Flyers Face Off Against Atlantic Division- and Eastern Conference-Leading Devils

Flyers Face Off Against Atlantic Division- and Eastern Conference-Leading Devils

You often have to wonder how the New Jersey Devils do it. Their
goaltender is 40, and their best player departed during free agency, yet the 2012
Stanley Cup Finalists rarely show signs of slowing down. With 19 points and an
8-2-3 record, the Devils sit atop the Eastern Conference once again.

It’s early, but New Jersey seems to be getting along just
fine without Zach Parise so far. The trio of David Clarkson, Patrick Elias, and
Ilya Kovalchuk have been able to shoulder the load just fine, with Clarkson in
particular breaking out for nine goals already – tied for fourth in the NHL.
And Martin Brodeur just keeps on ticking for the Devils in net, off to a 6-2-2
start.

We already know they can still shut down the Flyers. In the
third game of the season back on January 22, New Jersey blanked Philadelphia
3-0 in Newark, a losing effort that cost the team Scott Hartnell. The Flyers
dominated much of the first period, but were still trailing by two goals when
it was over, and Brodeur shut the door from there.

Marty stopped 24 shots, while the Devils got two of their
three scores from Clarkson and Kovalchuk.

It would be fair to say they’ve had the Flyers’ number going
back to the playoffs last season. Philly stole game one of the Eastern
Conference semis in overtime, then proceeded to flat-line for the remainder of
the series, dropping the next four in what amounted to an extended sweep of
sorts.

The problem of late has been their inability to sustain and
sometimes even generate offensive chances against New Jersey’s backcheck. The
Flyers averaged 2.2 goals per game against the Devils last postseason, and
obviously they were shutout in their first encounter in 2013.

That theme could continue on Friday night. Philadelphia is
tied for 21st in goals per game (2.49) and ranks 20th in power-play percentage
(16.9%), while New Jersey is tied for fifth in goals against average (2.08) and
eighth in penalty killing (84.1%).

The offense has shown some signs of improvement, as it looks
like Peter Laviolette may have found a solid combination in the tandem of Jakub
Voracek, Brayden Schenn, and Tye McGinn. We’ll see if the young guns can keep
up the pressure against a gritty division rival.

In other words, we may need another stellar performance out
of Ilya Byrzgalov to carry the Orange & Black, although they could get a little help should Sean Couturier return from a touch of the flu. Puck drops at 7 p.m. as the
Flyers search for their second win of their season-long six-game road trip.

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Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."