The Flyers and their third period woes

The Flyers and their third period woes

If any of you out there were able stay awake for the entirety of what NBCSN analyst Mike Mulbury reportedly called “one of the top five worst hockey games he’s ever seen,” you saw the continuation of a trend that has helped drag the Flyers down near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

Sure, there are plenty of negative trends attached to the Flyers right now – lack of offense, goonery and culture questions, just to name a few. But the one I’m referring to is just how badly the Orange and Black have been outplayed in the third period this season.

It came back to bite them again Tuesday night in Carolina.

After 56 minutes, 2 seconds of the NHL version of Nyquil, the Flyers finally opened the scoring on a power-play goal (!) by Scott Hartnell (!) and took a 1-0 lead over the Hurricanes. But the Hurricanes struck back with just under a minutes left and their netminder pulled as Jordan Staal redirected a pass past Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason to knot the game.

The Flyers then committed a brutal turnover in overtime that sprung Carolina’s Manny Malholtra on a breakaway and he proceeded to beat Mason with a backhander for the 2-1 Carolina victory.

For those that have followed the Flyers this season, last night’s result should have come as no surprise. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that it could have been expected.

Through 14 games played on the season, the Flyers have been outscored 16-6 in the third period. Those 16 goals scored against are seventh-most in the league and those six goals scored are tied with New Jersey for fewest in the league. All tolled, the Flyers minus-10 third-period goal differential is the worst in the NHL.

There have been four times this season where the Flyers either held a lead or were tied heading into the third period and gave up multiple goals in the period and overtime to lose a game (Oct. 2 vs. Toronto, Oct. 15 vs. Vancouver, Oct. 29 vs. Anaheim and Tuesday night at Carolina).

To further accentuate the Flyers’ struggles in the final stanza, there have been three games where the Flyers trailed by just a single goal heading into the third period with a real chance to still tie or win the game only to give up multiple goals in the third and lose (Oct. 5 at Montreal, Oct 12. at Detroit and Oct. 17 vs. Pittsburgh).

Tuesday’s disappointment in Raleigh, N.C. was the only time Philadelphia managed to extend the game into overtime and gain a point in the standings.

Chew on that for a moment.

A case can be made that the Flyers have had a legitimate chance to earn 14 points in those seven games mentioned above and came out with just one of those 14 points. And that one point came Tuesday at PNC Arena.

That’s 13 points that Flyers have had a legitimate shot at earning that they’ve left just sitting there at the proverbial table through just 14 games this season. Did I expect the Flyers to earn all of those 13 points even if they were playing well? Not at all. But they most definitely should have earned more than just one of those 13 points.

Third-period letdowns happen over the course of an 82-game season. I get that.

But why are they struggling so badly in the third period so often so early in the season?

There are a few reasons.

First, foremost and most glaring is the lack of offense. Six goals in 14 third periods is good for just .43 goals per third period. .43 goals per any period isn’t going to cut it, let alone in the most important period of the game. Good teams will tighten up their defense, especially in the neutral zone, and clog up any open space when they have a lead. For as bad as the Flyers’ offense is at even gaining the offensive zone, that’s basically a death sentence.

For whatever reason, the Flyers have gone into a defensive shell at times in the third period when they’ve had a lead. They take their collective foot off the pedal and sit on whatever the score is whether they try to or not. For example, the Flyers were outshot 16-6 in the third period of the loss to Anaheim and 16-7 in the third period and overtime of last night’s loss at Carolina. Though it worked against the New York Rangers, the success rate of that option isn’t high.

The defensive shell is not the best idea considering this team’s strong point isn’t, you know, defense. To prove that point, one the team’s supposed top defenders, 24-year-old Luke Schenn, has been a healthy scratch the last two games.

It puts unfair pressure on Mason, who has done everything in his power to keep the Flyers in some of these games. For as spectacular as he’s been, he can’t stop everything.

Turnovers are another huge reason the Flyers have struggled in the final period and overtime. The Flyers are in the top 10 in the league with 123 giveaways on the season. But they seem to come at the most in opportune times. In the Pittsburgh game, Braydon Coburn threw a blind pass out in front of his own net, which hung Mason out to dry and led to a Sidney Crosby goal to give the Pens a 3-1 lead with just under 3 minutes to go. Mark Streit’s gaffe last night in overtime was inexplicable.  Those are just two examples.

Is it any coincidence the Flyers didn’t turn the puck over in third period – and the entire game, for that matter – last Saturday in New Jersey and held on for a 1-0 win?

The last main reason is attention to detail on the defensive end. So many times this season have the Flyers broken down defensively in the third period to allow other teams to score huge, momentum-shifting goals.

Against Vancouver, Flyers’ defenders focused on the puck carrier behind the cage and left Chris Higgins wide open in front of the net for the slam dunk to tie the game. Against Anaheim, two Flyers went to one Duck created a mini 2-on-1 for Anaheim where Kyle Palmieri cashed in for the game-winner. And then there was Claude Giroux leaving Carolina’s younger Staal in front of the net and allowing Staal to tip the puck past Mason to tie the game on Tuesday night.

The Flyers obviously need to start scoring goals. But unless they start tightening up and playing an all-around game in the third period, scoring goals won’t matter all that much.

Someone please give Mason a hug or bake him some cupcakes or something.

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor is still a Sixer.

He's not a New Orleans Pelican or a Portland Trail Blazer or a Dallas Maverick. He's not going back home to Chicago or to Indiana to play with Paul George. He's in Philly for at least the next 26 games and he's ready to get to work.

