2010-11 NHL season preview: Philadelphia Flyers

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Thumbnail image for prongerknockshishelmetoff.jpgLast season: (41-35-6, 88 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, 7th in Eastern Conference) You probably heard the story already if you’re a big hockey fan, but it’s still pretty amazing to think about it. The Flyers went from needing a failed Olli Jokinen shootout attempt on the last day of the season to eek into the playoffs to being down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins in the second round to making it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Sure, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks was disappointing, but the Flyers exceeded just about everyone’s expectations last season.

Head coach: Peter Laviolette pulled off a very Dan Bylsma-like feat with the Flyers last season, taking over a struggling club during the season and installing a more aggressive style that propelled them to the Cup finals. He didn’t win a Cup like Bylsma, but Laviolette has a championship on his resume from his run with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flyers are in solid hands with Laviolette.

Key departures: F – Simon Gagne, G – Ray Emery, D – Ryan Parent. It’s weird to mention Emery as a “departure” since he seemingly injured himself so long ago. Gagne might be a bit injury-prone, but he’s a speedy sniper who made an impact when he returned to the Flyers during the playoffs. He’d be missed a bit more if Philly wasn’t so loaded at forward.

Key arrivals: F – Nikolai Zherdev, D – Andrej Meszaros, D – Sean O’Donnell, F – Jody Shelley. The Flyers rolled the dice with the talented but flighty Russian Zherdev. They also took on expensive and questionable defenseman Meszaros, sturdy blueliner O’Donnell and fighter Shelley. The Shelley signing would have been ridiculous if Rangers GM Glen Sather didn’t decide to one-up everyone by making Derek Boogaard rich.

leightonandboucherpals.jpgUnder pressure: Most people would say their goalies (Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher) are under the most pressure and that’s probably true. But we’ll get to them in a second.

One other person to watch is sniping center Jeff Carter, a consistent goal scorer whose performance in the playoffs left much to be desired. He’s in a contract year, so don’t be surprised if Carter leads the Flyers in points. (If he can handle the pressure, that is).

Protecting the house: Leighton and Boucher won’t go high in any fantasy hockey drafts and will be the source of plenty of derision in plenty of season previews. Leighton is struggling with back issues and doesn’t have a long track record as a starting goalie. Boucher is a journeyman goalie who is a 1b at best. Neither goalie is a likely Vezina Trophy candidate, but if they stay healthy, they might be sufficient.

Why? Because they play behind what is (on paper) the best defense in the Eastern Conference, if not the NHL. He might not be Mr. Popular, but Chris Pronger is the most intimidating blueliner in the league (sorry, he’s just a little bit nastier than Zdeno Chara). When Scott Stevens retired, Pronger took the mantle as the most sadistic defenseman on ice. Let’s not forget about the Kimmo Timonen, another great (and highly-paid) blueliner in his own right. Matt Carle benefits from Pronger’s imposing presence while Braydon Coburn is a solid companion for Timonen. Sean O’Donnell should be a solid bottom pair guy while Andrej Meszaros might make sense in a smaller role.

It might not rank alongside the Anaheim Ducks defense that included Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, but you won’t find many groups better than Philadelphia’s … especially in the East.

Top line we’d like to see: Carter-Mike Richards-Danny Briere. Richards provides the two-way play and some great leadership (not to mention plenty of skill). Carter can just focus on being a sniper while Briere would abuse teams that would have to focus on him less than his two line mates.

Oh captain, my captain: Richards can do a little bit of everything, from scoring to winning a big faceoff to killing penalties with aplomb. His leadership was challenged when the team faltered and it seemed like Pronger wore the pants in the family, but Richards justifies his position as an NHL captain quite well.

jodyshelleyfights.jpgStreet fighting man: Shelley is (probably) the biggest fighter, but this is the Broad Street Bullies we are talking about here. Throwing knuckles is a requirement in Philadelphia in the same way that employees must brew their own beer at Sam Adams. Dan Carcillo will wrack up the PIMs and keep Shelley company in the penalty box. You have to wonder if scary brain injuries might slow down last year’s leading fighter, Ian Laperriere, though.

