Recap: Ho-Hum... Game 1.

Recap: Ho-Hum... Game 1.

A lot of you were prepared for this.  I read it in the comments here and on other hockey forums.  You kept telling yourself “After ten minutes, I’ll know which team shows up for this game.”  You were referring to the Jekyl and Hyde that is the Philadelphia Flyers.  Would the team that backed into the playoffs while losing home ice and seeming disinterested face the Penguins in Game 1 of Round 1, or would the tenacious team with 6 twenty plus goal scorers that beat the Penguins and Devils a few weeks back show up?  That answer can be derived from the 4-1 final score in favor of the Penguins.  But along with that sobering bit of bad news, there’s always a silver lining.

Truth be told, you didn’t have to wait 10 minutes to know which Flyers team was set to face the Penguins.  At 4:41 of the first period, the most hated of all Flyers killers, Sid the Kid, notched a power play goal that will be scrutinized for quite some time.  It all began with Malkin dishing a pass out front to a cutting Crosby.  Sid kicked the puck from his skate to his stick, past Biron, off the post… back off Biron and into the net. 

“Upon further review, the puck was not kicked in with a distinct kicking motion.”  This was Van-whosit-whatsits’s call that gave the Pens the early lead.  First of all, if there was no distinct kicking motion, you’re fooling yourself.  I’ve read quite a few post-game comments from Pittsburgh fans saying it was a hockey stop or it was directing, not kicking.  Crosby was KICKING the puck to his stick with the intentions of shooting the puck in.  Now, as a Flyers fan who thinks the goal wasn’t good… you’re also delusional.  While Donnie Van-Mass might have given an invalid or incorrect reason for the goal standing, word from the War-Room and further inspection gave alternative reasons for the 1-0 lead.  Some say it hit his stick “ever so gently.”  The rest of you will take notice of the puck hitting the post and then nicking off of Biron’s pad and going in.

What may have been more controversial was the call that gave the Penguins the power play to begin with.  Aaron Asham, at the end of his shift tapped the arm of a passing Penguin and was called for hooking.  When Billy Clement says its weak, you know its weak.  But regardless, when you’re the most penalized team in the league, you gain a reputation, and all those seeds the Flyers planted during the regular season are appearing to bloom.  Despite the fact they didn’t show up till late in the first period and despite the fact they took three minor penalties, the Flyers left the 1st down by one goal.

I have to say that I was more impressed with the Penguins’ third line than the ones that were centered by the league’s top two points getters.  Staal in particular gave the Flyers fits throughout the game and skilled pest Tyler Kennedy scored on a 3 on 1 to make the score 2-0.  The second period was actually a good one for the Flyers and as it progressed it seemed the ice was slowly but surely tipping in their favor.  But a common theme of the Flyers’ season returned in the form of bad bounces and bad penalties.  Any time the team gained momentum, something would happen to force them back on their heels.  One instance in particular, a goalie interference penalty on Scott Hartnell comes to mind.  To be completely honest… I thought this one was also weak.  Hartnell crashed the net and got a decent shot off, and was shouldered into “MAF” by Kris Letang.  In retrospect, I wish Hartsy had gotten a little more bang for his buck, knowing that his team would eventually lose the game.
Mike Knuble’s attempted wrap around the boards paved the way for Pittsburgh’s third goal, basically ending the game.  The puck took a funny bounce right out in front of a bewildered Biron.  The league’s top scorer and potential MVP was there to collect it, delay, and slip a backhander into the yawning net.  This came just after the announcers had mentioned that they HADN’T mentioned Malkin’s name in forever, which further solidifies the point that both Crosby and Malkin, each with an goal and assist, didn’t have their best games.  And they didn’t need to.  Add former Flyer/current Penguin Mark Eaton’s goal for good measure, and you have a 4-0 game.

Mike Richards provided the only real Flyers offensive threat in this game, which kinda reminds you of the way last year’s eastern conference final ended up.  All told, he hit three posts, with the last one leading to a power play rebound shot and score by Simon Gagne.  Yay… no shutout for the Pens fans to boast over.  Throw in a smidge of final minute tomfoolery and penalties and that was pretty much the game.

Bad News
Kimmo Timonen looked gimpy, courtesy of a Charlie horse from early in the game.  You have to know he’s a target of the Pens forecheckers, just like Gonchar will be for ours.  To see him limping around EARLY in the first period was not a good sign.  Another concern for the Flyers has to be that both Crosby and Malkin had okay games, but are both capable of much more damage.  That being said, Philadelphia STILL lost the game 4-1.  Not a good sign.  The biggest bit of bad news I received was when I watched Game 2 of the Vs double header, Vancouver/St. Louis.  If you wanted to see what playoff intensity means, watch that game.  It was physical, fast, and exciting.  I realize the score was not in our favor last night, but even more than that, the game wasn’t all that interesting.  This malaise that the Flyers have suffered from during their most inconsistent stretches in the regular season was present in Game 1.

