Flyers' Huge Comeback Falls Short After Frustrating Start (with video to make you crazy)

Flyers' Huge Comeback Falls Short After Frustrating Start (with video to make you crazy)

The first two periods of Saturday's matchup with the Devils couldn't have gone much worse for the Flyers. Sluggish, uninspired early play by the Flyers combined with crisp, aggressive answers from the Devils and some frightfully bad refereeing saw the home team struggling to stop the bleeding late in the first period and throughout the second.

Sergei Bobrovsky was relieved just shy of the game's midway point, the Flyers down 6-0 at the time. Ilya Bryzgalov came in and pitched a shutout while his skaters did everything they could to turn the game around, mounting a respectable comeback but ultimately falling by a 6-4 count.

A look at the action below, including video of the amazingly bad non-call that keyed the Devils' early dominance.

Now, while the expletives were flying around Delaware Valley living rooms and both bowls at the Wells Fargo Center, the refs weren't the only reason the Flyers lost this game. Not for lack of trying though. The zebras really jobbed the Flyers in this one, particularly early.

Less than three minutes into the game, the Devils were given a two-man advantage on a so-so call against Kimmo Timonen with Marc-Andre Bourdon already in the box. Some nice puck movement resulted in the puck being on a wide open Kurtis "Bananas" Foster's stick, and he emptied it out in a hurry.

The Devils kept the pressure up throughout the period, peppering Bob with 17 shots to the Flyers' seven. Two SOGs in the final minute of the frame made it 3-1 Devils, and they had Flyers fans ready to drag the refs through the streets of South Philly.

Here's video of how the first one came about, with the Flyers on a power play…

Dainius Zubrus clearly trips Giroux before stripping the puck off the prostrate centerman, then finds Ilya Kovalchuk for the Devils' league-leading 12th shorty.

To make matters even worse, Zubrus would score again with less than a second to play in the period. It was a very nice shooting effort by Zubrus, but … he should have been in the box at the time. Then, during the goal scoring/celebration sequence, Scott Hartnell took a high-sticking penalty, perhaps due to frustration over the non-call. On the ensuing power play to start the second period, the Devils scored again.

One blown call, which should have resulted in a 5-on-3 for the Flyers, directly impacted three goals the other way.

OK, enough whining (although there was more cause for it)…

The Flyers didn't respond well at all in the second period, conceding that goal and two more, including yet another Foster goal on the 5-on-3.

The third period was a whole different game. Bryzgalov relieved Bob in the second and didn't allow a goal the rest of the way. The offense came alive in the third, sparked by one of the few guys who had been playing well all afternoon—Wayne Simmonds. Simmer battled in front of the net to get multiple efforts off on Johan Hedberg, the final one beating him on a pretty swat.

Jaromir Jagr, who took a beating all afternoon and thinks he may have broken the tip of his finger on a slash, scored the Flyers' second goal, followed by Claude Giroux potting his 20th of the season on a power play and Jake Voracek giving us all that glimmer of hope to bring the game within two.

The game got pretty nasty in the third, and it was to the Flyers' advantage. One sequence in particular saw a full-line skirmish that saw a small parade to the box, including Zac Rinaldo, Simmonds, Anton Vochenkov, and Bryce Salvador, plus a pair of unlikely combatants. Brayden Schenn and Ilya Kovalchuk threw down in a bout the rookie won't soon forget, if he remembers it at all. He hung in there with the much larger Kovalchuk for a while, but ultimately took a nasty right hand to the grill.

The good news was, the surprise penalty killing weapon Kovalchuk was in the box for the ensuing Flyers power play, which was when Giroux converted.

The finish was to be admired, with no quit in
a Flyers team that was getting smoked by the Devils and jobbed by the refs for the better part of two periods. But the Flyers didn't play anywhere near their best hockey, which will net them the same result tomorrow if they repeat it against the Rangers.

Notes:
Simmonds has tied a career high in goals (16) and has three in four games against the Devils. He also has three in his past two games and six in over nine.

The day in misleading stats: The Flyers outshot the Devils by 10 (41-31). However, the shooting stats became far more true when broken down by period. The Flyers posted an amazing 24-1 shot total in the third, when they scored four unanswered goals. Per Elias, that 23-shot period differential is the largest in Flyers history.

Good to see Giroux score again after potting his first in a month on an empty netter on Thursday. Same for Jagr, who gave G the EN gift and reaped the reward today.

Two good post-goal signs of who this Flyers team is: Simmonds scored their first of the game, but had less than even a smile in celebration. In fact, he shook his head, seemingly still in disgust at the state of the game. When Jagr scored, there was no salute. These guys know their effort wouldn't be erased by a few goals, and individual marks were relatively meaningless in this bloodbath.

Bob can't be blamed for his showing, particularly not the pair of 5-on-3 goals he allowed. Either way, good to see Bryz come in cold and look sharp, stemming the tide.

If only we still had access to that 24/7-like footage for this one. Peter Laviolette looked ready to run onto the ice at several points to give the refs a hand in seeing the game a little more closely. 

Video Highlights:

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.