Flyers Missing Some D-Men in DC, Knuble Returns for Caps

Flyers Missing Some D-Men in DC, Knuble Returns for Caps

It was hard to see Mike Knuble leave Philly as a free agent after the 2008-2009 season. He was a popular player and consistent scorer, a veteran presence that is coveted and often hard to replace. In four seasons with the Flyers, he scored 34, 24, 29, and 27 goals, with his lowest total coming in his only injury-shortened season. So, it was no surprise when Knuble continued that success in DC, scoring 29 goals in 69 games, nor when he scored 24 goals in his 14th NHL season.

But things have soured for Knuble and the Capitals, whose two head coaches have both used the big forward in checking roles with diminished minutes, and he's lately even been a healthy scratch. The veteran has been in vocal opposition to the benching, and along with fellow disgruntled old-head Roman Hamrlik, was the subject of some trade deadline fodder.

After scratching him in seven of the previous 11 games, Caps head coach Dale Hunter will dress Knuble tonight against his former Flyers club, which appears to be without two of its top defensemen...

Sadly, we can't root for Knuble to stick it to that horse's ass by netting a hattie, all from within 10 feet of the net. The told-ya-so smirk as he skated back to the bench would be enjoyable, but there's too much at stake for both clubs to hope anything goes right for Washington.

As we pointed out in our earlier post, the Caps are scraping their way through a disappointing season, temporarily outside the playoff bubble as the third place team in a division that does not have a club above .500. Hunter took over the team in late November after it had struggled to a 12-9-1 mark under Bruce Boudreau. They've gone just 20-18-4 with Hunter at the helm.

We don't begrudge a head coach the difficult decision of having to bench a respected player who is past his best years, nor asking players to live up to a better standard than the one he himself set. But his stated reasons were laughable… In Knuble's case, Hunter actually brought up a bad plus-minus rating when he informed the forward he'd be sitting. With Hamrlik, he pointed to bad penalties. Dale Hunter. Pointed to someone's bad penalties.

If you hate the Caps, you've enjoyed every minute of this, save for its inclusion of Knuble.

More recently, Washington's woes have involved poor play on special teams and problems with turnovers. In their previous game, the Devils slaughtered them, 5-0, on Friday night. Michal Neuvirth was in net that night, and gets his fifth straight start tonight as well, per Katie Carrera of the Washington Post.

Woes of Our Own
At the other end of the ice, Ilya Bryzgalov goes again for the Flyers, who hope to win consecutive games for the first time since mid-January. Bryz will likely have his work cut out for him though. After Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros all missed yesterday's practice with what Homer called a maintenance day, Erik Gustaffson was recalled. Frank Seravalli believes Timonen and Meszaros will miss the game, with Gus and Andreas Lilja skating in their places.

No confirmation as to who will sit—or why—as of the initial posting, but Sarah Baicker says that if it's Kimmo, his ironman streak ends at 248 games. [Update: Frank was right. Homer says Kimmo and Mesz are out indefinitely with LBI's.]

Does the prospect of a Kimmo/Mesz-less defense scare you? It should… The Flyers' D has been on its heels too often even when fully intact (uh, minus Chris Pronger, that is). Good thing Homer added depth before the deadline, and Nick Grossman should have some motivation to erase a few poor plays recently.

The action starts at 7PM, on NBC Sports Network. HEAR THAT FLYERS? SEVEN PM.

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).