Flight Plan: Now Boarding

Image courtesy of Steve Jacot

Welcome back everyone. The 2013-2014 NHL Regular Season is finally upon us. Tuesday is the first day of the season for a handful of teams, and the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished their preseason off at a dismal 0-5-1, are ready to kick off their year on Wednesday with a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, before travelling up to Canada to play the Montreal Canadiens this Saturday. You can purchase tickets for either of these games through Tiqiq here: http://www.tiqiq.com/nhl/philadelphia-flyers-tickets/?publisherid=1260333

Most of the roster from last year’s team is returning, but there are a few notable departures and additions to Philadelphia. Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out over the summer and former-Flyer Ray Emery was signed to split time in net with Steve Mason. The two biggest acquisitions however were defenseman Mark Streit and forward Vincent Lecavalier.

Both of these guys were captains with their former clubs, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning respectively, and both are extremely offensively gifted. Streit is a known power play specialist and is good for about 50 points a year, which should lift the burden off of Kimmo Timonen’s shoulders a bit as the team’s only true offensive weapon over the past couple of seasons.

When healthy, Lecvalier brings a ton to the table. The 6’4”, 215 pound Quebec native is a perennial 20 goal scorer, has garnered over 70 points in five of his 14 seasons in the NHL, and is not afraid to drop the mitts when necessary to either spark his team or come to the aid of a teammate. But perhaps the most important thing that Lecavalier will be relied upon for, is winning face-offs, which he has done with regularity throughout his career. Either way, this team should be a lot better in their transition game and can hopefully control the play more often off the draw.

Jake Voracek may miss the opener. The winger left a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils with an upper-body injury, but everyone else should be healthy and ready to go, as the Flyers will look to get back into the playoffs after missing them last year in the newly-minted Metropolitan Division.

Toronto Maple Leafs on 10.02.2013 at 7:30 in Philadelphia

The Toronto Maple Leafs won two of the three meetings between these clubs in the lock-out shortened 2013 season. The Leafs have size, speed, and have even added some depth between the pipes with the surprise acquisition of the highly touted former-Los Angeles Kings netminder, Jonathan Bernier. They have also added former-Chicago Blackhawk Dave Bolland and former-New Jersey Devil David Clarkson to their forward corps, though Clarkson will miss the first 10 games of the season for leaving the bench to start an altercation. Forwards Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and James van Riemsdyk are all returning and expected to repeat last year’s performance, which saw the team reach the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, though they were eliminated in the first round in seven games by the Boston Bruins. The Maple leafs also boast a pretty defensive group as well led by captain Dion Phaneuf. The emergence of Jake Gardiner should continue as he impressed with great poise while handling the puck in six playoffs games last year, as he tallied one goal and four assists in six games. The goaltending tandem of Bernier and James Reimer could be one of the best in the NHL if both stay healthy and the competition for the starting role is more beneficial than detrimental. If the Flyers can prevent the Maple Leafs from striking quick like they did in their two wins last year, then they could win this game.

Montreal Canadiens on 10.05.2013 at 7:00 in Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs last year, but were taken out by the Ottawa Senators in just five games. The Canadiens have added former-Flyer Danny Briere to the mix, and he figures to start somewhere on the team’s second line. The Canadiens’ forward corps is lacking in big names, but is still a good group led by captain Brian Gionta, Rene Borque, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, and Tomas Plekanec are all capable of putting up numbers if they are allowed time and space. The Canadiens’ real strength however, comes from their blue line and in net. 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban is Montreal’s top defenseman, and he finished the 2013 season tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ Kris Letang for most points amongst defensemen in the NHL with 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 42 games (Letang had 38 points in just 35 games). The Habs added Douglas Murray to their corps which includes Francis Bouillon, Raphael Diaz, Davis Drewiske, Alexi Emelin, Josh Gorges, and Andrei Markov. Under coach Michel Therrien, the Canadiens were able to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference last year in goals against and second in goals for, which is a recipe for success. Carey Price has blossomed into one of the better goaltenders in the NHL over the past couple of years, and despite having somewhat of a down year last season, he still finished with four shutouts and 21 wins to his credit. If the Flyers can stifle the Montreal attack then they should get the two points here.