Game 14: Flyers Host Blue Jackets, Voracek Has Something to Prove

Game 14: Flyers Host Blue Jackets, Voracek Has Something to Prove

After dropping a disappointing shootout loss to the Devils on Thursday, the Flyers get a rebound game with what has to date been one of the worst teams in the NHL. Maybe the worst. The Columbus Blue Jackets (2-10-1) opened the season with eight straight losses and have won just twice to date. After trading the eighth overall pick and Jakub Voracek to the Flyers for Jeff Carter and signing free agent defenseman James Wisniewski in the off-season, the team was expected to improve on its 81-point offering from last season. Instead, they're bailing water over the side to keep some glimmer of hope alive.

Carter played in only five games before suffering a broken foot, during which time he tallied three assists but no goals. Meanwhile, although the focus tonight will be on the player directly traded for him as he faces his old team tonight, the better story so far has been Sean Couturier. Cooter was selected with the high draft pick Columbus sent over along with Jake Voracek, and he's been impressive in a variety of game scenarios. Through 13 games, the 18-year-old has one goal more than Voracek despite playing over a minute and a half less per game, with more time in checking and penalty killing roles.

We're still waiting to see a little more from Voracek, who hasn't fully settled in just yet. Will tonight's matchup with the club that shipped him off be a boost? Here's what he had to say about facing the BJs, plus notes on Andreas Nodl, James van Riemsdyk, and the Blue Jackets' struggles.

The Flyers on the whole aren't entirely comfortable in their new skin. No one expected they would immediately gel, not with all the changes. But they've shown some spots of brilliance and certainly an ability to put the puck in the net. They have yet to solidify their lines after the top unit of Hartnell-Giroux-Jagr, in part due to injuries, which continue to mount.

Andreas Nodl has reportedly joined the skating wounded, and he's out for tonight. Eric Wellwood was called up yesterday, joining Zac Rinaldo and Harry Z as recent AHL refugees.

Unfortunately, James van Riemsdyk is also said to still be slowed by an injury, with Tim Panaccio reporting that he was out tonight about 90 minutes before gametime, only to find out that JVR actually will suit up. Frank Seravalli yesterday quoted a Flyers source saying that JVR's scratching against the Devils was a healthy one, and that Peter Laviolette had lit into him for a lackluster performance in Buffalo. The coach, GM, and player have since denied that, instead citing an unspecified injury.

It's been an interesting first 13 games between the Flyers and the local hockey scribes, to say the least.

Back to the BJ's for a minute. Another former Flyer currently leads the team in goals (5) and points (10), a fella by the name of Vinny Prospal. The talented Rick Nash has four goals and shares the points lead with Prospal. Another familiar face, RJ Umberger, has a goal and four assists. Wisniewski leads the team in ice time, logging just over 28 minutes a game. The Blue Jackets are damn near the bottom in goals per game (24th), goals against (29th), power play efficiency (29th), and penalty killing (28th).

The goalies tonight are Ilya Bryzgalov and Steve Mason.

Are the Blue Jackets the dangerous team that's been backed into an early season corner, or a Western Conference weakling that will be picked on from now through May?

Photo by Christopher Szagola-US PRESSWIRE

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.