Yo, Flyers, start being selfish and shoot the puck more

Yo, Flyers, start being selfish and shoot the puck more

The Philadelphia Flyers are currently riding a five-game home winning streak.

That’s cool and all, but it doesn’t mean squat these days because they're are in the midst of six-game road trip - which continues tonight in Detroit - that has them away from Wells Fargo Center until next Thursday.

And while the Orange and Black picked up a win – a shootout win (!) at that – this past Saturday in Nashville against the Predators, the first two games of the trip haven’t been pretty.

The Flyers have been badly outplayed to start the road swing.

What’s to blame? Look no further than the offense, which has reverted back to its October ways.

I know you remember that offense from the beginning of the season that was historically bad and helped that Flyers get off the worst start in franchise history. Well, that’s what we’ve seen two games into this trip.

The main reason the offense has been putrid lately is the fact that the Flyers haven’t shot the puck enough.

Instead of shooting, they instead have tried low-percentage passing plays that opposing defenders have gladly eaten up and taken the other way for scoring chances. You know, the things that anchored them at the beginning of the year.

If you’ve watched the games, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Flyers have tried to pass through multiple defenders, pass cross-ice or pass to an unaware teammate instead of shooting when there are clear lanes to the net.

The most glaring example came in the first period of Monday night’s clunker of a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild when Claude Giroux broke into the Wild zone on a partial breakaway. Instead of taking a shot, Giroux, the most dangerous Flyer, decided to cut to the side of the net and try to hit a trailing Scott Hartnell. Hartsy didn’t have an angle to the net and the play was easily broken up and resulted in a huge missed opportunity.

The Flyers finished Monday’s game with just 21 shots on net in 60 minutes of play. With as good as NHL defenses and goaltenders are these days, putting just 21 shots on net isn't a recipe for winning.

To make matters worse, outside of the diving save Wild goalie Josh Harding made on Jake Voracek in the third period, how many of those 21 shots actually tested Harding? Very few.

The story was much the same in Nashville. The Flyers recorded just 24 shots in 65 minutes of play against Predators rookie goalie Marek Mazanec. If it weren’t for a defensive breakdown that left Sean Couturier open in front of the net in the third period and Steve Mason’s wizardry between the pipes, the Flyers would have suffered another inept defeat.

You can even go back to the Thanksgiving Eve stinker in Tampa if you want. In that game the Flyers had just 21 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Lightning.

A quadratic formula here, use the FOIL method there, carry the one over this way… and that averages out to 22 shots for the Flyers over their last three road games.

Anyway, an average of 22 shots on net won’t get a team anywhere but the loss column unless a goalie stands on his head like Mason did in Nashville.

The moral of the story is that if the Flyers want to get the offense back on track, they better start shooting  a whole lot more.

Stop the overpassing and low-percentage plays and just shoot if there’s a lane. They have to be a lot more selfish and just shoot the damn puck.

If there’s one thing Gary Dornhoefer taught me during the hockey telecasts of my youth it’s that it’s almost never a bad play to get the puck toward the net. You never know what’s going to happen.

Tonight’s game in Detroit against the Red Wings would be a good place to start.

The Red Wings will be without their entire top line of Todd Bertuzzi, Henrik Zetterberg and puck-handling magician Pavel Datsyuk. That’s 28 goals out of the lineup tonight for Detroit. That should work in the Flyers advantage.

What shouldn’t work in the Flyers advantage is the fact they’ve won just one game in Detroit since 1988. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the Flyers win JUST ONE FREAKIN’ GAME in Detroit.  That win came in January 2011 and is the only victory in the Flyers last 18 games in Joe Louis Arena.

More than 22 shots on net would be a step in the right direction for the Flyers if they are to get just their second win in Detroit that these green eyes of mine have ever seen.

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Sixers ready, rested with hope for dry court

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Sixers ready, rested with hope for dry court

The Sixers (4-14) will tip off against the Orlando Magic (7-12) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Floored
Let's try this again.

The Sixers will return to the Wells Fargo Center court for the first time since Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings was postponed because of moisture on the floor.

While the Sixers were frustrated that they couldn't face the Kings, the team was also happy that player safety was made the top priority in the postponement decision.

"It was disappointing not to play," head coach Brett Brown said after practice on Thursday. "It got to a stage the longer that it went and it was being prolonged and prolonged, I'm glad that ultimately we didn't play."

2. Rested and ready
The postponement of Wednesday's game means the Sixers haven't played since Monday's road loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Center Joel Embiid should be even more rested than his teammates since he didn't make the trip north of the border because it was the second game of a back-to-back set.

When Embiid does return to action Friday against the Magic, he will have a little more freedom. The NBA's Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month had his minutes restriction raised from 24 to 28 earlier this week.

That should only mean good things for Embiid, who turned in a strong effort when the Sixers faced off against the Magic earlier this season. Embiid recorded 18 points and 10 boards for his first-ever double-double in a 103-101 loss to Orlando back on Nov. 1.

3. Protection plan
Perhaps Embiid's bump in minutes will help the Sixers better protect the paint this time around.

During the season's first meeting, in which the Sixers blew an 18-point lead, the Magic scored a massive 60 points in the paint. Former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka led the way with 45 combined points.

