Sixers Wrap Pre-Season With Win Against Knicks: What Did We Learn?

Sixers Wrap Pre-Season With Win Against Knicks: What Did We Learn?

Thus endeth the pre-season for the Philadelphia 76ers, with a 98-91 win
against the Knicks on neutral-ish territory in Syracuse. The Sixers
dominated throughout the first two-and-a-half quarters, then almost let
the Knicks erase a 20-plus-point deficit before sealing the deal in the
fourth. Jason Richardson led the way with 23 points, seven rebounds and
six assists, hitting two enormous threes late in the game to help fend
off the surging 'Bockers. Thaddeus Young also pitched in 22 on 10-12
shooting, and despite missing three starters in Jrue Holiday, Evan
Turner and Andrew Bynum, the Sixers were able to end the pre-season with
a win, finishing their exhibition schedule 6-1, with the one loss
coming against Brooklyn in overtime.

So how much do we want to take away from the Liberty Ballers' strong
play these last few weeks? Well, everyone says you can't take too much
(if anything) away from the pre-season, and for the most part, they're
right—after all, the Lakers have gone 0-6 in play so far, for instance,
but I'm guessing most prognosticators would certainly still tab them as a
playoff team at the least. Opponents are often injured, coaches tinker
with lineups or give added time to youngsters, and vets often phone it
in, preferring to save their good stuff for the regular season. Just
because the Sixers were able to mostly make short work of the Atlantic
Division in their pre-season schedule, that doesn't suddenly make them
front-runners to win the division by any means.

Still, I do think there are things to learn from the team's
pre-season performance, and in my opinion, the main takeaway is this:
This Sixers team rolls deep. In any given pre-season game, both sides
will be missing at least one or two (if not far more) regular rotation
guys, but the teams that have strong second units beyond their starters
will continue to thrive even with key players absent. That's why the
top-heavy Lakers have struggled, and why the Sixers' 5-1 record means
that they likely have a pretty strong roster from 1-12. With Bynum out,
Spencer Hawes was able to pick up a lot of the scoring and rebounding
load in the post. Turner's absence has been covered by the likes of
Drrell Wright and Nick Young. Even third-stringer Royal Ivey came to
ball tonight with starting point guard Holiday out, ending with 12
points and five dimes.

Now, the Sixers were deep last year too, and we clearly saw then how
such depth only gets you so far once the teams with star-studded
rotations start to put it all together. But usually, to add a player
like Andrew Bynum to your lineup, your team depth chart has to take a
hit as a result, and for the team to still be so loaded with seemingly
competent rotation guys after putting Bynum on top of it all...it's
definitely a good thing. And especially if Bynum doesn't start the
season healthy, the depth will be a key to keeping the team afloat until
he can be a full-time contributor.

So who this pre-season has really impressed? Well, we're not gonna get too deep into pre-season stats—we know how Ray Allen feels about those—but
Spencer Hawes certainly appears to be in fine form, looking a whole lot
like the Spence who very briefly took the league by storm early last
season. Dorell Wright has certainly made a good first impression,
scoring efficiently, making high IQ passes, and proving a real weapon in
transition. Thad has scrapped his way to big scoring nights in a number
of games, offense the team will certainly need from him. Malik Wayns
might be a legit NBA backup point. And Jrue Holiday has looked every bit
the floor general we need him to become, distributing and scoring and
proving he can lead this team from the perimeter.

Yup, it's been mostly good vibrations from the Sixers this
pre-season—of the expected rotation guys this season, only Evan Turner
really underperformed, which I think we're all used to in a weird way.
Otherwise, our young guys seem to have improved, our new guys seem me to
be good fits, and our team chemistry seems to be in a surprisingly good
place, considering how many new parts need to be integrated. It seems
like things are really looking up for this team going into the season.

Of course, I continue to use the word "seem" here, because this is
still the pre-season, and there's at least a decent chance that it all
turns out to be a house of cards or mirage or some other highly unstable
visual metaphor when the regular season starts. But I like what I see
so far, and I'd much rather see my team clicking meaninglessly than see
them go into crisis meaninglessly. Fun pre-season, can't wait for the
real thing to start a week from tomorrow.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).