The Flyers are just 4 points out of a playoff spot in a terrible Metropolitan Division

The Flyers are just 4 points out of a playoff spot in a terrible Metropolitan Division

So far this season, the Flyers have endured their worst eight-game start in franchise history at 1-7 , saw their head coach hit the unemployment line after all of three games, made headlines for all the wrong reasons after a goalie “fight,” and have gone through such awful offensive dry spells that their most-skilled players wouldn’t have been able to shoot the puck into the ocean at times.

And while the team has played much better hockey of late and may have turned a corner under new coach Craig Berube, who has led the them to a 7-7-2 record since taking over behind the bench for Peter Laviolette, the Flyers sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and last place in the Metropolitan Division … and are just four points out of a playoff spot.

You read that correctly.

With 16 points, the Flyers -- prior to Monday night’s games -- sit just four points out of playoff spot as in a weak Eastern Conference and an even weaker -- and terribly named -- Metropolitan Division.

But how is that possible given how poorly the Orange and Black started the year?

There are a few explanations.

When the NHL realigned over the summer to put Winnipeg out west, it created two divisions for each conference and forced the league to revamp its playoff system.

Eight teams from each conference will still qualify, but the league created a bracketed, division-based playoff system, much like it used to have in the 1980s when the Flyers were in the Patrick Division of the Wales Conference.

The top three teams from each division are guaranteed playoff spots while two “wild-card” spots will go to two remaining teams with the most points regardless of division. The wild-card team with fewer points will go into the playoff bracket that has the team with the most points, leaving the other wild-card team in the other bracket.

The Metropolitan Division is probably the worst division in hockey right now. The NFC East is pretty logical comparison. Both divisions feature marquee teams and big-name superstars, but both divisions are incredibly average for the teams and talent they feature.

Washington currently sits in first place in the Metropolitan with 25 points. But outside of Alexander Ovechkin and their power play, there’s nothing too menacing about the Capitals.

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are in second place with 24 points, but Evgeni Malkin is having a down year when it comes to putting the puck in the net, their defense isn’t the best, and Marc-Andre Fleury is an elephant-sized black and gold question mark in net.

The New York Rangers are in third with 20 points but are missing their top offensive player in Rick Nash and can’t find the net to support goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The New York Islanders have John Tavares and loads of offensive talent, but don’t have much defense nor a goalie. New Jersey can’t score. Carolina and Columbus are nothing to write home about.

Currently, the Atlantic Division’s Detroit and Montreal hold the East’s wild card spots. Detroit has 25 points and Montreal has 22.

That leaves the Flyers just five points out of the last wild card spot, too.

Compare all of this to the stacked Western Conference, where the last divisional spot belongs to St. Louis at 29 points and the last wild card spot is held by Los Angeles, which also has 29.

If the Flyers were in the West, they would be 13 points out of each of those spots. When you are about to scarf down some turkey next week for Thanksgiving, be thankful the Flyers aren’t in the Western Conference.

So, with all turmoil and issues that have surrounded the team, despite the facts its three games under .500 in regulation and Claude Giroux has just one goal seven weeks into the season, the Flyers are just four points out of that last division spot and five points out of that last wild-card spot.

Could be worse.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).