Saturday, February 28, 2015

Noel brings winter cheer as Sixers beat Wizards

Philadelphia, PA -- Nerlens Noel scored 14 points and added 13 rebounds and three blocks to help the Philadelphia 76ers top the Washington Wizards, 89-81, on Friday.

With a balanced attack, the Sixers were able to snap their five-game losing streak. Robert Covington scored 13 and Jason Richardson netted 12 with four 3-pointers.

Washington lost its sixth straight and continued its descent down the Eastern Conference standings.
John Wall scored 21 points on 26 field-goal attempts with 11 assists, and Otto Porter contributed 19 points.

"You gotta keep playing. There is frustration out there. No question. We need guys to step up," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.

The 76ers came out of the half cold, missing their first six shots and allowing the Wizards to turn a five-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead. At 7:17, Richardson's 3 finally ended the drought, and Philadelphia hit three straight shots to get back in a rhythm.

The rest of the third was back and forth. In the final minute, Thomas Robinson's offensive rebound set up a Hollis Thompson 3 that gave the Sixers a 63-61 lead with a quarter to play.

Philadelphia would not trail again.

The Sixers used six free throws in the first two minutes of the fourth to go up eight, but the Wizards fought back. With 4 1/2 minutes to play, Porter hit a triple to cut Washington's deficit to one.

Wall had a chance to put the Wizards back in front on the following possession but missed the mid-range shot. His 19 misses from the floor set a personal season-high.

In the closing minutes, Noel preserved the lead with a pair of dunks and hit 3-of-4 attempts from the free-throw line.

"We wanted to go out and get established on defense," said Noel. "We did a great job tonight holding them to 81 points."

The 76ers got off to a quick start by hitting their first five shots from the floor. Richardson and Isaiah Canaan each hit 3s, and Canaan added a three- point play to jump out to a 13-4 lead and force a Wizards timeout.

After the stoppage, the 76ers' shooting went cold but they still held a 28-25 lead after one.
Ramon Sessions scored the first seven points of the second period to give Washington its first lead of the game. At the other end, the Sixers' shooting remained off until Jerami Grant's triple at 7:40.

With 5 1/2 minutes to play before the half, Covington converted a four- point play that put Philadelphia back in front. The 76ers finished the quarter on a 9-2 run to lead 47-42 at the break.

Notes: Philadelphia ended a four-game losing streak against Washington ... The Sixers made 10-plus 3-pointers for the fourth game in a row ... The Wizards entered the game 12-0 when allowing fewer than 90 points ... Wizards forward Paul Pierce missed his second straight game with a knee injury.

Timonen's NHL comeback to be a reality...but in Chicago.

After days of taking a pounding from social media over his perceived lack of initiative as Monday's trade deadline approached, Ron Hextall did something in the real world to quiet the online riot.

More importantly, he pulled off a cap-widening move which will aid whatever plans he has in the works for reshaping this claustrophobic roster in his image.

During the Friday night news dump, and just over 24 hours until his suspected return to the lineup against the New York Rangers following full clearance from multiple blood clots, Kimmo Timonen was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for two draft picks: a second-rounder in this June's draft and a conditional pick next year.

"When you can get this type of a return and put Kimmo in a spot where he's on one of the top teams, it works for both sides. If he wouldn’t have been amicable to being traded, we wouldn’t have traded him. He meant too much to this organization," said Ron Hextall upon the revelation.

Only a day earlier, Timonen publicly pronounced that he was ready to return to the lineup provided the Flyers would want him to. That might have been feasible had the club continued its surprising February run which included an 8-1-4 stretch from Jan. 20 through last weekend that pulled them within four points of struggling Boston for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

But with losses to Carolina and Toronto on the road this week killing that momentum and perhaps proving once and for all that Hextall's proclaimed faith in the lineup, it most likely will not hold through the rigors of a playoff run, he decided to cash in his biggest chip.

It's deeply ironic because Timonen hasn't played since last April 30 and no one else on the blue line is either performing well enough to draw that kind of interest or their contract is too unwieldy to lure in a sucker. Of course, things can and will change in the next 64 hours.

"This is a special player. The return is a fair return. It's fair for Chicago, it's fair for us," Hextall added.

That return removed doubts and quelled fears that Hextall might be boxed into another patchwork roster move to accommodate Timonen by getting rid of a body, say if little-used Carlo Colaiacovo were placed on waivers and taken by another team.

The Blackhawks face a long uphill climb against Western Conference foes Nashville, St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose and Vancouver without the services of star forward Patrick Kane until May. An unproven, almost 40-year-old Timonen who has been out of service for this long will surely have more value in the dressing room than out on the ice.

And Stan Bowman decided to pay a steep price for that kind of protection. A man with two Stanley Cups to his credit as an executive can't be seen as being totally played in this instance. There must be some good reason in his own grand scheme to sacrifice picks for one body.

Amazingly, Braydon Coburn remains the longest-serving member of the Flyers' defensive corps, having arrived here on February 24, 2007. Timonen will depart Philadelphia after being the second-longest served, ranking third all-time in points (270), ninth in games (519), third in assists (232) and tied for eighth in goals (38) since arriving in the Summer of 2007. He also ranks fifth among all team defensemen for most playoff points with 35.

"I want to thank the Flyers organization as well as the great flyers fans for their support over the last 8 years. It's been a great ride!" said Timonen through his Twitter account on Friday night.

Thus, there will be no Frank Bathe-like honors or Mark Howe-like heralded return in Orange and Black for the Finnish native, who was a five-time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner and three-time defending honoree (2008-09, 2012-14).

“I worked out really hard and the goal was to get into the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup,” Timonen said during a conference call. “It gets down to three-four weeks ago when the Flyers were [13] points out of the playoffs and we started having discussions.

"I couldn’t get my mind off the Blackhawks. “That team has such a good tone. I’m really excited about joining the Chicago team. Obviously, it’s a great organization, great team, great players. And it’s been a tough couple of days.  I like their game … they’re a puck possession team. And that’s my game. I like making plays. I like to hang onto it and get that first pass. That’s my game.”

According to multiple sources, Timonen is expected to join Chicago tomorrow and practice on Sunday. The Blackhawks play in Carolina on Monday. That means, to the chagrin of thousands of fans young and old, that, unless there's some element of surprise during Saturday night's game, there will be no immediate chance for the fan base to celebrate Timonen's accomplishments for their team. 

The Blackhawks do come to Philly on March 25 to complete a two-game season series.

“The only thing missing from my hockey career is a Stanley Cup,” he said. “That was the only goal for which I’d return to hockey. It wasn’t money. Nothing else was missing.”

Although Timonen did not reveal those thoughts publicly at any time as his recovery inched him closer to the ice, how difficult and sensitive a situation must it have been for the loyal warrior to work so hard to get into shape and then be told he held no more value to the franchise? Nobody would have blamed him for refusing and possibly impeding Hextall's progress.

But in a display which should put the Flyers' hierarchy on notice, it's apparently loyalty without blindness for Timonen. He obviously recognized that his returning to the ice wasn't going to salvage this season to match his one final hurdle in a distinguished North American career.

He'll be the oldest by far on Chicago's rearguard. Michal Rozsival had held that distinction at age 36, while Johnny Oduya and Duncan Keith are both north of 30. This is the role a man entering his fifth decade of life should be playing at this stage of his life -- not the Deus ex Machina for a crumbling defense on a team which can't get out of its own way.

For Hextall, even with this stroke of brilliance, he still falls lockstep into the tradition of Flyers GMs who constantly preach, in monotone, about getting the best value for the organization while finding a favored trading partner far afield from its own sphere of influence.

You don't think Timonen was coveted by the Islanders, needed by the Bruins and fussed over by Florida at one point? No fellow general manager in division or conference with a hope of maintaining playoff position would allow a deal to take place no matter the theoretical yield. Perhaps this is a step towards building up a rapport with a primary mover in the West which has apparently died with former popular trading chum Nashville.

In the end, it seems to be a rare win-win on the business end, despite some hand wringing and tears in certain quarters of the people pleasing end. But this seems to be the best we can get in South Philadelphia during this drag of a season, so let's dwell on the positives, one step towards a better future -- for the man in charge and the man in someone else's plans now.

Friday, February 27, 2015's NFL Editor John McMullen Talks Eagles, Adrian Peters...

Stupefying Flyers falter in Toronto

Toronto, ON -- Break out your list of reasons this consistently frustrating team can't seem to beat an opponent perceived to be of a lesser quality.

On Thursday night, hope you checked "hot goaltender" and "non-playoff team acting as spoiler."

Jonathan Bernier came up with 47 saves and Dion Phaneuf returned from injury to record the deciding power-play goal early in the third period as Toronto nipped Philadelphia, 3-2, at Air Canada Centre.

Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel each posted a goal and one assist for the Maple Leafs, winners of two straight after dropping five in a row.

"We'll take the win but there is lots of room for improvement," Phaneuf said.

