2011-2012 season preview: Philadelphia Flyers

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2010-2011 record: 47-23-12, 106 points; 1st in Atlantic, 2nd in East

Playoffs: Defeated Buffalo 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals, lost to Boston 4-0 in Eastern semifinals

After a disappointing showing in the playoffs, the Flyers cleaned house in the offseason. GM Paul Holmgren sent out captain Mike Richards and goal-hound Jeff Carter and in came Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, and Brayden Schenn. Is it the culture change this Stanley Cup challenger needed? One way or another, it’s going to be entertaining to see it play out.

Offense

So how do you replace the consistent offense of Richards and Carter? You get a future Hall of Famer back from the KHL in Jagr and bank on the emergence of James van Riemsdyk to be a premiere power forward as well as the continued improvement of Claude Giroux to make it work. Sound risky? It might be. Van Riemsdyk played like he finally figured it all out in the playoffs and now he’s got a six-year contract to fulfill those hopes. Daniel Briere is also still very capable to chip in on offense.

The Flyers will also be banking big on Schenn, who will start the season in the minors, to eventually step in as a rookie on the third line at center. Having Talbot and Wayne Simmonds joining him there will help out. The Flyers’ fourth line will mix up defensive skill and toughness with Blair Betts, Jody Shelley (eventually), Andreas Nodl, and possibly Zac Rinaldo at times.

source: Getty ImagesDefense

As Chris Pronger goes, so go the Flyers on defense. He’s the new team captain, he’s the snark, snarling, sarcastic guy in the locker room and he’s their best defenseman. Period. Having Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn to balance things out along with Matt Carle keeps the defensive corps intact from last season. Adding Andreas Lilja gives the Flyers an experienced guy back there to fill out the top six, but Lilja is not exactly a world-beater there. They’ll play hard and tough, but Pronger has to be out there for the Flyers to be Cup contenders. Nagging injuries for Pronger could be a huge disruption.

Goalies

Ilya Bryzgalov is the star No. 1 goalie the Flyers have been waiting years to have. With him locked in for the next nine years, Bryzgalov will have to be awesome to help keep the fans at bay. At the first sign of struggle, the fans will get restless because the expectations for him are sky high. Should the boo birds take hold, last season’s top goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, is there to step in. After last season’s odd cycle of Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher, having a true No. 1 will feel like a luxury for coach Peter Laviolette.

Coach

Laviolette enters his third season with the Flyers and this time it’s his most fascinating time to coach. After all the changes and all the new blood the expectations are huge. Laviolette has his hands full in trying to put it all together so the Flyers can pick up where they left off last regular season and try to recapture the playoff wins from two seasons ago. The pressure is on in a big way for Laviolette to get it done right and fast.

source: APBreakout candidate

Schenn came over in the Mike Richards deal with Los Angeles and also as the top prospect in the NHL. He got a taste of NHL action the last two seasons with the Kings but not enough to stick around full time. Now he’s going to likley soon be the man to center the third line and show that his hot-prospect status wasn’t just hype. He won’t quite have the playmakers and goal scorers around him to help boost his numbers, but he’s got a chance to be a revelation for Philly. Expect him to be in the hunt for the Calder Trophy.

Best-case scenario

Jagr recaptures some old glory (or just decides to imitate Teemu Selanne) and puts up 70 points this season. Giroux evolves and becomes the true top center on the team and follows up with a monster season centering Jagr and van Riemsdyk.  Briere puts up another 35-goal season and Schenn plays like a veteran in his first full season. Pronger leads the defense to a dominating year giving Bryzgalov all the help he needs to be one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, leading to the Flyers landing in the Stanley Cup finals.

Reality

Things could go really right for Philly or take a horrible turn, leading to them fighting just to get in the playoffs. The players are there for Philly to have a huge season and be one of the top teams. There’s a ton of offensive talent and enough guys around to play the typical snarling kind of Flyers’ hockey that makes everyone get angry. Bryzgalov will get tested outside of the typical defense-first system he played behind in Phoenix. If he adapts well, he can keep the Flyers rolling, even if they struggle.

If Jagr doesn’t pan out and van Riemsdyk doesn’t play how he did in the playoffs and teams get to gang up on Giroux and Briere all season, the Flyers will struggle. The margin for error is slim for all the teams in the Atlantic Division and Philly needs to hope their bets on the future pan out.

Canada beats US 3-1 in women’s hockey Olympic tuneup

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Haley Irwin and Sarah Nurse scored in the second period, sending Canada to a 3-1 victory over the United States on Friday night in the latest Olympic tuneup between the world’s top powers in women’s hockey.

Marie-Philip Poulin also scored for Canada, and Ann-Renee Desbiens made 25 saves.

