With 4-game trip to begin season, Flyers more suited for road success in 2017-18

With 4-game trip to begin season, Flyers more suited for road success in 2017-18

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dave Hakstol displayed a rare moment of humor Tuesday when he jokingly said, “I haven’t sent the thank-you card yet to NHL scheduling.” 

More like thanks, but no thanks.

Whoever’s responsible for the unenviable task of compiling the 82-game schedule for each of the 31 teams has the Flyers as the home opening opponent for three different clubs: the Sharks, Kings and Predators. Essentially, the Flyers will have to endure an extended pregame ceremony in each of the three cities, which will also include a banner-raising night for the Western Conference champions in Nashville on Oct. 10.

“It can be a little frustrating,” defenseman Brandon Manning said. “You have to be professional about it. There’s no other way to deal with it. Find a way to get yourself ready and it’s no different than guys playing in their first NHL game. It’s just part of the game. I don’t think that will be a real issue for us. Once you play in one (home opener), you’ll be ready for the next one.”

But how prepared will the Flyers be for the entire 41-game road slate? Last season, the Flyers were 22 points better at the Wells Fargo Center, and following their 10-game winning streak, they proceeded to win just six of their final 27 games on the road. General manager Ron Hextall suggested perhaps the Flyers just didn’t have the mental fortitude required of a playoff team.

“I think there’s a certain mentality of playing on the road. It’s hard,” Hextall said. “It’s not cushy like home. You don’t have all your fans there. You don’t go to your house for a pregame meal, you don’t go to the rink for a pregame skate. You’re traveling. You’re not playing the day before typically. It’s something we have to get better at. We’ve talked about and we have to have a better road record. Our home record we have to maintain and we have to be better on the road. No question about it.”

It will ultimately become the difference between the Flyers qualifying for the postseason or staying at home for the fourth time in a six-year span. Of the 16 teams that qualified for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 15 had a winning record or a point differential above .500 on the road. Had the Flyers finished with just four more road victories and a record of 18-18-5, that would have been enough to overtake the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild-card spot last season.

“I think the last few years, we haven’t been as good on the road as we were at home, and that’s just a fact, for any team in the league,” Claude Giroux said. “You need to find a way to get those wins, get those extra points on the road. It’s not easy to go into another building, but we need to find a way, whatever that is, to find a way to get those points.”

Hextall believes he’s done his part by constructing a team that will allow the Flyers to be a tougher matchup for their opponents, who have the last change on faceoffs. With Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula and Scott Laughton comprising your four centers to start the season, the Flyers appear to be better defensively to play the type of game required in a visitor’s arena. 

“I think our depth right now is better than what we’ve had in the past,” Hextall said. “So in terms of matchups, I definitely think we’re better off. You don’t dictate many of the matchups on the road as you do at home. We’re certainly better off with the depth we have. I think we’re strong in the middle. I feel good about our team right now, but in the end, we have to make it happen.”

First-round knockouts
For an organization that has subscribed to a win-now mentality in the past, and has often mortgaged its future to make that happen, you may be genuinely surprised to see that the Flyers' opening night roster has more first-round picks drafted by the organization than any other team in the league. 

Within the Flyers' 23-man roster, the organization can claim eight first-round picks (Giroux, Couturier, Patrick, Travis Konecny, Laughton, Ivan Provorov, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim). The Islanders, Capitals and Kings currently have seven of their own first-rounders on their rosters.

Bring their 'A' game
On Tuesday night, the Flyers voted in a pair of new alternate captains who will replace Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Mark Streit, who both served as alternates depending on where the Flyers were playing.

Beginning tonight and for the next three games, Andrew MacDonald will wear the 'A' along with Wayne Simmonds, who will be an alternate all season, on the road. Filppula will take over MacDonald's duties for the Flyers' 41 home games, beginning with the home opener Oct. 14 against the Capitals.

MacDonald, who will wear it Wednesday and for the next week, also served as an alternate with the Islanders.

"Obviously, it's a big honor and a big responsibility to have your peers and teammates choose you for that situation," MacDonald said Wednesday. "It's pretty special. I'm familiar with leadership roles and what it's all about. Being an older guy now, I've picked up a lot of things along the way."

Filppula wore the 'A' during the preseason in his time with the Red Wings, but never during the regular season.

“It means a lot and hopefully I can do a good job,” Filppula said. “It’s always an honor to be part of the captain’s group, especially coming from the other teammates. It’s a big thing personally.” 

Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

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Flyers’ goaltending grades and outlook for next season

Over the next three days we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. First up, goaltending: 

Brian Elliott

Regular Season:
(23-11-7, 2.66 GAA, .909 save%)

Playoffs: C- 
(1-3, 4.74 GAA, .856 save%)

Elliott seized the starting job at the beginning of the season and helped pull the team out of the depths of a 10-game winless streak. His quality start percentage of .476 was below league average, but he was solid in games when given a lead until he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery in February. Dave Hakstol pulled “Moose” in two of the four playoff games he started in the playoffs.

Elliott admitted he needed to tear up the scar tissue once he resumed hockey activities to gain a full range of motion. A month ago, the pain was so unbearable it prevented him from putting on shoes and socks. He certainly wasn’t healthy in the six games he played in April, which contributed to his poor play and he’s still dealing with issues. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Philadelphia and expects to be 100 percent by training camp.

