'07-'08 Flyers Preview

'07-'08 Flyers Preview

We've been so wrapped up with our Phillies here in the Illadelph that even us hardcore Flyers fans almost forgot that the Orange and Black start their season tonight. We've asked hockey guru Martin Slamon, who keeps a pretty hilarious blog over at digidigidigi, to give a full run down on the upcoming Flyers season, which begins tonight in Calgary. Much more after the jump.

From the creators of last seasons' box office flop, "My Right Foot" starring Peter Forsberg in the title role, comes the much hyped blockbuster smash (or so we hope) "Back With A Vengeance."  The Philadelphia Flyers hope to erase the memory of their 40th anniversary season (22-48-12), the worst in franchise history, when they take on the Flames in Calgary tonight.  They'll  start "wiping the slate clean" with 8 players making their Flyers regular season debut, including free agent acquisitions Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

Flash back to the beginning of last season.  The Flyers, off to a horrible start after bowing out of the first round the previous year in an embarrassing loss to the Sabres, are faced with the firing of their head coach Ken Hitchcock (1-6-1 start), and the resignation of burnt out GM, Bobby Clarke.  Couple that with Forsberg's (their captain at the time) world-wide search for a magical right skate that would make him 100%, and you have a nightmare of a hockey season.  Phantoms coach John Stevens (2005 Calder Cup Champ), upgraded to the big club and with the help of new GM Paul Holmgren, began to see some progress towards the end of the year.  The team was really just a "soft core" version of their former self, made up of numerous call ups from the Phantoms.

Here's a break down of the Flyers roster, coupled with possible line combinations, as per Tim Panaccio  of the Philadelphia Inquirer:  The top line will consist of Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne on the wings of (love) new center Danny Briere.  You may know him from such commercials as "Hey, watch me hit that window pane to the left of the one I just hit."  He was one of the big three center free agents available in the offseason, with the Rangers acquiring the other two in Gomez (Devils) and Drury (Sabres).  Look for Briere to pick up where sir Peter left off, only without the whole play two games, sit out three games scenario.

The Flyers have what equates to two 2nd lines, with Mike Richards centering Joffrey Lupol and Denis Tolpeko... and Jeff Carter centering Scot Hartnel and Sami Kapanen.  I say this, because both Carter and Richards have been mediocre in their first two seasons, showing flashes of brilliance only in less frequent spurts than moments of futility.  Richards was rumored to have the best camp out of all Flyers forwards and was rewarded with an A on his sweater.  His willingness to scrap is admirable and he does a lot of the little things right on the ice, but the Flyers need a viable 2nd line center to provide scoring depth.  Carter is a complete mystery (so far) and a player who has all the right tools but hasn't implemented them.

Jim Dowd (former Devil) is paired on a bruising fourth line, with Jesse Boulerice and Ben Eager.  Dowd is a smart veteran center who brings some legitimacy to a line that would much rather beat your face in than play hockey.  Eager led the Fly-guys in penalty minutes last year, but he isn't big enough and has too much skill to be labeled a sure fire "heavy-weight."  Boulerice is also rather diminutive when compared to the top echelon of fighters in the league, but he's had an impressive camp and a number of eye opening (or gash opening) fights, including his two-time defeat of Devil's Cam Janssen.

On defense, Braydon Coburn, who came in a trade with Nashville for Peter Forsberg is paired with big n' slow Derrian Hatcher and starts his first full season as a pro.  Impressive youngster Lasse Kukkonen and Randy Jones worked well together in the pre-season.  Jason Smith, long time captain of the Edomonton Oilers, is now our 16th captain, after securing the job late last Saturday in a loss to the Rangers.  He dished out several punishing checks and fought twice in the game, carving a place in the hearts of true Flyers fans.  His partner, Timmonen is the puck carrying defenseman the flyers always wanted Joni Pitkanen to be.  The 7th alternate d-man is Nate Guenin, a suprise to make the club who looked strong in camp and edged out the hard hitting Denis Gauthier.  Look for the retirement of other creaky defenseman, Mike Rathje... one of the last physical leftovers from Clarke's grand vision of the new NHL.

Marty Biron, long time Sabres back up and pal of Briere, gets his chance to prove he deserves the number one goaltender position on the Flyers.  Silent Bob Esche is gone and Nittymaki looks to rebound after his labrum injuries of last season.  Former Flyer Brian (Bobby) Boucher is back, but as a starting goalie for the Craig Berube led Philadelphia Phantoms.  As far as predictions go, I nor anyone else in their right mind knows what the Flyers will do this season.  Injuries, all the new faces, and the possible return of Peter the Great make the future pretty uncertain.  I will go out on a limb and say they make the playoffs as a lower seed (5-8) and are ousted in the 2nd round.  But don't take my word for it.

Tidbits: Injuries are once again the story this year, with four of them occuring on or around the controversial "Downie Killed McCammond" game.  Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall (out 3-4 weeks) both sustained wrist injuries, but Lupul hopes to play tonight.  R.J. Umberger broke a pinky finger after a really strong preseason, but he hopes to join the club as soon as the Vancouver game.  Randy Jones had a hip flexor but is slated to start and Timmonen had a scary collision in practice with goalie Antero Nittymaki, but both are fine.  Speaking of Downie, the Flyers appear to have "buried" him and the story on the Phantoms after the announcement of the 20 game suspension.  What's worse is that the AHL commisioner suspended Downie for a month after reviewing the hit.  Downie could possibly make his AHL debut on Nov. 3, but still has to serve the NHL suspension before playing pro.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).