Shorthanded Flyers Host Bruins

Shorthanded Flyers Host Bruins

In recent games against the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, the Flyers have given reason for doubt that they're among the Eastern Conference elite. True, they did beat the Bruins and spoil the Garden's Stanley Cup raising banner, but a 6-0 loss in mid December and three losses to the Rangers have left the Flyers with plenty to prove.

Unfortunately, they'll be shorthanded as hell when they try. Already without their towering defensive foil to Boston's Zdeno Chara, the Flyers lost Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere yesterday, and James van Riemsdyk was already on the shelf. Will they have enough firepower without them to crack one of the league's stingiest defenses and its unquestioned top goaltender?

There are a few things in the Flyers favor, and a few factors decidedly against them…

First, defenseman Andrew Ference has been suspended for his hit on Ryan McDonagh yesterday. That hit came at 1:50 of overtime, and the Rangers scored the winner on the ensuing power play.

Second, the Flyers played a hell of a game yesterday, defying expectations in more ways than one. In particular, they struck twice against the league's best penalty killing unit. Their defense was also on point, allowing shots but not necessarily a multitude of dangerous chances. Ilya Bryzagalov turned in his second straight outstanding performance, and he'll get the opportunity to further solidify his role as the team's number one goaltender. To date, he has that role only because of the contract he's signed. A week shy of February, he has some time to establish it on merit as well.

We'll see some line juggling today, with three top-six forwards out of the lineup. The talented rookie trio of Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Brayden Schenn will see their minutes increase, with the first two likely on the same line and Schenn possibly skating with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.

Hartnell grabbed the goal glory yesterday, but Wayne Simmonds may have been the best player on the ice. His hard work along the boards and in front of the net needs to continue today, a matchup that could require some dirty goals and certainly will take some toughness.

The defense will have to look a lot more like it did yesterday than it did on Thursday. Boston can flat out fly, leading the league in goals per game with 3.5.

Ben Holmstrom and Tom Sestito have been called up. Tim Thomas is expected to draw the start after talented understudy Tuukka Rask played yesterday.

The Bruins are no joke. They're the team the Flyers need to be, and beat, in order to emerge from the "just shy of greatness" yoke. With any luck, today will look more like the season opener than the December 17th massacre.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).