Best-case scenario: Carter uses that expiring contract dangling carrot to score 50 goals while Briere capitalizes on his playoff points-leading run by putting up big numbers again. Philadelphia takes advantage of their considerable scoring and defensive depth to win the Atlantic Division. Pronger wins his first Conn Smythe while the Flyers prove that the ‘cheap-goalie plan- works by winning a Cup with the Leighton-Boucher duo.

Worst-case scenario: Chris Pronger shows his rapidly increasing age and goes down with a serious injury. Both Leighton and Boucher flop under the full season focus. Ville Leino and Claude Giroux end up being Fernando Pisani-level busts while the Flyers shockingly miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: The Flyers really do have a ridiculous amount of depth, especially in the forward position. Just look at that talent: Carter, Richards, Briere, Giroux, Leino, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk are all worthy contributors who could have nice years. Combine that forward depth with a very good defense and they might not need great goalies.

Make no mistake about it, though, Boucher and Leighton aren’t great goalies. These shortcomings might cost them the Atlantic Division title – I say they battle the Penguins for second place – and will keep them from winning the Cup. They should be interesting to watch, though.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, there’s a part of me that wants to say ‘5 out of 5,’ but instead I’ll go with a 4. The goal situation makes me a little timid, I’ll admit it.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
AP
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure, sometimes, can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of exactly that. They’d change the plan when things didn’t go their way. They’d play too much as individuals. They’d play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”

No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

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Doesn’t look like there’ll be supplemental discipline coming from Tampa Bay’s crazy 5-4 OT win over the Isles at Barclays last night.

Per the Times, both Brian Boyle and Thomas Hickey have avoided hearings for their big hits — Boyle’s on Hickey, Hickey’s on Jonathan Drouin.

An NHL spokesman has confirmed to PHT that no hearings have been scheduled.

Both hits went unpenalized, but were focal points of Tuesday’s game.

The impact of the Hickey hit forced Drouin from the contest for a lengthy period of time, though Drouin did return to set up Nikita Kucherov‘s game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in regulation.

Boyle’s hit on Hickey was followed by Boyle scoring the game-winning OT goal roughly 10 seconds later.

It also led to Isles head coach Jack Capuano venting his frustrations in his postgame presser.

“It’s a direct shot to the head,” Capuano said, per ESPN. “I mean, probably going to get suspended a game. That’s what I mean. The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that. [Referee] is standing right there. I’ve watched it numerous times now. Those are the types of hits that we’re trying to eliminate from our game.

“It’s just too bad that it had to end that way. It’s frustrating because it’s right there. The play is right there. He’s looking right at it. The league can look at it if they want, but I’ve watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it’s just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot.”

Capuano didn’t have an update on Hickey following the contest.

Game 4 of this series goes on Friday at Barclays, so there could still be developments forthcoming. The league holds the right to schedule a hearing later (should it be deemed appropriate), and there will likely be an update on Hickey in the coming days.

Related: Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

Report: Ducks sign ’15 first-rounder Larsson

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Jacob Larsson poses after being selected 27th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Though it’s yet to be announced by the club, Swedish d-man Jacob Larsson has reportedly signed on with the Anaheim Ducks — the club that selected him in the first round (27th overall) of the 2015 draft.

Larsson, 19, is set to join Anaheim’s AHL club in San Diego, per Hockeysverige. The Gulls are currently in the midst of the Calder Cup playoffs, embroiled in a series against Ontario.

Larsson came into the ’15 draft fairly highly touted. He was pegged by Central Scouting as one of the top-10 international skaters available, and ended up the seventh defenseman off the board (after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Jakub Zboril, Thomas Chabot and Noah Juulsen.)

Per Hockeysverige, Larsson is still under contract to SHL club Frolunda for another year, and will be loaned back to the club for the ’16-17 campaign.

Ergo, this trip overseas appears to be so Larsson can get a taste of pro hockey in North America.