Meaningless? No Bearing on Standings, Game 82 Still Carries Tone

Meaningless? No Bearing on Standings, Game 82 Still Carries Tone

Eighty-one games into the season and five games into the season series between the Flyers and Penguins, there's little more we can learn about where these two teams stand as they enter the playoffs. They played a week ago, they'll play again today, and on Wednesday, they'll faceoff for the first game of a best of seven series. If the league or NBC wanted more Flyers-Pens, they certainly got their wish, although perhaps a round or two early.
Today's matchup means absolutely nothing in terms of black and white postseason implications. These teams will meet in Pittsburgh, the fifth seed visiting the fourth. That scenario wasn't finalized until this past week, but it's been on the horizon for the past month. 
HOME ICE ADVANTAGE STILL UP FOR GRABS, KIND OFBut seeding and home ice advantage aren't necessarily the most important factors to establish entering the postseason. Today could still have more bearing on playoff success than either element. 
Why? Well, the Penguins have the home-ice advantage in the series, right? The Flyers have yet to lose in Pittsburgh's new igloo, going 5-0 since opening the building with a win last season. Today's starter for Philadelphia, Sergei Bobrovsky, was in net for each win. 
And yet, today's game could mean more than any of the previous five in terms of establishing the actual advantage of playing in Pittsburgh. If the Flyers win again, it would seem there is little, although the building will surely be more frenzied in a postseason setting. If the Pens win, any swagger the Flyers have based on their previous spoilers likely evaporates, pushing the "advantage" more toward neutral, if not back into Pittsburgh's favor. 
There's also the fact that the Flyers have fared better on the road than at home. The opposite is true for the Pens though, so it's likely a wash. And, no matter what their splits, no team sees starting on the road as an advantage. The Flyers have picked up their game at home, and the splits aren't that disparate to begin with. 
GOALIESPeter Laviolette and his crew have decided to rest Ilya Bryzgalov, who will be the team's starter in the postseason. Bryz played well in their win over Buffalo on Thursday, and certainly wasn't the reason they lost to the Rangers on Tuesday. So why isn't he starting today, with rest on the calendar before the playoffs start? It's a good question, yet not a decision many (including us) are actually questioning. 
With the tangible postseason elements now off the table, why not give a player with a chip fracture in his foot a day off from what could be a battle? It won't see him healed completely when the series begins, but he won't be any worse off, either. 
Resting Bryz also saves the slim chance that the Penguins might light him up. Not something anyone east of State College would want to see. 
And of course, there's the Bob Factor. Since getting his first-ever NHL start on the night Pittsburgh opened the CONSOL Energy Center, Bob has never lost there. I stole the graphic on the right from the Pensblog
Lavvy's stated reason for today's goaltending decision, per Sam Carchidi, is that Bryz looked sharp in his last game, and he wants to give the goalie a breather after a busy March. Works for me. 
Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Penguins. 
ROUGH STUFF?The way the last meeting ended, coaches standing on the boards, breaking shit, it's reasonable to think there could be some fireworks today. But the teams could keep it close to the vest today, knowing the real show starts in the week ahead. 
Or, they could plan to keep it cool... Then have all hell break loose once the first questionable hit is thrown. Jody Shelley and Zac Rinaldo are both likely be in the lineup, unless Harry Z gets one of their slots. He was called up today.  (Update: See Giroux note below)
The Pens have called up Steve MacIntyre. With Joe Vitale now Flyers' enemy #1, he'll have another wingman in case he's targeted as revenge for his hits on Nick Grossmann and Danny Briere. 
ODDS & ENDSNo Grossmann today (day to day). Same goes for Briere (who knows). 
Claude Giroux has 93 points. An cool 95 would look damn fine on the Year Four line of his career totals.  
An even 40 goals would look pretty nice on Scott Hartnell's total. Especially because that'd mean Scottie racked a hat trick today. 
UPDATE: Looks like no G today. Multiple beats say he's not on the ice for warmups. 
4PM start on NBCSN. 

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.