Flyers continue home stand tonight against terrible Sabres

Flyers continue home stand tonight against terrible Sabres

So you think the Flyers had an awful start to this season?

I call your thoughts on the Flyers bad start and raise you tonight’s Wells Fargo Center visitor, the terrible Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres are essentially the NHL’s version of a tire fire that’s been burning out of control for the season’s first two months.

They enter tonight’s contest with a league-worst 5-17-1 record and a league-low 11 points. If that’s not bad enough, things have gone so far downhill in Western New York that Sabres’ owner and Penn State hockey arena namesake Terry Pegula canned not only head coach Ron Rolston but also general manager Darcy Regier for the cherry on top last week.

Former Sabres and Islanders head coach Ted Nolan – who, before last week, last coached the Sabres in a 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinal loss to the Flyers – was tabbed to replace Rolston while former Sabres great and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine was named president of hockey operations.

They’ve also had a guy –Patrick Kaleta – suspended 10 games for repeated head shots, their goon – John Scott – suspended seven games for a head shot of his own and saw their best player – sniper Tomas Vanek – traded to the Islanders last month.

Poor Buffalo. It’s basically like North American sports purgatory.

On the other hand, the Flyers have turned it around since all kinds of turmoil swirled around them to start the year.

After Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Senators, the Flyers are now 8-7-2 under Craig Berube since he replaced Peter Lavilotte behind bench after the third game of the season. More recently, the Flyers are 4-0-1 in their last five games and have earned nine of a possible 10 points in those games to find themselves back in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race.

There are no nights off in the NHL, but tonight’s game against the Sabres, who come in with a 3-8 road record, is as close to a “gimmie” as there is going to be in the league.

The Sabres are easily the lowest-scoring team in the league with 1.70 goals scored per game. The Flyers used to hold that dubious distinction but are now averaging an even 2.00 goals per game with 18 tallies during this five-game mini hot streak.

Goal scoring is at such a premium for the Sabres that every single player currently on their roster that has played more than one game has a minus rating. Eh, not so good.

The key for the Flyers tonight should be getting off to an early start. So far this season, the Sabres have been outscored an astonishing 31-4 in the first period. That’s a beyond dreadful minus-27 goal differential in the opening period. Don’t be surprised then to see the Flyers get up by a few early and force the Sabres to try and climb back in the game. As you may be able to surmise, they aren’t so good at climbing back into the game.

The Sabres still have goalie Ryan Miller, though. And while he hasn’t been as good as he has in the past, that’s in part to a crummy defense in front of him. He’s faced 599 shots – second-most in the league – in 16 games played. Keep in mind, he’s playing not only for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team come February but also maybe for a trade out of the hot mess that is Buffalo right now. The Flyers can’t sleep on him.

“Razor” Ray Emery gets the nod in net tonight for the Flyers. It’s a great chance to get Emery some tick after the way he played against the Penguins last Wednesday and give Steve Mason some rest with four games in six days coming up after tonight. Emery is 11-6-1 in his career against the Sabres.

Long story short, there are two important points just sitting on the table tonight for the Flyers against this awful Sabres team. As long as the Flyers show up tonight, they should be able to keep the momentum rolling.

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).