Hackworth hints at lineup changes – so what exactly will they be?

Hackworth hints at lineup changes – so what exactly will they be?

If you take John Hackworth at his word, the Philadelphia Union manager is seriously considering shaking up the lineup for Saturday’s huge Eastern Conference matchup against the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park.

This comes as fairly big news because Hackworth, by and large, has pretty much stuck with the same guys this season, unless he’s had to deal with injuries or international call-ups. But with the Union winless in their last four and coming off a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in a game in which they failed to score despite being up a man for much of the second half, Hackworth seems to recognize that some changes might be in order.

The Union manager didn’t offer too many specifics during his weekly press conference but did indicate the changes will likely come in the attack, with strikers Jack McInerney and Conor Casey and attacking midfielders Danny Cruz, Keon Daniel and Sebastien Le Toux all in danger of losing their starting spots.

Who will take their place? Let’s take a look at some of the options with their chances to start in parentheses. (Note: these percentages are derived from a complicated formula and specific data I’ve been compiling the entire season and … no, I’m just kidding – I’m pretty much just making it up as I go.)

Fabinho (chances to start - 75 percent): Amobi Okugo returns from a two-game suspension this week and will slide back into his center back role (Hackworth said it would be too much of a change to put him in the midfield, even if Delaware County Daily Times writer Matt De George shows it could sorta make sense), which means Fabinho is in danger of losing his spot at left back. But Fabinho has played well, so it seems likely he will either start at left back over Ray Gaddis or supplant Danny Cruz as the team’s left midfielder, where he can continue to showcase his impressive crossing ability.

Michael Farfan (chances to start - 60 percent): Some people would point to Farfan as one of the problems this season, but Hackworth noted how much better the Union were in the second half Sunday after Farfan came on. If Hackworth takes Keon Daniel out of the starting lineup, it will probably be Farfan that replaces him as the team’s central attacking midfielder. (Granted, this wouldn’t be too big of a change considering Farfan and Daniel have started the same number of games this year.)

Antoine Hoppenot (chances to start – 50 percent): The Union’s “super sub” has started just once this season but Hackworth could look for Hoppenot’s energy at the start of games, when the team has often sputtered. The Union manager could opt to play Hoppenot in place of the struggling Jack McInerney or put him on one of the wings.

Aaron Wheeler (chances to start – 25 percent): The 6-foot-4 striker could be one of the best bets to jumpstart the offense as he always seems to pick out balls when he comes on as a late-game sub. But the only way he’d probably start is if Conor Casey goes to the bench. And even though Casey hasn’t scored in the past four games, the burly striker has still been one of the team’s bright spots all season.

Kleberson (chances to start – 20 percent): A straight swap of Daniel for Kleberson would probably do the most to improve the midfield issues. But for reasons only he knows, Hackworth has been very reluctant to play the Brazilian World Cup veteran, who’s logged only 10 minutes in the past three months.

Michael Lahoud/Leo Fernandes (chances to start – 15 percent): Both are solid options to earn minutes in the midfield but neither really brings the kind of creativity Hackworth hopes to see in the attacking third.

Roger Torres (chances to start – 1 percent): Hackworth wants to see less predictably in the midfield and the Colombian playmaker can certainly help with that. But Torres has been buried on the bench even deeper than Kleberson, having played just 37 total minutes this season. This would certainly be a change that would open the most eyes.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."