February 20, 2011

Boosh or Bob?

Sergei Bobrovsky is 23-9-3 with a 2.44 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

Brian Boucher is 15-6-2 with a 2.26 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

Bobrovsky is a 22-year-old rookie with no playoff experience.

Boucher is a 34-year-old veteran with 34 games of playoff experience.

So, with only 23 games left in the NHL's regular season, which member of the Philadelphia Flyers' goaltending tandem will start in the postseason?

Common sense dictates that it'll be Boucher. As good as Bobrovsky has played, he's still a newborn NHL babe with a work-in-progress grasp of the English language. Boucher's participated in two key playoff runs, including the opening rounds last year, and he holds the record for "longest shutout streak" at 332 minutes. He's not a franchise goalie, but with probably the best group of blueliners in the league, the Flyers finally don't really need a superstar in net.

There's no doubt in my mind that Bob will start next year between the pipes in Philadelphia. He's a Calder Trophy candidate and one of the most promising young goalies in the game, but that doesn't mean he's ready for the pressures of the NHL postseason. Bob's the goalie of the future, but Peter Laviolette has made it abundantly clear that he's all about winning in 2011.

In theory, the Flyers won't be throwing either goalie into a pressure-packed early matchup anyway, thanks to a probable first-round showdown with the seven or eight seed. But as the Flyers proved with a few sneaky upsets over the last few years, seeding isn't all that important in the playoffs. They'll most likely draw the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres or Carolina Hurricanes -- not really a pushover in the bunch. New York and Buffalo feature top-five goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller, and the Hurricanes outplayed the Flyers no more than three days ago. They'd be wise not to take any team too lightly.

And of course, no one knows how Boucher's apparent injury in today's game will play out. Boosh seemed to shake it off, but any kind of nagging injury could cripple a goalie's chances to start in April and beyond.

Maybe this all won't matter. The Flyers have been the best team in hockey over the last five months, for which Boucher and Bobrovsky deserve a good deal of credit. But when spring rolls around, Laviolette is going to be called upon to pick a true number one goalie. Settling on the rock-solid veteran or rolling with the dice with a rookie could end up being the most scrutinized decision of Lavvy's Philly coaching career.

February 16, 2011

Cover me: Meet the world's best Bruce Springsteen tribute band.

I've seen the real Bruce Springsteen twelve times. I've seen the fake Bruce Springsteen five. I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which one is more fun.

Of course, going to a real Bruce show is an unforgettable event, while seeing fake Bruce is just a really good way to spend your Friday night. But the actual Bruce Springsteen charges $100 per concert, which always take place in a gigantic stadium and come with the very real risk of hearing crap like "Outlaw Pete." Fake Bruce, on the other hand, charges $15, crams into a tiny bar or club and plays only the hits.

Plus, after six or seven beers, it becomes hard to tell the difference. That's not a credit to the awesome power of alcohol; it's a testament to Matt Ryan and American Dream, the venerable group that puts together the world's greatest Springsteen tribute show, Bruce in the USA.

Matt and his band play "Badlands," they play "Born to Run, they play "Rosalita." But they also play "Trapped," "Factory," "Light of Day" and other unexpected gems from the Bruce library. You can tell that they've been making a living off Springsteen's material for quite a while; Matt often launches into a well-known bit of Bruce's stage banter during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," something that most fans would remember from the E Street Band's Reunion Tour in the late 90s/early 2000s.

Basically, Matt Ryan's boys don't take "pretending to be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band" lightly. A few days before our first Bruce in the USA show, my friends and I debated the importance of a large black man stand-in for Clarence Clemons. I argued that it wasn't necessary, as long as the band sounded good, but I knew I was wrong the second the fake Big Man busted out his first solo. A medium-sized white man just would not do, and Matt probably realized that from day one.

There's often a stigma attached to cover bands. "Why don't they write their own music? What losers!" Those are things that I imagine people who dislike cover bands might say. But -- and pardon me for paraphrasing a Chuck Klosterman piece in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs -- why would you play your own music and draw 20 fans a night when you can play someone else's and draw 200, or 2,000? If your main goal is to form a band, make a living and have some fun, I can't think of a better way to do it.

So kudos to you, Matt Ryan and American Dream. Not only do you fill my life with rocking Springsteen music one or two weekends a year, but it most likely pays your rent and car insurance, too. How many people can say the same?

For anyone in the New England area that's interested, Bruce in the USA will be playing this Thursday at The Met in Pawtucket and this Friday at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. If you need any further swaying, my friend Matt Kakley's epic feature on the group will surely do the trick.

February 3, 2011

Juan for the money.

"Jim Johnson, the great defensive innovator and coordinator for the Eagles, was a quarterback in college and, briefly, a tight end in professional football," writes Bob Ford in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, "and when the time came to move up the ladder a little bit, the job he found was on the other side of the ball, as a defensive coordinator. Once there, he never crossed the line of scrimmage again."

Of course, just because Johnson (kinda, sorta) shares a back story with Juan Castillo doesn't mean that the former offensive-line coach is the man for the defensive coordinator job. I have no idea what Juan plans to do with a young defense; neither do the beat writers or analysts, although they might tell you otherwise. Even though Castillo professes to be a "defensive guy" at heart, one that got stuck on the other side of the ball for the last 16 (!) years, none of us can guess how that'll translate to running one-half of an NFL team.

But I do know that Juan sounds like the prototypical teacher of football fundamentals, and a beloved one at that. Jamaal Jackson called him the best coach he's ever had. Jon Runyan endorsed the move on last night's "Daily News Live," and most of the defensive players (sans a very confused Asante Samuel) stated that Castillo will, at the very least, bring a more-than-appropriate work ethic. In that sense, he sounds a lot like Jim Washburn, the new defensive line coach and a man that Castillo will certainly lean on throughout next season.

And it wasn't just the players that expressed Juan-themed love; Leslie Frazier, Steve Spagnuolo and Ron Rivera all spoke out in favor of Castillo getting his big break. Maybe that's just buddies from the Andy Reid coaching tree supporting each other, or maybe it's because they genuinely think Castillo can handle the pressure of Jim Johnson's former job. Either way, the initial shock towards the promotion seems to have become a wave of admiration and respect for what Castillo's done in the NFL so far.

For a lot of Eagles fans, that won't be enough. They want to win a championship, and they want one now. But honestly, unless they somehow coaxed Jeff Fisher into the job, what coach out there is gonna magically bring it all together? Would the championship road be suddenly paved with gold thanks to Winston Moss, Ray Horton, Mike Trgovac or any of the other candidates? They're all just names on a sheet of paper, many of them built up through pure media speculation, assistant coaches on good teams that we know nothing about.

And (I think this is the clincher) they wouldn't be any more fun than this is going to be. Promoting one of your most trusted coaching confidants and abruptly moving him from offense to defense. It's the most "outside the box" inside the box move in history.

I say embrace the insanity of it all. A coaching decision of this type has literally never been made before, and it may end up making or breaking Andy Reid's Philadelphia legacy. I don't know about you, but I think 2011 just got a whole lot more exciting.