Brianna Decker opened the scoring for the U.S. with a power-play goal early in the second. Alex Rigsby stopped 33 shots in defeat.

Poulin made it 3-1 with her goal 55 seconds into the third.

It was the fifth of six meetings between the rivals as they prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. They play again Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta.

Canada has won four of the five recent matchups, after the Americans took the series opener Oct. 22 in Quebec City.

”We just have to be better in the red zones – that’s the difference between winning and losing,” United States coach Robb Stauber said. ”We’ll give some focus and energy to some things we think we can do better, and we’re going to go into Edmonton and see what that end result looks like.”

The last four Olympic gold medals in women’s hockey have gone to Canada, but the U.S. has won seven of the past eight world championships.

The Buzzer: Eichel hat trick, Schneider robbery, Gaborik’s 1,000th game

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Players of the Night: 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Eichel ended a four-game goal-less drought with some authority on Friday. After scoring in the first period, Eichel watched as his Sabres blew a 2-1 lead to trail 4-2 with 10 minutes to go. Eichel then turned on overdrive, scoring twice in 10 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the Carolina Hurricanes got the winner 2:15 into the extra frame. It’s Eichel’s first career NHL hat trick.

Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: What an inspirational story Boyle has been this year. On Friday, Boyle scored twice, including the game winner, to bring his goal total to eight on the season. His second of the night was also his 100th of his career.

Highlights of the Night:

Eichel showed a good bit of patience on his hat trick goal:

Cory Schneider committed robbery on this save:

Sam Gagner scored on a pretty backhand deke to give the Vancouver Canucks the win in overtime, ending a four-game losing streak:

Factoid of the Night: 

MISC: 

Scores: 

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Devils 5, Stars 2

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Red Wings 3, Maple Leafs 1

Canucks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Melnyk threatens to move Senators if ‘disaster strikes’

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If you’re looking for someone to spoil an upcoming function, you may want to give Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk a call.

On the eve of the Senators’ outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, and on the night when Ottawa’s greats from yesteryear took the ice with Parliament Hill as a backdrop, Melnyk did his best to steal the spotlight from the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters, Melnyk threatened to pull the plug in Ottawa and relocate the team if disaster struck.

“If it becomes a disaster, yes,” Melnyk said. “If you start not seeing crowds showing up, yes. But, for now, we are on the cusp of doing OK.”

The doom and gloom continued, with Melnyk suggesting he isn’t going to waste a “lifetime of working hard” to support the Senators.

“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?”

Melnyk reiterated that he’s not looking to sell the team, a statement he made earlier this week in the Ottawa Sun, and used McDonald’s as an example on Friday. 

“It won’t. It just won’t happen,” he said. “It’s a franchise. Imagine if you own a McDonald’s franchise, but you can move it. But why would you sell it? It’s something that’s very difficult to buy.

We’re doing OK here. Not great, but we’re doing OK. It’s just too much fun. What else do you do? I’m a Canadian. I’m a hockey fan, fanatically a hockey fan, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

Melnyk said the Senators have “cut everything to the bone,” saying the Senators have one of the thinnest management groups in the league.

“We want to keep and maintain great players,” he said. “You can’t keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues. It doesn’t work.”

According to CapFriendly, the Senators are at just over $73 million in projected cap space.

Melnyk called the Senators disaster on the ice this season a “crappy streak” that every team goes through.

“We have way too much talent with this team not to perform,” he said.

When asked if his comments on Friday could take away from the luster of the event taking place in Canada’s capital this weekend, Melnyk said no.

“It keeps the newspapers selling and the radio people listening,” he said.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marian Gaborik plays game No. 1,000 on Friday

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Marian Gaborik has already hit two milestones that end in double zeroes this season.

On Friday night, and at the world’s most famous arena, he hit his first that ends in three.

Gaborik took to the ice at Madison Sqaure Garden in his 1,000th NHL game as the Los Angeles Kings took on the New York Rangers.

It’s not a bad backdrop for the veteran of 19 NHL seasons.

Gaborik played 255 games with the Blueshirts between 2009 and 2013, hitting the 40-goal plateau twice and recording his career-best season in 2009-10, scoring 42 goals and adding 44 helpers for 86 points in 76 games played.

Gaborik has only played 11 games this season after starting the year on the shelf with a knee injury. Gaborik only returned to the lineup on Nov. 24, but he set two milestones in his return, hitting 400 career NHL goals and 800 career NHL points earlier this month.

Coming into Friday’s game, his stat line read 800 points in 999 NHL games.

As Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston points out, perfect symmetry could be achieved if Gaborik finishes with a plus-one in the plus-minus column in the game and he is held without a point.

I’m sure he’d rather have a new puck to add to his mantle… but think of the stats, Marian.

UPDATE: He didn’t think of the stats. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck