Flyers-Pens: Where Backlund At?!

Flyers-Pens: Where Backlund At?!

We've already bitterly admitted overall ownership at the hands of the Penguins in recent years. The Flyers owned them for decades, but for this stretch, we've on the losing end. 

A win today won't undo that, it won't clinch the Flyers a playoffs spot (the Pens can clinch, however), nor will it really instill any lasting confidence—at least not on its own. The best we can hope for is a win that will remind the Flyers of the team they were expected to be this season. That, and beating the Pens is always a great thing no matter what the circumstances. If I remember correctly, that is.It's probably safe to say that the Flyers are at the lowest point of their season right now. Four straight losses against teams that aren't among the league's elite, including Thursday's lose-from-ahead debacle against the Wild. They finally looked good to start a game, going up 2-0. Then they took their foot off the gas offensively, lapsed defensively, and got pathetic goaltending at the worst possible time. 

Play like that today and they may leave the building with a 7-1 loss and somehow even less confidence than they took to Pittsburgh, even if the Penguins aren't at their best either. 

The Pens are likely to be without Evgeni Malkin, a major break in favor of the Flyers, and Sergei Gonchar could be out too. They've also lost three straight heading into today's action, and six of their last eight. There's no doubt Pittsburgh will make the playoffs, and be a true contender when they do. But at least for the moment, heading into a huge game for the Flyers, the Pens are struggling somewhat. They did battle hard in their last one though, a 4-3 loss to the best team in the league. The Capitals may have reaffirmed their dominance, but it took a shootout to dispatch the Penguins. 

While two rivals on losing streaks will faceoff today, one is still playing at a higher level than the other. 

Among the myriad concerns of the Flyers, they currently have no answer at goaltending. Pick yourself up off the floor

Perhaps this isn't the ideal opponent or setting to toss Johan Backlund out there for his NHL debut, but does anyone really want to see Brian Boucher face the Pens today?

Backlund isn't your ordinary NHL rookie. The Swedish import is 28 years old, and he won't be wide-eyed when he sees #87 skating during warmups, having played for his country nationally and for years in the Elite league. I won't bother throwing his stats with the Phantoms at you. They mean nothing today, and they're not particularly stunning in one direction or the other anyway, although the team has been impressed enough with him. Left with no real choice in the matter, we're looking at Backlund's start as a positive for the Flyers, who need any change they can get right now. 

We've already seen them initially step up their game in front of the likes of a cast-aside in Ray Emery, as well another in Michael Leighton this season. Leighton played well in his own right, but his successes were about as surprising to me as Brad Lidge's 2008 run was. With those guys though, we had some book on them. I got nothing on Backlund, and I don't have a clue what to expect. 

Paul Holmgren wants to see him play, and so do I, for two reasons—curiosity and desperation. Whether we'll know much about him after today remains to be seen. Pittsburgh can light any goalie up, and in order to give Backlund a fair grade, we'd have to see the guys in front of him play at least a pretty good game for 60 minutes. Their lapses lately have certainly exposed the inadequacies of Boucher.   

So in yet another gamethread, we'll say the same thing again, because the Flyers haven't bucked the trend yet: If they can't take the ice ready for 60 or more minutes of battle-oriented hockey today, they simply can't do it at all. Their backs have been against the wall for weeks, yet the results haven't improved. They need to play physical hockey, if nothing else, and they need to find a way to get better shots on goal. 

Crosby will likely get his points—he always does against our guys. Say what you will about The Kid. The guy is highly visible when it matters most, as much as it pains a hater to say that. The Flyers need to answer that with some step-up of their own. From the sounds of it, even they don't know if they can. 

We'll see today at 1 PM. 

Photos By Dave Sandford, Len Redkoles for Getty Images. 

Eagles-Vikings predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Vikings predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles are coming off two straight losses and the slate doesn't get any easier with the 5-0 Vikings coming to town.

It also marks the return of Sam Bradford, who was traded just before Week 1, paving the way for rookie Carson Wentz to start.

The Eagles kick off against Minnesota at the Linc on Sunday at 1 p.m., so it's time for our (cough) experts' predictions for the Week 7 matchup.

Dave Zangaro (2-3)
I'll admit, this game just has a weird feel. It has the feeling like the Eagles might be able to catch the Vikings sleeping after their bye week and hand them their first loss of the season.

I was almost tempted to pick the Birds in this one.

But I'm not.

