Hartnell Leads Revamped Power Play in Win, But Briere, Jagr, Rinaldo Hurt ... Bryz Wants to Be Left Alone

Hartnell Leads Revamped Power Play in Win, But Briere, Jagr, Rinaldo Hurt ... Bryz Wants to Be Left Alone

The Flyers' dual-matinee weekend appeared to get off to a promising start, with a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. But, injuries disclosed both during and after the game could prove to be more important than their resurgent effort after a poor outing against the Islanders, and Ilya Bryzgalov's postgame comments may get as much attention as his stellar in-game play.

Scott Hartnell was among the Flyers who led the way in the win, netting a pair of power play goals, and Bryzgalov had a very strong afternoon in net. Jaromir Jagr left the game with an undisclosed lower body injury, which is concerning, but it may have pushed the Flyers to make a change that helped spark their power play too. After the game, Paul Holmgren stated that Danny Briere has a concussion and will be out indefinitely.

A look at a key timeout, modifications to the power play, some key contributors, and video highlights (both in-game and at Bryz's locker) below.

The Devils seemed to have an early advantage in the game, which was scoreless through the first period due to some good goaltending at both ends. Aided by a pair of power plays, the Devils put nine shots on Ilya Bryzgalov to the Flyers' four.

Jagr left midway through the first period, a situation certainly worth some concern. But, that and another timeout motivational speech by the head coach may have put the wheels in motion for the Flyers to slice through the league's best penalty killing unit and dominate the game's final 35 minutes.

Three minutes into the second period, Lavvy wasn't happy with the effort he was seeing on the ice. As is his wont, he called a timeout. After the game, Hartnell relayed to Coatsey that the message was simple: "Who's gonna play?"

Ice time would be dictated by effort, always a key in Lavvy's coaching style, but something that he needed to emphasize today.

Shift after shift, the Flyers turned up the pressure, leading to quality scoring chances and a few power plays. Then, at 9:30 of the second period, Matt Read added to his NHL rookie-leading goal total, scoring his 15th. Wayne Simmonds, who was among the hardest working players on the ice all game, made the most of a Devils turnover, outworking a pair of them in the corner and emerging with a pass on the tape of Read, who buried one past Martin Brodeur.

A few minutes later, a Flyers power play that has been struggling to be dangerous on a consistent basis, took to the ice with a new look. With Jagr out, Simmonds drew power play time along with Hartnell and Claude Giroux, with Simmonds taking the low slot and Hartnell finding his way to Jagr's usual post in the mid-to-high slot. With those two in place and the associated Devils traffic, Kimmo Timonen took a shot from the point that found its way into the net. It was hard to initially credit, because both Hartnell and Simmonds had their sticks ready to deflect it. Simmonds quickly pointed back to Hartnell though, who had gotten just enough of it to beat Brodeur.

Fresh off the plane from Carolina, the newest Devil Alexei Ponikarovsky cut the Flyers' lead to one, deflecting a shot of his own to beat Bryz just 28 seconds later.

The Flyers weathered the Devils' comeback effort, and their success on the power play continued in the third period. Scott Hartnell drew a pair of minors as the horn blew to start the second intermission, but he'd tally on the power play again once allowed on the ice again.

Harts was again in the high slot area with Simmonds down low when Giroux executed a great head fake, staring down Kimmo at the point before sending a quick pass to Hartnell, who rifled it home for his 22nd on the season.

Sometimes an empty netter is a meaningless stat padder, but that wasn't the case with the one Simmonds managed today. First, it was a pretty nice backhand shot. But aside from that, he earned the tally with some hard-ass work in the corners and around the crease; he was on the ice for every Flyers goal, assisting on two of them.

With timetables on Briere and Jagr unknown, it is at least encouraging to be reminded of the Flyers' depth today. Also good to see Giroux with a two-point day.

Eleven of Hartnell's 22 goals this season have come on the power play. It's the third time this season he has scored twice in a game.

According to Flyers PR, this was Simmonds' first career three-point game.

Dave Isaac says Tom Sestito and Ben Holmstrom will be called up to play tomorrow against Boston.

Unfortunately, there will be understandable attention on Ilya Bryzgalov's response to the questions he was asked after the win. Here's the video of that.

In summary, "Who cares. Stop worrying about me. Worry about different things. Too much in the media, everywhere around, like 'How you feel? What's going on? What we should have to do with him?'—Leave me alone, guys. Just let me be me and let me play hockey."

