The NHL gets underway Saturday afternoon with its first game of the season showcasing the battle of Pennsylvania: the Philadelphia Flyers versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Flyers finished last season 5th in the Eastern Conference standings, while the Penguins placed 4th. The two rivals were on a collision course for a highly anticipated first round of the playoffs, and they didn't disappoint.
After scoring 56 goals and 312 penalty minutes in 6 games, the series came to a close with the Flyers on top. It solidified Claude Giroux as the team's new leader after his 14-point performance. Claude put the team on his back and carried them through Pittsburgh, scoring the second-most points (Tim Kerr notched 15 in 1989) in a single playoff series in Flyers history.
Changing of the Guard
This all ultimately led to Claude Giroux being named the 19th captain in Flyers history, replacing the injured Chris Pronger (concussion-like symptoms). Giroux is the new face of the Flyers, and is poised to be a great captain for years to come.
This was just one of a handful of moves the Flyers made during the off-season while holding their core players together (Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn). Philadelphia has retained 18 players from last season's 24-man roster.
The biggest off-season trade the Flyers made was sending forward James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn, whose brother, Brayden was acquired in the trade that sent former captain Mike Richards to the Stanley Cup-winning L.A. Kings.
Luke Schenn and van Riemsdyk were only separated by a couple of picks in the 2008 NHL entry draft, with both choices coming inside the top 5. The Flyers are expecting the rugged D-man to be a powerful, porch-clearing force they have missed since the loss of Pronger. Schenn, 6'2" 229, led all defensemen in hits last season (270 in 79 games played) as well as in 2011 (251 in 82 games).
The Flyers also sent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for 3 future draft picks in a move that should bolster the confidence of starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Flyers considered re-signing future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who scored 19 goals and 54 points skating alongside Giroux on the top line for most of the season. But they were nowhere near matching the offer he eventually took from the Dallas Stars ($4.55 million for one year).
Philadelphia also failed to re-sign defenseman Matt Carle (4 goals, 38 points), who led the team in average minutes played (23:01 per game) and blocked shots (164). Carle, regarded in print during the free-agent frenzy as the next-best option with Nashville's Ryan Suter off to Minnesota, returned to Tampa Bay, from which the Flyers has acquired him in 2008, signing a 6-year contract at an average of $5.5 million per year.
- To replace the hole left after the Bobrovsky trade the Flyers brought back goaltender Michael Leighton, who had helped take Philadelphia to the Cup Finals in 2010, to back up Ilya Bryzgalov. Leighton was 28-26 with the AHL affiliate Adirondack Phantoms last year.
- To add depth to their blue-line corps, the Flyers signed Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster, both of whom will compete for the 6th defensive spot.
- Philadelphia re-acquired Ruslan Fedotenko, who started his career with the Flyers in 2000, but has most recently played for the New York Rangers scoring 45 points in his 2 seasons with New York. Fedotenko found himself contributing to two Stanley Cup Champion teams in the time since his departure, skating to rings with the Lightning and Penguins.
- The Flyers drafted junior center Scott Laughton, 6'1" 177, in the 2012 entry draft. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, they can skate the 18-year-old for a maximum of 5 games before they have to decide whether to keep him in the big leagues or send him back to his OHL team.
Projected Starting Lineup
- Offensive lines are projected to be:
- Claude Giroux centering Scott Hartnell and Brayden Schenn,
- Sean Couturier centering Max Talbot and Jake Voracek,
- Scott Laughton centering Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds,
- Eric Wellwood centering Ruslan Fedotenko and Zac Rinaldo.
- Defensive pairings are projected to be:
- Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann,
- Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn,
- Andrej Meszaros and Kurtis Foster.
- Starting Goaltender, then Back-up:
- Ilya Bryzgalov
- Michael Leighton
The Flyers are generally healthy to start the season. Andrej Meszaros is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon (sustained in July) and will be ready to go. Claude Giroux, who suffered a neck injury while playing in Germany during the lockout, is 100 percent recovered. Kimmo Timonen, who had to undergo surgery to remove a disc fragment from his lower back has also fully recovered.
Danny Briere has been diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his left wrist, an injury he sustained while playing in Germany in late December. Briere will not play in either Saturday or Sunday's game, and is on the non-roster/injured list. That opens up an opportunity for Laughton to remain with the team if his try-out goes well.
Chris Pronger will once again be placed on the LTIR (Long term injured reserve) due to concussion-like symptoms. Sean, Chris' older brother, stated in an interview that he doesn't think Pronger will ever play in the NHL again.
Saturday, Jan. 19 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (3 p.m.)
The Flyers start the season at home against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers went 4-2 against the Penguins in the regular season, and then defeated them in the first round of the playoffs in 6 games. Pittsburgh, however, is 8-3 in Philadelphia in their last 11 regular-season games.
Sunday, Jan. 20 @ Buffalo Sabres (12:30 p.m.)
The next day, Philadelphia will go to Buffalo to face Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and the Sabres. Buffalo missed the playoffs by 3 points, finishing 9th in the standings. The Flyers swept the season series last year, scoring 17 goals in their 4 wins against the Sabres.
Tuesday, Jan. 22 @ New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m.)
With only one day off, the Flyers get back into action Tuesday night when they faceoff against the team that defeated them in the second round of the playoffs last season, the New Jersey Devils. However, since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils have lost their captain, Zach Parise. They have recently named Bryce Salvador as their new captain and will continue to be led by their top two threats: Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias.
Thursday, Jan. 24 vs. the New York Rangers (6 p.m.)
The Flyers will face their biggest challenge thus far as they face off against the 2012 Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers. Led by Marion Gaborik, Brad Richards and newly acquired Rick Nash, the Rangers will look to keep their momentum going against the Flyers. New York swept Philadelphia last season, winning all 6 games, including the Winter Classic held in Philadelphia, and has won 8 straight against the Flyers dating back two seasons.
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The Philadelphia Flyers will finish the season 26-17-5, for 57 points, clinching 6th place in the Eastern Conference.
- Claude Giroux will lead the team in points with 52.
- Scott Hartnell will tie Giroux for team lead in goals with 20.
- Kimmo Timonen will lead team for defensive points with 26.
- Ilya Bryzgalov will win 21 games.
- Scott Laughton will make the team after his 5 game try-out and will score 16 points.
What does everyone else think? How excited are you for the start of the season?