Road to the Winter Classic: Flyers in Tampa

Road to the Winter Classic: Flyers in Tampa

Yesterday, Enrico and I sat in on a conference call with Chris Pronger as part of the media prelude to the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Pronger was affable and responsive, but also pretty honest about the fact that he doesn't know what exactly this team needs to do to get out of their funk. If he knew that, he said, he'd have told everyone already. 

When the league's deepest scoring team from last season suddenly can't find the back of the net for weeks, it's much more difficult to pinpoint the problem than it is when they're just getting shelled, which on most nights, they're not. Pronger did echo the sentiments aired by Peter Laviolette recently—that the team just needs to find a way to have fun, probably not meaning in a goofing around sense, but rather to not press so much and overthink their shortcomings.  

What better stage for having some fun than playing an outdoor game, and on the field at Fenway Park at that? Pronger did say he thinks that setting and excitement could be just what they need, but he quickly pointed out that they need to start winning during the four games they have leading up to that, a road trip that starts tonight in Tampa. He's right too—they can't afford to keep losing or wait 'til the new year to get a fresh start. Take a look at this tidbit, tweeted by Ryan Bright earlier today:


At just six points below the mark of the current 8th seed, it may not take 30-16-1 to get in this season—but if Lavvy has a cardboard stripper in the locker room right now, she'd better be wearing 30 tear-off patches, if not more. 

Michael Leighton will get the start in net for the Flyers, which doesn't exactly fill our hockey pants with confidence. Leighton wasn't quite good enough to stick with the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently have the highest goals against average in the NHL (the Flyers are 10th, which is pretty lousy as well). Can he steal a win tonight, or at the very least keep it close enough for the Flyers to eek one out? More than Leighton's own play, it'll depend on what the skaters in front of him can do. If they get shutout or light the lamp just once or twice, Leighton won't be the reason they lose, even if he gets torched. Boosh should be able to return after the short Christmas break, and Johan Backlund has been called up (or down, geographically speaking) to make sure the door on the bench stays shut during play. Darroll Powe will come off the injury list tonight, while Riley Cote and Mike Pyorala will watch the game from the suites (which begs the question—if you're a healthy scratch, can you have a few beers up in the box?).  

Just like the Flyers, the Lightning are staring through the glass at the Eastern Conference's playoff teams, but they're closer to breaking through, which is a huge sign of just how awful the Orange & Black have been lately. The Lightning aren't a good team, and their building smells like human waste because of it. Or maybe it's the sewage leak. Or the Flyers. 

Who can be sure? 

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.

'Trust the process' has a different, more personal meaning to Joel Embiid

'Trust the process' has a different, more personal meaning to Joel Embiid

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is all about trusting the process.

He manages to insert the well-known phrase into just about every interview, hashtags it on social media and soaks in the chants during games. 

While “trust the process” is commonly associated with former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s patience-required approach to building the team — which resulted in three years of dismal losing and suffering setback after setback — Embiid has his personal take on the mantra.

“I think I have my own process,” Embiid said Friday at practice.

Embiid is playing for the first time this season after waiting two years to recover from foot injuries. His long-anticipated debut was a focal point of “the process,” and his return to the court marked a new chapter in the organization.

“I went through two surgeries, lost my brother, thought about some stuff I shouldn’t have thought about, so that’s my own process,” he said. “And then the process of going through the rehab and finally getting back on the court and getting the chance to finally play in the league, that’s my process.”

Embiid is now synonymous with the word. He credits Sixers fans for the moniker, which he added to his Instagram profile. 

“I don’t think it came from me,” he said. “Fans just started and then I just went along with it.”

Wednesday marked the next step in the process, both for the Sixers and Embiid. His regular-season debut (20 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) was a long time coming and garnered buzz all over the NBA world.

“I was the third pick and then I missed two years,” Embiid said. “The excitement in the city, everybody’s happy to finally see me play. Even though it was weird because a lot of people kind of wrote me off a long time ago saying that I’d never play as a Sixer, I’d never play in the league. So it’s all fun. Everybody’s going to have an opinion.”

He’s just got to trust in his own.