We were too new and too disorganized to assemble a preview of the 2011 NHL season worth reading. However, we made sporadic predictions on our site and participated in Freeze the Puck’s Atlantic Division Preview. So, we’ll aggregate some of those predictions here and benchmark our results.
Prediction #1: Breakout stars
Atlantic Division: I’m going to pick Claude Giroux. He’s been a slow starter over the last few seasons but he also hasn’t had wingers that could keep up with him on his line.
Claude Giroux is only two goals shy of tying his career high of 16 goals. He is second on the Flyers in goals (14) and points (27). He has also improved greatly at faceoffs and is 2nd on the team at 51.2%. In the league, he’s 8th in goals, first in shorthanded goals, and tied for 10th in game winning goals. At last check, he also led all write-in candidates in All-Star voting.
League: Carey Price will have a breakout year. His abilities have come into question but he was anointed the clear starter for next season when the Canadiens traded Jaroslav Halak and signed Alex Auld as a backup. I believe this will renew his confidence and he will live up to the hype in Montreal.
Carey Price leads the NHL in wins (17) and is 2nd in shutouts (4). He has a .936 SV% and a 1.71 GAA. He also leads all goalies in All-Star voting.
Result: So far, I’d say we’re 2 for 2. [source]
Prediction #2: Leighton vs. Boucher
No matter which goalie is in net, the Flyers have a stacked defense and that should ease the pressure on the goalie… Boucher is a perfectly capable goaltender who, depending upon your perspective, is either no better or no worse than Leighton.
Despite what his pedestrian 4-3-2 record might indicate, Brian Boucher has performed well in net, boasting a .911 SV% and 2.39 GAA. Save for a few games, the only reason he has not won more games is because the skaters have had a difficult time scoring when he’s in net. In my opinion, Boucher is the rightful owner of the backup position. It’s unfortunate that Leighton was injured but Boosh has not done anything that would warrant losing the job.
Result: 3 for 3. [source]
Prediction #3: Are the Flyers a better team?
Defense: There is a list of significant variables but, if even half of those things happen, Philadelphia’s defensive core will be a significant upgrade over last season.
Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn have been more consistent than last season. Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell have turned out to be a solid addition to the defense. Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen have been very good, despite a slow start and an injury.
Offense: Essentially, if the players do what they are expected to do, the team will be better off.
Nikolay Zherdev came as advertised. He’s lazy but shows flashes of brilliance. The returning group of forwards all seem to be playing at or above the rate they did last season. They are still inconsistent and take too many penalties but improved from the previous year. In ’10, the Flyers averaged 2.83 goals per game. So far in ’11, they are scoring a whopping 3.40 goals per game so far.
Goaltending: While I may not be personally comfortable with the Flyers goaltending as it stands, it’s a familiar feeling and the goalies haven’t changed since last season. So, it’s a wash.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been a true revelation and the goaltending carousel in Philadelphia looks like it may finally come to a stop.
Result: 2 for 3 [source]
Predictions #4: Nikolay Zherdev and James van Riemsdyk
Giroux is a gifted playmaker with amazing hands and he quickly formed great chemistry with Nikolay Zherdev this preseason. The two look very good together and combined for 11 points in 6 preseason games. If they play together with James van Riemsdyk, they could be one of the most dynamic and exciting lines to watch in the Eastern Conference. van Riemsdyk got a lot stronger in the offseason and it shows. He’s battling hard along the boards, as well as in front of the net, and his confidence is through the roof.
I soured on Zherdev by the beginning of the regular season but, during the preseason, I was convinced that he and Giroux would be among the most enjoyable duos to watch in the entire league. Zherdev has the capability of being one of the league’s elite players but he has neither the determination nor the presence of mind to be consistent.
James van Riemsdyk has gone through similar highs and lows to start the season. Since being a healthy scratch, he has played stronger and been one of the best Flyers on the ice at times but you already get the sense that is once again waning. I’m still convinced he’ll turn out to be a very good NHL player but this most certainly will not be a breakout year for him.
Result: 0 for 2 [source]
Total score: 7 out of 10.
We will revisit these predictions at the halfway mark of the season.