Claude Giroux and Brayden Schenn scored for the Flyers, who dropped back-to- back road games to Carolina and Toronto after beating Nashville and Washington over the weekend at home.

"Some nights you're going to play great and get not points, and some nights you're going to play poorly and get points," Schenn said.

Steve Mason suffered the loss in relief, charged with the final Leafs goal on nine shots. Rob Zepp worked the first 25-plus minutes in a long-anticipated return to his hometown and gave up two scores on eight shots.

Toronto began the final stanza with a power play and cashed in when Phaneuf -- who returned from a 12-game absence due to a hand injury -- let fly from the right point through a Kessel screen for a 3-0 game just 1:22 in.

Philly made things interesting by recording a pair of power-play goals in a span of 3:17 late in the contest.
Giroux snapped home a Michael Del Zotto pass from the left circle to put the visitors on the board at 11:10, then Schenn made it a 3-2 game at 14:27 after Olli Jokinen was booked for tripping.

Mason was on the bench for the final two minutes, but the hosts carried much of the play for the rest of the contest.

Kessel gave the hosts a lead with 2:25 left in the opening period, beating Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossman in a foot race and scoring on a blistering shot from the right circle.

Bozak was left alone at the Flyers blue line to take a James van Riemsdyk pass, break in and score inside the near post from the left circle at 5:33.

At that point, Craig Berube made the rash decision to shake up his club. Zepp was pulled and Mason made his first appearance since Feb. 8, fresh off surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. 

Notes: Bernier's previous season's best was a 44-save effort in a 5-2 win against Vancouver on Dec. 6 ... The Flyers' plus-32 differential in shots (49-17) was the largest in defeat since a 46-14 shot edge in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders on Nov. 25, 1998 ... 49 shots marks the most in a regulation loss for Philadelphia since a 3-1 setback to the Penguins on March 26, 1991 ... Prior to the game, the Leafs announced the acquisition of injured forward Nathan Horton from the Columbus Blue Jackets for healthy forward David Clarkson.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bembry explodes as SJU takes surprise victory at UMass

Amherst, MA -- Just because the countdown to the end of this lost season is near, doesn't mean the Hawk has any shot at expiring.

At times the only player who has shown enough talent and drive to take over a game by himself, DeAndre' Bembry poured in a career-high 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as Saint Joseph's defeated the Massachusetts Minutemen, 82-71, in an Atlantic 10 Conference matchup at the Mullins Center.

The win snapped an eight-game road losing slide for the Hawks (12-15, 6-9 A-10), who also received 15 points courtesy of Isaiah Miles. Chris Wilson netted 13 points, while Aaron Brown scored 11 points off the bench for Saint Joseph's.

SJU also stemmed a three-game overall losing streak, since beating Rhode Island 65-64 at Hagan Arena on Feb. 11.

Cady Lalanne paced the Minutemen (16-12, 9-6) as he registered a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Maxie Esho and Demetrius Dyson contributed 12 points apiece, while Trey Davis recorded a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 assists. Donte Clark chimed in with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor for UMass.

Saint Joseph's took a 36-35 lead into halftime after it connected on 42.3 percent of its field goal attempts and converted 9-of-11 shots at the free- throw line in the opening stanza. The Minutemen were limited to 36.4 percent shooting from the floor in the first half.

UMass continued to struggled after the break as it shot 31.4 percent from the field, including a 2-of-12 clip from behind the 3-point line. The Hawks made good on 4-of-5 tries from beyond the arc and outscored the hosts, 22-16, in the paint in the second stanza.

The Hawks finished with an 18-6 edge in points off turnovers. They'll host Richmond on Saturday, La Salle next Wednesday before completing the regular season at URI on March 7.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wildcats rout Providence, earn share of Big East title

Villanova, PA -- Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston shined on senior night in No. 6 Villanova's 89-61 win over No. 25 Providence.

Hilliard's 24 points with six 3-pointers led all scorers and Pinkston added 16 points and eight rebounds, including the 700th of his career, to help the Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 Big East) clinch at least a share of a second straight Big East title.

"These are two guys who never thought of giving in on Villanova," said Wildcats coach Jay Wright. "It really is special for me because of where they have been and what they have brought us from."

Ryan Arcidiacono netted 13 points, and Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

The Friars (19-9, 9-6) never led despite getting 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from Tyler Harris. LaDontae Henton and Kyron Cartwright each scored 12 points, while Kris Dunn was limited to four points.

Providence pulled within six several times in the opening moments of the second half but could not overcome Villanova's long-range shooting.

Hilliard hit a pair of free throws and went on to score 14 points during a 25-6 Wildcats run to put the game away. He scored the first four points and later netted nine in a row with three shots from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats led by as many as 30 when Jenkins hit a 3 with 4:20 to play. Even after Hilliard and Pinkston were taken out of the game to standing ovations with three minutes left, Villanova kept the pressure on with 3s from Josh Hart on back-to-back possessions.

"It's amazing how teams around the country and all the speaking heads, who are supposed to be professional, but they aren't talking about Villanova as a No. 1 seed," said Friars coach Ed Cooley. "They're playing as well as anybody in the country and have a chance to make a magical, magical run in March."

Villanova scored the first nine points of the game with a sloppy start from Providence. The Friars committed five turnovers in the first four minutes before a timeout and Cartwright jumper got them on track.

The Wildcats scored 14 points off nine Providence turnovers in the first half, but the Friars used a late surge to narrow their deficit. Ben Bentil's 3 with two minutes to play started a 7-0 run that cut Villanova's lead to 34-25 at the break.
Notes: Villanova has won 26 games in a row at The Pavilion since losing to Providence on Feb. 2, 2013 ... Providence never led ... The Wildcats shot 13-for-25 from 3-point range and went 26-of-31 from the free-throw line ... Villanova's next game is at Xavier on Saturday while Providence will host Marquette on Sunday.

LeClair prend sa revanche sur les Canadiens

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Hockey fans the world over know the custom when a player on the home team scores at least three goals in one game: the instantaneous doffing of different varieties of head gear and a strong throw in an attempt for the accoutrement to reach the ice in recognition.

But what about when the opposition scores a hat trick, and the player who did it used to play in that city not two weeks before?

John LeClair found some space in front, corraled a rebound from Eric Lindros, and beat Habs goaltender/future Hall-of-Famer Patrick Roy only 73 seconds into the third period and the Flyers took a 4-0 lead over the Canadiens.

The burly Vermonter pumped home three of his club's four markers to that point before the curious occurrence unfolded.

"I'm not going to ask questions, I think I'm just going to keep going with it. Playing on the line, I've gotten a lot of loose pucks. Things have been bouncing for me right now. I hope they'll stay that way," LeClair said to the Inquirer after his team finished off the largest rout by shutout in their history against Montreal, a 7-0 thrashing at the famous Forum 20 years ago tonight.

Only 16 days prior, Flyers GM Bob Clarke engineered what would be considered the steal of either of his tenures in the club's front office, taking Eric Desjardins, Gilbert Dionne and LeClair off old nemesis Serge Savard's hands and only coughing up a bit of offense in Mark Recchi. This was the first time all four would face off against each other in different uniforms.

"It's kind of weird," said LeClair, who grew up 90 miles south in St. Albans, VT. "You get accustomed to it for four years now, and when you come back, everything's familiar. But that's all going to change. We're still good friends -- those guys on the other side. But you've got to put that aside and play hockey."

Until this Saturday night on Rue Ste-Catherine, LeClair -- he of the NHL record back-to-back overtime winners on the road in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals for the Habs -- played six games for Terry Murray. In that time, he picked up five goals and six assists while recording his first career hat trick (and a career-best five-point night) at Tampa Bay on Feb. 14.

But, well...this was Montreal and a chance for all three players to show Savard and 17,800 partisan patrons how much of a mistake he made. In the Flyers' only other appearance in town, back on January 29, the Flyers ground out a 2-2 tie with Lindros playing while visibly ill, prompting crusty veteran Craig MacTavish to grouse: "the biggest decision Eric had to make today was which end of his body to put on the toilet."

Heading into this Hockey Night in Canada tilt, the Flyers were coming off a 6-6 tie in Quebec City where the flashy Nordiques wiped out deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 6-3 despite a Lindros hat trick and 10 points from the as-yet unnamed top-line trio which didn't play the whole game together. As a result, the internal powder keg was ready to explode and serendipity provided the proper location.

Left out to dry by teammates Kirk Muller and Vincent Damphousse, Recchi tried to chase down a dump-in less than two minutes into the contest and Hextall greeted him with a solid body check. 

LeClair opened the scoring with a pair less than six minutes apart, his seventh and eighth goals of the season, in the middle portion of the second period, one of those on a clean break up the middle off a Mikael Renberg pass. Shjon Podein's marker 25 seconds into the third tripled the visitors' advantage, then LeClair sent the "home" fans into a frenzy, and they displayed their appreciation by showering the ice with token chapeaux in mock celebration.

