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.

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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.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).