Meltdown: Flyers Blow Three-Goal First-Period Lead versus Loathsome Penguins

Meltdown: Flyers Blow Three-Goal First-Period Lead versus Loathsome Penguins

This is the definition of letting one slip away.

The Flyers jumped out to a 4-1 first-period lead over the
Pittsburgh Penguins in what was arguably the most dominant 20 minutes of hockey
they have played all season. Orange sweaters swarmed the road whites, their
dominance at both ends of the ice helping to create an 18-4 shots advantage,
while the combination of dumb penalties by James Neal and the leaky goaltending
of Marc-Andre Fleury forced the scoreboard operator to earn his paycheck.

But if you happened to catch a Flyers-Penguins tilt at any
point in the last year, you had to know there was a good chance this one wasn’t
over yet. Sure enough Pittsburgh racked up four consecutive goals – three in
the second, then the decisive tally 18 seconds into the third – which were enough
to steal a 5-4 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tough to say whether the problem was the Flyers actively deciding
to sit on their lead, or if the Penguins were simply able to dial up the
pressure. Most likely it was a bit of both. Not much a team can do about a highly-skilled
opponent awakening from their slumber, but Peter Laviolette’s troops seemed
content at times to continue chipping the puck out of their zone rather than
attempt move up with it. If that was indeed the case, then a cardinal sin was
committed here.

Give the Pens their due though. As much as the Flyers
bullied them at the start, Crosby and mates finally grew a set and dominated on
the forecheck coming out of the intermission. If Philly wasn’t going on the
attack, it was at least in part because their opponent was buzzing around the
ice. Pitt turned the tables in period two, outshooting the Flyers 12-3, and
they were never quite able to regain that early momentum.

Dan Bylsma’s decision to pull Fleury following his
disastrous start, while a no-brainer, provided a boost for the Penguins as
well. He looked rattled on goal number three in particular, a soft snap shot from
the point by Kimmo Timonen that trickled through the goaltender. Tomas Vokoun
replaced Fleury after the break, faring much better than he did when the two
teams met a few weeks ago... then again, he only faced 14 shots.

Ilya Bryzgalov would join Fleury on the bench toward the end
of the second frame, although it’s hard to pin the loss on the cosmonaut’s
performance. James Neal banked his 15th goal of the season in off of Braydon
Coburn to cut Pittsburgh’s deficit to one, and Tyler Kennedy knotted the score
while Bryz was blinded by Brandon Sutter and Bruno Gervais in front. Brian
Boucher replaced Billy nonetheless, eventually surrendering the clincher on
the first shot he faced.

The Flyers opened the third period with a solid scoring
chance, but it wound up backfiring thanks to a bad judgment call by Timonen.
The veteran blueliner pinched up on a puck that likely would have cleared the
zone anyway, a mistake he compounded by whiffing on the puck. The error led to
a two-on-one the other way, leaving Boosh virtually no chance as Chris Kunitz
fired home his 14th.

It’s always difficult to stomach losses like this,
especially given the opponent. And you don’t even want to think about it right
now, but there are obvious repercussions in the standings. This is
Flyers-Penguins hockey though, and while it’s not going to sit well, crazy
things have a way of unfolding. Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into what
happened here.

Yet there was a definite turning point in this game after
the first period, and given how inconsistent the Flyers have been all season
long, it’s impossible to chalk it up under the old “just one game” excuse.
Whether it was an ill-advised change in their approach, or they simply showed
their true colors as an inferior team, the end result was inexcusable.

Notes

Jakub Voracek found the back of the net twice on
Philadelphia power plays, putting him back on top in the clubhouse with 14
tallies this season. He also led the way with seven shots.

Zac Rinaldo had his first-career two point game, slamming
home a goal and adding a helper. He finished with only two hits on the other
hand.

Nicklas Grossmann blocked five shots to extend his
league-leading total to 73.

>> BOX SCORE

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Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (illness) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”