I don't think the reporters were necessarily out for blood so much as a quote updating the oft-scrutinized status the team's key off-season acquisition. It is indeed very fair territory. But, it's also well-traveled territory, and it's easy to see Bryz's side of it. In fact, count me in favor of the media heeding the wishes of both the team earlier in the season and the goalie right now, and having a few fewer rounds at the open bar that is often served at Bryz's locker stall.

Yes, it's part of the job, and I don't intend this as an indictment of the media, though we know the group has had some scrapes with Flyers players before. Today was reminiscent of Mike Richards' "Same Questions…" eye-rolling reaction.

We all enjoy the Bryzgalisms, and he knew (or at least was warned) that this would come with the territory when he signed here and left media (and fan) devoid Phoenix. Hell I'm taking the bait right now, posting and commenting on his statement. But I think most fans would rather have shutouts and one-goal performances than responses to questions about current or past struggles. At least I would. Feel free to disagree of course.

Who's to say whether the scrutiny has anything to do with the struggles. The media certainly can't be blamed for them. But, there's at least evidence that it bothers him. Whether today's response will have Bryzgalov's desired effect or the complete opposite remains to be seen. At least one person in the room seemed to get a pretty good laugh out of it (though for all we know, it was directed at something else).

Here's another Bryz video to clean the palate.

Embiid Liives: Sixers lose opener but Process secured

Embiid Liives: Sixers lose opener but Process secured


852 days after Joel Embiid was drafted -- a number becoming as familiar to Sixer fans as any Cubs fan could tell you how many years it's been since their last World Series -- he actually played in a regular season game for the Philadelphia 76ers. He lives. He exists. He has a Basketball-Reference stat line. It looks like this: 

The feeling of triumph was tangible at the not-Wells Fargo Center well before it became clear that the Sixers might actually have a shot at beating the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Embiid's every move was treated with breathless anticipation and rapturous cheering, as well it should have been. Even Dario Saric got his name chanted at him in the first quarter, during his very first regular-season trip to the free-throw line. It was less a basketball game than a Bar Mitzvah, celebrating that these two guys we'd waited a combined four years for were at last becoming full-grown Sixers before our very eyes. It couldn't have mattered much less whether or not we won the game. 

That said, hey, we almost won the game! The Sixers led most of the way, including by six fairly deep into the fourth quarter. If not for the Internet-pandering greatness of Russell Westbrook -- 32-12-9 on good shooting, including a handful of tough pull-ups to make the difference late -- the Sixers might've won their first home opener since Process Genesis three years ago. It didn't happen, and a couple highly flustered 76ers possessions late in this one would probably make this loss pretty frustrating if it happened in February, which it probably still will. Last night? W/e. Let's watch those Embiid highlights again. 

And oh, were they high. It was a night that I imagine will soon become typical for our Jojo: He didn't have a great game, and he was still amazing. 6-16 from the floor with four turnovers and 0 assists is hardly the most efficient night Joel will have for us; a couple times he tried to do way too much in the half-court, and it would've been embarrassing if how much fun he was having even in his screw-ups wasn't so inspiring. He didn't know what spots to run to in transition, he was a non-factor on the boards late, and he probably needs to cool it with his coast-to-coast experiments for a little bit. (Actually, what am I saying? Do You forever, Joel, just watch for those tiny dudes sneaking into your blind spot.) 

But he did get to the line for eight FTs (including two on a rip-through move that most ten-year pros can't successfully execute) and made seven of 'em, he did grab nearly every rebound in sight in the first quarter (even though he only ended with seven for the game), he did get an early swat on Russ (and deterred countless other shots), and yes, he did hit his first-ever three-pointer (and even sent the not-WFC crowd into a frenzy with a couple he missed). Even on an off night, where Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams — who my mother now hates — got the best of him on multiple occasions, and he radiated a total lack of NBA experience, he still scored 20 points in 22 minutes and kept us in a game we had no right being anywhere near. He is going to be DOMINANT. And soon. So soon.

Technically there were also ten other Sixers who took the court for us last night, so it's probably worth humoring a couple of their contributions as well. For all the shit that I gave him about cruising through the preseason, I thought Robert Covington was awesome last night — super-active on defense, making good decisions on offense, and hitting a couple huge three-pointers. Jerami Grant was similarly impressive, causing his typical chaos under the basket on both ends and even hitting a couple jumpers; probably shouldn't get super-used to that. And even though Gerald Henderson's night was most memorable for him bricking a three and coughing up the ball in critical late possessions, he also set the evening off with a gorgeous alley-oop slam, and played tough perimeter defense — the kind we just haven't had available to unleash on opposing point guards the last few years — on Westbrook, even if he was ultimately undone by Russ's sorcery.

