Five Questions: What can we expect from the Flyers this week as they return from the All-Star break?

Flyers Faithful asked Dustin Leed from The Fourth Period and The Hockey Guys, Stephen Whyno from Philly Sports Daily, David Strehle from NHL Hot Stove, and our very own Nick D five questions about the ’11 Flyers’ season. We are very grateful that they took the time to share their opinions and predictions with us. Each day of this week, we will run the answers to one of those questions. Today’s question is:

What can we expect from the Flyers this week as they return from the All-Star break?

Dustin Leed: The Flyers kick off the unofficial part of their second half of the season in Tampa Bay and return home for a four-game homestand against some decent competition. I think these four games against Nashville, Los Angeles, Dallas and Carolina will be a great measuring stick for the Flyers to see how they stack up against the Western Conference. Philadelphia has had their trouble against the West in recent memory and I would expect to see a hungry Flyers squad coming off of the All-Star break.

Stephen Whyno: The same old, same old, which fortunately for Flyers fans (and unfortunate for the rest of the league), means a lot of winning. This team is focused, determined and doesn’t ever want to lose. Coach Peter Laviolette was asked if he wanted to get the top overall seed and he said, “Oh God yeah.” So expect more of the same, with the goaltenders alternating pretty frequently.

David Strehle: The Flyers return from the All-Star break with a bang, heading to Tampa Bay to take on one of the NHL’s hottest team in the Lightning.  The Bolts own the league’s second-best home record and tops in the Eastern Conference, and are led by NHL scoring leader Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.  The Lightning have beaten Philly in both of their previous meetings this season, both of which were in Philadelphia, so it should be a good measuring stick for the Flyers, who coincidentally own the NHL’s best road record.

The Flyers then return home to play the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, the fourth and third place teams in the Western Conference, respectively, as they round out the week following the break.  Both clubs have very good road records and present their own challenges for the Orange-and-Black.  But one thing both possess are stifling defenses, something the balanced Flyers attack will attempt to crack.

Nick D: I think we can expect more of what we saw in the first half. If Chris Pronger is back in the lineup, we may see the Flyers being more defensively sound and definitely better at getting the puck out of their own zone, as well as seeing more point production from the power play as they’ll have two big guns from the point then.  The Flyers are a deep team from top to bottom. I think the biggest surprise is probably the goaltending and how well Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher have played. They don’t see a lot of quality chances in most games, but they make the saves they need to most times to keep the team within striking distance if they’re down and in some cases, like the game against the Vancouver Canucks, be their best player. It’s unfortunate that Boucher hasn’t gotten a whole lot of press, but he’s been really good for the Flyers over both of these past two years, he just doesn’t have a great record. He’s kept the team in games and in some cases stolen the show. I think that Bob Clarke likely ruined Boucher’s chances of being a true number one early in his career by dealing him and I still believe that.

Goalies take time and we’ve seen guys who don’t hit their prime until they’re in their early to mid thirties sometimes. Look at Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas. These guys almost get better with age and I think Boucher deserves a shot at being the go to guy on a good team, so it’s almost like making up for lost time now with Boucher finally getting his feet under him and not being on a complete mess of a team as well as getting some starts due to his play. It’s a true testament to the player when a coach like Peter Laviolette is able to feel confident enough to let him string starts together. We all know that Boucher is capable of getting hot and going cold, but he’s been rock steady for the Flyers this season and I hate when people look at his GAA, his amount of shutouts, or his win loss record and go “it’s just typical Boucher, giving up bad goals” when it’s really not and it hasn’t been since last year. I think he’s obviously capable of getting on a hot streak, but he’s never really been given a shot at being a number one goalie and obviously on this team, he’ll get his starts if he’s playing well. But I don’t think he’s ever been that streaky these past two years, it’s just that he plays much better when he gets more starts as do most goalies. He’ll give up a bad goal here and there, but everyone does.