Wenger, McInerney face (immediate) pasts Saturday as Union head to Montreal

Wenger, McInerney face (immediate) pasts Saturday as Union head to Montreal

Montreal Impact's Jack McInerney celebrates his goal against the the Chicago Fire on April 12.

In general, storylines revolving around players facing their old teams are drenched in clichés.

The player wants to prove himself … the player is excited to see old friends … the player isn’t sure what kind of response he’ll get from his old fans … the player cares more about winning than doing well personally in his return … blah blah blah.

But because Saturday’s MLS game between the Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo (4 p.m., The Comcast Network) comes just three weeks after the blockbuster trade that sent Jack McInerney from Philly to Montreal in exchange for Andrew Wenger, this one feels different.

It feels, well, juicier.

Sure, Wenger did his part to fill in the clichés during a press conference from PPL Park on Wednesday, saying some version of all of the above lines.

But good ol’ honest Jack told Matt De George of the Delaware County Daily Times that “if I scored three goals and we won 3-0, that would be an ideal scenario.” He also echoed what he told me three weeks ago about “wanting to prove they made a big mistake” when he takes the field opposite his old coaches and teammates - still a cliché but slightly more ominous.

Of course, we’re not going to know who “won” the trade based on Saturday’s game. Both Wenger and McInerney have already scored since the deal and seem to be relatively good fits with their new teams. And even though McInerney already had his breakout season last year while Wenger is still looking for his, it’s probably fair to say that both young players can be potential stars in this league if they figure a few things out.

But with the Union (1-2-5) winless in their last six games and without a goal from the run of play in their last two, you can bet that fans will start clamoring even more than they have been if the Union lose to a winless Montreal team. And if McInerney scores in an Impact win, you can probably DEFINITELY bet on a full-fledged freakout back in Philly.

Dave's prediction sure to be wrong: McInerney and Wenger both score in a 2-2 draw as the Union continue their quest for setting the MLS record for most ties in a season. We’ll give the other goals to Union-killer Marco Di Vaio and Cristian Maidana, who seems due to open his MLS scoring account for Philly.

Now here’s Steve Moore’s take and his prediction that will probably be less wrong than mine:

* * *

The Union's streak of draws and overall record are certainly rubbing fans the wrong way. But it's more than that, at least right now. It's the lack of attacking chances (John Hackworth both shrugged off the team's low "shots on goals" total, and also said they have to pull the trigger more often). But it's also Hackworth's seeming acceptance of draws instead of frustration over missing out on a win. Especially at home.

There is no reason the Union should have accepted a 0-0 draw with Houston last weekend. When playing at home -- especially against a team that is struggling, like Houston -- the last 15 to 20 minutes of a tie game should be treated as if you're behind. Make attacking subs, take chances going forward. That's not what we saw last weekend. And that's not what we heard this week from Hackworth:

We legitimately feel as though we should’ve won five of our eight games for sure at a minimum. … What I will say though is that within our team, we’re very confident about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And my experiences as a coach is that the more you continue to play that way, the chances will turn. The tide will turn and we will see the results start to come our way."

Just as the Union -- who entered the season with high expectations -- should not accept draws at home, they should not be OK with playing for a draw Saturday in Montreal against a winless club. Stade Saputo is a tough place to play (this is actually Montreal's first game there this season after a few home dates at Olympic Stadium), but the Union are flat-out better than the Impact.

Also, judging from Hackworth's comments this week, we'll likely see striker-turned-centerback Aaron Wheeler yet again, instead of former MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry. Let's just say I don't agree, and leave it right there for now. We'll address it some more next week, especially if Wheeler loses track of Di Vaio once or twice in the penalty area.

I agree with Dave that Wenger gets on the board against his old club. But I'll go with another goal from Vincent Nogueira and a third from Maurice Edu. The Union finally break their endless string of draws in an entertaining tilt north of the border.

Steve's prediction sure to be wrong: Union 3, Impact 2.

* * *

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the untimely death of Sons of Ben founding member Eric Shertz. If you're unfamiliar with the story, Dave wrote eloquently on the subject this week.

I didn't know Eric very well, but I did know him, as did nearly every single Union fan. If you never met him, you knew him as that long-haired pony-tail guy at the front of the River End screaming and waving his scarf (he cut the pony tail off in recent years).

If you walked within 10 feet of Eric, chances are he introduced himself, and likely remembered your name. He walked me around my first Sons of Ben tailgate back in 2010, when it seemed like everyone already knew everyone else and I knew no one. He organized a season-long baggo tournament that was more put-together than most youth soccer leagues.

Eric's death at the far-too-young age of 38 has shaken up the Sons of Ben, who are as tight-knit as any fans can be. To non-soccer people, a group of fans who sing and drink and raise money for charity and hang out together away from the stadium might seem a little strange. But if you saw the outpouring of support last week from not only Union fans, but fans and supporters groups from nearly EVERY other soccer club in the United States, you realize that while you might think it's a little weird, Eric and the rest of the SOBs embrace it.

Eric's funeral was slated for Friday and a wake is scheduled for Saturday at Stoney's Pub in Delaware. You can donate to help with funeral costs and to help his family, including his 16-year-old son Gabe, at this link.

And you can bet on a moving tribute in The River End come May 10, when the Union next play at home against D.C. United.

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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."