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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lecavalier centers on Flyers' positives

By JACK McCAFFERY @JackMcCaffery
PHILADELPHIA — Throughout his successful NHL career, Vinny Lecavalier scored almost all of his goals from a position in the center of a line.
So it would be Sunday, when he scored career goals No. 400 and 401 in the Flyers’ 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Boston Bruins.
Though he’d had some success this season as the left wing on a line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, Lecavalier has spent the last two games centering Adam Hall and Zac Rinaldo. Sunday, he scored early and late, including with 24.1 seconds left in the third, forcing overtime.
"I’ve always said it," Lecavalier said. "I’ve always played middle. Being on the wing is not natural. But wherever I’m put, I’ll do my best to try to be good at it."
Lecavalier scored 5:25 into the game, then in the final minute. He was unable, however, to beat Tuukka Rask with his shootout opportunity, thus making his milestone a bit wobbly.
"You always want the two points," he said. "I think we played a very good game. We had a lot of shots and a lot of opportunities. Rask made some really key saves for them. I think we’re happy with that one point. We would have liked to get that second one but we’ve got some big games coming up and every point is important. So tonight that one point was important. Now we have to move on and think about our next game."
Some day — not soon, but some day — Lecavalier will look back at a career good for 401 goals … and very likely more, now that he is a centerman again.
"Yeah, it’s a great honor," he said. "But I have to move on now. It felt great. I never thought when I was 18 years old when I got in the league that I would get there. I am very proud."
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After playing deep into his fourth season as a Flyer, Andrej Meszaros was traded to the Bruins March 5 for a conditional third-round draft pick.
Upon his return to the Wells Fargo Center, it took the veteran defenseman all of 10:43 to score a goal.
"It was special because you get traded and not even a month later you’re playing your old teammates so it’s still fresh," Meszaros said. "I had fun out there. The goal is nice. But two points is way better."
Meszaros had five goals in 38 games this season for the Flyers. He has two in nine games for Boston.
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The Flyers did not beat the Bruins Sunday. That hardly makes them unique.
Boston has won 15 of its last 16, and has achieved at least a point in every one. The Bruins extended their road winning streak to nine Sunday, a franchise record.
"They’re deep," Craig Berube said. "They have four good lines. They’re obviously solid on defense. Their goaltending is very solid. And it’s just a solid all-around team. They play their system to a ‘T’, no matter what. They don’t vary from it and they’re a very competitive, heavy team."
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NOTES: Lecavalier had his second multi-goal game for the Flyers. He had a hat trick Oct. 26 on Long Island. He also took a team-high nine shots … Steve Downie missed his fourth consecutive game with an upper-body injury widely believe to be concussion related … Adam Hall was 5-for-5 on faceoffs … The Flyers will pose for their annual team photo Monday at the Wells Fargo Center and visit the St. Louis Blues Tuesday at 8.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Downie still day to day

By JACK McCAFFERY @JackMcCaffery
VOORHEES, N.J. --- Steve Downie, believed to be concussed but officially recovering only from an upper-body ailment, did not practice with the Flyers Wednesday.
Craig Berube refused to consider that a deep indication that the right wing will be unavailable to face the Rangers Wednesday night in New York.
“No, not really,” the Flyers' coach said after practice Tuesday at the Skate Zone. “He just needs some more time. He is still listed as day-to-day. But he just wasn't right to skate today.”
Downie left the Flyers' Saturday victory over the St. Louis Blues early, after seeming to be knocked out by a collision with Patrick Burgland. He has had two reported concussions this season. He did not play Monday in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Asked directly if Downie was concussed Tuesday, Berube said he did not know.
In a statement to the press, general manager Paul Holmgren would say only that Downie remains “day-to-day with an upper body injury.”
“I honestly don't know when he will be back,” Berube said. “I haven't talked to the trainer today. I will. But I don't know when he will be available.”
Tye McGinn replaced Downie on a third line Monday.
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Two of the signature players in the history the Lightning will face each other Wednesday, neither in a Tampa Bay uniform.
Vinny Lecavalier will play for the Flyers, Martin St. Louis for the Rangers, who'd acquired him at the trade deadline.
“It will be weird, for sure,” Lecavalier said. “I have watched a few games of him with the Rangers, but now I will be playing against him. It was weird when I played against him earlier this year against Tampa.
Lecavalier and St. Louis played together with the Lightning from 2000 through the end of last season.
“He was such a big part of the Lightning organization,” Lecavalier said. “I had heard rumors that he would be traded, but I was still shocked when it happened.”
Lecavalier and St. Louis helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004, but will find themselves Wednesday in a Metro Division rivalry with its own postseason implications.
“A year back, you'd have never thought that,” Lecavalier said. “But things change quickly.”
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Ray Emery tended goal for the Flyers Monday, and Steve Mason is expected to face the Rangers Wednesday.
But even with only 11 games to play, Berube is not yet ready to go to the one-goalie system in preparation for the playoffs.
“They've both done a great job,” he said. “I thought Ray played very well (Monday) night and he deserved the victory. I go game-by-game and we will see how it goes.”
Mason is comfortable with that arrangement.
“I feel good right now,” Mason said. “But at the same time, going along in a playoff drive, you have to make sure you have some energy in the tank. The coaching staff has done a great job of managing my time right now and I feel pretty fresh.”
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The Flyers had a short but high-speed practice Tuesday, and then caught an afternoon chartered train to New York.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Before the Flyers would play the Washington Capitals, but just after the NHL trade deadline, Craig Berube had this to say:

Your reaction to the Andrej Meszaros trade?

"It's always tough losing a good player like Meszaros. He played well for a good stretch here, and we are going to miss him."

With Andrew MacDonald arriving and Meszaros going, how does that impact the Flyers?

"MacDonald is a good skater, a good puck-mover, a lot like Meszaros. He leads the league in shot-blocks. He plays a good game in his own end. So we are looking for a good, two-way defenseman."

Paul Holmgren said this team had earned the right to stay together. Is that a compliment to what you have done here?

"Yeah, like I said, I liked our team all along. I think the guys worked extremely hard to get to this point. A lot of guys have done a lot of good things here this year and have improved. Obviously, we are not where we want to be yet. We have a long way to go. But we are working toward that and we are getting better."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dr. J's slant on Sixers' plan

PHILADELPHIA --- Before his first game as a 76er, during the player introductions, Julius Erving received a package. It was a doctor's bag, delivered to the court by legendary fan Steve Solms. More, it was a message.

Cure this.

Four years earlier, the Sixers had won nine games, losing 73. That was followed by two more losing seasons, then a 46-36 playoff team, then the arrival of Erving, the iconic Dr. J, after the NBA-ABA merger. Four times in the next seven years, the Sixers would reach at least the NBA finals, winning the championship in 1983.

Franchise cured.

“Different times,” Erving was saying the other night at the Wells Fargo Center. “When I came in, it was already a playoff team. So it wasn't that big a jump to get to 50. When you have to get to 50 from 20, that's a lot.”

Soon enough, the Sixers will attempt to make that leap again, and most likely from much fewer than 20 wins. They will try to wiggle through the lottery and use a stash of draft choices to reprise their late-'70s, early-'80s dominance, certain that is the only way to construct a winning NBA program. They have convinced their fans of that, at least, soothing them with promises, making them ignore the bad defense, the worse defense, the unacceptable defense, like the kind the played the other night against Washington, in a 122-103 loss.

That was the night Erving was back to celebrate franchise greatness, helping to welcome Allen Iverson's No. 3 into the constellation of retired franchise jerseys. That was the night they kept introducing former stars in the stands, hoping to distract the capacity crowd from what was happening on the floor, where the Wizards were scoring 41 first-quarter points.

Yet that was also the night that the honored guest himself, Iverson, would say this: “It’s hard for me to watch Sixers basketball games. So I don't.”

That was only part of Iverson's message, which was quite more understanding. He did stress that he believed the franchise was destined to win, that the ownership had that commitment, that the basketball minds were clear. Yet with every former star player introduced --- Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie, plenty of others --- the contrast between what that franchise was and what it had become was more vivid.

“I want to get out there,” Iverson said, “and help those guys.”

Even if he never practiced, which would be a possibility, he would lend something the Sixers lack --- a game-night passion, a competitive burn, the professional dignity to close out on a three-point shooter. That's what the Sixers had Iverson. That's what they had in Erving, whose aura would change in the fourth quarter, when he would thrust out his chest, demand the ball and win games.

Now, the Sixers give away good players for nothing, defend when they feel like it, hire minor league players on a weekly basis, and consider a trip to the lottery, not to the playoffs, a virtue.

“I think it's been clear,” Erving said. “The Sixers are rebuilding right now. Sometimes you have to go two or three steps backward before you can go forward. I think that's exactly where the Sixers are with the Evan Turner trade, and trading Spencer Hawes. Those are two additional steps on the downward spiral, if you will, before it gets turned around.

“And it will be turned around through the young players coming through, and draft picks, and hopefully being able to get somebody in the free agent marketplace.”

Erving works for the Sixers as an adviser, so that's one reason he was hesitant to criticize. Another is that he always has been a man of dignity, slam dunking things only when necessary. It's also possible that he is correct, though that won't be validated for years.

“Oh, yeah, it will,” he said. “There is a plan in place. And it's not something you announce to the world how you do it. You announce to the world that you are doing that. And that's already been announced.”

That's the prescription. And one more demand for a cure.