3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. from the perspective of two players and one unit that struggled mightily in the third period.

 

That third period sure was ugly on Thursday night. For even more of a punch to the gut and just like the title suggests, this loss combined with the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres makes the Rangers the second seed in the first round of the Metropolitan Division playoffs and eliminates the Flyers from any shot at home-ice advantage in the first round.

 

3. Tyler Johnson

The Lightning’s extremely impressive rookie forward made his presence felt early on Thursday night when he took a nice cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos and blasted the puck past Flyers goalie Ray Emery just exactly two minutes into the game for the opening tally.

Fast-forward to the third period. Johnson hit cutting defenseman Eric Brewer, who was left wide-open in the slot by the porous Flyers defense (more on this in a bit). Brewer rifled a wrister past Emery for the eventual game-winning goal.

The first-period goal was Johnson’s 24th of the season. That ties him with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for most among rookies. That goal combined with his third-period assist gives Johnson 50 points on the year, third most among rookies.

Although MacKinnon will probably win the Calder Trophy, that’s not too shabby of a stat line for Johnson.

 

2. The Flyers’ third-period defense

Where to even start here? It was brutal.

About five minutes into the third, Lightning winger Richard Panik skated with the puck deep into the Flyers’ zone. Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn totally missed his check and let Panik escape around the net. Panik came out in front and began an offensive flurry that he eventually finished when the Flyers failed to cover him and he backhanded it past Emery for a 2-1 Lightning lead. There were Flyers all around Panik but they were all flatfooted and no one picked him up.

Things got worse on the aforementioned Brewer goal. Brewer was allowed to slide into the slot untouched after what looked like a miscommunication between Flyers winger Steve Downie and his defensemen. It was the third-to-last game of the season. Brutal breakdowns and miscommunications like that shouldn’t have happened.

Stamkos’ power-play goal later on wasn’t pretty either as Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn misplayed the puck and three Lightning players were there to pounce before Stamkos eventually cashed in.

It wasn’t like Tampa Bay dominated the period, either. Tampa had nine shots in the period, the same amount Philadelphia had. It just seemed like Tampa dominated the period because of how poorly the Flyers played defense.

It’s a bit worrisome considering there was fairly important home-ice advantage on the line for the Flyers. This kind of stuff needs to be cleaned up in the next two games.

 

1. Anders Lindback

Thought the Flyers were going to have an easier time with Lindback, the Lightning’s backup, in net in place of injured starter Ben Bishop?

Think again.

Lindback was superb as he made 36 saves for the victory in just his second start since late January.

Once he made that sprawling glove save on Flyers winger Tye McGinn in the first period, you just had a feeling it could be one of those nights.

Well, it was one of those nights. The Lightning netminder had basically every answer except for a Wayne Simmonds power-play goal and Sean Couturier’s gift of a goal that went off a Lightning defenseman’s stick and into the net.

Lindback now has seven wins on the season and three of those wins have come against the Flyers for a season-series sweep for the Lightning.

The Flyers never saw Bishop, one of the best goalies in the league this year, or the lethal Stamkos, who missed most of the season with a broken leg, during two of the meetings and were still swept by the Lightning.

 

As if the whole losing-a-chance-at-home-ice thing didn’t hurt enough, don’t look now because the Columbus Blue Jackets and Flyers remained tied for the third seed in the Metro at 91 points each.

But the Flyers currently have a game in hand since the jackets won’t play Sunday. The Flyers also hold the first tiebreaker, which is regulation and overtime wins. They have 38 of those while the Jackets have 37. The Jackets took the season series, 3-1, but that’s the second tiebreaker, as goofy as that may sound.

Don’t sleep on these last two games. There is a ton left to still be decided. Plus, the Flyers don’t want to fall into that last wild-card spot and have to book that flight to Boston next week.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."