Often times when teams rise to the top of the standings they’re being carried by savvy elder statesmen in the NHL. All right, perhaps that’s just how it works in Detroit, but in Philadelphia they’ve been doing things sneakily different. At least it’s different compared to how previous incarnations of Flyers teams have been put together. They’re doing it riding their younger players and those guys are flourishing in the spotlight following their Stanley Cup finals appearance last season.
Sure, the Flyers still have Chris Pronger patrolling the blue line and striking fear into anyone who dares enter the Flyers zone and Daniel Briere, in spite of still looking like he’s 20 years-old, is 33 and using his skills to lead the team in goals scored. But those two older players are more the exception than the norm in Philadelphia now.
The Flyers are captained and led in scoring by 25 year-old Mike Richards. 26 year-old Jeff Carter has 20 goals already this year, and 23 year-old Claude Giroux is a first-time all-star this season and a threat to score on the power play as well as shorthanded. Former first round pick 21 year-old James van Riemsdyk is emerging from his shell and starting to make Flyers fans forget that he was the guy taken one pick after Chicago’s Patrick Kane in the draft. 23 year-old Andreas Nodl has even been a consistent contributor on the third and fourth lines.
It’s not just the forwards as 25 year-old defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn are turning into solid stoppers on the backline. Meszaros is even leading the NHL in plus/minus with a +29 rating while Coburn is averaging just over 20 minutes a game in ice time. This isn’t even taking into account the play of 20 year-old rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who has been a lifeline for the Flyers after Michael Leighton went down with a back injury during training camp. Bobrovsky’s .918 save percentage is tops on the team and his 2.49 goals against average is stellar for a first-year player. His 19 wins don’t look too bad either but that’s a product of how great the team is playing in front of him.
The Flyers last year were a team that eked their way into the playoffs but this year their young guys have grown up in a big way. Instead of waiting for Giroux to break out, he’s arrived and van Riemsdyk is on the verge of doing the same. Seeing Bobrovsky become a force before their eyes is a credit to the work of Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and the scouts in Philadelphia who after years of seemingly not getting how it all works have seen it all come together at once. Getting coach Peter Laviolette in there to help put it all together in just over a year’s time speaks volumes to what he’s capable of doing behind the bench.
If the Flyers can keep things rolling like this the rest of the way, it’s hard to say that we won’t see the Flyers make a run at the finals once again. While the Eastern Conference is certainly tougher to deal with now, the Flyers have played all year like they’re up to the task.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from worst to first.
The Leafs finished dead last in the NHL’s overall standings, giving them the best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery. And when the big show ended, Toronto had landed that top pick for the draft on June 24.
Outside of Toronto, the biggest winner Saturday had to be the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the day with the sixth best odds of getting the top pick at just 7.5 per cent. They were able to move all the way up to the second overall pick, which could certainly land them a franchise player and one that could definitely be ready to make the jump into the NHL next season.
The biggest loser? You could definitely argue it was the Vancouver Canucks. They finished 28th in the overall standings, giving them an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. But they fell all the way to fifth.
The Edmonton Oilers? Well, they didn’t win. Had they won the lottery, it would’ve given them the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years.
Here is the 2016 draft order:
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Winnipeg Jets
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Edmonton Oilers
- Vancouver Canucks
- Calgary Flames
- Arizona Coyotes
- Buffalo Sabres
- Montreal Canadiens
- Colorado Avalanche
- New Jersey Devils
- Ottawa Senators
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Boston Bruins
Now that the order is set, who will go No. 1, 2 and 3 in that opening round?
Auston Matthews has long held the title as the top-ranked player heading into this draft. But there’s been increasing chatter that Finnish winger Patrik Laine has at least closed the gap between him and Matthews for that first overall selection, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.
Meanwhile, fellow Finnish forward Jesse Puljujärvi likely rounds out the top three, following a sensational showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to even up their second-round series with the Washington Capitals with a win on the road Saturday at Verizon Center. You can catch Game 2 between these rivals on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE
Here are some links for both Game 2 between the Penguins and Capitals, and the draft lottery:
Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision
Wilson fined for kneeing Sheary
Everything you need to know about the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery
Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight
Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)
Tyler Johnson began the playoffs as a game-time decision for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their series with the Detroit Red Wings. He’s now among the top point producers this post-season.
Needing a win to even the series before it shifts north to Brooklyn, the Lightning earned a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. Series tied, 1-1. As for Johnson, the diminutive but skilled forward, he led the Bolts with a three-point night and is up to 10 points in the playoffs.
He opened the scoring versus the Islanders and finished it with an empty-netter to negate any late comeback attempt.
Still without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning got another strong game from Jonathan Drouin, who entered this series without a goal. But he changed that, giving the host team a two-goal lead in the opening period of Game 2. That goal would be the eventual winner.
After a first-round playoff loss that resulted in the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, players were forced to answer for such a disappointing end to the Anaheim Ducks’ season.
The Ducks were last in the West at the holiday break but went flying up the standings in the second half of the season, claiming the Pacific Division. But they couldn’t close out the Nashville Predators in the opening round, despite a 3-2 series lead, and Boudreau was sent packing.
Ducks GM Bob Murray then let the players have it, blasting the core group and their performance, especially in the first two games of the series, and strongly suggesting there would be some big changes in Anaheim leading up to next season.
“I take a lot of blame for what happened,” said Corey Perry, as per the Ducks’ website. “I didn’t score a goal. I take a lot of responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.”
In seven games, the 30-year-old Perry, who just concluded the third year of an eight-year contract with a cap hit of $8.625 million, had four assists. But, as he said, no goals.
On Boudreau’s dismissal, Perry added: “He did a lot for my game. It’s tough when you know the reason somebody got fired is because we as a team and as individuals didn’t perform to where we needed to perform, and that’s the hardest thing. You lose four Game 7s at home, and he has nothing really do with what we did on the ice. We’re performing, we’re playing and we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I think a lot of guys are doing that.”