NHL Scouts in the House for Latest Flyers-Rangers Tilt

NHL Scouts in the House for Latest Flyers-Rangers Tilt

Only four points separate the Flyers from the first place Rangers in the standings, though it feels the divide is far greater. In a practical sense, the Rangers have played two fewer games, so there is the potential for a more sizable gap to emerge, one more in line with the separation apparent between these teams on this ice so far this season. Although it appears clear both teams will make the playoffs, the discussion as to the Flyers' chances at true Cup contention will increasingly be at the forefront the rest of the way.

The Flyers are the top scoring team in the league, the Rangers the leaders in limiting scoring. Unfortunately, that hasn't amounted to the typical "unstoppable force meets immovable object" scenario. So far, the Rangers have won all four meetings between the two clubs, with the Flyers failing to score more than two goals in any meeting.

And yet, there's still time to turn the tables. Right?

A closer look at today's matchup, as well as why some players may be auditioning for an involuntary move to another team, below.

The beats in the box are tweetporting the presence of several NHL personnel people in the house today, presumably for the purposes of scouting future trade possibilities. Randy Miller says there are three from the Columbus Blue Jackets, including GM Scott Howson, as well as a Montreal scout, which makes sense given all the buzz on the Flyers interest in acquiring the USS Hal Gill. Dave Isaac adds Anaheim's Randy Carlyle to the guest list as well.

While it's doubtful the players on the ice are thinking about anything other than trying to get two points and maybe add an opponent's ear to their collection, it's interesting to think what the presence of those scouts means to current Flyers and Rangers. The players are currently playing for one of the two best teams in the conference, and the presence of those scouts—particularly those from CBJ—only serve as a reminder that they might not be at the end of this month.

That's a discussion for another day. Today, the Flyers desperately need to get one win against the Rangers. They were decimated and embarrassed in New York six days ago, a hell of an encore after the tight but decapitating loss in the Winter Classic.

The Rangers are currently the class of the East. That can change quickly though, and the Flyers could use a win to show themselves that they're not wholly inferior to their rival from Manhattan, and the Rags could use the reminder that the Flyers are legit. Right now, they're looking forward to playing Philadelphia, and not just because of the old "everyone gets up for rivalry games." Lately, this matchup has meant a fun day for the Blue Shirts.

•Will the Flyers will have better luck in their Winter Classic duds today than they did on January 2nd?

•Ilya Bryzgalov remains out with an illness, so Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start against King Henrik. Can he help the Flyers win their first meeting with the Rangers since March 2011?

•Stu Bickel's in the lineup again for the Rangers. Will he again be involved in multiple man-dances?

•Who steps up on the scoresheet today?

One final note: These teams have played each other 228 times since the Flyers joined the league. Each side has 114 wins. That's a rivalry for ya.

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."