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-Flames observations: Funk continues despite four goals

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USA Today Images

Flyers-Flames observations: Funk continues despite four goals

BOX SCORE

Thursday night, the Flyers couldn’t hold on to a third period lead.

Saturday afternoon against the Flames, they Flyers coughed up a two-goal second-period lead, and Calgary won 5-4 in overtime. Michael Frolik scored the game winner from Micael Backlund.

The Flyers have dropped four straight, three by one goal. 

Flames center Sean Monahan scored a second-period power play hat trick in a span of 7 minutes and 49 seconds.

• Patrick had a prime opportunity to pick up a second goal in the third period when he collected a loose puck cutting across the crease, he just fired it over the net. This was Patrick’s best game in a Flyers sweater, as he was very active in the offensive zone.

• The Flames top line had so many quality chances. Right wing Michael Ferland had a shot from close range that Elliott snared. That top line had 12 shots on net through the first two periods, and for the most part, they were from close range. 

• Travis Konecny had some excellent chances, but his shot has been all over the place the past few games. He had an opportunity to give the Flyers a 5-4 lead but he shot over the net (again) and hit glass.

• Patrick looked a lot better than what we saw in the game in Winnipeg, as expected. In the second period, he had a nice backhand feed from his knees to Wayne Simmonds coming down the slot, as Simmonds had his best scoring opportunity in a long time. The Wayne Train’s shot hit Smith right in the midsection.  

• An unfortunate sequence at the 13:45 mark of the second period during 4-on-4 play. The Flyers had a 3-on-2 opportunity when Provorov sent a pass that was a little too far for Patrick. Provorov could have taken the shot himself.

• Gaudreau almost did it again as he read the puck and made a break towards center ice. Michael Ferland recognized it and tried to send a two-line backhand pass to Gaudreau but the pass was behind him and it slid all the way to Elliott. You almost need a free safety back there keeping an eye on the always sneaky Gaudreau.

• The slashing penalty on Brandon Manning was ridiculous. Manning was simply trying to use his stick against Matt Stajan’s to win a puck battle, and Stajan’s stick wound up snapping in two.  

• Elliott made a terrific glove save on Gaudreau, who tried to pick the upper left corner with a wide open wrist shot. That led to a rebound and no Flyer was there to clean it up.  It all started up top when T.J. Brodie faked a shot, forcing Couturier to go to the ice, and from there the Flyers were all out of position. 

• Not a memorable game for Shayne Gositisbehere. Aside from the first period mishaps described below, he was sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct after saying something to the officials, and then went back to the box 65 seconds later when he got his elbow up on Michael Ferland. Two bad mistakes that cost the Flyers two goals. 

• Sean Monahan scored a second-period (power play) hat trick, with his third goal coming on a one-timer from the left circle. Monahan's absolute bomb beat Elliott glove-side high. 

• The Flyers scored on their first shot of the game,  as Brandon Manning sent a somewhat harmless shot on goal that hit goaltender Mike Smith’s shoulder, off the post, off Smith’s back and over the line. Michael Raffl  provided the takeaway, creating the turnover and keeping the puck in the zone.  

• Two mistakes by Shayne Gostisbehere on one sequence. His outlet pass was picked off by Gaudreau, which led to Sean Monahan’s shot, and then Ghost failed to pick up Michael Ferland on the back end. Ghost doesn’t appear to be playing with much confidence right now. He had a clear opportunity to skate up the ice with the pick and hesitated looking for someone to pass to. When he’s playing with confidence, you can see it with the puck on his stick.

• Wonder why 31-yer-old Kris Versteeg has played for eight teams and can’t seem to stick around? Dumb, selfish plays like we saw in the first period when he takes an unsportsmanlike penalty on Taylor Leier AFTER the lineman blew the whistle for offsides. Versteeg, obviously upset from a previous incident, took a run at Leier, and it cost the Flames a goal. 

• On the Flyers power play, they did exactly what they’ve been trying to do over their last five games. Get shots in from the point and hope for rebound opportunities. Mike Smith gave up a bad one on Voracek’s wrist shot and Couturier continued doing what he’s done all season, camping out in front of the net looking for leftovers. This time he actually put the puck airborne. 

• Subtle but nice move from Jori Lehtera, who stepped into the face-off circle and kicked the puck out to Ivan Provorov, who perfectly placed a shot over Smith’s glove-side shoulder and gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead.

• Couturier almost scored a second goal by nearly converting a backhand on a shorthanded breakaway as he came across the slot he tried to go between Smith’s pads. There was a slight opening, but Smith caught it short side with his right pad and kept it from going in. 

• As he’s been throughout the past four games, Brian Elliott was splendid on a 4-on-3 penalty kill, as he was target practice from Gaudreau, Monahan, Hamilton and Giordano. Elliott made 4 saves in a 40-second span.

Lines, pairings and scratches 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny

Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds

Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hägg

Brandon Manning-Shaybe Gostisbehere

Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Radko Gudas (suspension), Jordan Weal (upper body), Andrew MacDonald (lower body)

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).