Flyers

End to End: 2017-18 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

End to End: 2017-18 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

In 2017-18, the Flyers will look to avoid back-to-back seasons without the playoffs for the first time since 1989-94, when the club suffered five straight postseason absences.

With that, among many other compelling components, this season certainly isn't lacking for storylines (see Fearless Forecast).

Will an infusion of youth and new roles bring playoff hockey back to Philadelphia?

We have answers with a special prediction-themed End to End from reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, before the Flyers' season opener Wednesday night against the Sharks.

Boruk

Flyers prediction/outlook
You want the good news or the bad news first?

Let’s begin with the good: The Flyers have one thing clearly working in their favor this season — history. They have not missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1992-94 when Eric Lindros broke into the league.

Since then, the Flyers have missed the playoffs on four different occasions. On the previous three occasions, they were able to bounce back and reach the playoffs the next season. Will they make it 4 for 4 in 2017-18? I think they will. For starters, they’re a deeper team both at the forward position and on defense, and I think the goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will provide stability.

However, this is a Flyers team that has not finished higher than fifth in the titanium tough Metropolitan Division in each of the past three seasons. It may be able to sneak its way into fourth place, but that may be its ceiling. 

So, here’s what I see for the Flyers: 42-28-12, 96 points, fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and a spot in the playoffs, where they’ll face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
This will be the season Steven Stamkos stays healthy, Nikita Kucherov is a finalist for the Hart Trophy and the Lightning win the Atlantic Division. 

Connor McDavid will win the Art Ross Trophy for the second consecutive season, and the Oilers and Lightning will meet in the Stanley Cup Final, with the Oilers winning it all.

Dougherty

Flyers prediction/outlook
Welp, last year didn’t end well for me.

Anyways, I do see the Flyers getting back into the playoffs this season. They’re deeper at forward with a legitimate top six and a potential 20-goal scorer (Travis Konecny) on the third line. Dale Weise will be the fan’s punching bag this season, which is, well, much better than Chris VandeVelde or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

The defense, led by Ivan Provorov, will be better. Robert Hagg and Sam Morin (or Travis Sanheim, or all three?) will have solid rookie years and we’ll see more consistency from Shayne Gostisbehere in Year 3. The goaltending is the big question.

Can Neuvirth stay healthy? What will Elliott give the Flyers? How many games will Alex Lyon see in 2017-18? I think they’ll get solid enough goaltending to make the playoffs — perhaps even win a round, too. No Cup for the Flyers this season.

But playoffs? Sure, I think they can get there. And with Nolan Patrick centering the second line, and a top-heavy first line, yeah, I could see this team winning a series.

As long as it avoids Pittsburgh in the first round.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
Injuries have made this harder for me. Banged up and bruised, I cannot (wrongly) predict, for a fifth straight season, a Stanley Cup appearance for the St. Louis Blues.

I can’t bet against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two Stanley Cups in less than 365 days. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. For now. Phil Kessel, hot dogs and all. Pittsburgh returns for a third straight Cup appearance, proving kings of the East again. It’ll be a tougher road to the Final, but the Penguins get there. Again. Sorry, Philly.

The Penguins become the first team since the Islanders, from 1980 to 1983, when New York won four straight, to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. Pittsburgh beats ...

Edmonton in six games and a Stanley Cup Final the NHL would absolutely hit pay dirt with. It’ll be Crosby against McDavid, the best in the world against the next one. I like this Edmonton team. Think its defense is finally respectable, and with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, its 1-2 punch at center is ridiculous. Cam Talbot provides steady goaltending again and Edmonton gets into the Final for the first time since 2006.

Hall

Flyers prediction/outlook
Think about how different this team is compared to last season's opening lineup.

In 2016-17, the Flyers kicked things off with a third line of Nick Cousins, Bellemare and Weise. The fourth unit: VandeVelde, Boyd Gordon and Matt Read — all three not currently in the NHL. Michael Raffl, who could be in a fight for playing time this season, was on the first line.

The defense featured Mark Streit and Nick Schultz, 38 and 34 years old, respectively, at the time.

