Pressure Is on Flyers Sophomores Read, Schenn, and Couturier

Pressure Is on Flyers Sophomores Read, Schenn, and Couturier

One of the major storylines for the Flyers entering this
season was that one or multiple of the club’s second-year players could enjoy a
breakout year. So far, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier have had
relatively quiet campaigns, at least as far as the scoreboard is concerned.

In Read’s case, that might seem like a bit of a stretch considering
he leads the team in points with seven, but only because he started picking up
his scoring over the weekend, earning three of his four assists in their past
two tilts. The three goals on his stat sheet all came in the same night however
– a hat trick against the beat-up, last-place Florida Panthers.

After leading Flyers rookies and finishing fourth in the
clubhouse with 24 tallies a season ago, it’s relatively disappointing to see Read
shut out in eight of nine games up to this point. He’s had some opportunities
and is playing generally sound hockey, so maybe it’s only a matter of time
until Read beats down the door. He’s still only knocking on it for now.

Schenn is another who padded his totals with a goal and a
helper over the weekend, giving the fifth-overall pick of the ’09 draft a
whopping four points on the season. Considering he began the season on the top
line alongside Claude Giroux, there was some expectation he could have a fast
start.

The notion that Schenn might find some early success was
propped up in part by the fact that he continues to lead the Adirondack Phantoms
in scoring this season – he’s been gone for almost a month already. Schenn
stood among the AHL leaders during his time in the minors as well, with exactly
one point per game off of 13 goals and 20 assists.

Schenn is doing some damage with his hitting at least, where
he’s second on the Flyers behind brother Luke with 24. Philadelphia still ranks
near the bottom in goals per game though – locked in a four-way tie for 22nd
with a 2.33 average – so a little scoring touch is what they could really use
right now.

Schenn’s running partner at Adirondack, Couturier, has been
the worst off of the bunch statistically speaking. Cooter posted 10 goals and
18 helpers in 31 games in the AHL, and is coming off an impressive rookie year
in the NHL with 13 and 14, but he’s been sporadic thus far in ’13 with four
points off of two and two.

The 20 year old may technically be on a scoring pace that
would exceed the one he set last season, which sounds like improvement, but he’s
also a -4 this year and has been invisible at times. Couturier hasn’t been
hitting or blocking many shots, either, and it’s not like Philly’s 24th ranked
penalty killing unit has been dominant when he’s on the ice or anything.

We think Couturier will figure it out, and he’s already looking
better over the last two games, and good things will probably happen for Read and
Schenn the way they’ve skated. At the moment however, there is a ton riding on
one or all three of these guys to step up and fill some big holes.

The Flyers let a lot of scoring ability walk in the offseason
when Jaromir Jagr joined the Dallas Stars through free agency, and with Scott
Hartnell’s lengthy absence from the lineup due to a foot injury, there is
suddenly a lot of pressure on these young players to perform. If this squad is
going to find a solution to their scoring woes over the next month, one of these kids
might need to get hot.

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Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."