With a less-than-stellar preseason performance and the regular season opener tomorrow night, there are five things Flyers’ fans should be looking out for this season as the Fly Guys try to capture Lord Stanley’s cup.
1. How will some of the Flyers’ new line combinations perform?
I think the Flyers’ lines are well designed, and time will only improve the chemistry between the players. The first line of Hartnell, Giroux, and Voracek has great momentum coming in from last year and have the potential to lead the team offensively. As long as Giroux is healthy and fully recovered from his freak golf accident, he should be the Flyers’ top scorer of the season. Lecavalier leads the second line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. This line is just as strong as the first with Lecavalier’s 14 years of NHL experience and Simmonds’ aggressiveness. If Schenn can consistently perform on the stats he generated at the beginning of last year’s shortened season, he will also greatly contribute to the line. The third line of Talbot, Couturier, and Read will probably not see as much action as the first two lines but have the potential to strongly support the team. The Flyers will depend on Couturier and Read to come back stronger than last year. The team obviously has a lot of confidence in Read, who they have just signed to a four-year contract extension, but his performance has to much more stable than his sophomore year.
2. Who will emerge as the primary goaltender?
When the Flyers acquired Ray Emery from the Blackhawks at the end of last season, they said they expected Emery and Mason to split the games 50-50 without naming a starting goaltender. I like this idea in theory since it gives the goalies a break between games and forces the defense to be more cohesive to support whoever is in the net. However, I think one goaltender will end up becoming the starter. Emery and Mason both took losses in the preseason so it is tough to tell who has the advantage going into the season. With some success on the Flyers squad at the end of last season, I think, at least initially, Mason has the starting goaltender job. However, if he cannot play consistently early this season, Emery will be right there to replace him having put up some great numbers in Chicago last season. Whatever the case may be though, I am much more optimistic about the Flyers’ goaltending this year. Mason and Emery have 0.905 and 0.908 save percentages respectively, both greater than Bryzgalov’s 0.900.
3. What will Lecavalier’s veteran status bring to the team?
With a relatively young team, the Flyers will be looking to Lecavalier as one of the veteran’s on the team. He will lead the second line and bring 14 years of NHL experience to the Flyers. Lecavalier seems up to the challenge of improving the Flyers’ performance and will bring strong skating skills to the ice. He’s already shown some chemistry with line-mate Wayne Simmonds in camp and the preseason games, and hopefully that line can support the Flyers offensively. Lecavalier will look to propel the Flyers into the play-offs and prove that even at age 33, he still is a dominant hockey player.
4. Has the defense improved enough to improve the Flyers’ record?
Kimo Timonen will continue to be a force on the Flyers’ defense and powerplay, as long as he can stay healthy. He only missed three games last season, but at age 38, he may not be able to keep healthy on the Flyers’ blueline. He is paired with Brayden Coburn, who has been pretty reliable in the past though. The Flyers have also brought in Mark Strait from the Islanders to be a leader defensively. With his consistency and skill in creating scoring opportunities, he will play a similar role to Lecavalier, but on the defensive end. Luke Schenn, whose play is aggressive and therefore makes him more susceptible to injury, is paired up with Strait. Add in Meszaros and Grossman, and the Flyer’s defense is shaping up to outperform last year. It is important for the defensemen to stay healthy for the Flyers to make a run for it this year, especially with some uncertainty in the net.
5. How far will the Flyers make it this year?
Following a disappointing short season, the Flyers are looking to really improve upon last year’s record of 23-22-3. They need to start the season off with consistent, powerful performances in order to set themselves up for a run in the play-offs. Last year was one of the few times I can remember the Flyers not making the play-offs, and in fact, it was only the second time in the past 18 years they missed the post-season. If the Flyers do not have a strong record and/or do not make the playoffs, Holmgren may decide to get rid of Coach Laviolette. Hopefully with the pressure on, Laviolette will be motivated to work the Flyers hard to get the results we all want.
The Flyers’ regular season kicks off tomorrow night against the Maple Leafs at 7:30 pm. Although the Flyers took home a shoot out victory over the Leafs in the preseason (their only win in the six preseason games), it was a split-squad game so it will be interesting to see how the top players perform tomorrow night. Look out for former Flyer, James van Riemsdyk, who had an unassisted goal against the Flyers in the preseason. All-in-all, I think the game will be competitive following the close preseason game, but the Flyers will be more motivated to start the season strong and prove their preseason losses were a fluke.