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 being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."