Talbot & Flyers Host Saturday's Cross-State Rivalry: JVR, Danny, Jagr Return, First Look at Grossman

Talbot & Flyers Host Saturday's Cross-State Rivalry: JVR, Danny, Jagr Return, First Look at Grossman

The Flyers' efforts to shake off a crappy start and throw seven goals on two Sabres netminders were admirable, and hey, pretty fun in the process. But that was the Sabres. The Sabres suck, despite some recent signs of life. The Flyers are supposed to beat the daylights out of a team like that. The losses to the Rangers and Red Wings won't be washed away by beating a non-playoff team,* no matter how wide the margin.

Enter the Penguins, division/conference/cross-state rivals and holders of a record that sees them just two points behind the Flyers. Now we're talking. The Flyers have had trouble getting up for the big games against the Rangers this season, something that'll need to change if they want to be more than just an interesting way to pass our time this spring. But they've had the better of the Pens in both meetings so far this season, including the memorable first visit to Pittsburgh for Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr as Flyers.

A quick look at today's storylines below.

As we discussed back on December 29th, the media really keyed in on Jagr's return to Pittsburgh, and not so much Talbot. Jagr's the higher-profile player, and there was plenty of discussion about his treatment by the Pens, their fans, and vice-versa. But Talbot is the guy who was on the team this time last year, and also the more recent of the two to raise the Cup. We enjoyed the Flyers' snagging both of them over the outstretched hands of the Pens in the off-season, and we soaked up every minute of that win, with both former Penguins scoring in it.

Remember in the first ep of 24/7 when Dan Bylsma poked a little fun at Talbot for being a scorer now? Well, Talbot continued to add to his career-best goal total this season on Thursday, potting two goals as he played a catalyst role in the Flyers' turnaround against the Sabres.

Max now has 16 goals, not far from that nice round 20 milestone most of us wouldn't have imagined when he was signed. He's a huge part of this Flyers team, playing exactly the role desired when he was inked for five seasons.

JVR and Danny to Play?
A source tells Flyers reporter Dave Isaac that James van Riemsdyk will play today, and John Boruk says Danny Briere will as well. Not sure what to expect today, but both guys could really use some jam to get their seasons on track. Jaromir Jagr also returns from illness, so the Flyers are as healthy as they've been in weeks.  

Tom Sestito will miss 6-8 weeks after a groin injury felled him in a fight on Thursday, and Zac Rinaldo is still suspended for today. Jody Shelley is a healthy scratch in favor of Kyle Wellwood. With JVR, Danny, and Jagr all presumably healthy, it's looking like a skill over scrap lineup, though there's still punch available with Hartnell and Talbot. Simmonds too, though he won't throw down if he's still wearing the scuba gear.

The Pens
I think we know enough about this team that we don't need to go into much detail here. Evgeni Malkin continues to thrive without Sidney Crosby, leading the league in scoring with just a two-point lead on Claude Giroux. Like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Pens are trading wins with losses lately. They closed out January with a brilliant run of eight straight wins, five of which came after regulation, four in the shootout. When you're talking about points in the standings won and lost on shootouts, you need look no further than the two teams in Pennsylvania.

In February, the Pens have won three and lost four, including their most recent game, a 2-1 drop to the Ducks.

They'll bring a special teams challenge to the building today, toting the league's 6th best power play and 3rd best PK unit. Pittsburgh scores at the 7th best clip, with the 11th best goals against mark.

First Look at Grossman
New Flyers d-man Nicklas Grossman won't be wearing his usual number 2 today, as that is set to be raised to the rafters early next month. Instead, he'll wear another lofty number, 8. Shortly after Paul Holmgren dealt for Grossman, the Canadiens traded Hal Gill to Nashville. Gill had been rumored to be on the Flyers' radar, and there was probably a domino effect in the two moves.

Homer has discussed liking the size of Grossman and his ability to help out on the PK. I like that he picked him up ahead of the deadline, leaving time to evaluate needs in the coming week. So welcome to Philly, Nick. You'll get a pretty good feel for the energy of the building during warmups for a Flyers-Pens game at 1PM on a February Saturday.

*Holy shit look at the standings. The Sabres are tied for LAST in the East at the moment. The East is a weird, mangled place right now. The first place team in the Southeast Division is, by rule, the three seed. The second place team (Washington at the moment) is outside the playoff bubble.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”