Kevin Dineen and Desjardins followed with their first goals of the year and the not-yet-revealed-to-be-disappointing prospect Patrik Juhlin capped the rout on his goal that chased Roy with 9:02 left in regulation. LeClair finished the evening with a game-high seven shots on goal and the sweetest revenge.

"He's fired up right now," Murray said of LeClair to the Inky's Gary Miles. "Trades do that to people. We're very happy that he's excited. We're very happy that Eric Desjardins is excited. He's played extremely well since he's been with us. (Gilbert) Dionne is doing a really job good. He's going to break loose. The deal was good for us."

The Canadiens, under Jacques Demers and who had been 5-0-2 on home ice to that point, remained tough at home and finished 15-5-3 at the Forum. Their dismal 3-18-3 mark on the road doomed the club to a sixth-place finish in the Northeast Division and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1970. The immediate aftermath was the Habs lost five in a row and went winless in six, scoring just seven goals total.

Spurred by the new additions, the Flyers started out on a 10-1-2 surge which rocketed them from fifth place to first place in the Atlantic Division across the span of 3 1/2 weeks.

Not coincidentally, the final game in the run, on March 20 at the Spectrum, was an 8-4 thrashing of Roy and the Canadiens where Lindros netted the second of back-to-back hat tricks and the Legion of Doom rolled to nine points. LeClair had points in 12 of those 13 contests and compiled up seven multi-point efforts in that span.

He finished the year with five goals in three games against his former club, which didn't end up beating the Flyers again until October of 1996 in their new building -- now called the Bell Centre.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Miracle Flyers spring to life, beat Caps for weekend sweep

Philadelphia, PA --  A full 13 points out of the playoff race just over a month ago, the Flyers are doing a pretty good job of becoming this season's Lazarus.

Regardless of the help the Boston Bruins may or may not provide in their late-season slide, and despite an inexplicably inauspicious start to this four-game home stand with losses to Columbus and Buffalo, it's looking like another skin-of-their-teeth finish.

Michael Del Zotto netted the winner with 4:13 left in regulation and Philadelphia completed an unlikely weekend sweep thanks to a 3-2 decision over the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

The goal, his fifth in 14 games, was set up by some laser vision from Jakub Voracek, who threaded the needle from the right-wing boards all the way across to his streaking defenseman for a perfectly placed shot high and inside the far post.

Rob Zepp put another accomplishment in his pocket, winning back-to-back starts at the NHL level for the first time thanks to a 21-save effort. Claude Giroux netted his first goal in 11 games and Wayne Simmonds continued to dominate down low with his 24th goal of the season.

"Like we said when we were 13 points away, we need to go game by game and just worry about our own game. When the overall game gets better, we start winning," Giroux said. "That's what we're doing right now, but we still have some things to look at and (make) better. We're a young team and we have got to learn."

Mark Streit -- the prohibitive favorite for the Barry Ashbee Trophy as best defenseman -- chipped in two assists as the Orange and Black's point streak stretched to 12 of 13 games (8-1-4) and their gap towards the eighth and final playoff spot reduced to four points after the Bruins routed the Blackhawks in Chicago, 6-1.

Tom Wilson and Joel Ward provided offense for the Capitals, who failed to pull out of a second-place tie with the Rangers and so remained tied for sixth in the East with 76 points. Braden Holtby stopped 25-of-28 pucks in defeat.

''We had chances and just missed it,'' Ward said. ''It was back and forth, we just couldn't capitalize at the end.''

Things got interesting with Holtby on the bench and Nick Schultz in the box for shooting the puck into the stands with 57 seconds remaining, but Braydon Coburn of all people came up with a big block on an Alex Ovechkin chance down the stretch and the Caps didn't have a quality chance for the remainder.

''This team is very tight, they get along great and they love each other,'' Flyers coach Craig Berube said when asked about a potential breakdown in trust between teammates with so much lineup switching. ''Sometimes it doesn't transfer onto the ice, but they trust each other, for sure.''

Without delving too deeply into internal mechanics, the word on repeat lately has been belief -- that Ed Snider himself stated he had a hard time thinking this was a possible playoff team at the turn of the calendar, that Ron Hextall backed his men and Giroux and others scoffed at assertions the rest of the team lacked that quality.

That said, how long until the post-game victory song turns from "Uptown Funk" to "I'm a Believer?"

The Flyers were fortunate to snag the game's first power play and capitalized when Giroux's wrister from the lower left circle sailed through a Simmonds screen and past Holtby at 4:39 of the opening period.

A sedate opening stanza finally got a little heated late in the first when Matt Niskanen clearly went knee-to-knee on Sean Couturier, only drawing a minor which carried over into the second period. Brooks Laich then took a swing at a puck and missed, drawing contact on Brayden Schenn's shield, so the hosts essentially had back-to-back two-minute power plays.

They cashed in shortly into the second one, with Simmonds cleaning up a Streit point shot to make it 2-0 at 1:34. 

The Capitals received the game's next break, on a questionable roughing call to Coburn, and cashed in shortly after the advantage expired when everybody's favorite enemy forward capitalized off John Carlson's pass from a Luke Schenn turnover and beat Zepp at 5:23.

After a lull in spirits on both sides, Washington knotted the score on a fluke drive by Ward, who spun around and whacked at a rolling puck from inside the left circle which beat a surprised Zepp under the crossbar with 4:38 left in the second.

Holtby kept the game tied inside the final minute, stoning Ryan White on a clear breakaway and then padding away R.J. Umberger's rebound try from the slot.

Philly had to kill off the remainder of a Streit minor and then a Del Zotto tripping call at the outset of the third. Zepp later denied a Marcus Johansson wraparound try just shy of the seven-minute mark.

"As an athlete you play for game situations like this. We're fortunate to be here in a place where there's a lot of pressure and it's a lot of fun," said Zepp, who played consecutive games one week after starting a 3-in-3 for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

Thanks to poor back checking and a horrible giveaway by Simmonds, Ward somehow broke free untouched up the middle as the clock ticked down to seven minutes to play in regulation, but his shot completely missed the net high and wide.

“We just weren't sharp and they forced us not to be sharp. You have to be really prepared for that and we fell and dug ourselves a 2-0 hole," said Washington head coach Barry Trotz.

Notes: The Flyers won three of four from the Capitals in the season series ... Philly heads to Carolina and Toronto on Tuesday and Thursday before returning home to face the Rangers, Calgary and St. Louis to complete a run of seven home games in nine dates ... Simmonds has collected 11 points (6G, 5A) in his last 10 games ...  Voracek posted two assists and set a new career high in points during one season with 63, besting the 62 he had in 82 games last year ... In the second period, Capitals forward Jason Chimera delivered an obvious sucker punch to the face of Zac Rinaldo, with the latter somehow drawing a fighting major along with Chimera despite never taking off his gloves or offering to fight.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Villanova dispatches Marquette, reaches 25 wins again

Milwaukee, WI -- Darrun Hilliard scored 17 points and No. 6 Villanova connected on 11 shots from long distance in an 87-76 victory over Marquette on Saturday.

Ryan Arcidiacono scored 16 points for the Wildcats (25-2, 12-2 Big East), who have won eight straight since a loss to Georgetown on Jan. 19. Dylan Ennis had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists, while JayVaughn Pinkston gave 14 points and nine boards in the win.

JaJuan Johnson recorded a game-high 20 points and five assists for the Golden Eagles (11-15, 3-11), who have lost their last three games. Luke Fischer had 17 points and five boards in defeat.

Villanova trailed for the first several minutes of the game, but four straight points from Pinkston gave the team its first lead of the game.

The game stayed close for the next several minutes until the Wildcats used a 12-0 run to open a 41-27 lead after Hilliard hit a 3-pointer with just over two minutes to play in the first half.

Marquette scored the next five points to keep it close, but Villanova still took a 43-34 lead into the break.

Arcidiacono, who was just 1-of-5 from the field in the first half, warmed quickly in the second half. He drilled a 3-pointer on the first Villanova possession after intermission and then made another after Marquette responded with a triple of its own by Duane Wilson. A Pinkston bucket on the next offensive possession brought a Marquette time out to stem the momentum of an 8-3 Wildcats' surge.

"A key was Arch coming out at the start of the second half and hitting those threes," stated 'Nova head coach Jay Wright. "It created some separation for us and kept them from getting this place going. This was a great college atmosphere in here today. If they had been able to come out at the start of the second half and gotten this place going, it could have been tough."

Villanova kept the pressure on and steadily increased its lead, and a Kris Jenkins free throw gave the team a 63-46 lead seven minutes in.

The Eagles scored the next seven points, and were still down by 10 after Johnson put in a layup with just under eight minutes to play, but the Wildcats scored the next six points to put the game away.

