Flyers-Penguins: This Is Why We Watch

Flyers-Penguins: This Is Why We Watch

The simplest way I can think of to put this rivalry in
perspective is this: the standings do not matter one bit today. They will again tomorrow,
especially should the Flyers falter, but at this moment all anybody really needs
to be concerned with is getting geared up for one intense showdown.

Flyers versus Penguins is the premier matchup in the NHL right now, and not just in Philadelphia
or Pittsburgh, but anywhere. It’s the night of the week you look forward to, have
to plan your schedule around, because you know these teams are gonna deliver the
goods. Any given meeting between the two could turn into a classic right before
your eyes.

Just like their last tilt on February 20, a 6-5 slugfest
that could be considered the early favorite for NHL game of the year. That battle
epitomized everything this tug-of-war has been about over the last year:
fast-paced, end-to-end action; relentless physicality fostered by distaste for the
opponent; high drama amid a playoff atmosphere from the moment the puck drops until
the final horn sounds.

A heavyweight fight that pits two of the most highly-skilled
teams in their sport against one another, representing fan bases who absolutely
detest each other.

Is your heart racing yet?

Philly has been getting the better of things lately,
especially since the rivalry turned molten last season. The Bullies of course were
responsible for the Pens’ first-round playoff exit this past April, while going
9-4-1 in regular season encounters dating back to 2010-’11.

But as Tim Pinaccio writes this morning, the enemy might be
getting a little too cozy in the Flyers’ building. Under head coach Dan Bylsma,
the Penguins are 8-2-1 at the Wells Fargo Center, which provides the backdrop
for tonight’s clash.

No surprise, Ilya Bryzgalov is in net tonight for the Orange
& Black. Billy hasn’t exactly looked like an all-world goaltender against
the Penguins during the past two seasons – though to be fair, few people do. Bylsma
won’t make the same mistake twice in Pitt’s crease, opting to go with Marc-Andre Fleury over the backup this time around. Tomas Vokoun flopped around like
a fish out of water for most of last month’s 6-5 loss.

On the injury front, the Flyers might be receiving
reinforcements. It sounds like Matt Read will be making his return to the ice several
weeks earlier than anticipated. Nicklas Grossmann on the other hand was lost to
a lower-body injury in New York on Tuesday, and would be replaced in the lineup
by Kurtis Foster if he can’t go.

The contest is scheduled to begin at 7:00, with the standard
two points on the line, but one thing you definitely don’t have to worry about
is either side mailing it in or just going through the motions. There’s no need
for any extra motivation.

We're fairly certain both clubs would want to beat the hell out of the other tonight, whether the Stanley Cup was hanging in the balance, or there was nothing else at stake at all.

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Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

USA Today Images

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Sixers 'all over the place' different without Ben Simmons

Sixers 'all over the place' different without Ben Simmons

CAMDEN, N.J. — It has been over three weeks since Ben Simmons suffered an acute Jones fracture in his right foot during the final scrimmage of training camp. The Sixers had constructed schemes around the rookie point-forward and watched unconventional lineups play out at Stockton University.

Those “can’t-wait-to-see” situations have been delayed to “wait-and-see” as Simmons recovers.

“Where do you begin?” Brett Brown said after practice Sunday. “I could talk for three days on what’s different without Ben Simmons. It’s all-over-the-place different. The core values of how you want to do different things there remain the same, but the whole landscape changed.”

This week was supposed to be the debut of a new-look system featuring a player who could influence the game with his versatility and athleticism. Brown even had experimented with pairing Simmons and Dario Saric at the two and three positions. Instead, the Sixers once again will start a regular season shorthanded by injuries.

Simmons was projected to start at power forward and also handle point responsibilities. His multitasking lessened the need for the Sixers to find a standout point guard this summer. They signed veteran Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, who is returning to the NBA for his second stint.

Bayless was expected to start, with the intention of Simmons running the floor at times. Now, neither can play. Bayless has been sidelined by a ligament injury in his left wrist. The Sixers announced on Friday that Bayless will have a non-surgical rehab and will be reevaluated in two weeks.

Brown on Sunday was undecided on whether Rodriguez or second-year point guard T.J. McConnell would start at the one on opening night.

“He was going to be one of the primary ballhandlers,” Brown said of Simmons. “And with that, floor spots and spacing and how you actually set this thing up changes dramatically.”

The players also have noticed a change without Simmons in the backcourt. Joel Embiid, playing his first season after missing the past two with foot injuries, found himself struggling with his shot selection early on in the preseason. He got glimpses in camp of how Simmons could improve that.

“He’s such a big presence and he’s really important to us,” Embiid said. “He just makes plays. I’ve been rushing shots and that’s where it comes in play. Someone like him can help me get better shots because he can get me easy baskets.”

Simmons’ absence also fast-forwarded Saric’s transition in his first NBA season. The injuries to Simmons and Jahlil Okafor (right knee) have pushed Saric into the starting power forward role during the preseason. The rookie has been learning on the go in a new league.

“He has been thrown into the fire,” Brown said of Saric last week (see story).

Simmons recently went through a two-week, post-operative exam and had sutures removed. He is working on day-to-day rehab with the Sixers' staff while also spending time talking with Brown. The team is implementing a multi-faceted recovery program of education, health and shot improvement.

This includes meeting with Brown to break down his game — where it is now and where it can develop in the future. Brown wants to make sure Simmons knows the ins and outs of the system so he is best prepared to begin his rookie season once cleared to play.

“I think that part of my excitement is I get with Ben every day while we’re here and go into my office for half-an-hour and it’s like basketball-NBA 101,” Brown said.

That’s one aspect of Simmons’ injury for which Brown can prepare.