Flyers Week Ahead Doesn't Look So Bad, But

Flyers Week Ahead Doesn't Look So Bad, But

Our Philadelphia
Flyers hockey club has been through a gauntlet of challenging teams and
scenarios lately, including playing elite competition, a grueling
stretch of away games, and the scrutiny of playing in the sport's most
visible game, followed by the top team in the West and a home-and-home
with an upstart conference foe. Fans, players, coaches, and owners alike
probably wouldn't have it any other way. While the stretch hasn't been
easy, it's been a great experience.

Win or lose, I don't think any of us would trade the privilege of
having the Flyers featured in the Winter Classic. And, even though the
lesson learned in a pair of recent matchups with the New York Rangers is
that the Flyers aren't currently playing as well as the the Blueshits,
the timing of that schooling was ideal (aside from the fact that one of
the games happened to be the Winter Classic). Finding out you don't
quite measure up in April is a huge problem. In December and January,
it's a welcome reminder that nothing will come easy in a long series
against a great team, no matter how pretty your record on the last day
of the season. There are a lot of new faces on the Flyers, guys who
weren't around when that lesson was learned by their teammates last
season. And, there's still room for improvement in some significant
areas.

So, with one of the most difficult regular season stretches of the
season, the Flyers now settle in for the second half, which begins with a
couple of on-paper cupcakes. Don't be fooled though—there could be
poison in the frosting.

Tonight, Lavy's boys will skate in the city he once gave a Stanley
Cup. The Carolina Hurricanes are just one point out of last place in the
East, topping only the Flyers' Thursday night opponent—the New York
Islanders.

Carolina has allowed a league-worst 146 goals, and no NHL team has
scored fewer goals than the Islanders (who in their meager defense have
played few games than most). Both are also perennial oft-picked on nerds
in the Bullies' schoolyard, with few wins over the Flyers in recent
years.

Still, the Flyers are in a vulnerable position right now. Losses in
either game wouldn't be devastating or anything close to it, but after a
brilliant early December stretch, the Flyers have traded wins with
losses, and need to regain form. Failure to do so against clearly
inferior opponents could have a solidifying effect on areas of downward
tendency.

Dominant scoring is often enough, but costly turnovers and poor
clearing of screens and slot traffic have seen the Flyers concede very
early leads as well as some dramatic come-from-ahead losses. Those kinds
of defensive miscues have a way of being opponent-neutral. Some of
these goals have hardly been skill shots, and NHL-caliber players will
bury you for mistakes in your own zone no matter what logo is on their
sweater.

It's never a bad time to be facing a few weaker opponents though.
The Flyers are by no means playing terrible hockey, but they have some
work to do, and the Hurricanes and Islanders aren't quite as dangerous
as the Blackhawks and the surprising Senators.

Flyers-Canes
Tonight, Ilya Bryzgalov gets a rest, with Sergei Bobrovsky likely facing Cam Ward.

Anthony San Filippo says Harry Z will play, with Zac Rinaldo getting the healthy scratch. Not a bad bit of rookie depth to be able to choose between those players as to which role you want in a given night.

Carolina has lost four of their last six, including a 5-2 defeat in
Nashville on Saturday that followed a 4-2 win over the Sabres.

Peter
Laviolette's preceder and succeeder in Carolina, Paul Maurice, was
replaced by former Montreal Canadien Kirk Muller on November 29th. The
Hurricanes had lost their previous three games, and they lost the next
four as well. In 18 games with Muller behind the bench, they've won only
five times.

The Flyers may have the Canes' number in most matchups, including
5-1 and 5-3 wins already this season, but they did lose the last time
they faced Carolina, 4-2. An L tonight wouldn't wear well after a
clunker of a third period in Ottawa.

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).