The Sixers can't allow that type of production inside, especially from a team that ranks 25th in the league with an average of 39.5 points in the paint per game.

4. Injuries
Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Former Sixer Jodie Meeks (foot) is a game-time decision for the Magic.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost three straight to the Magic.

- Vucevic has averaged 20.3 points and 13.2 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

- Dario Saric scored a career-high 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting in the season's first clash.

A closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Eagles should beat

A closer look at the Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Eagles should beat

You think Eagles fans have it bad? After five straight trips to the playoffs, Bengals fans were expecting their team to be good. Really good. Instead, they're 3-7-1 and on the verge of their first losing season since 2011.

And in all honesty, the Eagles should probably clinch it for them. With the Bengals' best player out with an injury, there's nothing particularly scary about this team. The offense is running out of weapons, and the defense, while good, has its weaknesses.

This is the Eagles' chance to get back to .500 and make one final desperation push. Can they take advantage?

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Andy Dalton

After a breakout 2015 campaign in which he finished second in the NFL with a 106.2 passer rating, it seems Dalton is back to his usual self. The sixth-year veteran's 63.5 completion percentage and 7.4 yards per attempt are better than what he's posted in years past, but down significantly from last season, while sacks are up. About the only thing that's carried over for Dalton from his career year is he seemingly learned to take care of the football, as he's thrown only six interceptions in 11 games. Dalton is a game manager with upside in a perfect situation. The 2016 Bengals are not that situation.

Strength: Nothing in particular

Now that All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green is out with an injury, as is versatile running back Giovani Bernard, the Bengals offense isn't exactly loaded with weapons. Prior to Green and Bernard going out, the duo combined for somewhere around 60 percent of the team's production. They still have Tyler Eifert, a Pro Bowl tight end who presents matchup issues, and running back Jeremy Hill, who is like a sledgehammer with legs. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL as well, although the rest of the unit is just okay. Without Green, there's nothing very impressive about what this group can do.

Weakness: Red-zone offense

This might seem oddly specific, but moving the football hasn't been a problem for the Bengals. Cincinnati's offense ranks 10th in the league in terms of yards per game, yet at 27th is near the bottom when it comes to scoring. Even when Green was healthy and despite having big bodies like Eifert and Hill, for some reason the Bengals have really struggled to put points on the board. Part of the problem is Dalton, who's only thrown 12 touchdown passes, but his 2.9 touchdown percentage is by far the worst of his career, so it's not easy to explain why. This team simply doesn't score a ton, which is probably why they only have three wins.

 

DEFENSE

Strength: Pass defense

Cincinnati has playmakers at every level of the defense, which can make them a difficult team to pass against. It starts up front, where Geno Atkins is pushing up the middle and underrated Carlos Dunlap is coming off the edge top create a hostile environment for quarterbacks. Dunlap had 13.5 sacks a season ago, and when he doesn't get to the passer, he often bats passes down at the line, as he's done 10 times this season. The Bengals boast a fine trio of cornerbacks as well, with Dre Kirkpatrick's three interceptions, veteran Adam "Pacman" Jones and 2014 first-round draft pick Darqueze Dennard. The unit ranks 10th in passing yards per game and has 11 interceptions, so while not impenetrable, they are tough.

Weakness: Run defense

Although it may be difficult to throw against the Bengals, opponents have had little trouble finding room to run. It seems odd with guys like Atkins and Dunlap up front, not to mention quality veteran linebackers like Karlos Dansby and Vincent Rey, but the fact is they aren't getting the job done. Cincinnati ranks 28th against the run overall and 26th in terms of yards per carry, allowing an average of 4.4 per attempt. It's pretty clear what the strategy should be against this defense, particularly for an offense with mediocre talent at wide receiver. Run the ball, then run the ball some more.

X-factor: Vontaze Burfict

There may not be a bigger wild card in the NFL then Burfict. The fifth-year veteran isn't an X-factor in the conventional sense that he'll rack up a bunch of sacks or create a ton of turnovers. A 2013 Pro Bowler, Burfict does lead the team in tackles, so he'll be in on a lot of plays. The bigger concern though is really whether he might go head hunting or dive at a player's legs and potentially hurt someone. Not to say he's not a talented player, but you could argue that threat makes him a bigger game-changer than any conventional charting numbers will measure.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Mike Nugent has seen better days. Cincinnati's kicker has missed five field goals, including all three tries from 50 or more yards, plus a whopping four extra points this season, which makes you wonder a little bit what the team is still clinging to. The Bengals' return game isn't especially dangerous either. Alex Erickson handles the bulk of the work, and does have strong averages on both kicks and punts, although he has yet to take one to the house this season.

 

COACHING

Marvin Lewis (14th season, 115-108-3)

Somehow, despite not winning a playoff game in seven tries over 14 seasons, Lewis is still the head coach of the Bengals. Probably not for much longer though. He's in his third straight year of lame-duck status, and one more defeat would guarantee the club its first losing season since 2011. Then again, Lewis has survived down seasons before, including a pair of four-win campaigns separated by only a year. He's a good coach, but as Eagles fans well know, sometimes after 14 years it's simply time to move on. The Bengals are weird, so who knows what they will decide, but at this point, Lewis has been given more than enough second chances and opportunities.