Notes: The Wildcats reached the 25-win plateau for the second straight season and for the fifth time in the last 10 seasons ... The program's all-time record for victories in a single season is 30, reached in 2008-09 ... Villanova hosts Providence on Tuesday ... Marquette plays at Butler on Wednesday ... Villanova leads the series with Marquette, 16-9 ... Villanova shots 47.1 percent and held a 39-27 rebounding advantage.

Playing against type, Flyers outlast Preds in shootout

Philadelphia, PA -- Sometimes it's best to never ask why. Coming off two near inexcusable performances earlier in the week, there's no way Saturday afternoon's matchup against an NHL elite club could have gone any differently.

In the end, Jakub Voracek scored the winning goal to open the shootout and lead the Flyers in a 3-2 win over the somnolent Nashville Predators, in Peter Laviolette's return to Philadelphia.

Voracek opened the shootout by lifting a backhand over Pekka Rinne, and Rob Zepp -- making his first career appearance in the NHL's breakaway competition -- followed that with a stop on Matt Cullen. After Wayne Simmonds snapped a shot between the pads of Rinne, Zepp dramatically gloved a Craig Smith shot for the win.

"I knew it was a big game today coming in and just wanted to try and give the guys a chance to get a win and the guys played awesome, the first two periods were some of the best hockey I have seen," Zepp said. "The guys did a great job and I just wanted to try and hold the fort so that we could get those two points."

Simmonds and Ryan White scored in regulation, while Zepp turned aside 20 shots for the Flyers, who had dropped four of five coming into the game.

"I think we played a good game today, one of our best of the season," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "They're a really good team and we were able to handle them today."

Smith and Colin Wilson scored for the NHL-leading Predators, who have lost their last two. Rinne made 31 stops in his club's first shootout loss since Jan. 29.

“Well I mean I thought the second half of the game we showed up and played pretty well. There were a lot of chances and could’ve scored in the third period and overtime, but like I said just a little slow getting out of the gate … but Pekka was good, yeah," Laviolette noted.

The hosts, who held their opponents to three shots in the opening 20 minutes, drew first blood at 8:59 of the first period when Michael Del Zotto threw a shot on net that Simmonds deflected in for his 23rd of the season.

Nashville, though, tied the game with 1:02 to play in the opening frame as Wilson's wrister from the left wing on the fly beat Zepp cleanly.

Philly scored the only goal of the second period. A turnover deep in the Nashville zone was picked up by Brayden Schenn, who was able to get the puck to R.J. Umberger. The disc wasn't controlled by Umberger, but it slid out to the slot and White snapped it home for his second goal in as many games at 11:21.

A defense which allowed a season-low seven shots through the game's first two periods was caught unaware to begin the third. Heading up ice on a rush, a backhand pass from the left-wing boards by Mike Fisher come all the way to the right circle where Smith one-timed the rolling puck between the right arm and body of Zepp.

Notes: Zepp, who had gone 3-1 in shootouts with Lehigh Valley of the AHL, improved to 4-1-0 in seven NHL appearances ... Nashville wraps up its three-game road trip in Buffalo on Sunday ... Philadelphia completes its four-game residency against Washington tomorrow afternoon ... Both teams were 0-for-2 on the power play ... The Flyers have registered at least one point in 11 of their last 12 games (7-1-4) ... Simmonds improved his shootoout ledger to four goals on five chances this season ... Giroux has gone 11 straight games without a goal, his longest stretch since opening last season without scoring 15 in a row.

New-look Sixers, same old story

Philadelphia, PA -- Rodney Stuckey deposited a season-high 30 points as the Indiana Pacers opened the second half of the season with a 106-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

C.J. Miles posted 17 points and Luis Scola added 16 off the bench for the Pacers, who have won two straight and five of their last six.

The Sixers' apparently-ongoing rebuild continued on Thursday at the trade deadline when general manager Sam Hinkie made a bold move, sending last season's rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams, to Milwaukee in a three-team deal that returned a first-round pick to Philadelphia.

The Sixers also dealt rookie K.J. McDaniels to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a draft pick, while center JaVale McGee, a protected 2015 first-round pick and the rights for Chukwudiebere Maduabum were acquired in a deal with Denver.

Luc Mbah a Moute and Jerami Grant paced the new-look Sixers with 16 points, while Nerlens Noel had a solid performance with 12 points, nine rebounds and a career-high nine blocks. Mbah Moute grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Jason Richardson also made his return for the first time in two years while battling knee issues, totaling seven points and seven rebounds.

Tim Frazier, who just signed his second 10-day contract with Philadelphia and started in place of Carter-Williams, finished with 13 points and seven assists.

"You felt at times naked on the sideline," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the new point guards in the mix. "I see that we can move this group forward. It's up to me to move this group forward."

Stuckey's 3-pointer gave the Pacers a 23-16 edge at the end of the first quarter and they turned it up in the second for a double-digit lead.

Grant opened the second with a trey for the hosts, but Indiana responded with a 14-3 run. Stuckey scored the final seven points of the spurt to help the Pacers stretch their advantage to 37-22. Indiana
led 58-40 at halftime.

"I think the game really changed when our second unit got in and started picking up the defensive pressure," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

Stuckey went on a personal 10-0 run late in the third to make it a 24-point game and help the Pacers to an 87-68 lead after three quarters.

Notes: Noel tied the Wells Fargo Center record for blocks in a game and quarter with five in the first ... McGee had two points in his team debut ... Sixers guard Jason Richardson made his first appearance since Jan. 18, 2013. He scored seven points with seven rebounds ... Stuckey left the game in the second half with an apparent ankle injury ... Indiana won its season-high fourth straight game on the road ... David West and Roy Hibbert each had eight points and seven rebounds in the win ... The Pacers, who have taken two of the three meetings in this series, will wrap it up against the Sixers in Indiana on March 1.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Temple folds up late against SMU for second time

Dallas, TX -- Nic Moore helped SMU overcome another huge second-half hole against Temple.

The American Athletic Conference Player of the Year candidate Moore had 18 points and four assists as the 21st-ranked Mustangs defeated the Owls 67-58 on Thursday night.

SMU rallied from a 10-point second half deficit in this one after storming back from a 13-point gap in a 60-55 victory in Philadelphia on Jan. 14.

"We picked up defensively," SMU coach Larry Brown said of the second half. "We really got after them. We created some turnovers and got some easy shots."

Cannen Cunningham netted 10 points for the first-place Mustangs (22-5, 13-2 AAC), who have won four straight and 20 of their last 22 games.

Will Cummings was the lone double-digit scorer for Temple (19-8, 10-4), tallying 14 points to go with seven steals and seven assists.

The Owls had a seven-game winning streak snapped.

"We needed to do a better job defensively late in the game and we needed to move the ball a little bit better on offense," TU coach Fran Dunphy said.

Jesse Morgan nailed a deep right wing 3-pointer just in front of the SMU logo with the shot clock running down to stake Temple to a 50-49 edge with 4:38 left. Obi Enechionyia's right baseline dunk a possession later extended the lead to three, but the Mustangs ripped off the next 10 points seize control.

Ryan Manuel jumpstarted the surge with a right corner 3 and added another one from the same spot to cap it and give SMU a 59-52 cushion with 1:22 remaining.

The Owls never got closer than five the rest of the way as the Mustangs sunk all eight of their foul shots down the stretch.

Earlier, Morgan finished off a 9-2 Temple spurt with a 3 for a 28-19 advantage late in the opening half and the Owls led 33-25 at the break.

Jaylen Bond, who snatched six of his 11 rebounds on the offensive end, tipped home Cummings' layup attempt for a 37-27 Temple margin at the 16:05 mark of the second half.

Markus Kennedy's layup snapped an 8:37 SMU field-goal drought, with his basket as part of a trio of Mustangs buckets in less than a minute to whittle the gap to 39-36.

Moore scored the final eight points of a 17-4 SMU burst for a 46-43 edge with 8:33 to play, its first lead of the contest.

Notes: SMU shot 48.9 percent (21-of-43) from the field, while the Owls finished at 40.7 percent (22-of-54) ... Temple has dropped 23 straight road games against top-25 opponents ... The Mustangs were 5-of-11 from beyond the arc and 20- of-33 (60.6 percent) from the foul line ... ESPN color commentator Bobby Knight, at one point, became agitated at a student sitting in front of him blocking his view while calling the game.

Around the Rink: Loyalty is thicker than blood edition

If you recall, back in mid-September, Kim Quinter crafted a comprehensive look at the challenges facing an athlete who had been diagnosed with multiple blood clots.

Now that Kimmo Timonen is closer than ever to returning to the ice, here is an updated piece, in easier layman's terms, explaining what might lie ahead for a blood-clot patient once physical activity resumes. 

Further disclaimer: this article is released without any prior knowledge of treatment plans between Timonen, the Flyers' front office and the doctors involved. 

Once again, a reminder: Kim is graduate of James Madison University and currently works as a Physician Assistant at James River Family Practice in Newport News, VA.  

