follow me on twitter, @ugroundphilly, but not a blog post. But this game is atrocious. Penalties eveywhere. Bryz let in 4 goals on 11 shots.
But for once I'm not blaming Bryzgalov. He's hurt. get him out of that game and let him heal. Could he start this game, and possibly win? Yes. Should he have? No.

And the rest of the team needs to step up. 4 goals is not all the goalies fault. Penalties are flying around all over place. The Flyers look disorganized. 

They need to step it up.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers Preview

This is the 80th game of the Flyers seasson. Just one game. But is is infinitely more important than that. Because it really boils down to a match up of 2 men.
The hottest goalie of the season:

vs. the hottest goalie of the past month:
Can Bryzgalov and the Flyers finally get a win against the Rangers? The Rangers have had the Flyers number all season. Undefeated against Philadelphia. But the Rangers haven't faced the rejuvenated Ilya Bryzgalov. Who despite a small fracture in his foot, has been the best goalie in the NHL in March.

And the Flyers have been scoring behind him too. In the past few weeks, they've played exceptionally well. And a 6-4 win against the streaking Penguins was a bright spot for the Flyers. They came back from down 2-0 in the first period to win in convincing fashion, And after a couple of rough hits at the very end of the 3rd period, the Flyers defended their turf too. A hit on Danny Briere in retribution for a hit on Sidney Crosby led to the Flyers 1st line fight the Pittsburgh goon 4th line. But they stood up for their team mate.

The question remains. The Flyers can clearly beat their in-state rivals and likely first round opponents. They've been doing it all season. But can they beat the Rangers? A team they haven't beaten all year? A victory against the Rangers in the last week of the season would not just help out the standings, it would also help out the psyche of the Flyers. A chink in the armor as it were. The knowledge that, behind the solid goalkeeping of Bryzgalov, the Flyers can beat the Rangers in a play off game.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Heading into the Playoffs

I realize I have been concentrating a lot on the Union lately. And with good reason. Off to a terrible start, the Union and their seemingly self destructive head coach are in a bad spot.

The exact opposite is true of the Flyers.

The Flyers are looking to skate into the postseason on a strong note. My previous articles about Bryzgalov? Apparently it was all in his head. And as scary as that is, his head seems to be in the right spot right now. And so do the rest of the Flyers. Goals aplenty are being scored. At the end of last night's game, a vicious hit at the end of the 3rd period brought the whole team together to defend each other. Hell, even Laviolette got in on the action, yelling at the Pittsburgh bench.

So what does this mean for Flyers fans? Hang on to your hats, its going to be a great post season. All Year, the Flyers have shown the ability to come back in games. And they can score. And now they have a hot goalie. They are going to be a dangerous team come playoff time. Any team with a goalie playing like Bryzgalov has to be a formidable opponent, especially in the opening round.

We'll know more after the last few games of the regular season. Can the Flyers finally beat the Rangers? Will they take 5 of 6 regular season match ups against the Pens? And who will they face in the opening round?

It's shaping up to be one hell of a final week.

Can The Union Pull the Trigger?

After reading an article over at The Philly Soccer Page, I came across a little statistic that is both shocking and expected this season. The Union haven't scored in 203 minutes.

That's right. 203 minutes!

As a Union fan, I've become accustomed to low scoring games. The Union made their way through last season on low scoring games. As long as the defense and Mondragon did their job last season, someone would poach a goal, and we would eke out a 1 goal victory.

This season? Well, Saturday the defense and MacMath did their job. They kept the ball out of the back of the net. And looked good doing it, might I add. The defensive display Saturday, minus the play of Lopez, was exactly what I wanted to see. And MacMath looked strong in net. I give credit where credit is due, and he played a helluva game Saturday. No one on the defense is looking back at the first few games, or suffering confidence problems.

No, the confidence problem seems to be on the attacking side of the ball. And there a lot of reasons for it. The strikers are not getting the best looks. Long balls dumped to Pajoy can work, but when that seems to be your entire offensive plan at times, it becomes very predictable. Starters being swapped needs to stop. Nowak needs to pick out 2 strikers. At this point, I don't even care who. I would pick Pajoy and Mwanga. And he needs to start the same formation for at least 3 games in a row. Let the attack gel and find their feet. Let them anticipate the moves their team mates will make.

But instead, formations change. Starters change. I can't wait for Chandler Hoffman to make an impact. But we needed that win Saturday. And Danny Mwanga on the field would have given us a better chance. He has experience against MLS competition, and he takes shots. Something the Union seemed afraid to do Saturday. Almost as though they have scared themselves into believing that they can't score, so they don't even try. Getting the ball into the attacking third is not their problem. Finishing is.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Philadelphia Union vs. Vancouver White Caps Recap

So I was wrong.

There. I said it. Did we win? No, the Union didn't win. But we did tie. We held a team with a crippled attack to no goals. Which is exactly what we should have done. And it is something we haven't done all season. Our backline, finally at full strength, performed the way it should. And Zack MacMath, with said backline in front of him, played well. He had a daring save on Le Toux in the early going, and it seemed to set the stage for him. I don't know if it was this save, or the full strength backline, but defense was not a worry for me on Saturday.\

Unfortunately, our downfall was, as it always is, finishing chances. And don't think for a second the Union aren't in position. Because they are. They just don't pull the trigger. I'm not sure what the problem is, but there are plenty of them. Pajoy does not have support in the area. He's good, and he could be great in the MLS, but he can't do it alone. Danny Mwanga needs to be his partner. And Nowak has a habit of not starting Mwanga.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Chandler Hoffman pick. I still love it. I just don't think Saturday was the right time to start an untested rookie. A visiting West Coast team, with a depleted attack comes in to visit, and Nowak puts in a rookie? i don't understand it. I'll give Danny Mwanga credit, he is not afraid to take a shot. And that's what the Union need.

This team is a team on the brink. And it's a good brink. The defense showed a return to form this weekend. MacMath looked good in goal. I'm not worried about this team losing games 4-3.

But I am worried about losing them 1-0. But from the looks of the attack, and the hesitation they show, all they need is one goal, and more will come. It will open the floodgates, so to speak. But to score that goal, the Union need to stop hesitating. Take a shot. Sure the keeper might grab it, but he might not. Or there might be a rebound opportunity for someone to clean up. Until someone takes the shot, we'll never know.

So overall, this was a good weekend for the Union. They showed more promise today than they have all season. The defense looked great. MacMath looked like the goalie we need him to be.

All we need now is some offense.