3 Stars: Lethal special teams strike again as Flyers complete weekend sweep of Penguins

3 Stars: Lethal special teams strike again as Flyers complete weekend sweep of Penguins

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers' 4-3 victory over the hated, intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh from the perspective of three players.

Let’s get this out of the way now: Man, did the linesman ever dodge a bullet when Sidney Crosby’s tip-in the waning seconds hit the post and didn’t tie the game. Evgeni Malkin was so far offside on the play that he was basically in Ohio.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury

The Penguins netminder didn’t have his best performance of the season on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia but had the chance to rebound on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

A peek at Fleury’s stats from Sunday show he made 12 saves on 15 shots. Not bad, right? The thing is those 12 saves on 15 shots came in the first 13:41 of a first period the Flyers dominated.

Fleury was pulled at that point after giving up Wayne Simmonds’ second power-play goal of the game but the score wasn’t the netminder’s fault. It was a mercy pulling by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. The Flyers were running roughshod over the Penguins and Bylsma had to do something so he but backup Jeff Zatkoff in to try and turn things around, which almost happened.

Fleury actually played pretty well for Pittsburgh when he was in the game. He let up three goals but made numerous A-plus stops that kept Pittsburgh in the game at the time. He had no shot on Brayden Schenn’s opening tally off a scramble and bad things happen when Mr. Simmonds is in his office.

2. Matt Read

A second game this weekend against the Penguins, a second impressive performance Read, who punctuated his weekend with Sunday’s game-winning goal.

With the Penguins on a power play midway through the second period, Luke Schenn hopped on a turnover and sprung Read and Sean Couturier on a two-on-one break. Instead of forcing a pass to Couturier, Read sniped the top corner of the net over Zatkoff’s glove for a shorthanded goal.

Not only was it the game-winning goal, it was Read’s second shorthanded goal of the weekend and his third goal of the weekend overall.

Goals are always nice, but the work Read and Couturier did against the Penguins’ top-ranked power play over the last two games was as good as it gets. The Penguins’ vaunted power play went 0-for-9 over the weekend thanks in large part to Read and Couturier, the Flyers’ special teams aces.

Also of note, Crosby and Malkin combined for – wait for it, wait for it – zero points on the weekend.

[nbcsports_video src=http://player.theplatform.com/p/C_ZQDC/OBXnIiiPouAX/embed/select/sLzLHRMBwAGt?params=zone%3Dcsnvideo&autoPlay=true width=620 height=339]

1. Wayne Simmonds

As mentioned above, bad things happen to opponents when Mr. Simmonds is in his office in front of the net.

On Sunday, Mr. Simmonds set up shop in Pittsburgh and his office was open for business.

Simmonds tipped a point shot from Kimmo Timonen through Fleury’s legs for a power-play goal to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead midway through the first period. Just under seven minutes later, he spun in front of the net and powered the puck through Fleury for another power-play goal, gave the Flyers a 3-0 lead and ended Fleury’s day.

The goals were Simmonds’ 20th and 21st of the season. His career high is 28 in 2011-12. He now has 12 power-play goals on the year, which ties him for third most in the league.

Simmonds also assisted on Schenn’s opening tally to round out a three-point day.

Know any bitter Penguins fans?  There are a lot of them out there.

Be sure to remind them that the Flyers are now 10-2-1 (including playoffs) in Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center since it opened in October 2010.

Can’t stress enough how you should rub that fact in the faces of any Penguins fans you see at school or work on Monday.

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The sprawling city skyline could have been the highlight of the Sixers' team dinner at One Liberty Place on Monday night. Instead, it was a surprise celebrity appearance that left them in awe.

Will Smith, who is part of the Sixers’ ownership, caught the players off guard when he visited with the team to offer advice and answer questions.

“Man, that’s one of my idols,” Nerlens Noel said following the first training camp session at Stockton University. “Everything he said I really took in and all the guys did too.”

Rather than entertaining the group with his acting or musical skills, Smith imparted important lessons that are applicable in sports. The 48-year-old has had decades of success across multiple platforms, and he offered pieces of wisdom that can resonate in any situation. 

“If you have bad people around you, that’s how people see you and that’s how you are,” Joel Embiid said. “He said to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

The Sixers had differing memorable moments the morning after Smith’s visit, which demonstrated how many topics he addressed with the team. 

“He’s a good guy,” Ben Simmons said. “I definitely learned a lot from hearing him talk … You’ve got to look at things from a positive and negative with every situation.”

Jahlil Okafor was especially caught up in Smith’s appearance. Smith is Okafor’s favorite actor, most notably for his role in I Am Legend, and impressed Okafor with his character. 

“We already know about his accolades and how smart he is and obviously he’s an entertaining person,” Okafor said. “But it just seemed like he really wanted to be there to help us out. I just took away that he was a great person.”

Okafor also added, “It just helps [to hear from him] because the road to success is pretty much the same. It’s about being focused, it’s about knowing that you’re going to be knocked down, you’re going to fail. That was one of the messages that Will Smith shared, was expect failure but the main thing is to get back up.”

Noel previously had seen Smith courtside at Sixers games, and this was his first opportunity to hear directly from him. Noel listened to everything Smith had to say, from how to deal with the media to ranking his best and worst movies. 

“Never get caught up in too much of the negativity,” Noel recounted. 

While people view professional athletes as celebrities, the Sixers were on the opposite side Monday evening. 

“It’s hard to get starstruck nowadays,” Noel said. “But when you see Will Smith, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.