Good News
The Flyers lost game one in all three series last year.  Two of them they went on to win.  Also, there is room for improvement.  It isn’t like the Flyers played their best game and still couldn’t beat the Penguins.  They played a so-so game and for the most part were losing by 2 goals.  I also thought the play of Biron was somewhat encouraging.  Three of the four goals he has absolutely no chance, with the second goal trickling through his five hole.  Replays show the puck deflected off Matt Carle, but you’d still like to see Marty keep it 1-0 at that point.  Biron faced a lot of shots from the Pens in the slot and was up to the task.  It must be encouraging to say “Biron didn’t lose us game 1…”  right?  

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Pockets of NBA players have increasingly started to speak up about what they believe to be racial and social injustices taking place in the United States.

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem sparking protests from other players around the NFL and various sports, now the NBA as a whole is preparing for potential protests prior to games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association union executive director Michele Roberts came together last week to formulate a joint letter to players to express how the two sides plan to take "meaningful action."

Whatever that action is, Sixers veteran Elton Brand is all for it and the overall discussion of issues going on around the country.

"There are e-mails and direct texts from the NBPA. We’re working with the NBA. They’re going to talk to us soon,” Brand said. “My thing is if you want to stand up for something, that’s a good thing. Especially in America, the tensions and the injustices that are going on right now. 

“Even in our locker room we’re discussing who feels like this, who feels like what and ways that we can display how we feel about things. I’m all for it. I stand behind it and stand with other athletes and people that want to stand for a cause. Whatever their cause is, they want to stand for a cause. Our cause may be different.”

The NBA is significantly more diverse than the NFL, and Brand even admitted it’s been an eye-opening experience having talks about issues affecting African Americans inside a locker room with players from around the globe.

“We have a lot of international players,” he said. “I’m looking around the room and there are seven people that aren’t from this country. So you talk about the flag, talk about the constitution and to them it’s like, ‘I represent America because I’m working here, but I’m pro-Spain and I have problems there, too.’ We’re all sorting it out. We’ve had discussions internally also. I’m looking forward to what the NBPA and the NBA have to offer."

What the league and players association come up with will likely serve as something other than protesting during the actual anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule in place that explicitly states players, coaches and trainers must stand on the foul line or sidelines in a dignified posture during the playing of national anthems.

If Sixers players do ultimately decide on some sort of protest before games, they will have the support of the organization to express their rights.

"We haven't been together collectively long enough to have a real robust discussion about it," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said. "I think we just addressed it briefly this morning with the players in an opportunity to say the following. Basically, we as an organization are going to be supportive of the views of our players. As the league and the players association formulate perhaps an approach, they've already circulated some information to teams. Things are probably still at the discussion phase. I hope to think that's where things are with our players, that they're still at the discussion phase. 

"Once again, I'm assuming that there will be a desire to express an opinion or viewpoint. I've always been supportive of people in society having freedom to express a viewpoint. Again, going back to the league and the players association, in a positive way I think they've always been out in front of some of these social issues and if they can affect social change in a positive way they probably will. You can just anticipate that there's still some unknowns to this, but you can estimate that we will be supportive as an organization as to how our players want to express their views."

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The long wait could be over next week.

Joel Embiid expects to play in the Sixers' first preseason game Oct. 4 at UMass-Amherst against the Celtics, he said Monday at media day.

“The first thing for me is just get back on the court,” Embiid said of his expectations this season. “It looks like in a couple days I’m going to have the chance to do that.”

Embiid has missed the past two seasons since being drafted third overall because of foot injuries. Even though he is taking his rookie year one step at a time, he has a positive long-term outlook given how healthy he feels. 

“I’m confident that I’m going to have a long, successful career,” he said. “From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have a 20-year career.”

Embiid has grown as a player and a person during his recovery. He noted had he been competing in an 82-game season, he would not have had as much time to dedicate on his development. As a result of the specialized workouts and the hours he has spent in an individual practice format, he has improved his shooting and gained strength and speed. 

“What I was two years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better ... I’m not the same guy. I’m different.”

Embiid has been following a well-mapped out rehab plan during which he has had to adhere to restrictions, and will continue to do so this season. He admits the restrictions have been frustrating, but he now understands they are being implemented for his best interest long term. The lengthy recovery has forced him to change his outlook on maintaining his health. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab, going through that, the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor [said] you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to what people have to say.”

Head coach Brett Brown wants Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense. Embiid, who stands at a towering 7-foot-2, 275 pounds, is ready to embrace those expectations. He has studied tape of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, among others. Embiid likes the game of Marc Gasol and appreciates how DeAndre Jordan communicates as a big man. 

“I love playing defense,” he said. “I hate when the other team scores.”

Embiid's debut will be the culmination of years of work. Now that the season is approaching, he is eager to count down the days. 

“I’m really excited,” Embiid said. “I’ve gone through a lot and it’s been two years. The fact that I’m healthy now and ready to get back on the court, I just can’t wait.”