Can Kimmo Timonen safely return to play this season? As Timonen continues to skate on his own and has finally begun practicing with the team, beginning Tuesday in hopes of a return this season, this question is left hanging in everyone's head. 

Let's start with the issue of the chronic blood clots in Kimmo's legs. A chronic clot is one that has been present for greater than 1-2 months. Typically, an acute clot or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) will typically heal and dissolve with treatment from blood thinners over several weeks or months. When the DVT does not completely dissolve, the area where the clot settles forms scar tissue over the clot. This "chronic clot" is stable and there is little risk of a piece or thrombus breaking off and traveling to the heart, lungs or brain. 

Just because a chronic clot is stable doesn't mean it can't exist without complications. Just like having a cholesterol plaque in an artery, the scar tissue over the clot can hinder blood flow and cause long term problems.  

Post-thrombotic syndrome can cause long term swelling and pain in the extremity where the clot is located. Because blood flow may be hindered  by the scar tissue there is always a risk for recurrent DVT, especially in someone that is more likely to form clots.   Chronic clots can also occur in the lungs and cause residual pain and shortness of breath as well as a serious complication of pulmonary hypertension. Thankfully, the clots in Timonen's lungs have dissolved. 

Typically a patient like Timonen would be on life-long blood thinners or anti-coagulants. Flyers GM Ron Hextall has said that Timonen will not be cleared to play while on blood thinners (ed. note: previous reports did mention Xarelto at one point and Timonen himself noted he won't take blood thinners when playing) so I'm not completely sure how they are going to go about guarding against future clots. If we assume he will be on some type of anti-coagulant, then we can assume an increased risk of bleeding. 

There are a few different types of blood thinners that could be used. Heparin and warfarin are the "old stand-bys" and up until a few years ago were the only option for treatment of DVT, pulmonary embolism (PE) and thrombophilia or increased tendency to form clots. Heparin is given injection and is usually not used for long term treatment. Its dose is based on weight and it does have an antidote, protamine sulfate, that can be given if heparin levels become too high.

Warfarin comes in pill form and can be quite tricky to manage because it's efficacy can be affected by a wide variety of foods. Vitamin K is the antidote for warfarin, so patients are generally told to avoid eating greens or green vegetables that contain vitamin K, though patients can also be instructed to eat a consistent diet of the same amounts of food everyday. Eating the same thing every day usually does not work for a majority of people.

Patients also have to avoid vitamin K in supplements and multivitamins. Warfarin also has to be monitored carefully and frequently due to all of the factors that can potentially make it work too well or not well enough. This is generally accomplished with weekly blood testing, however there is a narrow window of efficacy and warfarin can be extremely frustrating to manage. 

There are new anti-coagulant medications that require no monitoring and have little to no diet restrictions. These medications are usually taken once or twice a day. The big risk for these medications is that there is no antidote for them, so if someone is bleeding, management of the bleeding can be quite difficult.

Obviously because hockey is a full contact sport we can assume there will be bleeding, bumps and bruises involved. Something as simple as a bruised rib can be a serious issue if bleeding cannot be easily controlled. A broken bone could be catastrophic. 

If Timonen is not going to be on blood thinners while playing his risk for recurrent clots are very high due to travel and long flights, possibility of dehydration, trauma, and his existing protein C deficiency. (Ed. note: the Flyers final 25 games this season feature just one long road trip, to Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton from Mar. 15-21. Timonen may be held out based upon a previously agreed-upon number of games he'd play once up to speed).

I hope that all necessary precautions are in place if Timonen does return to play this season, but some of the variables of travel and depending on facilities and medical treatment away from home can make it difficult to be completely prepared for all scenarios.

Building a Memory

On a night when one of the three finest defensemen ever to dress in Orange and Black was honored
with a place in the club's Hall of Fame, the current club couldn't come through with a win.

Eric Desjardins, looking fit at age 45, had a lovely, classy pre-game ceremony honoring the distinguished Philadelphia portion of his career, but he nonetheless had to sit through the Sabres' 3-2 shootout win on Thursday night along with 19,471 other disappointed souls.

That makes the Flyers 0-for-2 this year, after dropping a 3-2 regulation decision to the Minnesota Wild back on Nov. 20 when two-thirds of the Legion of Doom finally saw their names added to the ledger in the rafters. The following are brief recaps of games where the Flyers decided to honor distinguished members of the organization both on and off the ice with a spot on the team honor roll.

March 22, 1988: Bruins 3, Flyers 0: Andy Moog pitched a 20-save shutout on the night the Flyers officially welcomed their first two HOF members, Bernie Parent and Bob Clarke.

March 17, 1989: Blues 4, Flyers 3 (OT): The combined power of Keith Allen, Bill Barber and Ed Snider wasn't enough to spur the hosts to victory. Brett Hull's goal 3:21 into the extra session against Mark Laforest sent a sellout crowd home stone-faced. St. Louis completed a three-game season sweep (with two wins in Philly) thanks to the marker.

March 22, 1990: Flyers 5, Penguins 3: Months before his death from cancer, Fred Shero, along with Rick MacLeish were honored as Paul Holmgren's club, desperate to snag a playoff berth, turned it on against the fading Pens. Derrick Smith, Keith Acton and Jeff Chychrun scored in the 3rd period to turn a 2-2 tie into a win.

March 21, 1991: Blues 4, Flyers 1: The end of a season-crushing 2-10-2 spurt included this loss when Barry Ashbee and Gary Dornhoefer were enshrined. Ken Wregget stopped only 13 shots in all, and only four of seven in the first period.

February 13, 1992: Flyers 3, Nordiques 2: Gene Hart and Reggie Leach were feted and the hosts slipped out of the Spectrum with a win against a weak Quebec club. Mark Freer netted the winner at 2:27 of the third period.

April 8, 1993: Flyers 4, Washington 3: Andrei Lomakin, Garry Galley and Rod Brind'Amour (GWG 15:08 of 3rd period) all scored to snap a 1-1 tie and give Bill Dineen's team the fourth in their season-ending blitz of eight consecutive wins in a vain attempt at reaching the playoffs. Still, it gave Joe Scott and Ed Van Impe something to remember beyond the pregame ceremony.

March 8, 1994: Stars 4, Flyers 3 (OT): Tim Kerr would have been right at home in the slot, giving his former team a boost it needed. Dallas' Neal Broten ended things at 2:43 of overtime, after Brind'Amour helped send the game beyond regulation with a power-play goal 9 1/2 minutes into the third.

February 22, 1996: Flyers 5, Capitals 3: "Thundermouth" Joe Watson was rewarded with this victory in the final HOF ceremony conducted in the Spectrum. Shawn Antoski fought twice -- against Kevin Kaminski in the first and Craig Berube in the third -- while Craig MacTavish was tossed for his late-game tussle with Keith Jones. Oh yeah, Dan Quinn picked up three assists.

March 4, 1999: Senators 5, Flyers 0: Brian Propp took his rightful place in the gallery, then saw Roger Neilson's club put forth one of the worst efforts on home ice. The professional debut of Jean-Marc Pelletier didn't go as planned, Alexei Yashin recorded a hat trick and Damian Rhodes stopped all 24 shots he faced. A franchise-record winless streak reached five games.

March 15, 2001: Flyers 3, Wild 0: The first of two nights in Mark Howe's honor saw Roman Cechmanek blank the expansion Minnesotans on just 15 saves with Rick Tocchet, Michal Sykora and Dean McAmmond providing suitable offense.

March 3, 2004: Flyers 5, Predators 2: The game before the game which set an NHL record for penalty minutes honored the club's second-best captain in Dave Poulin. New acquisition Alexei Zhamnov posted a goal and two assists while Kim Johnsson collected two goals and one helper.

February 6, 2008: Capitals 4, Flyers 3: Ron Hextall didn't even get the right bust and John Stevens' team defense went bust in the 3rd, allowing goals from Matt Bradley, Viktor Kozlov and Alex Ovechkin in a span of 5:44 to break open a tie game. Late goals from Sami Kapanen and Randy Jones made for a better end result.

November 16, 2009: Flyers 3, Devils 2: Dave "The Hammer" Schultz finally received his due from the franchise but a game which featured 18 penalty minutes and no scraps was taken by the home team thanks to a James van Riemsdyk goal midway through the final stanza.

Warped Perceptions

Last night's 3-2 shootout loss occurred against a team which had posted almost one-third of their total wins this season (6-2) in the game's final segment. It also came against a team which had won only twice in their previous 21 contests. Yet, there was a distinct air of calmness and rationalization amongst the Flyers leadership.

“They’ve been playing pretty good hockey. If you look all of their games were lost by one goal, they play a pretty tight game. But that isn’t an excuse we need to find a way to get the two points," noted captain Claude Giroux.

Yes, the last six games Buffalo has played have been one-goal contests -- and the Sabres have now won two of those -- and their three wins since late December have all been by one goal so we know they're practiced at playing things close to the vest. Nonetheless, ANY team with playoff aspirations knows that the mode this late in the year is to stomp on the weak on the way to facing tougher opponents.

