One team is underachieving, while the other is overachieving, but even as the Sixers entered the All-Star break losers of five straight and the Flyers continue to play uninspired hockey both teams are in line to be part of the postseason.
That’s not really a shock.
The Sixers, who made the playoffs last season, lead the Atlantic Division thanks mostly to the fact that the Knicks, despite Jeremy Lin being the newest darling of New York, are an average team and the Celitcs are an aging one. Suffocating defense that has allowed a league-low 87.5 points per game is another big reason why the Sixers lead the division, but the losing streak is mainly about lack of offense. Philly is scoring just 94 ppg, good for 18th in the league, and without a go-to scorer on the roster that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
The Flyers had a huge turnover in the offseason, shipping Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to new teams, while finally getting a “big-time” goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov. The trades helped Claude Giroux takeover as the face of the franchise, but Bryzgalov has been underwhelming at best. Of course, playing without captain Chris Pronger, ruled out for the season and playoffs with concussion-like symptoms, on the back line hasn’t helped Bryzgalov. The Flyers average an NHL best 3.3 goals per game, but without Pronger are giving up 3 gpg, which is 27th best (or worst) in the league.
So what are the prospects of each team going forward?
The Sixers are not contenders. Anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish. They might be able to win a game in a seven-game series with the Miami Heat, maybe two against the Orlando Magic, but the Sixers cannot win four of seven against those teams. Why? It’s easy really. When it comes down to crunch time the Heat have LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, and the Magic have Dwight Howard. Who do the Sixers have? And don’t say Lou Williams, please don’t say Lou Williams. Until the Sixers get a guy who is capable of scoring 22-25 ppg on any given night, don’t expect them to challenge in the East let alone for a title.
The Flyers are a different story, though. Yes, Bryzgalov is spacey and frustrates the hell out of Philly fans every time he opens his mouth, but there’s denying the guy’s talent when hockey is the only thing on his mind. Some of the goals he gives up are super soft, like the last two against Pittsburgh last weekend before getting benched, but Bryzgalov has been around for a long time and has established himself as one of the better goalies around. That, of course, is given that he’s not pondering the wonders of the galaxy or talking about white tigers (if you didn’t watch HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, you probably have no clue what I’m talking about). The Flyers did try to beef up the defense by adding Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina in the past week, but the Flyers’ fate rests on the shoulders of Bryzgalov finding his game and the offense continuing to flourish.
All that said, don’t expect any parades in Philadelphia to be generated by either team, but just think, the Phillies are working out in Clearwater, Fla., now. I’ll save that blog for another day, though.