Special kudos to a couple of our backcourt guys, though: In his first regular-season start for the 76ers — and his first regular-season start for any NBA team in seven seasons — Sergio Rodriguez was exactly what we needed: He attracted the Thunder trap but was able to easily navigate out of it, getting good looks and driving lanes for our perimeter guys, and he hit open shots when passed out to himself. He finished with 12 points, nine assists, and no turnovers, just what we'd hope for from our imported point guard. And Nik Stauskas packed a little extra heat for the bloggers who called for his dismissal all summer (as well as some of the fans that booed him — booed him! — last night), attacking the basket like his roster spot depended on it, finishing with an eye-catching 13 on 5-6 shooting. (I never stopped believing in you, Sauce.) (Well, maybe I sorta did, but at least I was rooting for you to make the team, if partly for selfish reasons.) 

On the other hand, it was something of a rough night for Dario Saric. He did fight for seven rebounds, and should laudable toughness on both sides of the ball, but the looks just weren't falling for Our Friend Dario last night — just 2-12, and some of the misses were brutal — and he was late on a couple rotations that led to open Thunder jumpers (Thumpers?) early. And despite showing his advanced touch early with three consecutive scores, Jahlil Okafor ran out of gas pretty quickly in this one, ending with just eight points on 4-10 shooting (with three TOs), and stood virtually no chance against the Thunder on the boards and in the pick-and-roll. Better nights to come for both. 

In the end, though, only one thing really mattered for the Sixers and the 20,000 fans — about 10,000 of them clad in Sixers jerseys, and mostly non-Iverson ones! — at the Center last night, and that's Joel Embiid, our beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy, officially becoming a player of record in the NBA. When a full stadium of Philly Phaithful chants "TRUST-THE-PRO-CESS!" while JoJo cackles from the free-throw line line, it means Our Once and Always Dark Lord's work is finally done. Hinkie died for our sins. Embiid is risen. 

Look at how much fun this season is already, with Simmons still in street clothes and Nerlens still Netflix-binging in Alabama with his phone in the other room. What's left to trust, anyway?

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

After two years filled with will he or won't he speculation over joining the Sixers, this certainly wasn't the effort Dario Saric had envisioned for his NBA regular-season debut. 

"I felt comfortable, but sometimes it's not your day and this was my bad day," said Saric, who scored five points in the Sixers' 103-97 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "I'll try to watch the video and fix what I can fix and move forward."

The raw numbers look bad. The rookie forward shot 2 of 12 from the field, including 0 of 4 from three-point range. He did notch seven rebounds and two assists, but also contributed two turnovers.

But as you know, numbers don't always tell the story. 

Saric displayed the offensive versatility and headiness on defense that had the Sixers salivating over him for two years while he played for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He was able to penetrate in the lane several times against the Thunder on Wednesday night and used pump/head fakes to get his defender off balance, but the shots just didn't fall.

"He struggled with his shot" Sixers head coach Bett Brown said. "But just the physical play, some of the intellect of guarding things suddenly that we all might not pay attention to that coaches do. You see him go out of his way to make a rotation, that he just felt the game. I think that some of his pick-and-roll reads on trying to hit cutters, trying to slow up rollers and still go back to shooters like (Ersan) Ilyasova is, stood out to me.

"He's intelligent. He is a smart basketball player. The stats will show that he didn't make some of his shots, but I think that just that gamesmanship, that intellect stands out to me." 

The only time Saric looked a tad overmatched is when OKC went to its mustachioed muscle tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter inside. After the game, Brown lamented leaving Saric in for so long against that pairing, which combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds on the night.

Teammate Jahlil Okafor tried to come to Saric's aid in those moments, but returning from a torn meniscus and on a minutes restriction, his plan wasn't exactly met with enthusiasm by the coaching staff.

"I actually kind of hinted to the coaches that I wanted to play with him (Embiid) because they put Kanter and Adams in," Okafor said. "I was kind of hinting to the coaches that if they want to play big ball we can play big ball with them."

Their response?

"Stay disciplined. Have your lawyer call my lawyer," Okafor said with a laugh. "That's the go-to line."

Even with Saric's few hiccups on defense, Okafor is confident the 22-year-old Croatian will be able to hold his own against NBA players and get the buckets to start dropping on the offensive end.

"I love Dario. It's been a pleasure having him around," Okafor said. "He's such a selfless guy.

"He did struggle a little bit with his shot, but all of the shots that he missed are shots that we know he can make and shots that we've seen him make since he's been here. So we're good. We know what he's going to do."