2018-19 outlook: Elliott has one year remaining on the two-year deal he signed in the summer of 2017 and will enter 2018-19 as the Flyers’ starting goaltender as long as he’s healthy.  

Michal Neuvirth

Regular Season: B- 
(9-7-3, 2.60 GAA, .915 save%)

(1-1, 4.40 GAA, .847 save%)

How unreliable was Michal Neuvirth this season? At no point did Neuvirth start three consecutive games as he was plagued with a multitude of injuries. Had the Flyers won Sunday, Game 7 would have been the first time. Neuvirth was solid in the Flyers’ Game 5 victory in Pittsburgh, but he wouldn’t have overcome the Flyers defensive breakdowns over the course of an entire series.   

Neuvirth will have arthroscopic surgery on both hips and his injury frequency has now led him to hire sports performance trainer Adam Francilia, Neuvrth’s third different trainer over the past three years. Francila has been instrumental in the offseason conditioning of goaltenders Conor Hellebuyck and Devan Dubnyk. “It’s going to be hard for my family,” Neuvirth said. He will spend the majority of his offseason in Kelowna, British Columbia. 

2018-19 outlook: Like Elliott, Neuvirth is signed through next season and will likely start the season as Elliott’s backup. However, if the Flyers feel Neuvirth’s injury risk is too high, they be more inclined to trade Neuvirth and bring in someone more reliable.

Petr Mrazek

Regular Season: C-
(14-13-6, 3.03 GAA, .902 save%)

Playoffs: No grade
(1 GP, 3.87 GAA, .857 save%)

With three wins in his first three starts, Ron Hextall appeared to have engineered one of the great goaltending heists in Flyers history. However, reality set in and Mrazek’s game quickly tanked. In his final 13 regular starts, Mrazek allowed three or more goals in all but two of those games, and was he pulled in the second period in one of those two. His only playoff action came in relief of Elliott in Game 1.

While Mrazek stated in his exit interview he was able to show teams what he could do once he got a chance to play, he ultimately cost himself millions of dollars by slumping in March.

2018-19 outlook: Mrazek is a restricted free agent and the Flyers can qualify him at 105 percent of his $4 million salary for next season. No way that happens, so the Flyers can attempt to trade Mrazek to a team that will qualify him or he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. 

Alex Lyon

Regular Season: B-
(4-2-1, 2.75 GAA, .905 save%)

Playoffs: No Grade

With injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth, Lyon provided stability during a stormy period when the Flyers’ season could have gone off the rails. He earned his first win in relief on Neuvirth at Madison Square Garden, and for whatever reason, Lyon had considerably better numbers coming off the bench. He had a tendency of lunging for pucks and he looked unsettling at times, but still found a way to get the job done.  

2018-19 outlook: Lyon is the Phantoms’ starter in the AHL playoffs, but with the addition of Carter Hart next season and the impending health of Anthony Stolarz, there’s a chance Lyon could be third on the depth chart as the Flyers could have a rare surplus in goaltending at the minor league level. Don’t be surprised if Lyon is traded this summer to a team that may view him as an NHL backup or an AHL starter. 

Ivan Provorov played Game 6 with a Grade 3 AC separation

Ivan Provorov played Game 6 with a Grade 3 AC separation

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ivan Provorov revealed Wednesday he played his final postseason game with a Grade 3 AC separation — an injury in which the collarbone separates from the shoulder blade.

Provorov will not require surgery but will need eight weeks to properly heal. The Flyers’ No. 1 defenseman was given medical clearance to play and was injected with a number of pain-numbing shots prior to Game 6, but ultimately the severity of the injury was too much to overcome.

“It was really frustrating going down in the third period, where I was starting to lose the feeling in my arm,” Provorov said. “I lost the puck a bunch of times and turned it over. As a competitor, it’s hard not to be out there and not try to do everything to help the team win.”

Provorov’s injury is the same Grade 3 separation that Redskins tight end Jordan Reed suffered in 2016. Reed sat out two weeks of the regular season before returning to action against the Eagles. Provorov was back on the ice two days after his injury.

As physically impaired as he was, Provorov was just as visibly emotional on the bench when it was inevitable the Flyers would be eliminated.

“Yeah, it definitely still hurts,” Provorov said. “I hate losing, what can I say.

“I think we can come back strong next year and keep growing as a team, and try and become a better team than we were this year and do better in the playoffs.”

Provorov increased his point total from 30 in his rookie season to 41 during his sophomore campaign, while nearly tripling his goal production from six goals to 17, as well as drastically improving his plus/minus rating from a minus-6 to a plus-17.

“I think I had a pretty good year," Provorov said. "Three, four or five games this year where I didn’t play like myself. It wasn’t because I wasn’t mentally prepared or did anything like that. Sometimes it happens. I think I’ve improved since last year and I’m a better player than I was a year ago and a better player now than I was at the start of the year.”

Provorov’s durability and resiliency have already set him apart. He has yet to miss a game in his two-year Flyers career and is the current franchise record holder with 164 consecutive games to start a career.

Provorov’s injury will not derail his rigorous offseason conditioning program that he’ll start in July. 

He’ll also be entering the final season of his three-year entry-level contract. The Flyers will have the option of extending Provorov’s contract starting this summer.