Sure, Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas were missing because of suspensions, but these 2017-18 Flyers should be better after some significant maintenance.

Now, you get Jordan Weal for a full season, as well as Valtteri Filppula. Weal is primed for a prominent role, while Filppula legitimizes the bottom six with his experience and ability.

The 2017 No. 2 overall pick Patrick is here at 19 years old, set to start what Flyers fans hope is a prosperous career in orange and black.

Konecny is a third-line option because of the overhaul and depth. Raffl has become a probable fourth-liner, alongside players like Scott Laughton (2012 first-round pick), Taylor Leier (23-year-old AHL All-Star) and Jori Lehtera (33 career playoff games in three seasons with the Blues).

And we haven't even mentioned the possibility of anticipated prospect Oskar Lindblom as a call-up from the AHL at some point.

While on defense, Provorov is a year better, Gostisbehere is healthy with rediscovered confidence, and one or two rookies — maybe even three — will push the youth movement forward on the back end.

The biggest concern is the goaltending (in Philadelphia, you don't say!) because the tandem of Neuvirth and Elliott could be pleasantly formidable or really bad.

Overall, though, it's hard to deny the Flyers' improved makeup. With younger players making the NHL jump, expectations need to be tempered, but this is an important season in the rebuild and for the future of the team's core.

I do see the playoffs coming back to Philadelphia but a hard-fought, first-round series loss being the final result of the Flyers' 2017-18 campaign.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
Shield your eyes, Flyers fans (but don't actually, please keep reading).

The Penguins just have a special feel to them.

The mainstay pieces are still very much in their primes, creating a perfect blend with the team's surrounding youth. I see Crosby and company hoisting a third straight Stanley Cup because the Penguins don't appear to be slowing down yet.

As for their foe in the final, I'm still high on the Blackhawks. The Brandon Saad reunion will pay off largely, youngsters Alex DeBrincat and John Hayden will help, and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the rest should be ticked off after being flattened by the Predators buzz saw in last year's first round.

Let's go Penguins in seven games.

Paone

Flyers prediction/outlook
Preseason is just preseason, but there are times when you can get at least some type of feel from a team after a preseason.

That's not the case with this Flyers team. I feel like they are just stuck in this state of limbo right now. Could a bounce back fueled by hell-bent veterans and supplemented by eye-popping younger players be in store? Sure it could. Could a total flop happen that sees underperforming pieces, no matter the experience, slog through another season marred by inconsistency and disappointment? Sure it could.

This Flyers team could easily trend in either direction. At season's end, we could be saying to ourselves that was tangible progress or we could have even more questions than from before the season began.

And, to me, when you struggle to get a feel or your finger on the pulse of a team, that's not the sign of a great team. That's not a sign of a team I have confidence in to make a push to the playoffs, especially in a stacked Metropolitan Division that features some of the league's heavyweights in Pittsburgh and Washington, constant thorns in the Flyers' side in the New York Rangers and Columbus, and a spunky, up-and-coming Carolina team that could be a problem this season.

The Flyers' outlook this season, for me, is too murky. Too many variables. Too many unanswered questions. Too many things have to fall into place.

I see the Flyers hanging around the playoff mix, but ultimately coming up short, much like last season. I see them finishing behind Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, the Rangers, Carolina and the Islanders in the Metro.

But, I do see more rookie and youthful contributions coming. And while those players will take their lumps, watching them develop will be an exciting storyline throughout the season.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
As for my Stanley Cup Final prediction, well, there's an old saying popularized by Nature Boy Ric Flair that goes a little something like this … "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." And right now, the Penguins are "the man" until proven otherwise. They are just so deep with talent, youth, speed and skill at every turn.

From the West, I'm still a big fan of what the Sharks have put together. Patrick Marleau is in Toronto now, but they are still dynamic with the likes of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns. And Joe Thornton? That guy's a legend. Martin Jones is a rock in net, too.

In the end, likely much to your chagrin, gimmie the Penguins in six games again. The crown is theirs until someone takes it.

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

ap-flyers-laughton-sanheim.jpg
AP Images

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.