Burn One: Sixers Lose to Bulls in Game I Sincerely Hope No One But Me and My Roommates Watched

Burn One: Sixers Lose to Bulls in Game I Sincerely Hope No One But Me and My Roommates Watched

Well, that was a thoroughly miserable experience. Watching sports is
rarely fun if your team is losing, but watching sports where it seems
like it's actually both teams that are losing but it's your team
that's losing the most is just the worst. I hoped the Sixers could close
out the Bulls in decisive fashion in this one, but the only thing
"decisive" about this game was how decisively crappy Andre Iguodala's
fourth quarter was and how decisively quickly everyone in the country
without a rooting interest in this game flipped the channel to the
series finale of The Voice.


You could probably tell about this one early, when the score was still
16-12 Sixers and there was already less than a minute to go in the first
quarter. (I squinted at my TV several times, convinced I was just
reading the clock wrong.) Little did I know that was about as good as
things were gonna get for the Ballers—they scored 10 points on 17% (!!)
shooting for the entire second quarter, and barely scraped the 20s in
the two quarters after that, as the Bulls managed to scrape together
some semblance of an offense, increasing the lead to about ten late in
the third, putting the game totally out of reach for the bumbling
Sixers. Final score: Bulls not a lot of points, Sixers even less.

The really remarkable thing about this game was how the Bulls managed to
look invincible in that second half while still playing totally
mediocre. Luol Deng achieved folk hero status in Chicago for his 24
point, 10-19 effort—which, while mildly impressive, would maybe be the
third best performance in a game involving two competent NBA teams.
Carlos Boozer, meanwhile, felt like he was having a career game, though
he ended up with 19 points on 9-20 shooting. 19 points on 20 shots!
That's not even a good game! But tonight, it was good enough that for a
stretch, he legitimately seemed unstoppable. That's the kind of game it was.

The number of Sixers I'd like to call out in this game is a large one,
since their best player on the court tonight was probably Jrue Holiday
(who scored 16 points on resounding 5-17 shooting), but I need to make
mention of the truly superlative fourth quarter we were privy to from
Andre Iguodala. My roommate Jason has a theory about 'Dre, which is that
there are only two things in this world he truly loves:

1. Dunking
2. Not leading the Philadelphia 76ers

I proposed that he add "Making 1 of 2 free throws" as a third thing, but
he countered that this could be folded into category #2, which was fair
enough.

Anyway, tonight was a pretty textbook example of passion #2 (without
nearly enough #1, IMO). He had a subpar game going into the fourth
quarter, what with Deng going off (sic) and the not much scoring or
assisting, but he did at least have a made three, and well what do you
expect he's Andre Iguodala. But the finale frame took things to the next
level for our All-Star swingman. The entire quarter, Andre did a total
of two good things:

1. He drew a shooting foul and made 2 of 2 free throws (!!!!!)
2. He stole the ball from Ronnie Brewer and dished to Spencer Hawes for a fast break layup (and one).

That's it. Here's how the rest of Iguodala's fourth quarter went, as the world was crumbling around the Sixers:

9:26: Pulled up for an 18-foot jumper while double teamed. Shot blocked by Omer Asik.
6:43: Pulled up for three-pointer from the wing with 18 seconds left in
the clock. Shot rims out badly and leads to Bulls fast break and bucket.

3:26: Tried to spin in the lane looking for a fast-break layup. Ball stripped and stolen by Ronnie Brewer.
2:50: Drove the lane to score against two defenders. Shot blocked by Luol Deng.
0:28: Missed wide-open catch-and-shoot three from the corner.

It was just one atrocity after another for 'Dre, who ultimately finished
with 11 points on 4-19 shooting, four boards and one assist.

Look, I know I shouldn't get on Andre Iguodala too much. I still like
'Dre, really I do—it's not like anyone else on this team stepped up
either—and I want nothing but good things for him in the future. I just
want them for him on another team at this point. It's not like we're
still in the process of deciding whether or not he can be a
fourth-quarter leader for the Sixers—we now know with a fair amount of
certainty that he can't. But it's unfortunate that just in case we were
unconvinced that he couldn't, he always seems willing to provide yet
another example. We are now firmly in "Change of Scenery" territory with
AI9.

Back to the game at large—well, whatever. If we win Thursday at home
then it's meaningless, if we lose Thursday then it's also meaningless,
but in a more depressing way. This game was the absolute pits and the
less we learn from it the better. One good thing, though: The nation
will certainly be rooting for the Sixers on Thursday, simply so that
this series can be over and they won't get sucked into watching any more
games like this. I SEE YOU JERMAINE PAUL!!

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.