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.

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Being immersed in the team is important for Nerlens Noel, and so is continuing his rehab. 

While the Sixers are on the road for three days to play the Grizzlies and Pelicans, Noel will remain in Philadelphia to work out at the training complex in Camden, New Jersey. The team is not scheduled to practice in between games, so staying back allows Noel another day to get on the court.

“[I want him to] just start playing more and have a ball in his hands, get hit, physical, feel people, play one-on-one,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Noel has yet to play this season because of elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October. He rejoined the Sixers after completing the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama. There still is no timetable for his return. 

Brown has said there is a “classroom” element to Noel’s return. He has to learn a roster with new players and schemes. 

The on-the-court side of it is a reacclimation to the intensity of the league. Regardless of how many games Noel already has played in the NBA, there is an adjustment period getting back into the grind of the competition. Brown believes the time in the gym this week will help Noel prepare for the level of intensity he will face in his return. 

“It’s such fool’s gold to think somebody’s going to jump back into NBA basketball after you haven’t played for so long. I don’t care how athletic he is,” Brown said. “It’s a man’s world, this league, and there’s a physicality and there’s a real-time reaction you have to have to play in the game. You can’t make that up in practice, you can’t make that up playing one-on-one, but you can better position him instead of just going out to get shots. I want him to feel a body, get hit, hit back, play one-on-one, those types of things.”

Noel had been assigned to the Sixers’ Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, to get in practice time when the Sixers had a game. The Sixers may forego another assignment and keep Noel at their facility as the Sevens also have two games in the next three days. 

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”