It seems like ages since the Flyers fell to the Rangers in Game 7 of the opening round of the playoffs last spring.
The orange and black return to the ice with some new faces, some new challenges and with their sights set on improving on a solid year in 2013-14.
The franchise worst 1-7 start last year put the Flyers in a deep hole that they spent the entire season trying to climb out of. They went an impressive 41-23-10 over the final 74 games and qualified for the playoffs. It goes without saying that they need a strong first month and hit November with their heads above water.
It won’t be easy as nine of the 10 teams they play in October qualified for the playoffs, including opening against the Eastern Conference favorite Bruins as well as facing Stanley Cup champion L.A., the Blackhawks and Penguins. Escape October with at least a .500 mark or better and it should set up a successful season.
The Flyers finished the regular season ranked eighth on the power play and seventh in the penalty kill. However, the performance of their special teams was not enough to overcome their shortcomings at even strength.
The club ranked 17th in the league, according to nhl.com, at 5-v-5 and was below the league ratio average of 1.02 with a 0.96. The Flyers had the worst ratio of any playoff team and every team that qualified for the playoffs had a plus ratio except for them and the Canadiens. In the playoffs, the Flyers’ 0.53 ratio was the worst out of 16 teams. Improvement in this department is paramount.
While the Flyers gained some speed and future payroll relief by dealing Scott Hartnell to the Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger in the offseason, Hartnell’s departure left a giant void on the left side of the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Hartnell, who scored 20 goals or more in five of seven seasons in Philly, had an excellent net presence and was one of the better power forwards in the league.
The Flyers feel that Brayden Schenn can step into that role. The 23-year-old tallied a career-high 20 goals last year. Giroux said the two forwards are similar and that they can hit, fight and go to the net and score goals. It will be interesting to see if Schenn can develop chemistry with Giroux and Voracek and form a potent first line.
Even at 38-years-old, Kimmo Timonen was the Flyers best defenseman last year and would have been entering this season. However, his career is likely over due to blood clots that formed in his lung over the summer. It only puts more pressure on an already mediocre and slow defense. The Flyers will lean on Mark Streit to anchor the unit and hope youngsters Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto have breakout seasons.
Watch out for Ghost
Shayne Gostisbehere will start the season in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. However, he probably won’t end it there. One of the organizations’ top defensive prospects, “Ghost” could warrant a call-up in the second half should injuries deplete the Flyers blue line or a veteran’s performance is subpar. Keep a close eye on the kid.