Flyers in Sunrise for One Last Pre-All-Star Tilt

Flyers in Sunrise for One Last Pre-All-Star Tilt

The NHL All-Star Game and its associated break seem to be coming at just the right time for the Flyers, who have a few key forwards missing time due to injuries. Tonight's matchup in The Middle of Nowhere, Florida, is the final stop before most of the team gets a week off. Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier all head to Ottawa, where they'll be part of the festivities.

It's nearing the end of January, and to be honest, I wouldn't have believed you if you told me the Florida Panthers would be leading the Southeast Division at this point in the season. Part of that is the Washington Capitals not living up to the high expectations everyone had after they only seemed to get better in the off-season, but the work the Panthers have done can't be tossed aside even though they'd be in fifth place were they in the Atlantic Division. Riiiiight? [/masking bias against Southeast Division...]

However, the Panthers have fallen on hard times recently, enduring a slump that makes the Flyers win some-lose some January look a lot better in comparison. A few more notes on the game below, including a look at the familiar face leading the Panthers' attack.

Since December 20th, Florida has won just four games, while losing 10. They did win their last game, taking the extra point off the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout. Hopefully we won't see tonight's game go to that distance. After Sunday, a game in which we saw some of the most entertaining and electric hockey settled in an event better suited for the coming weekend, I don't think I can take another shootout so soon.

The Panthers do lead the league in mercy points, with their slot in the standings owed in part to 10 overtime losses.

Fans were excited when Kris Versteeg came to Philly at last year's trade deadline. His production wasn't quite what everyone expected, and without getting into why (we're not actually sure why), he was part of the jettison this past summer. Kris has found a friendly landing in Florida, where he leads the team in goals (19) and points (42). I never had any problem with Versteeg, almost a little happy to see him doing well.

Versteeg was a key contributor in the Panthers' win over Winnipeg, credited with a pair of goals and an assist. But, before that, he hadn't scored a goal since December 27th, and had only one point since then. Hopefully he didn't just find a groove that continues tonight.

The vibes coming out of the Flyers' loss to Boston were somewhat sour, particularly toward Ilya Bryzgalov, who couldn't stop a single shot in the shootout. But the team proved it could hang with an elite conference foe; it was just one of those endings that deflates all that came just before it.

Sergei Bobrovsky gets the road start tonight. Puck drop is at 7:30.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).