Things Continue to Fall Apart: Backlund Hurt, Flyers Lose to Pens

Things Continue to Fall Apart: Backlund Hurt, Flyers Lose to Pens

Discussing the Flyers hasn't been too much fun lately. They continue to lose, building on their own poor trends and getting screwed by some outside factors (including a bone in Jeff Carter's foot literally being screwed in place). It really gives me no joy to bitch about the refs, but I continue to be amazed at the decisions they make, and get away with making game after game. I'm not calling "conspiracy," because via the powers of the internet, we regularly hear about the amazing inconsistency of the officiating throughout the league. I'm just talking about our little corner of that, with the full caveat that the Flyers need to find a way to play dominant hockey so that few close calls don't matter. However, with yet another injured goalie, how much can we expect to change for the better?

For those who missed the game and those who like to relive painful experiences, here are some of the moments that made up a frustrating Saturday afternoon for Flyers fans. 

First, they started off the game fairly well. Johan Backlund looked sharp early and for most of his time in the crease during this start. Things were looking up when Arron Asham tossed a bloop shot on Pittsburgh's net, and it handcuffed Marc-Andre Fleury, falling into the goal behind him. 

That was the start of a theme for the day—weird shit happening in and around MAF's crease.

Backlund would give up two goals, both on rebounds. Judging a goalie on the rebounds he gives up is tricky business, and we'll reserve any such discussion here. They were big, but better than getting beat by the first attempt. Overall, Backlund played well, making a few saves of the "how the hell did that stay out?" variety.

It should come as a surprise to no one though, that Backlund would leave the game between the second and third periods with a lower-body injury. Tim Panaccio says it was a groin pull, which makes sense given that Backlund missed time in the AHL last week due to a groin issue. Backlund becomes the fourth Flyers goalie to miss time due to injury this season, joining Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton. We simply can't catch a break in net. No word yet on how long he'll be out, but after seeing him step up and play well for two periods today, we hope he's back very soon. Groin injuries are obviously not easy on goalies though. 

Flyers haters will enjoy this, but once again, the big bad Bullies were jobbed by the refs in this one. First, the stuff involving Fleury and his fortress of solitude. Toward the beginning of the second period, JVR was in front of the crease, tangled with a Pens defender. Their contact was fairly incidental, but JVR was spun off and into Fleury. There was no real effect on the play other than a little flop from MAF, but the arm went up, and JVR went off for the third of three straight Flyers penalties to start the game. 

The more controversial call, however, came when Simon Gagne scored on Fleury, was awarded the goal by the closest ref to the play, only to later wave it off after discussing with the other officials... 

Ville Leino came in hard to the goal area, made contact with a defender, whose stick was in his skates. Leino then collided with Fleury, who was a foot out in front of the crease, throwing his head back as he fell to the ice. Gags put the puck in, and the ref on the goal line pointed to it in the net, signaling the goal. Why the refs would change the call, I'm not sure. If they had waved it off due to interference, I might have less to say about it. But they called the contact incidental, albeit long after originally calling it a good goal. I guess it really hinges on whether you think Leino deliberately made contact, and where that contact was made, because here is how the rule reads:

Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. [...]

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. [emphasis mine]

Whether or not you think the contact could be avoided is a point worth debating. But, the location of the contact is pretty clear cut. All eyes and sticks are focused on the puck, so the argument could be made that Fleury's being out of the crease was the reason the attacker made contact with him. I think Leino could've avoided it if he tried, and this picture doesn't show how significant the contact ended up being, but his primary objective there is scoring, and as you can see, Leino is 3 feet away from the crease at the point of initial contact. 
Interpret it as you will, but I think the biggest factor in MAF's being unable to play the puck was that he was way too far out of the crease, resulting in getting hit by a guy whose stick was on the puck at the time. 

[Update: The rules also state, very clearly, that these plays will be governed by on-ice calls only—NOT by video replay. However, Panotch points out that Simon Gagne and Peter Laviolette each said the officials watched the play on the big screen over the ice before ultimately overturning it. They'd rather violate the rulebook than piss off the home fans? I can see wanting to get the call right, but have some respect for the rules. What's next, overturning it because your buddy at home texted you that it was interference?]

The final MAF Laff came when Claude Giroux was skating in on the Pittsburgh net with a great scoring opportunity. Knowing Giroux can make some moves with the puck, Fleury drops his stick along on ice at Giroux's feet. No call, and even the homer FSN Pittsburgh announcer asks, "Did he throw his stick?" 

While we're bitchin it out here, I'll also point to the Matt Cooke goal, which was another blind-ref moment. Cooke had the puck behind the Flyers net, marked by Ryan Parent. He skated through Parent's check, catching Parent's stick under his arm, clamping down on it, falling to the ice while pulling the stick out of Parent's hand. But as you can see, the ref didn't get a good look at that one. 

In the freeze frame, he looks wounded or something, but he went down of his own accord. Parent dropped the stick to get after the puck, which had gone to the front of the net, where Ruslan Fedotenko crosschecked Blair Betts from behind, then passed it back to Cooke, who scored. 

Two possible penalties right in the vicinity of the puck, and no calls. Full disclosure: I'd have no problem with the Flyers doing what either Penguin did in that sequence, and I don't fault the Pens for gaming it up in that way. 

Anyway, aside from all that, the Flyers were once again unable to contain Sidney Crosby, who had three assists on the day. He's everything you don't want your rival to have, and today he was even feistier than usual. Something happened late in the game along the boards between Hartnell and Crosby, which in a quick glance looked like Crosby getting the better of Hartnell with a hit (yeah, I know). We never saw a replay on the Philly feed, but it somehow resulted in Hartnell going off for his second consecutive roughing penalty, and then a Penguins goal.  

With the three points, he moved ahead of Mario Lemieux for most points per game all time versus the Flyers. Chris Pronger was brought here to contain him, but he can't play for 60 minutes. Pronger was a plus-1 in a game the Flyers lost 4-1. Very symbolic for this season.  

Things don't get any easier tomorrow, with the Devils coming to the Wachovia Center for a 7PM start. 

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.”