"I was happy that the trade deadline was over with and I knew where I'd be finishing the rest of the season," Okafor said. "After the past couple weeks I couldn't wait until 3 o'clock yesterday would pass, which means I wouldn't have to worry about where I would be and have to deal with all the trade rumors.

"It's a sigh of relief. I'm glad it's over with. I'm still a Sixer so I'm excited about playing tonight."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Friday spoke at length about the team's future. He's said he's planning to build around the team's "transformational players" in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

He also addressed the deal that sent Nerlens Noel to Dallas for a protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. With all of the rumors swirling around Okafor, there wasn't much chatter around Noel.

The biggest reason for Noel's departure is his contract. Noel is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He's a desirable player in today's NBA as a big that can run the floor and offer elite rim protection. Okafor can't become a restricted free agent until 2019.

Colangelo said there was a market for Okafor, but he just couldn't find the right deal.

"The market dictates what’s there and interestingly given our situation with the multiple talented bigs I think it's safe to say people view us as a place to come if they are looking for a big," Colangelo said. "Several bigs were out there and available on the market. A trade went down early. (Jusuf) Nurkic going to Portland. There was some conversation with Jahlil early, some advanced discussions to the point we pulled him out of a game situation just because there was so much at stake given the terms of a proposed transaction."

It seems like Okafor has been on the trade block since the day he was drafted third overall in 2015. With Embiid's emerging as a star and Noel's being the team's longest-tenured big, it had been difficult to see Okafor's long-term fit with the Sixers.

To Okafor's credit, he's taken it all in stride. As Colangelo alluded to, he had "advanced" talks on a deal that would send Okafor to Portland. The talks got serious enough to where Okafor was held out of a win over the Heat and began the handshaking ritual of a player on the move. He was also held out of the next game in Charlotte.

Through all of it, Okafor wasn't bitter. He just quietly kept working.

"I never looked at me being shopped as a negative thing," Okafor said. "It's just part of the business... I am here so there are no hard feelings or anything like that. No, not at all.

"I never felt disconnected from the team. When I wasn't traveling with the team I was still here in the facility with [Embiid and Simmons]. I was never just at home alone or anything like that. I was still with the team. Some of the coaches would stay back so I always felt connected with the Sixers."

Okafor will get his first action of the second half of the season tonight against the Wizards. He's been dealing with knee soreness, a result of a surgery to repair a torn meniscus last March. He said Friday afternoon that he's feeling healthy after the All-Star Break and the Rising Stars Challenge.

After all the speculation and rumors, Okafor just wants to play basketball.

"I think it's something a lot of players in the NBA have to deal with," he said. "We're all basketball players. We want to play well for ourselves and for our team.

"Whatever happens in a few months, we'll see what happens then. Right now I'm just worried about playing these last 26 games and playing well for the city and playing well for the team. "

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- In retrospect, the Sixers would have done things differently.

For more than a month, the team did not announce a timeframe for Joel Embiid's return from a left knee contusion. After he missed 14 of the last 15 games, the Sixers said on Wednesday Embiid would be out the next four games and are targeting a March 3 return.

The next day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo addressed the lack of timetable provided. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that."

Embiid's injury goes back to Jan. 22 when he suffered the contusion against the Trail Blazers. After the Sixers held him out three games, he played on Jan. 27 against the Rockets and has been sidelined since.

Embiid was very candid on Thursday in expressing his displeasure of how his injury news had been shared. While he had been optimistic he would return earlier than March, citing a recovery period of less than a month, it didn't line up with the day-to-day status.

"I wasn't too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said.

"I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn't happy with the way it was handled.

"I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I'm happy that they did that today and they said that I'm out for the next four games."

Colangelo addressed that timetable.

"The two-to-three week comment, I think I know where that came from," Colangelo said. "There was a lot of discussion, and despite the fact that we were saying it's day-to-day treatment and evaluation, two to three weeks may have been mentioned as a possibility of what it may be. But a possibility.

"To say that publicly may not have been the best thing at the time because I was also told sometimes it's four to six weeks for a bone bruise to resolve itself."

The lack of clarity on Embiid's return had upset Sixers fans who wanted more transparency. They had been through years of lengthy injuries, including the past two with Embiid, and were frustrated by this recent absence.

"There's never, ever been any effort to deceive fans, to mislead fans, to mislead [media]," Colangelo said. "We give the information as we're given the information. We've got very good medical care, very good medical oversight. Everything is explainable, but injuries are unpredictable is the best way I can describe it."

Embiid isn't the only player whose status was made public this week. On Friday, Colangelo also announced Ben Simmons will miss the remainder of this season. The first overall pick has been sidelined since training camp after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot.

"There's no deceit, there's no movement toward doing anything to be dishonest here at all. It's quite simple," Colangelo said. "Injuries are a hard thing to manage. Injuries are a harder thing to manage with daily interface with the media, the public, games being played, the schedule, no practice, practice -- it's a sensitive issue. 

"And you're not talking about simple things. You're talking about complex injuries, you're talking about high-level performers and I'm calling them our stars. They're the ones everyone wants to see. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. And they're both out. Nobody is more frustrated than them."

After not committing to injury timetables, the Sixers are committing to taking a different approach. 

"It was our mistake to put out 'day-to-day' opposed to 'out indefinitely,' Colangelo said. "But that mistake will not be made again."