Who are these Flyers? Tonight's visit to Chicago could go a long way in answering that question

Who are these Flyers? Tonight's visit to Chicago could go a long way in answering that question

Patrick Kane… Michael Leighton’s five hole… Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final... Yada, yada, yada.

Whatever. That all happened three-and-a-half years ago.

Snap back to reality and focus on the here and now because the Philadelphia Flyers finish up their six-game road trip tonight with a visit to Chicago to take on the once-again defending Stanley Cup champion and red-hot Blackhawks, who have the most points in the NHL with 49.

The Blackhawks are the most well-oiled machine the league has to offer.

They lead the league with an average of 3.58 goals per game. They’re second in the league with 33.7 shots on net per game. Don’t forget their lethal power play, which is fifth-best in the league with a 22.9 percent success rate.

Kane is well on the way to having the best season of his career. With 40 points, he trails Sidney Crosby by just three points for the league lead. He’s also scored 17 goals, which puts him at fourth-best in the league. Captain Jonathan Toews is one of the best players in the universe. Duncan Keith is second among all defensemen with 27 points, third among defensemen with a plus-15 rating and is back playing at his 2010 Norris Trophy-winning form.

To wrap things up here in Christmas paper and put a pretty little bow on top, this is one of those litmus test games for Flyers that could help us figure out of the they are contenders or pretenders. Tonight help show us who these Flyers really are.

The up-and-down road trip has pretty much been a microcosm of the season so far.

On this trip, the Flyers won a shootout (!) in Nashville, sleepwalked to a shutout loss in Minnesota, exploded in the third period to win in Detroit, got blitzed in the second period of a loss in Dallas and blew a third-period lead and lost in a shootout in Ottawa.

The trip really hasn’t shed much light on what the team is or isn’t. The same questions about goal scoring, defense and consistent play still linger. It doesn’t help that second-line center Vinny Lecavalier was injured on the trip could miss up to a month.

Getting back to tonight’s visit to Chicago, look for Sean Couturier and his line to play a big role.

If Flyers’ head coach Craig Berube has his way and gets the matchups he wants, Couturier and his line will be out there as much as possible against Toews and his line.  Whichever line gets the best of the other will have a huge say in the way the game goes. Keep in mind that Couturier’s line has been the Flyers’ best offensive line recently, too. If the matchup evens itself out, it’ll be up to the respective teams’ secondary scoring. With guys like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw, just to name a few, it’s a clear advantage to the Blackhawks.

Ray Emery goes tonight between the pipes for the Flyers. Steve Mason has allowed eight goals in his last two starts – the first two times he let in more than three goals as a Flyer – so he gets the night off. Expect Mason to be back in net tomorrow night when the Flyers finally come home and face the Montreal Canadiens in the second game of a back-to-back.

Emery, of course, won a Cup with the ‘Hawks last season and will be facing his old mates for the first time since. Last season with the ‘Hawks, “Razor” went 17-1-0 with a .922 save percentage and a 1.94 goals-against average in 21 games played. This season in his second stint as a Flyer, Emery is 3-5-0 with a .908 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average in 10 games played.

Let’s just say the quality of defense in front of the goaltender helps. But that’s another story for another day.

The last time the Flyers had a big game like this, Emery started and the Flyers won, 2-1, in Pittsburgh.

Long story short, this game will go a long in proving whether the Flyers can hang with the big boys of the NHL or whether they aren’t much better than a middle of the pack team.

Either way, it’s never a bad thing to have an excuse to look at the Blackhawks’ beautiful sweaters. Best uniform in pro sports right there.

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

CAMDEN, N.J. — Thursday is significant for the Sixers beyond the trade deadline. It is also the day of Ben Simmons' CT scan to evaluate how his right foot is healing.

"I feel like tomorrow at some point we're all going to be able to lay out a more genuine plan for him," Brett Brown said. "I feel like we're going to be good to go with some greater news and a more advanced detail of his plans after this scan."

