3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers shutout by Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets in uninspiring performance

3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers shutout by Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets in uninspiring performance

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2-0 loss – their third straight and second straight shutout - to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center through the perspective of two players and one suddenly struggling special-teams unit.

Unlike the Flyers’ previous two losses when they hung with the NHL’s two best in the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, this one was just a big, sloppy, jumbled mess of a game. The Flyers could never get anything going and were stuck in neutral the entire night. It was quite the uninspiring effort.

So much for that “huge game” mentality from earlier on in the day on Thursday.

 

3. James Wisniewski

The Blue Jackets defenseman finally opened the scoring when he slammed the puck through Flyers goalie Steve Mason from the side of the net with just over three minutes left in the second period for a power-play goal. It was Wisniewski’s third shot on the power play alone but, more importantly, it was one Mason definitely wanted back as it slipped through from a pretty bad angle.

Wisniewski later picked up an assist on center Brandon Dubinsky’s third-period deflection that slipped past Mason and, for all intensive purposes, ended the game due to the way the Flyers were playing.

Speaking of which, give Wisniewski and his Jackets teammates credit. Yes, the Flyers didn’t play well, but that was partly due to the Jackets’ smothering defense and hustle. They won the battles and races and played with that sense of urgency that the Flyers sorely lacked.

They were the team that played like it was a big game.

 

2. The Flyers’ power play

Both the Bruins and Blues have top-10 penalty kills so the fact the Flyers didn’t score on the power play in their last two games wasn’t all that surprising. But Thursday night wasn’t so much about not scoring on the power play. It was more about how disorganized the power play looked.

The Flyers got zilch on their four power-play opportunities and managed all of three measly shots. That’s probably because they could barely make a pass or carry the puck into the zone while on the power play. And when they did, they lost almost every single puck battle and the Jackets either dumped it or went the other way for a chance against Mason.

You could argue that Columbus was the more dangerous team while Philadelphia was on the power play. No wonder the boo birds were out at Wells Fargo Center.

The kinds of brutal power plays we saw on Thursday are even worse because they can give the other team all kinds of momentum. The Flyers blew three first-period power plays and gave the Jackets some confidence.

Combined with the previous two games, the Flyers’ power play is now fruitless in its last 12 attempts.

Let’s just assume there will be some power-play drills during practice on Friday.

 

1. Sergei Bobrovsky

Another Flyers game, another great performance by the opposing goaltender. And this time it may have stung a little bit more because of who the opposing goaltender was.

The man they call Bob made 37 saves against his former team for the shutout win in his first start back in Philadelphia since he was traded in the summer of 2012.

He was excellent, but especially in the second period when he stopped all 17 shots he faced. The Flyers poured it on in that second period and Bobrovsky stood tall. His kick save on a Wayne Simmonds wrister from the slot after a turnover was a particularly great save. He also made a really good stop on Michael Rafll from the slot in that period as well.

He kept the Jackets in the game in that period until they eventually cashed in with Wisniewski’s power-play goal.

Bobrovsky received the second star of the game from the media and was greeted with a nice little round of applause from those brave enough to stay at Wells Fargo Center for the entirety of that mess.

Good for Bob. But not so good for the Flyers, whom he shutout.

 

 

Three straight losses are never good, especially at this time of the year when a team is trying to sew up a playoff spot. Even worse, that’s also five losses in the last six games for the Flyers. And don’t look now, but by virtue of their win on Thursday night, the Blue Jackets are just two points behind the Flyers for third in the Metropolitan Division. Things are getting just a tad bit itchy.

And they won’t get much easier for the Flyers as a trip to Boston to meet the Bruins is next on the ledger on Saturday afternoon.

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.