Last year's Flyers knew this with their backs pinned against the wall in the final one-third of the schedule, taking down the likes of Los Angeles, San Jose, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington and the Rangers while also taking care of necessary business against Toronto, Florida while going 15-7-4 down the stretch. They've got a string of 7-in-9 at home before a run where 7-of-9 is on the road and good luck trying to figure if they'll do better here than abroad.

New blood can't quite do the trick if it's Ryan White on the fourth line, and new lines like the ones trotted out in Voorhees today (12-28-17, 24-14-93 et al.) are the age-old fall back when a head coach can't come up with a modification in his system. And when a suspended player who has been a healthy scratch after serving his time somehow is a candidate for lineup re-insertion based on a misguided notion that the club needs some kind of spark, you know this can't end well.

“Unacceptable? No they beat Detroit the other day didn’t they? We fired a lot of shots we had a lot of chances. Like I said we didn’t get the next goal. But unacceptable? I think our team competed," was head coach Craig Berube's sentiment in the postgame.

Sure, you can do a lot in a watered down league just on compete level alone, but those precious Ws aren't measured by how hard a particular team works. And by the way, Chief, that Detroit game you spoke of happened on Jan. 18 and they were down 4-1 before rallying to tie and allowing the Wings to win it late.

Removing the idea that Berube has no clue what he's doing, and in light of the revelation that roster moves are approved by committee, it only reinforces the idea that the front office condones the experimental nature of Berube's coaching because this season is a total wash and no drastic actions are coming.

If Ron Hextall publicly states he likes the resiliency of this group, he at least has something upon which to base it: a stretch where they won 6 of 8 after starting the year 1-3-2; another 6-1-2 spurt after going 1-8-1 and this 6-1-4 run following a 4-8-1 dip. But consistency has been elusive for the better part of three years now and a club not too long ago more than 10 points out of a playoff race can't expect the other side to tank it and bank on another decent winning spurt to make it interesting when a half-dozen other clubs league wide are in the same predicament.

That said, I predicted and fully expect the Orange and Black to be on their best behavior with the gauntlet of Central Division leading Nashville and old rival Washington coming to Philly tomorrow and Sunday afternoon. I expect both games to be victories and at least three points to come about. You can't figure this team out, so might as well just ride the waves and don't ask where they go.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Desjardins talks Flyers HOF induction and more

One thing I’m curious about, in your day you were literally in the correct position on every play.

“I’m sure you can find videos that I was in a bad position.”

What do you see as the difference today in the defensemen in the league compared to the way you played?

“The game is a lot faster. There is no doubt about it. When I played, it was that you had to make sure you were the first on the puck and make sure that you were the first one to retrieve the puck. Now, guys are coming so fast that I think the positioning is even more important. I think at times you can let the guy go first and then you look for the puck because they come at great speed and they’re big like [Primeau] and [Lindros] were and they had unbelievable speed so it’s a little bit different now to play in that position.

You said when you retired you were going to retire as a Flyer, can you talk about what it meant to you to put on a uniform and play here?

“I played for the Flyers for 11 years and I experienced so many great things here. There were so many good years. We had a chance to go in the playoffs every year. I had my kids here, so I think for me I wanted to keep playing, but in the league as a Flyer. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

What was your happiest moment as a Flyer and what was your unhappiest moment?

“It was probably when we went to the Finals, that was a great moment. It was a fun run that we had. The saddest moment was maybe when I retired.”

What are your memories of opening this building with the world cup of hockey with Team Canada?

“I knew I was going to play in this building on the right side. But when I played with team Canada it was different playing against the Americans in this building. It was good, we were all looking forward to moving into the building and we were wondering how it was going to be compared to the Spectrum. I think they did a really good job of the way they built it. We feel that the crowd is still really into it and close to the ice. It’s not the Spectrum, but we had some really loud nights here in the playoffs and the regular season that I played.”

You grew up in Montreal when they had those great teams, who was your idol on those teams and did you ever play forward or was it always defense?

“Always defense. I never really had an idol growing up, it was more when I got close to the NHL I started to look at players that I could compare myself to. Ray Bourque was a French Canadian so he was one guy that I really looked up to and I had a chance to play with him in the Olympics and the All-Star game so that was really nice.”

When you first came over here, how much of a help was it to come over here with John [LeClair] and Kevin Haller?

“It’s always tough to get traded. It makes it easier when you come with a guy that you know and guys that you have played with there’s no doubt about it. It was a big shock to come down here but it didn’t take long for us to feel at home.”

Do you feel like your game developed when you were here? 

“At the age I got here, my game could only get better as a defenseman. I was 25 when I got here and you get experience you start to get confidence too, you get stronger as an athlete physically. So I think it’s just as a defenseman it always takes longer to mature. When I got here, I got all the chances I could hope for with the coaches that I got and the management, they gave me every chance to succeed.”

Given the length of time you were here and the number of coaches, you always pick up something from coaches. Tell us what you picked up from Terry Murray, Hitch [Ken Hitchcock], Rogers [Roger Neilson]?

“You going to have me tell you my speech right now. I think all those coaches were well organized and really well structured and I think that for a defenseman that’s really important to have something like that. To have a plan and to know where you’re going. When I got here Terry really gave me confidence to step up and be a better player. Roger his nickname was Captain Video, so we learned a lot about the game watching tapes and things like that. Hitch, he can be tough at times but he pushed guys to be better.”

We’re seeing [Jakub] Voracek now, lift his game partially through his dedication to fitness. For guys in the early nineties, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But for players like Recchi [Mark Recchi] Brind’Amour [Rod Brind’Amour] and yourself stayed in pretty good shape, how much did that contribute to your success?

“I think if you want to have consistency in this league, you need to have a good work ethic and training in the summer. I think to come here especially now, everyone is in good shape and as soon as the training camp starts within two to three days after there’s a game.  So you have to come ready and if you want to play for a long time you need to keep yourself in good shape. When you hit 30 or 32 years old it goes down really fast after that, so if you’re not in good shape before that then it makes it tough to stay as competitive as you want to be.”

Did Brind’Amour rub off on you that way because he was really the first athlete out here like that?

“As soon as I got traded here, it was a big shock for me because when I left Montreal there were only two bikes in the training room with one bench press. When I got traded here, there were two floors of equipment for workouts.  That was a big shock for me. You could see that they had been used and it was not just on display. I think the whole team was really focused on being in good shape and when you see guys that have been here for a long time, Roddy was definitely a really good experience, we all knew how good of shape he was in.”

You won a Cup early in your career in Montreal and had some close calls with the Flyers. Does it still eat at you at all that one of the teams that you thought you should have won or where you thought you were the best team sometimes you may not appreciate the Cup as much when you win it young, because you think it’s going to come back and you’re going to get a bunch of them?

“The first shot I had at it was my first year in Montreal. We made it to the final and we were leading the series 2-1, and I thought we were going to win.  My first year winning the Cup, I thought it was easy. It took me six or seven years after that to make it to the Final. After that I never really had a chance. When you win it and you’re young you enjoy it, but when you have a chance to win it when you’re older I think you probably appreciate it a lot more.”

What was the best Flyer team that you played on?

“I’m bad with years, but the year that we made it to the finals. And the last time that we played Jersey in the semifinals, in 2000.  I thought that team wise we were really tough to beat. Big E had been hurt most of the year, but I think team wise we were really strong. “

Sixers snag McGee from Nuggets

From a Nuggets team release: the club has traded center JaVale McGee to the Philadelphia 76ers.

 The Nuggets will also send a protected 2015 first-round pick, via Oklahoma City, and the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum to Philadelphia in exchange for the rights to Cenk Akyol.

McGee had appeared in just 17 games for the Nuggets this season and was averaging 5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds. He played only five games in 2013-14 because of a stress fracture in his left tibia.

The Nevada product signed a multi-year deal with Denver in July 2012 after being acquired by the Nuggets from Washington a few months earlier. He is owed $12 million for next year and owns career averages of 8.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 376 games.

Maduabum was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 56th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft before his rights were traded to Denver in a draft-night deal. He most recently appeared in four games for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League.

Akyol, a 27-year-old guard from Turkey, was originally selected by Atlanta with the 59th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. He plays for Galatasaray of the Turkish Basketball League and has averaged 6.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game this season.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Flyers, Schultz come to multi-year agreement

A player who was once a stop-gap measure for a banged-up defense now looks to be a permanent member of the Flyers blue line.

On Wednesday afternoon, the club announced it had agreed on a multi-year contract extension with blueliner Nick Schultz. Several reports indicate the deal is $4.5 million for two years.

That's an improvement over the bombastic multi-year deal Paul Holmgren bestowed on Andrew MacDonald last season, but still troubling to see new GM Ron Hextall still clinging to a bit of the old ways as if Schultz will be some kind of over-30 reclamation project.

