The Philadelphia Union are piling up the shutouts but they’re not sure if anybody realizes

The Philadelphia Union are piling up the shutouts but they’re not sure if anybody realizes

If you’re a Union fan and somebody asks you about the team’s defense, you might point to how they traded or loaned away top center backs Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes and Bakary Soumare over the past year-and-a-half. Or that they’ve struggled to find a natural left back after sending away Jordan Harvey and then Gabriel Farfan. Or that they’ve decided the best course this season was to put a natural midfielder (Amobi Okugo) at center back and a natural right back (Ray Gaddis) on the left side.

You might even harken back to the dark days when the Union finished their inaugural 2010 season with the absurdly low total of two shutouts. Or perhaps you’d bring up how they’ve twice let in five goals in a game this season while giving up four in another one.

What you might fail to mention is that, heading into Sunday’s nationally televised showdown against the San Jose Earthquakes (11 pm ET, ESPN2), the Union have already matched a franchise record for shutouts with 10, a total that’s tied for second in the league.

Gaddis – who’s started at left back most of the season but filled in at right back for last week’s scoreless draw against the Montreal Impact – believes that shutout total “gets overlooked a lot of times.”

“As a defensive unit, we don’t necessarily get enough credit,” Gaddis said. “But we are okay with that.”

Perhaps one reason why the shutout number gets overlooked is because the Union have conceded 37 goals this season, the second-worst total in the Eastern Conference. But the main reason for that is because of those few games when the floodgates have completely opened.

For them, one of the most important defensive metrics is shutouts. In fact, one of their preseason goals was to get 10 clean sheets, which they thought was part of the formula to make the playoffs.

Does it simply come down to the Union’s tried-and-trued mantra that they don’t get enough leaguewide respect?

“If they don’t respect us, they don’t respect us,” Gaddis said. “Of course you feel that maybe we should get some more respect. We’ll just go out there and continue to do our job.”

And their job, Union defenders have said time and again this season, is to get shutouts. Remarkably, the Union have held the opposing team scoreless in five of their last seven games. And if they can do it again Sunday, it would be quite the accomplishment, considering Okugo is suspended for his second straight game and the Earthquakes feature a strong attack led by 2012 MVP Chris Wondolowski.

But maybe then, people will begin to pay attention to those shutout stats.

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

The kid finally has his first NHL goal.

Travis Konecny scored at 4:30 of the third period (see video) during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout win over Buffalo on Tuesday night (see story).  

His was the first of three power-play goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and get the Flyers into overtime.

First markers are always that much more special when they make a difference in a comeback victory, such as this one with the Flyers in a brutal stretch of six games in nine days.

“I am just excited that it happened,” Konecny said. “But the thing for me that was more exciting was coming back after that 3-0 [deficit] and an overall exciting night for us.”

The three power-play goals were a season high for the Flyers.

“We got going those two power plays ... our power plays set a tone,” Konecny said. “When that gets going, it makes it hard for the other team to stop us.

“It’s awesome because we know what they can do [on the top power-play unit]. They have been sticking with it and fighting the puck, whatever it’s been the past couple of games, but you know what they are capable of — you can see it the past couple of years. 

“You knew it was coming and tonight is the perfect night to get it going and I am sure that they are going to keep rolling with it.”

Schultz sits
The decision to sit 15-year veteran blueliner Nick Schultz to get Radko Gudas back into the lineup wasn’t easy but it made sense on several levels. Gudas had been suspended for six games.

First, Schultz doesn’t play on the power play, whereas Andrew MacDonald carries heavy minutes with the power play and penalty kill.

Brandon Manning? Not happening. He’s been the Flyers' best defenseman this season. Mark Streit? Doesn’t work because he quarterbacks the second-unit PP and is essentially teaching that duty to rookie Ivan Provorov.

“It’s real tough,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s part of the business and [Schultz has] done an excellent job. He’s always very well-prepared.

“We talked about what’s best for our team and we feel like Gudy going in, especially on a back-to-back, gives us fresh legs and a fresh body coming back into the lineup.”

Hakstol recently has had to switch around his defensive pairs to get more defensive coverage and consistency on the ice. For instance, moving Provorov from Streit to Manning.

He discounted Schultz’s age (34) as a true factor in the decision.

“I think the more flexibility you have, the better, whether it be for rest or for the injury situations,” Hakstol said. “First and foremost, I think we’re still looking for the true consistency that we need through our entire team, but certainly your D pairs are a big part of that. 

“Before we start getting to a comfort level of guys playing with different people, first we have to find true consistency. We’ve been pretty good, but we’ve had stretches where the consistency needs to improve, as well.”

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, producer/reporter Matt Haughton and producer/reporter Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?

Turnovers: The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by a last-placed 10.2 points per game. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, they were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense. Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?

Embiid: The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown. The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric. The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. They're going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.