Peter Laviolette Is One of Flyers Few Moving Parts

Peter Laviolette Is One of Flyers Few Moving Parts

What’s wrong with the Flyers this year? Simple enough
question, yet one that’s sure to produce a variety of answers.

Some might say the front office failed to adequately replace
Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk in the offseason. Too much production was
subtracted from this lineup in the offseason.

However, the top line has come around without Jagr since
Jakub Voracek joined Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, while JVR only suited up
in about half the games last season anyway. Scoring doesn’t seem to be as much
of a problem since the club got healthy, as Philadelphia has climbed to 13th in
the NHL with 2.78 goals per game – not tremendously far off from their 2011-‘12
pace of 3.17, which was tied for second.

Others would argue the talent isn’t there right now on the
blue line. That’s true to an extent. Depth is an issue, and they are lacking
defensemen whose strengths include playing the puck.

Is overall talent really the problem though? Sure, Kimmo
Timonen is getting up there, has looked a little worse for the wear at times,
but he can still get the job done. Nicklas Grossmann and Luke Schenn have both
looked strong in their own end. Braydon Coburn has had a rough go of it this
season, but in the past has generally been reliable. That’s not a terrible
core, one that should be able to get by at least with the Flyers’ combination
of veterans and prospects rounding out the group.

Then there are people from both factions who would claim
Ilya Bryzgalov simply is not the answer in goal. The numbers sure do support
those claims at the moment.

The problem with that line of thinking is we know Bryz is
capable of playing at a high level. We’ve seen him play at a high level, both
earlier this season and during his epic shutout streak leading up to his injury
last year. The fact is while he needs to be far better in one-on-one
situations, there is no denying Billy’s mates have left him hanging out to dry
far too often. You can’t honestly pin where they’re at on him.

Is Bryzgalov the best netminder in the whole big universe?
Probably not, but he can be as steady as what’s in front of him.

Each unit has flaws, some deeper than others, but this is
the team general manager Paul Holmgren constructed. Who should go?

Their hands are a bit tied.

Even if they wanted to the Flyers would have trouble moving
Danny Briere – an ideal candidate due to his contract – first because of his
no-trade clause, and then what’s the return going to be? The quality D-men they
do have are all locked up for the next few years, so should they move improving,
young forwards like Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, and Sean
Couturier for another when players like Erik Gustafsson, Marc-Andre Bourdon,
and Brandon Manning are close to helping? There’s a lot of talk about amnestying
Bryzgalov in the offseason – which might be wise since they probably don’t want
to be paying him until he’s 40 – but his average salary is only eighth among
all goaltenders. Who is supposed to replace Bryz, for less at that, and does it
even matter if the breakdowns in front of him continue?

You can’t put anything past Homer ever since he shocked the
world two years ago when the Flyers shipped out Mike Richards and Jeff Carter,
but this is a young roster that doesn’t lend the appearance of a group that is
about to undergo dramatic change in the immediate future. A player here or
there for sure, but these are the Flyers.

Before the organization even thinks about blowing it up
again, they have to look at the head coach. I don’t say that lightly, but given
all of that talent on this team, is there any reason for the Flyers to miss the
playoffs entirely this season?

As of right now, Philadelphia’s placement in the standings
falls on Peter Laviolette. He is the easiest person to replace, and has the
most direct influence on what transpires on the ice. Lavvy may not have 100% of
the pieces he needs to bring home a Stanley Cup right now, but his club shouldn’t
be in the same boat as the New York Islanders, either. It’s his responsibility
to make it work.

The Flyers’ braintrust must consider making a switch sooner
rather than later, perhaps even this season. Bryzgalov told reporters on
Tuesday if they lose both games of a home-and-home with the Devils this week,
they are done. No doubt, the situation would be grim. The question is what will be different?

They can start with a change in philosophy.

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:"";
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif";
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.