Once all parties involved assess the results, the team will provide an update, which may not be Thursday. Simmons has been sidelined all season after suffering a Jones fracture during the final scrimmage of training camp. 

On Wednesday he went through his individual workout plan, which included five-on-none scripting with teammates.

"He's still getting a feel for all of us," Nerlens Noel said. "He's learning to throw it up to me, bounce pass to whoever. It's learning certain tendencies that'll make you start to feel more a part of the team."

The Sixers have not placed a timetable on Simmons' return. The first overall pick has not been cleared for full contact five-on-five practice, the next step in his recovery. Prior to the All-Star break, Brown said he expects Simmons will play at some point this season. He stands by that projection with 26 games remaining. 

"I personally would like to see him play this season. I don't backpedal from that," Brown said. "I think my comments are really very much influenced by his reciprocal desire to play this year, which we all respect. Everybody's got clandestine conspiracy theories on why he might not want to play. I know in my heart and speaking to him, he wants to get on a court and play basketball again.

"I hope he can do that too. If for some reason he can't, we'll deal with it. But I think it would help him to play NBA basketball and get his competitive juices going again if the doctors point us in that direction."

Simmons' teammates are ready to welcome him into the mix when he is given the green light. Their limited glimpses into his talent have them eager for his debut.

"Unlimited potential," Noel said. "I think with Ben, the thing that makes him so special is his IQ for the game, a sixth sense on the court. Him being able to find little things that not very many 6-10 guys can find. I think that's going to propel his game and make him a special player in this league." 

Added Joel Embiid: "I'm excited ... I thought he was our best player in training camp."

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers looked around the court on Wednesday and knew it could be their last practice all together.

The NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Thursday. The Sixers are scheduled to practice that day, but who is there for it remains to be seen.

“Honestly, I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Joel Embiid said. “Hopefully I’m here and hopefully my teammates are here. We’ve been playing great basketball when we are healthy and we all play. Hopefully we keep the same group and you never know what can happen.”

The Sixers have stayed tight knit through losing, ups and downs and trade talks. In their ideal world, they would remain teammates for the rest of the season. In the basketball world, there is a strong possibility at least one of them will be moved.

“You’ve learned that you’re not confident on anything,” Brett Brown said when asked about having the same players after the deadline. “There’s nothing that would point to either my 16 years of experience in the league or my three previous trade situations here in Philadelphia that would make me say anything otherwise. We’ve maintained a very high level of transparency with my team. We talk freely. It doesn’t feel as dramatic perhaps as it might have in other years.”

Jahlil Okafor has been the focal point of trade discussions. The Sixers were close to a deal for him last week, to the point where they sat him out two games and did not send him to Charlotte. Okafor will keep his phone close as the deadline approaches.

“I did the best I can to just focus in with the guys [at practice], going over the plays and working on defense,” Okafor said. “But it was definitely on my mind that I could be out of here tomorrow.”

Okafor said he would not have hard feelings if a deal did not happen after being on the trading block. At the same time, he just wants to know what his NBA future holds.

“If the Sixers decide to keep me, I’ll be happy," he said. "I have amazing teammates that I love being with every day and I’ll go back to my everyday routine. If that’s here or somewhere else, I’m just ready for 3 o’clock to happen so I can continue with my career and start doing what I love to do, and that’s play basketball.”

The Sixers' trade talks, to this point, have centered around the bigs because of a logjam in the frontcourt. At the start of the season Nerlens Noel said the team had to make a change. Noel said he was not worried about the deadline and noted the Sixers' first practice after the All-Star break was upbeat, not anxious.

“It’s been such a long season with so many things that were said, so now at this point it’s whatever happens happens,” Noel said.

So who will stay and who will go? With the Sixers' roster in question, Embiid summed up the trade deadline in Embiid fashion.

“It’s business,” Embiid said. “Anything can happen. So you’ve got to trust the process, I guess.”