Claude Giroux FINALLY scores his first goal of season

Claude Giroux FINALLY scores his first goal of season

Well, it only took six weeks, but Flyers’ superstar Claude Giroux finally scored his first goal of the 2013-14 season.

Giroux wristed the puck past Edmonton goaltender Devan Dubnyk at 11 minutes, 26 seconds of the third period for the eventual game-winner in the Flyers’ 4-2 victory over the Oilers this past Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

Jay Rosehill – yes, that Jay Rosehill, - Scott Hartnell and Vinny Lecavalier also lit the lamp for the Flyers on Saturday but Giroux’s tally -- which, dating back to the tail end of last season, snapped a 21-game goalless drought for the Flyers’ captain -- is the goal that had the attention of Flyer fans after the game.

And rightfully so.

Before Saturday, the last time had scored a goal was on April 15th during a 7-3 win over the Canadiens in Montreal.

Sure, the Flyers have a plethora of issues that have hampered their offense, but it should come as no surprise that Flyers’ has offense sputtered as Giroux’s offensive game has sputtered.

Entering the game against Edmonton, the Flyers averaged a league-worst 1.47 goals per game. Despite the four goals they put up on the Oilers, the Flyers still average a league worst 1.62 goals, but they are creeping closer to getting out that basement as the Buffalo Sabres average just 1.63 goals per game.

But throw those facts aside now that the captain and the team’s best player and playmaker is on the board. Not only is he on the board, some of the pressure is off his back.

Giroux’s stick-in-the-air-glass-pounding celebration seemed to indicate just that. He also had quite a look of relief considering things had gotten so bad that Giroux admitted to Steve Coates in a postgame interview that fans would come up to him in the supermarket and get on him about finally scoring a goal.

Let the man grocery shop in peace now, please.

Now that he’s off the schnide, he can get back to being, you know, Claude Giroux. And the Flyers need him to be, you know, Claude Giroux, because the team has the look of one that pretty much goes as Giroux goes due to the lack of secondary scoring or any scoring, so far.

The fact that Giroux finally scored shouldn’t be the only reason for encouragement. It’s the way he scored that should have fans excited.

Giroux took control of a loose puck in his defensive zone, skated down the near wing, cut to the middle of the ice, used the defenseman’s positioning to his advantage as a screen and whistled puck past Dubnyk from the mid-slot area.

The goal wasn’t set up on a tee for Giroux nor was Giroux the beneficiary of a lucky bounce or bad goaltender positioning, not that he of Flyer fans wouldn’t have gladly taken those scenarios. He created the goal on his own.

Sure, the goal was scored during 4-on-4 play when there was a little more open space on the ice, but the point here is that he created that goal with his skill. He took what the defense gave him and didn’t try to do too much or make a bad decision.

He used his skill to create offense, which is something most of the Flyers’ more-skilled players, Giroux included, hasn’t really done this season.

And it’s exactly what Giroux needs to keep doing. He needs to have the puck on his stick. He needs to continue to be more selfish and make plays and shoot, just like he did on Saturday.

I get Edmonton isn’t a very good team, especially defensively, but Giroux seemed to be all over the ice on Saturday and seemed to have shot the puck more.

He finished the contest with four shots on net, his second-most shots on goal so far this season and equal to his output the previous two games combined. He had very good chances through out the game, too.

In the second period, Giroux cut in as the trailer on a rush and had a wide-open lane to Dubnyk, who robbed him with a great save on a backhander. During the ensuing net-front scramble, Giroux found the puck on his stick with what looked like a open net, but had his shot knocked down in the crease by sliding Oilers’ forward Ryan Smyth in desperation.

Shortly before Giroux scored, Jake Voracek found him with a cross-ice pass at the bottom of the faceoff dot but Giroux ripped a one-timer wide.

But at least he was shooting.

Prior to Saturday, Giroux had registered just one shot on goal in six of Philadelphia’s 15 games. That’s not good enough for a struggling team’s best offensive player.

I’m not saying it will be, but if this team turns it around, Giroux’s play on Saturday against the Oilers could be looked upon as a turning point because Giroux was slightly-more selfish, began to take matters into his own hands and finally found some confidence.

A confident, more-selfish Giroux is a dangerous Giroux. And a dangerous Giroux is exactly what the Flyers need.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”