Ultimately, the Vikings are just the better team. I'm not sure how the Eagles are going to put up points against them. And I'm not convinced the Eagles' defense will be able to stop anyone after what we saw last weekend.

They keep it close, but the Birds fall to 3-3.

Vikings 20, Eagles 17

Derrick Gunn (2-3)
The good news is Minnesota's offense is ranked 30th in the league and the Vikings' run game is dead last averaging 70.6 yards per game. 

The bad news is the Vikings' defense is a monster, ranked 2nd overall and first in points allowed at 12.6.

There is not a weak link in the Vikings' D and they are fundamentally sound across the board. The Eagles' defense vows that what happened to them at Washington — allowing 230 rushing yards — won't happen again. 

Carson Wentz got roughed up by the Redskins' pass rush, and unless the Eagles' offensive line plugs the leaks, more of the same could happen this Sunday. The Birds have every reason to rebound at home, but I just don't like the overall matchup. 

Vikings 20, Eagles 13

Ray Didinger (2-3)
The Vikings aren't going undefeated. You don't go 16-0 in the NFL with a 30th ranked offense which is what the Vikings have. Yes, their defense is very good. Going back to last season they have held each of their last nine opponents to 17 points or less. They are deep, fast and well-coached by Mike Zimmer. But the offense led by Sam Bradford coughs and sputters a lot.
As a result, the Vikings will play a lot of close, low-scoring games and somewhere along the line they are going to lose. It could even happen this week when they play the Eagles. Special teams could be huge. The Eagles have a big edge with kicker Caleb Sturgis. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh has already missed three field goals and two PATs. However, the Vikings return men -- Marcus Sherels on punts, Cordarrelle Patterson on kickoffs -- are very dangerous. I expect the Eagles to keep it close but in the end I have to go with the superior defense.
Vikings 21, Eagles 16

Andrew Kulp (2-3)
Which Eagles defense shows up on Sunday? If they can limit Minnesota's anemic ground attack, which ranks dead last in the NFL, this should be a close game. Sam Bradford is playing really well, but it's not like he's airing it out all over the place.

Then it becomes a question of how Halapoulivaati Vaitai responds to a rough debut. The Vikings pass-rush is fierce, so it doesn't get any easier this week. As long as the protection gives Carson Wentz a chance, that will at least give the rookie signal-caller a shot at making a few big plays.

For some reason, I like their chances at both. It's going to be another ugly one, but the Eagles do just enough to squeak by.

Eagles 20, Vikings 19

Corey Seidman (2-3)
I foresee a low-scoring game in which the Eagles are more competitive than some might think.

But in the end, the Vikings have the personnel and the defensive-minded head coach (Mike Zimmer) to get key stops down the stretch.

Vikings 20, Eagles 16

Andy Schwartz (1-4)
You’re still reading? 

Well good for you. Much appreciated. 

Because clearly I certainly don’t know what to expect from this team. 

But let’s forget all that for the moment and look at the Bradford Bowl. 

The Vikings’ offense is hardly scary (30th in the league in yards per game behind the Rams and Niners), but their defense is (second in yards per game behind Seattle).

The Eagles’ offense is hardly scary (22nd in yards per game), and their defense (sixth in yards per game) was pretty scary a few weeks ago.

So let’s look at the intangibles. Which team needs this game more? The Eagles. And they’re at home. 

But given the outcomes the last two weeks and that Minnesota is unbeaten and coming off a bye, it certainly makes sense to pick the Vikes, who are favored by 2.5.

Then again, the Eagles not too long ago were unbeaten and coming off a bye … and we all know what happened.

So I’ll say the Birds pull off another upset and remain unbeaten at the Linc. 

Just don’t bet on it.

Eagles 6, Vikings 5

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

It appears the Sixers' frontcourt logjam may not be an issue early on.

Nerlens Noel, who is having surgery Monday for an inflamed plica in his left knee, will miss the first three to five weeks of the season, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Noel suffered a left groin injury in the first preseason game against the Celtics and missed the rest of the preseason. While undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to the discovery of the inflamed plica.

It's been an odd start to the season for Noel. The big man was outspoken about his displeasure with the Sixers' frontcourt situation early in camp. With the deadline for Noel's rookie contract extension approaching on Oct. 31, the team has not had conversations about it, according to a report.

The Sixers are already without No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons as he recovers from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot. The team will also be without their starting point guard Jerryd Bayless who is dealing with a ligament issue in his left wrist. Bayless won't require surgery and will be reevaluated in two weeks.