At that price, unless another move is made, it appears to lock out even a cheaper replacement like Erik Gustafsson, whose rights are still held by the Flyers despite his playing in the KHL this season. It also may not bode well for the likes of Michael Del Zotto, who has performed admirably in his limited usage on a one-year deal signed in the wake of the Kimmo Timonen news.

If this is a consistent line of thinking, then we have to wonder what's the incentive for Hextall to be rid of Braydon Coburn and/or Nick Grossmann next year.

Schultz, who was signed as a free agent back in July at the outset of the free agency period after spending last season struggling between Edmonton and Columbus, has totaled 13 points (2G, 11A) in 55 games, along with a plus-6 rating.

The 32-year-old Saskatchewan native is about to conclude his 13th NHL season and is still logging respectable ice time, slotted in at just over 19 minutes per contest despite being a second/third-pairing defenseman.

Eagles name Brian Smith assistant LB coach

PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles have hired Brian Smith as assistant linebackers coach.

The 35-year-old Smith spent the past eight seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Jets, including the past two as the team’s assistant defensive backs coach. He originally joined the Jets in 2007 as a quality control coach on offense.

Prior to joining the Jets, Smith was an assistant coach at his alma mater – the University of Massachusetts – from 2004-06. In 2004, he worked with the school’s linebackers and from 2005-06, he coached the wide receivers, including current New York Giants WR Victor Cruz.

A native of Wilmington, DE, Smith was a three-year starter at UMass as a strong safety and cornerback. He graduated cum laude in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Flyers begin key home stretch on sour note

Philadelphia, PA -- Curtis McElhinney made 42 saves, while Matt Calvert scored twice and Brandon Dubinsky once in the third period, as Columbus claimed a 5-2 victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday.

James Wisniewski and Ryan Johansen added tallies with Scott Hartnell picking up a pair of assists for the Blue Jackets, winners in four of their last six. Todd Richards' club, which only trails their opponents by five points, won four of five in the season series including two of three here and two beyond regulation.

Wayne Simmonds and Michael Del Zotto posted offense for the Flyers, whose streak of nine straight games with at least one point (6-0-3) came to an end. Their last regulation defeat was a 7-4 debacle at Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 19.

The Orange and Black continue this four-game home stand on Thursday against another listless opponent who gave them a decent game, the Buffalo Sabres, and then go back-to-back against Nashville and Washington on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It's the start of a stretch where seven of nine games take place on home ice before the reverse occurs on the road.

Ray Emery yielded four goals on 24 shots in defeat, but was largely hung out to dry with poor defensive coverage and giveaways.

The Blue Jackets moved on top just before the midway point of the third, as Calvert tapped in the puck from the left side off a passing play between Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson. Vinny Lecavalier drew the boos on that one, as his blatant giveaway in the defensive zone helped set up the go-ahead marker.

Emery then dropped a Scott Hartnell shot and Dubinsky was right there to clean up the rebound with 6:28 to play and the visitors led 4-2.

The hosts pulled Emery with more than 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation and Calvert sealed the outcome and provided the final score when he beat Jakub Voracek to a puck on the right wing and hit the vacant cage in the final minute.

Wisniewski's bullet from the right circle beat Mason at 4:51 and only eight seconds into Columbus' initial power-play chance of the contest, created when Brayden Schenn was sent off for interference. Prior to the goal, the Flyers hadn't trailed in a game for 466 minutes, 40 seconds of game time dating back to Jan. 27 against Arizona.

It was 2-0 at 6:39 when a shot by David Savard glanced off Emery and then the shoulder of Johansen at the left side before crossing the goal line. A brief review confirmed no malfeasance and a legal carom.

McElhinney later came up with the game's decisive stop against an indecisive Flyer.

He was down in the middle of his crease when Voracek was alone at the right side staring at an open net during a Philadelphia power play with under 3 1/2 minutes left in the second. McElhinney was saved since the Flyers' leading scorer settled the puck with his stick first instead of shooting, and was able to smother the chance at the near post.

Shortly after the advantage expired, Simmonds put the hosts on the board when he deftly tipped a Del Zotto shot out of the air in the slot with 2:35 left before intermission.

Del Zotto then ripped a shot through traffic from the left-wing boards for a 2-2 game inside a minute to play in the second.

Notes:  Dubinsky has scored in three consecutive contests ... Prior to the game, the Blue Jackets announced that forward Nick Foligno will miss the game with a lower-body injury, and Monday call-up Marko Dano will take his place in the lineup ... In addition, Columbus activated forward Brian Gibbons from injured reserve and assigned him  to Springfield of the AHL ... Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo, eligible to play following his eight- game suspension, was a healthy scratch ... Philadelphia recorded 20 shots in the second period, their most since a 20-shot first period in a 3-2 OT win against Los Angeles on Oct. 28.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Raffl's return keys narrow win in Buffalo

Buffalo, NY -- They're not dead yet. And they just might be back in the playoff race with a little bit of help from the master scheduler.

Michael Raffl returned to the lineup and notched the game-winning goal late in the third period to lift the Philadelphia Flyers past the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Sunday, in a game whose end result was prime but whose score should have been greater for the winning side.

Matt Read also scored and Ray Emery made 21 saves for the Flyers, who have earned a point in nine straight game (6-0-3) for the first time since March 8-26, 2011.

The Orange and Black are also creeping up on eighth place, now just five points back of idle and struggling Boston for that final precious postseason berth and facing another home stand starting Tuesday against Columbus.

"We took it to them in first," Emery said. "I think we are keeping it simple and sticking to our system."
Nikita Zadorov provided Buffalo's lone tally and Michal Neuvirth stopped 28- of-30 shots in the team's third straight loss.

"He played well, especially in the first period," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said of Neuvirth. "He really kept us in the game."

The Sabres have lost five straight games to the Flyers for the first time since Nov. 21, 2008 to Nov. 6, 2009.
Raffl, who missed the previous seven games with pneumonia, provided the deciding tally with 7:15 left in regulation as he emerged from behind the net and beat an unsuspecting Neuvirth on a wraparound through the pads.

Buffalo pulled Neuvirth with under a minute to play, but was unable to force overtime.

The Flyers struck first as Read was stationed in front of the net and deflected Wayne Simmonds' shot from the left point 3:19 into the game.

After being outshot 15-5 in the first period, Buffalo had good chances early in the middle stanza as Johan Larsson rang a shot off the post and Tyler Ennis was stopped in tight on a partial breakaway.

The Sabres took advantage of a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage past the midway mark of the second.
Moments after Chris VandeVelde was stopped on a short-handed breakaway, Zadorov ripped a hard shot through the pads of a screened Emery from the top of the right circle for a tied game at 13:57.

Notes: A moment of silence was held prior to the game for former Sabres defenseman Steve Montador, who was found dead in his Ontario home on Sunday at the age of 35 ... Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn also came back from a 12-game absence due to a broken foot ... Buffalo defenseman Zach Bogosian, who was acquired from Winnipeg on Wednesday as part of the Evander Kane trade, had 11 hits over 24:49 in his debut ... Raffl also scored the game-winning goal in Philadelphia's 4-3 win over Buffalo on Jan. 17 ... The Sabres last defeated Philadelphia on April 13, 2013 ... The two teams will meet again at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Villanova steals one at Butler

Indianapolis, IN -- Darrun Hilliard pumped in a career-high 31 points and hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds of sixth- ranked Villanova's 68-65 win over No. 18 Butler on Saturday.

The Butler defense made a crucial mistake late in the game by not covering the hottest shooter in Hinkle Fieldhouse. A pair of defenders got caught running at Ryan Arcidiacono, who sent a pass to a wide open Hilliard for the winning jumper from the right wing.

Hilliard went 9-of-16 from the floor, including 8-of-13 from beyond the arc.

The Bulldogs called a perfect play with less than two seconds left. Kelan Martin ended up getting a nice look at a tying trey after a full-court pass from underneath their own basket, but his attempt was well off the mark as Villanova held on.

JayVaughn Pinkston added 12 points for the Wildcats (23-2, 10-2 Big East), who have won six straight.
Alex Barlow and Kellen Dunham each scored 19 points in the loss. The Bulldogs (18-7, 8-4) had their five-game winning streak halted.

Butler scored the first six points of the second half to take a 28-27 lead. Dunham netted the final four of that run and ended up scoring 10 straight points as the Bulldogs gained some separation.

Hilliard dropped in consecutive 3-pointers later on to give Villanova a 50-48 lead with 10 minutes to play. The Wildcats continued to pour in shots from beyond the arc, as Dylan Ennis' trey pushed the lead to 53-49.

Roosevelt Jones, one of Butler's top scorers, made his first basket with 5:41 to play that brought the hosts within one. Barlow canned a 3 with 2:44 left that gave the Bulldogs a 63-62 lead. Barlow then committed a shooting foul of Hilliard shooting a 3, and Hilliard made each free throw to put Villanova back in front.

