Buffaloed: Special Teams Breakdowns, Questionable Calls Cost Flyers First Win

Buffaloed: Special Teams Breakdowns, Questionable Calls Cost Flyers First Win

The Flyers had a lot to overcome in order to pick up their
first points in the standings of the season on Sunday. They had to play on the
road roughly 18 hours removed from their first game of the season. They had
another flat first period that found them behind 1-0 coming out of the
intermission.

Then there were the six power plays they gave the Sabres, of
which they scored on three of to key a 5-2 victory in their home opener. Philadelphia drops to 0-2-0.

There is no doubt that the Flyers’ penalty killing unit share a lot
of the responsibility in both losses, as they have allowed opponents to convert
on five of nine chances (55.6%). However, one must wonder what might have been
in Buffalo were it not for a series of downright terrible calls by the officiating
crew, specifically the two that wiped goals off the board.

The first bad call came late in the opening frame, right as
the Flyers were finally starting to get their legs in under them. Down 1-0,
Luke Schenn ripped a wicked slapper off of netminder Ryan Miller, who left the
puck sitting right on his front porch. As Miller tried to poke it away, Ruslan
Fedotenko came crashing into the play, sending the disk wobbling through the
air and into the goal.

But Fedotenko bumped Miller ever so slightly in performing
this action, while the goalie – whether out of embellishment or desperation –
slid backward into his own net. This apparently was enough to warrant a
goaltender interference call, and the score was waved off.

It was an obviously blown call upon second look. Miller was
barely breathed on, let alone interfered with, and Fedotenko wasn’t even in the crease or anything like that,
yet a goal was erased.

It would not be the last.

The Flyers did take a 2-1 lead
early in the second period, but were unable to stay out of the penalty box, and
eventually the game started to get away from them. It was 4-2 with under two
minutes remaining in the third when head coach Peter Laviolette pulled Ilya
Bryzgalov for an extra skater – also when the men in the striped shirts would
strike again.

Sean Couturier won the faceoff, and the Flyers succeeded in generating some instant pressure with an extra man. After a couple quick passes to create some space, Claude Giroux snapped the puck on net, it hit Scott Hartnell in front, and Wayne Simmonds sort of jabbed it toward the goal.

Once again Miller was unable to control, only
this time he wasn’t exactly sure of where it was. He thought the puck was
covered, but it was actually trickling into the net as chaos ensued in front of
him. This was all too much for the referee, who from a far side angle –
his vision blocked – whistled the play dead just as the biscuit was crossing
the goal line.

What could’ve been a 4-3 or even 4-4 game heading to
overtime remained a hopeless two-goal deficit, which seconds later grew to
three on an empty netter.

There were other plays where we could perhaps be critical of
the officials, though those might be nitpicking. There is absolutely no denying
they had a direct role in costing the Flyers tallies on these two particular plays
however.

As we mentioned at the top, the loss can’t entirely be
blamed on those non-goals. Bryzgalov had practically no chance on two of the
three power-play goals, one of which appeared to deflect off of Kimmo Timonen’s
skate. Another occurred when a shift change went awry leading to a breakaway at the end of a 5-on-3. Schenn was notably in the box for two of
these, as well as a 4-on-4.

That said, in a short season where every point matters that
much more, it’s hard to watch one slip away in part because a third
party got involved. Would have been nice to see how things played out had every goal actually
been counted.

(Videos courtesy CBS Sports via Puck Daddy)

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."