Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti

Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti


Al Morganti has provided entertaining and informative coverage of the Flyers and
Philadelphia sports for years,
and he's currently a co-host of the 610 WIP Morning Show and Comcast's
Flyers game day coverage. His columns during his days with The Hockey News shaped my view of the league, and he continues to be one of the most respected voices in hockey. We're grateful for the opportunity to discuss
the upcoming Flyers-Caps series with Al and share his insights with
you.

What's been the most pleasant surprise about this Flyers season?

The rapid development of defenseman Braydon Coburn. He still makes some big mistakes, which is normal for a young defenseman, but he has displayed a real ability to skate the puck out of trouble, and he has been coached into a player who is willing to launch a shot from the point. Of all the moves that general manager Paul Holmgren made last season, the deal to bring Coburn to Philadelphia from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik was his best. Coburn has a chance to be to the Flyers what Brian Rafalski was to the Devils in terms of skating the puck through any trap, and he has a better upside in terms of booming a shot for goals and points.

Has the team met, exceeded, or fallen short of where you thought they'd be?
At the beginning of the season I said the team would battle to make the playoffs, and after their quick start I thought I had seriously undervalued their talent. However, the Flyers stumbled and then regained their balance. Overall, I think they are perhaps a little ahead of where I thought they would be at this time. Remember—they were the worst team in the NHL last season, and the fact that they could recover from a serious slump is even more impressive than their quick start.

Chris Therien suggested that Scottie Upshall might be the key to the series with the Capitals, in that he could be the forward who harasses Alex Ovechkin the way Keith Jones once did Jaromir Jagr. Would you agree?
I
love Jonesey, but I don’t think he is going to keep Jagr out of the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Upshall will be able to upset Ovechkin. I would also worry that if Upshall got too involved in that stuff he would wind up in the penalty box too often in the first two games in Washington, and Ovechkin would be seen with that gap-toothed grin after scoring on the power play. However, I do agree with Chris that Upshall is the sort of player who can have a huge impact in a playoff series. He has the kind of game that can be very effective in the playoffs – if he stays under control.

(Much more with Al Morganti, including his pick for the series, after the jump.)

How else do you think the Flyers can eliminate, or at least minimize the 8 Factor?

I really think they have to just assume Ovechkin will get his goals,
and they have such a balanced offense that can score more goals. Rather
than worry about Ovechkin, it would be far better to make sure other
players such as Semin are taken out of the equation. No matter how
great they are, no player (other than a goalie) can beat you alone, and that
includes Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr.


Which team is the tougher squad? To what degree do you think rough play
will be a factor in this series, as some have touted it will be?

The Flyers are the more physical squad, but Washington is tough in that
the Caps can take a hit without losing their wits. If the Flyers think
they can bash Ovechkin and watch him shrink they will be badly
mistaken. If they bash Ovechkin, he will bash back. The Flyers biggest physical advantage will be their willingness to use
a hard two-man forecheck and thump the Caps defensemen in the
Washington zone.


Does Marty Biron have what it takes to carry a team deep into the playoffs? Does Cristobal Huet?

I believe Biron does, but there is no track record. Nobody has any idea
about Huet. I don’t believe either goalie will be the hero or the goat
in this series.


Other than Ovechkin and Huet, what are the most dangerous elements of
the Caps' game? What are their most glaring (exploitable) weaknesses?

The weakness will be their defense, especially if their injured regulars Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn cannot play. The Caps' biggest weapons will be their skilled forwards, especially the
Russian quartet of Ovechkin, Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov—the only Russian to win the Hart (MVP), and he could be a huge
factor in this series

What's your series prediction?
I think the Flyers have too much scoring balance, I like Philly in six.


What is the Flyers biggest off-season need, and how do you think they'll address it?

I don’t think there are huge needs. I suppose it's to replace captain Smith and
maybe Hatcher if his injury status (knee) is a problem. The bigger
issue might be how to deal with the concussion problems of Simon Gagne, can
they count on him? Or do they have to sign Vinny Prospal?

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“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.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

On the surface, the Nerlens Noel trade doesn't look good.

The Sixers on Thursday traded the third-year big man to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick. That first-rounder turns into two second-round picks if it doesn't convey in 2017. Yuck. And double yuck.

The only hope in this trade comes in Anderson. The former first-round pick has the look of a prototypical NBA wing. At 6-foot-6 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, he has the frame to disrupt passing lanes and the bulk at 228 pounds to muscle up stronger swingmen.

At Virginia, Anderson was a key cog for a team that was ranked as high as No. 2 and earned a 2-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. After that season, Anderson opted to forego his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He was selected 21st overall by the Mavericks in 2015.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett preaches defense and Anderson was one of his finest disciples in that regard. Offensive limitations and being a part of a balanced attack with the Cavaliers caused Anderson's stock to drop. Despite shooting 45 percent from three in his final season, Anderson was considered a streaky shooter and, frankly, that's remained the NBA.

His rookie season was one to forget. The Mavericks were competitive in the Western Conference, finishing as the 6-seed and losing to the Thunder in the first round. Anderson couldn't find his way into Rick Carlisle's rotation. Dallas' never-ending supply of point guards coupled with the sharpshooting duo of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons relegated Anderson to just 11.8 minutes a game his rookie season. In his limited time, he shot 41 percent from the field and 27 percent from three.

Unfortunately, it's been a similar story this season, but with some glimmers of hope. Anderson is still losing minutes to Matthews and also big free-agent acquisition Harrison Barnes, who's having a strong first season with the Mavs. But over a three-game stretch in late January, Anderson averaged 15.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He also shot 6 of 16 (38 percent) from three during that span.

“I don’t want to sell myself short,” Anderson said to the Star-Telegram during that run. “I still think that I can be a really great player in this league, but I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

“I think [the early-season struggles] may be the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. All we can do is wait and just keep working hard, push through it and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off."

The most promising numbers in Anderson's young career are that he's averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes as a pro. At the very least, Anderson should develop into a solid defensive wing. If he develops offensively, who knows?

Per ESPN's Kevin Pelton, "Noel and Anderson (who just sneaks over the bar) are both among the 21 players in the league who have averaged 2.0 steals per 100 team plays and blocked 2.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts or better in at least 500 minutes."

It's tough to argue that this trade was a good one for Bryan Colangelo. With that said, Anderson could still turn out to be a decent NBA player. He needs minutes and patience, two things the Sixers can offer in spades.