The latest on the NHL labor talks

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The latest on the NHL labor talks

From Comcast SportsNetWASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal mediators are entering the stalled NHL labor talks, with the season's first 2 months already lost because of the lockout.George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said Monday the parties had agreed to use the agency. He assigned three mediators to assist negotiations -- deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh, director of mediation services John Sweeney and Commissioner Guy Serota -- who was removed later in the day because of a Twitter account that may have been tampered with.The sides are to meet separately with the mediators Wednesday."While we have no particular level of expectation going into this process, we welcome a new approach in trying to reach a resolution of the ongoing labor dispute at the earliest possible date," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.Cohen has worked with the players' associations for Major League Baseball, helping end the 1994-95 strike as an outside counsel, and the NBA. He was an adviser to the NHL players' union before joining FMCS three years ago."We look forward to their involvement as we continue working to reach an equitable agreement for both the players and the owners," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association.Cohen mediated during the 2010 negotiations in Major League Soccer and 2011 talks in the NFL and NBA, along with this year's dispute between the NFL and its on-field officials.Cohen said Serota was removed because "within one hour after I issued a press release ... it has been called to my attention that there are issues involving an allegedly hacked Twitter account associated with Commissioner Guy Serota." He said Serota was removed "to immediately dispel any cloud on the mediation process, and without regard to the merits of the allegations."Hockey players and management have not negotiated since last Wednesday. The NHL has canceled more than one-third of its regular season, including all games through Dec. 14, the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star weekend scheduled for Jan. 26-27 at Columbus, Ohio."I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement," Cohen said in a statement."Due to the extreme sensitivity of these negotiations and consistent with the FMCS's longstanding practice, the agency will refrain from any public comment concerning the future schedule andor the status of the negotiations until further notice."Beckenbaugh was a mediator during the 2004-05 lockout, a stoppage that caused cancellation of the entire season.

Lengel hopes to help Patriots function as 'well-oiled machine' when asked

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Lengel hopes to help Patriots function as 'well-oiled machine' when asked

FOXBORO -- Want a sense of what it's like for a player to come into the Patriots locker room in the middle of the season and drop everything in order to familiarize himself with a new place and a new system?

Ask Matt Lengel about his socks.

"It just got to the point where I was living out of my suitcase in my hotel room," Lengel said on Thursday. "I was like, just forget it . . . I'd wear the same thing in the facility. I just didn't care. 

"I didn't want to think about having style. I didn't have time to do laundry. I was wearing the same pair of socks for a week, and then I'd find another pair and kind of let the other ones dry out a little bit. That's just what you gotta do. Things happen."

The second-year tight end was signed by the Patriots off of the Bengals practice squad back in Week 9 as a depth piece. But now with Rob Gronkowski on season-ending injured reserve after undergoing back surgery on Friday, and with Martellus Bennett dealing with an ankle issue that has limited him since Week 5, Lengel is a play away from becoming the lone available tight end on coach Bill Belichick's roster. 

"Matt's got a little bit of experience," Belichick said this week. "He was on the Bengals practice squad last year so he's picked things up, I'd say, ahead of a rookie type player. He has some experience there and he's got some skills. He's done a good job with what we've asked him to do. Works hard. He's been a dependable guy."

When Gronkowski was dealing with a chest injury that kept him out of the team's Week 11 win over the 49ers, Lengel was activated for the first time and saw the first six snaps of his professional career. In front of a handful of family members who flew in from different parts of the country he played six snaps, including one where he laid a strong block on first-round pick DeForest Buckner to help spring running back LeGarrette Blount for a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Lengel was inactive last weekend against the Jets, but will likely be back in uniform Sunday versus the Rams. He acknowledged this week that he felt as though he's progressed with his understanding of the offense with each passing week, and he indicated he would be ready to do whatever he's asked should the Patriots need him to take on a larger workload.

"Mentally, I feel a lot more comfortable," the 6-foot-7, 266-pounder said. "Even coming into the facility in the morning, going through meetings, sitting in a meeting, being told what to do, everything is just processing a lot smoother than it did. 

"When I first got here, I'd get [to the facility], try to learn the offense, then I have to pay rent back at my place in Cincinnati, but then I gotta find a place to live here. Then I'd come home after all that and I'd study. Now that's all calmed down. I go home, and I'm not living out of a suitcase right now which is nice. I'm not wearing the same pair of socks for two weeks just because I don't feel like dealing with it in the morning. It's pretty nice. It's a lot easier."

Remembering those first few weeks with the Patriots, Lengel referred back to something he'd heard about Mark Zuckerberg that helped him get by. Eliminating small choices -- like what to wear -- that popped up over the course of Lengel's day might've helped him save energy to pour into his new gig.

"He wears the same thing every day," Lengel said of Facebook's founder. "He says it's because he doesn't want to spend the energy. I don't really care about trying to impress anyone with fashion here. My fiancee's back in Cincinnati. I'm just wearing the same pair of sweatpants, same pair of jeans for two weeks in a row until I can move into my new place and find a washer and dryer. 

"That's the thing for me that helped. It really did take a little bit of anxiety out, a little bit of stress out. You're just trying to cut all the unnecessary out of your life for at least a few weeks."

Soon after he arrived to Foxboro, Lengel described himself to reporters as more of a blocking tight end given his experience. A member of the Northeastern football program before it disbanded, Lengel eventually transferred to Eastern Kentucky and finished his college career with 33 catches for 361 yards.

The Patriots will likely use a variety of players to piece together the responsibilities normally taken on by tight ends in Gronkowski's absence should Bennett need a breather. Fullback James Develin may see an increased role since he meets with the tight ends on a daily basis and understands their duties. Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming could continue to be used as a blocking tight end in certain situations in order to fortify the edges, as he's done in the past.

But there have been times -- like on Wednesday of this week -- when Lengel has been a one-man position group, getting one-on-one tutorials from tight ends coach Brian Daboll. Lengel said he has tried to make the most of those moments, as he has every meeting, in order to allow the Patriots offense to function without a hitch on the occasions he is called upon to be in the huddle.

"The way I look at it is this place is a well-oiled machine," Lengel said. "I'm here coming in to be a spare part. I don't want to do anything to hinder the performance of this team. I only want to try to make it better. Asking any questions, if anything is unclear, coach Daboll is awesome about letting me ask. He encourages me to ask questions because we're all just working for one purpose, and that's the team. That's a huge theme around here, and that's really impressed me about being here. Guys are all in for the team."

It's been a little more than a month since Lengel got the call letting him know it was time to get his suitcase together and head back to the area where his college career began. Coming off of a trip to London with the Bengals for their game against the Redskins, Lengel was watching NBC's "The Voice" with his fiancee when he was informed that the Patriots wanted to sign him to their active roster. 

"I was like, 'What? Huh?' In the NFL you just never know who's watching," Lengel said. "That's what's crazy about it. You always have to prepare like your name is going to come up. There's just always that voice in the back of your head saying, 'Hey, your time might be coming soon.' "

With Gronkowski out and Bennett playing hurt, Lengel's time in New England could come sooner than anyone anticipated.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

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But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”