Now Boarding: Finally the National Hockey League’s brand of professional ice hockey will be back where it belongs: on the ice, in the arenas, in front of the fans in those buildings and at home.
The Philadelphia Flyers opened training camp officially yesterday and will have a free open session at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday at 6 p.m. This week there will be back-to-back games for the Orange and Black, and they will surely be high energy and intensity games. The regular season opener will surely be a classic as the Flyers host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 3 PM live on NBC, and they play again on Sunday as they visit the Buffalo Sabres at 12:30 PM live on NBC. If they’re not sold out already, get your Philadelphia Flyers tickets here!
Air Traffic Control: The Flyers, despite the late start this season, will be missing two huge pieces in defenseman Andrej Meszaros and forward Danny Briere, as well as two likely call-ups in Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson. However, there are quite a few new faces that will get a chance to compete for spots on the blue-line, including summer acquisition Luke “The Human Eraser” Schenn, and two off-season signees Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster. Interesting thing about all three of these new assets is that they are all right-handed shots, something the Flyers haven’t had in a long time. Everyone else figures to be in the lineup, though Scott Laughton may make the team right out of training camp in the fourth line center role. It doesn’t appear as if any Penguins will be out of the lineup, though their final roster is yet to be confirmed as they’ve invited 15 forwards, nine defensemen, and two goalies, for a total of 26 players to their camp. The Sabres also look as if they’re ready to go with their full roster being healthy for Sunday.
Checked Bags: Philadelphia absolutely owned Pittsburgh last year as they went four and two in the 82-game regular season slate and knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs after just six games. The Flyers outscored the Penguins 26 to 16 before the games really mattered, and 30 to 26 when they did. None of that is important now as both teams have had almost eight full months away from NHL hockey, but one thing is certain going into this game that has held true for the past few years: these two teams do not like each other, not one iota. This game will be dirty, it will be gritty, the potential for a high scoring game is there but the potential for a high penalty minute count is there as well. Last year in the season series between the two, there were 235 penalty minutes (including 10 minute misconducts, but not game misconducts) that were pretty well deserved, and 269 penalty minutes (including 10-minute misconducts, but not game misconducts) in the playoff series. It’s safe to say that there should be a fun one. As for the Sabres, they really turned it on towards the middle-end of last season and should be a much tougher challenge this year than last, as the Flyers won all four meetings between the two clubs.
Flight Pattern: It should be interesting to see if the Flyers can recreate the success they achieved last year with most of their forward corps returning. The Penguins obviously have three big guns in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal. Crosby had a big playoff after missing most of the regular season last year as had eight points (three goals, five assists) in six games. Malkin also had eight points (three goals, five assists) in the series, but he was rendered largely ineffective and never got his game going due in large part to one Sean Couturier who did a masterful job against the 6’3” 195 pound Russian center. Malkin played 37 games in Russia during the lockout and had 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) overseas with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Neal had six points (two goals, four assists) in five games.
The Flyers will also look to continue their winning ways against the Sabres. One thing that has been a given since the two teams met two years ago in the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals, is Buffalo’s starting goaltender Ryan Miller‘s struggles against the Flyers. Miller allowed 14 goals in parts of four games last year, pulled once after giving up three goals in the first period, five twine ticklers the next, four in a relief appearance of Jhonas Enroth, and two in the final game between the two squads. The Flyers will have to try to keep a lid on the 6’2″, 205 pound goal-scoring winger Thomas Vanek who had three points against Philadelphia last year. Winger Drew Stafford also had three points in four games against the Flyers.
For the Flyers, Claude Giroux was able to amass 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in total over the six game playoff series. Jake Voracek had seven points (two goals, five assists) in the playoffs against the Penguins. Once again, Danny Briere was better than a point a game clip in that series as well as he had eight points (five goals, three assists), so being without his services could hurt a little more than at first glance. The Flyers, who won’t have Jaromir Jagr’s services, will need to see more production this year from both Couturier and Brayden Schenn, and this game will be a big test. In the post-season tussle between the two clubs, Couturier got all four of his points in one game (three goals, one assist) while Brayden spread six points (two goals, four assists) over three games. They’ll both need to be more consistent on a game in-game out basis for the team to succeed this year, especially against elite teams like Pittsburgh.
Matt Read had three points in three games, as he missed one with a concussion, against the Sabres. Giroux, again, led the team as he posted a staggering 11 points in those games, one was a five point (all assists) night, and another was a four point affair.
Connecting Flight: If the Flyers want to come out of their first two games of the 2013 short-season with wins, they’ll need to limit the production of the big three for the Penguins and Thomas Vanek for the Sabres, while getting solid goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov and putting pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury and Ryan Miller to make tough saves. Both Fleury and Miller didn’t have their best years against the Flyers, so they will certainly be looking to atone for their performances in 2011-2012. Either way, they should be pretty good tilts to open the year. NHL hockey is back! Let’s go Flyers!