The Bulldogs had a pair of chances on the following possession. Andrew Chrabascz missed from in close, grabbed his own rebound and kicked it out to Barlow, who was short on his 3-point attempt. Jones tied the game with a layup after Hilliard was whistled for a double dribble with 17 seconds on the clock.

It was an offensive struggle in the early going, as Butler grabbed an 11-10 lead following Martin's 3-pointer midway through the first half. Four Wildcats contributed to an 11-4 run later in the half that helped Villanova to a 27-19 edge, then Barlow nailed a trey to close the Butler gap just before halftime.

Villanova held the Bulldogs to 29.6 percent shooting in the opening half.

Notes: Jones finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting in the loss ... Villanova went 23-of-50 from the floor, and held Butler to 21-of-51 shooting ... Hilliard had eight rebounds ... Kameron Woods ripped a game-high 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

Laughton sent back to Phantoms

Scott Laughton is a Phantom once again.

On Saturday, the Flyers announced the 20-year-old winger would be sent up the Northeast Extension and re-join Lehigh Valley in time for its road game against the Springfield Falcons tomorrow.

In 31 NHL appearances this season, Laughton produced just two goals and four assists despite giving effort and playing positional, smart hockey with and without the puck. However, he hadn't scored since December 20 and hadn't recorded a point since January 12.

From a single-game high of 17:35 on December 16 against the Lightning, Laughton has seen less than 11 minutes of ice time in five of his last seven games. With Ryan White back from injury and playing up to his bottom-six role, it was unlikely Laughton would find steady ice time in the future. 

On the other hand, the Phantoms need a spark. Heading into play later this evening, Terry Murray's club has dropped eight of their last 11 games including last night's 3-2 home loss to Binghamton, and has slid to 12th place in the Eastern Conference, six points out of a playoff spot.

Before his call-up on Nov. 15, Leighton paced the club with six goals and five assists over 13 games which aided the Phantoms' 4-1-0 start.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Covington to replace MCW in Rising Stars Challenge

PHILADELPHIA – The NBA has confirmed that Sixers forward Robert Covington has been selected to replace teammate Michael Carter-Williams in the Rising Stars Challenge. 

Covington will join Sixers rookie big man Nerlens Noel in the event which will take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday as part of NBA All-Star 2015.

Carter-Williams, who has missed the Sixers past three games with a strained right big toe, will also no longer be participating in the Skills Challenge, which will take place on Saturday at Barclays Center. He is currently listed as day-to-day.

Covington was signed as a free agent by the Sixers on Nov. 15.  He has since appeared in 43 games with 31 starts, averaging 13 points, five rebounds and nearly a steal and half while also ranking tied for seventh in the NBA in 3-pointers made per game (2.4).

The second-year forward has hit at least two 3-pointers in 30 of his 43 games played, including four or more in five of the past eight games and 12 times overall this season.  No Sixer has had more than 12 games with four-plus 3-pointers made in a single season since current All-Star Kyle Korver did so 15 times in 82 games played in 2005-06.

This year’s Rising Stars Challenge features a new format that pits first- and second-year NBA players from the United States against first- and second-year players from around the world.

Kelly-Mariota reunion is more feasible than you think

 For many years, there was a strong belief in baseball that college programs did more harm than good when it came to getting pitchers ready for the major leagues.

And the thought process was probably correct, at least in the days before anyone cared about things like pitch counts.

After all, most college coaches weren't about to try to serve two masters -- in this case, winning while at the same time getting their prospects ready for the next step.

Self-preservation generally dictates which part of an equation wins and sports, even at the college level, is a bottom-line profession, meaning the head coach of Wossamotta U is never going to be all that worried about what the manager of the New York Yankees might want, especially if it's undercutting his own goals.

A similar dynamic is occurring in football right now with quarterbacks. Spread offenses are all the rage at the college level and although there is more read-option than ever in the professional ranks, most organizations aren't all that comfortable with signal callers who have spent their entire college experience in the pistol or shotgun.

In fact, if anything the pendulum is swinging back and most teams are more enamored with the old-school, pocket-style passer who is comfortable with a three-, five- or seven-step drop, and capable of planting his foot in the ground before letting it rip.

A quarterback with mobility who can do that is the prototype, but you can count the number who have both of those attributes on one hand.

With the NFL Scouting Combine less than a week away, the first-round quarterback hype centers on just two players, Florida State standout Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the last two Heisman Trophy winners.

Both are projected as top-10 picks by most and with some expecting the two players to go quickly off the board at Nos. 1 and 2.

"It's not a real good quarterback draft," NFL network draft analyst Mike Mayock recently admitted on Philadelphia radio station WPEN. "You've got two quarterbacks that are head-and-shoulders above everyone else, and even they have their own holes -- one on the field (Mariota) and one off the field (Winston)."

From a pure football perspective, Winston is light years ahead of Mariota when projecting both to the professional level. The ex-Seminoles star is regarded as NFL-ready and similar to Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, only with better size and overall physical skills than the current Minnesota Vikings' starter, who if you were redrafting '14 all over again would probably end up No. 1 overall.

Mariota, on the other hand, is a lump of clay for those planning to run a traditional pro offense, and while most rave about his athleticism, plus-arm talent, football IQ and work ethic, you are going to need significant time to mold that clay.

"From a physical trait perspective, he has everything you want," Mayock said. "He's big, he's athletic, he's got great feet and he's got a live arm. So on the surface, the individual components all work. The problem is he's a projection coming to the next level because of the pocket awareness, the progressions and the reads."
In other words, the Oregon offense did Mariota no favors when it comes to the pro level unless he ends up in the one city that embraces it -- Philadelphia.

Chip Kelly's previous history at Oregon is well-documented. The Eagles coach believes in an up-tempo offense built around the read-option above all else, and the fact that he gushes about Mariota like he has a teenage crush has many surmising that Kelly, who recently won an organizational power struggle with former general manger Howie Roseman, is set to do whatever it takes to acquire the apple of his eye.

"I think Marcus will be successful whether he's an NFL player, a banker, a teacher, a fireman, a policeman," Kelly said on another Philadelphia-area radio station when asked about his former recruit. "I've said it before about some other players, but if you can buy stock in a human being, you buy stock in that kid because he'll always be successful in anything he does."

The Eagles are scheduled to pick at No. 20 on April 30 and moving up to the top spot or even No. 2 is almost untenable unless Kelly is willing to risk a Ricky Williams-like mortgage of the future for what is essentially a high-risk venture.

And that mind-set has more than one observer worried.

The rationale is simple. If a Mariota experiment fails, Kelly can simply move on to a high-profile college job after scorching the earth in Philly.

You can allay at least some of those fears because the Eagles will not have to go up nearly as far as most think if they want Mariota, who piloted the Ducks to 12-1 record and No. 2 overall ranking that past season.

Recent history magnifies the fact that someone's stock in the first two weeks of February before both the combine and the various pro days around the country is meaningless in the NFL's eyes.

Before the 2013 draft, Geno Smith was projected as the top overall pick by FOXSports and was in both's and Sports Illustrated's top five. Yours truly had the West Virginia product going No. 7 overall to Arizona, and the history book says he ended up in the second round, 39th overall to the New York Jets.

Rewind one year and you will see that Peter Schrager of FOX and this writer had Bridgewater going No. 1 overall while most others had him in the top five. He eventually fell to No. 32 after a shaky pro day, although his play on the field vindicated his supporters.

The immature Johnny Manziel, who may or may not currently be in rehab for alcohol dependency, was drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2014, but Don Banks of SI and Nate Davis of USA Today each had him projected at No. 1 overall while TSN has him going at No. 4 to the Browns in early February.

Mariota is ripe for a similar fall and it's just a matter of how far.

If Kelly and the Eagles really want Mariota, the hurdles to get him are not nearly as steep as advertised with the only real contenders to usurp the perceived plan being the Jets, who struck out with Smith in 2013, at No. 6 overall, and Cleveland, which now understands they can't count on Manziel and owns both the 12th and 19th overall picks.

The Jets are the biggest threat because Mariota's intangibles point toward eventual success and the team's new general manager, Mike Maccagnan, has the rope and time to take a chance.

Conversely, Cleveland GM Ray Farmer is dealing with a much tougher landscape because of his first-round shenanigans a year ago in which he passed on the ability to take playmakers like Sammy Watkins and Odell Beckham Jr. in favor of trading down and taking overmatched cornerback Justin Gilbert. Farmer then traded back up to get Manziel, who he would essentially be giving up on after just 365 days.

For Kelly, the bigger issue is not about mortgaging that future to get what he wants, it will be about bypassing a guy who is 14-4 as his starter, Nick Foles, in favor of an unknown.

 "(If the Eagles) think he's the guy and that they can win a Super Bowl with Marcus Mariota, given people around him and a good defense, then I think they have to try and go get him," Mayock said.