Empty slate as new-look Flyers start 2011 season

The name tags seem to be working.

If the preseason is any indication what to expect from the Flyers once the games start for real, then this might really work.

Not only will program sales be brisk, but all the new guys wearing those orange-and-black jerseys — speedy wingers Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, explosive rookies Sean Couturier and Matt Read, dynamic goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov — might actually fill them better than the ones who have left.

And that doesn’t even include the most intriguing new piece of all — longtime nemesis turned Philly cult hero, Jaromir Jagr.

“We’re still a new team with a different look from last year,’’ said leading-scorer Claude Giroux (76 points). “Right now, we’re playing well and working hard. I think if we keep working hard like that all season it’s going to be a pretty good start.”

But it’s not the start that Flyers’ fans really care about. It’s the finish.

Peter Laviolette’s team has fallen to the eventual Cup champions in the past two seasons, leading the organization to make wholesale changes. Add that to a sturdy defense led by new captain Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen — along with holdover forwards Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk — and hopes are high for a memorable season.

How memorable?

“It’s pretty much an empty slate,” said Pronger. “We need to get acclimated with one another, so that we can kind of get on a roll and really start to form that bond that you need in the later months.”

5 questions the Flyers must answer

1. What is left in Jagr’s tank?

Back in the NHL for the first time since 2008, 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr has been a preseason sensation, scoring four goals in three games. When it counts, though Jagr cautions not to expect too much. But it’s hard not to believe he’s going to make a huge difference on the power play and also be valuable in shootouts, where the Flyers have traditionally struggled. Plus, he knows what it takes to win.

2. Can the kids handle the load?

One of the reasons the Flyers traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter was to get younger. But can Brayden Schenn, who won’t start the season with the team, No. 1 draft pick Sean Couturier and/or preseason standout Matt Read make a difference now? The Flyers don’t want to put undue pressure on any of them, but all those deals removed more than 100 goals from the lineup. Somebody needs to help fill that void.

3. Will the old blue line hold up?

Chris Pronger’s voice may now carry more weight in the locker room as captain, but if he can’t make his presence felt on the ice, the Flyers are a lot more vulnerable. Kimmo Timonen (36) played every game, but clearly labored in the postseason trying to pick up the slack in Pronger’s absence. While the rest of the D — Braydon Coburn, Andres Meszaros, Matt Carle and newcomer Andreas Lilja — is solid, they still need the old guard to do their thing.

4. Is Bryzgalov really the missing link?

The Flyers are banking nine years and $51 million that Ilya Bryzgalov is the answer to their ongoing goaltending prayers. After watching Tim Thomas almost single-handedly lead the Bruins to the Cup, they’ve vowed to never again leave the position undermanned. For his part, the personable Bryzgalov has warmed to the occasion, saying all the right things. Now the question is: can he can stop the puck when the playoffs heat up?

5. Does JVR finally break out?

The Flyers were willing to trade Carter and Richards in part because they believe James van Riemsdyk is on the brink of stardom. Amid the disappointment of last year’s sweep by Boston was the emergence of JVR as a force to be reckoned with. He scored seven goals in the playoffs, while flashing the speed and explosiveness that has been generally missing until now. With expectations ratcheted up, is he ready to pick up where he left off?

3 Flyers who must thrive

1. Jakub Voracek: Columbus’ patience wore thin waiting for the No.7 pick in the 2007 draft to mature, and finally sent him packing after just 39 goals in three years. But he’s got a big shot and is just 22, plus he’s playing for a team with a chance to contend. The Flyers are putting him on Danny Briere’s line, convinced he can be a 20-25-goal scorer. And having fellow Czech Republic countryman Jaromir Jagr on the team can’t hurt, either.

2. Andrej Meszaros: Meszaros won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ top defenseman last year, tying for fifth in the NHL in plus-minus. Now he needs to build on that by becoming more offensive-minded while using his 6-foot-2, 233-pound body more. Getting a little of Chris Pronger’s nasty edge might even put him at an all-star level.

3. Max Talbot: With Daniel Carcillo gone and Ian Laperriere all but officially retired, the Flyers sorely need someone to serve as their physical and emotional leader. That’s why they signed the 27-year-old Talbot, who has only 52 goals in six years, but has the knack of making them count, as well as getting under the opposition’s skin. It shouldn’t take long for Flyers fans to fall in love with him.

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