Flyers look to rebound and try not to lay another dud tonight in Tampa

Flyers look to rebound and try not to lay another dud tonight in Tampa

We all knew that the Flyers’ point streak and recent hot stretch would eventually come an end. But man, oh, man was that ever a dud they laid in South Florida on Monday night.

The Orange and Black sleepwalked through the first 40 minutes and could never recover as they were dropped by a particularly bad Panthers team, 3-1, and saw their seven-game point streak come to a screeching halt.

It was a missed opportunity for a precious two points on a night that where the Devils and Rangers lost in regulation and the Penguins gained just a single point. All of those teams sit ahead of the Flyers in what Charles Barkley would likely classify as a “TURRIBLE” Metropolitan Division.

After the game, Scott Hartnell said he and his mates may have “underestimated” the lowly Panthers, but the game saw the Flyers do a lot of the same things they did during their wretched start to the season.

They turned the puck over way too much, had difficulty entering the offensive zone cleanly, overpassed when in the offensive zone, blew glorious power-play opportunities, lost board battles and were generally outhustled by the third-worst team in the league.

The Flyers have an opportunity to prove that Monday’s game was anomaly to their recent play and rebound tonight in Tampa against a surprisingly good-so-far Lightning squad.

There are few storylines heading into this game, most notably Vinny Lecavalier’s return to Tampa as Flyer after 15 years as a franchise pivot for the Lightning and the absence of one of the best hockey players in the world in Steven Stamkos, the lethal Lightning sniper who broke his leg in a somewhat gruesome fashion a few weeks ago.

Go ahead and try not cringe while watching his leg just float around like it’s made out of Jell-O. Consider it my Thanksgiving gift to you all. You’re all welcome!

Anyway, the Lecavalier return angle has been and will continue to be pulverized into the ground and most hockey fans know how important Stamkos, who has scored 13 goals in 19 career games against the Flyers, is to the Lightning.

I’m most interested in seeing how the Flyers respond from Monday’s lousy effort. At the beginning of the year, the Flyers would have likely kept the lousiness rolling along because there just wasn’t any confidence at all.

But this isn’t this isn’t the same Flyers team from the beginning of the year, or so we think.

There’s a sense of confidence around the group now, both internally and from the fanbase. That’s what 13 out of a possible 14 points over seven games will do for you.

Don’t get it twisted, just because Stamkos is on the shelf doesn’t mean the Lightning should be taken any less seriously. The Lightning is still a dangerous team. Tampa has a 15-8-1 record and 31 points, sits second in the Atlantic division and averages the seventh-most goals per game in the league with 2.88 per contest.

This game will be a pretty good test for the Flyers.  Keep in mind that the only team with the winning record the Flyers played during their 6-0-1 stretch was those filthy, rotten, no-good Penguins. But the Flyers did respond nicely to their only loss during that stretch with a 5-2 victory over the Senators in their next game.

“Razor” Ray goes between the pipes tonight for the Flyers. He’s 3-3-0 in six starts this season with a .910 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against average. More recently, Emery is 3-1 in his last four starts and has given up just four goals total in those starts. He has a 6-3-2 record in 11 career games played against the Lightning. Backup netminder Anders Lindback, who is 1-5-0 with a .872 save percentage and 3.47 goals-against average, goes for the Lightning.

The first period should be pretty telling of what to expect the rest of the game. We’ll see if the Flyers come out with that hustle and effort to their game and jump on the ice that they sorely lacked against the Panthers.

I mean, I would have trouble concentrating, too, if there were only like 50 people in crowd like there was on Monday in South Florida. But, whatever, let’s just not lay another uninspired egg tonight, Flyers.

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (illness) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”