Flyers

Flyers-Capitals thoughts: Can big boys change trend vs. Washington in home opener?

Flyers-Capitals thoughts: Can big boys change trend vs. Washington in home opener?

Updated: 11:35 a.m.

Flyers (2-2-0) vs. Capitals (3-1-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6

The Flyers are one of two NHL teams still yet to play a game in their own digs.

But that changes Saturday night.

The 2017-18 home opener is finally here as the Flyers welcome the Washington Capitals to the Wells Fargo Center after opening with four straight road games.

Let's get you set for puck drop with some thoughts before Game 5 of the season.

• Beginning with the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals have become a major thorn in the sides of the Flyers' big boys. In four games against Washington last season, Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek combined for one goal and one assist. In the first-round playoff series defeat two seasons ago, the four totaled a pair of goals and four assists in six games.

The Flyers are much deeper this season, but Giroux, Gostisbehere, Simmonds and Voracek remain the offensive focal points. They've been neutralized and outplayed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, while goalie Braden Holtby has represented a nemesis.

Can Giroux and company start to shift the unbalance? It must happen if the Flyers want to be more competitive with the Capitals this season, starting Saturday.

• Speaking of the Capitals, following more postseason failure, they're off to another hot start and look dangerous as usual, led by who else but Ovechkin. The Russian sniper scored 33 goals last season after three straight campaigns of 50 or more. Just when you thought maybe this was the start of him slowing down, the 32-year-old rips off nine goals in his first five games this season. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kuznetsov are the NHL's early leaders with 10 points apiece.

• One positive for the Flyers is they haven't played since Tuesday. Meanwhile, Washington played the Penguins on Wednesday (lost, 3-2) and the Devils last night (won, 5-2), making Saturday the second game of a back-to-back set for the Capitals. The Flyers should have fresh legs and shouldn't be lacking for energy provided it's the home opener coming off a frustrating 6-5 loss in Nashville.

• Although it's early, we're already starting to see the benefits of the Flyers' improved depth. Through the team's first four games last season, six players had scored goals. This season, nine Flyers have already tallied a marker. Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick playing third-line roles? Those are first-round picks at 20 and 19 years old, respectively, giving the Flyers playmaking threats in the bottom six, something we didn't see much of at all in 2016-17 (see story). Just think about Tuesday's game. The Flyers nearly won a 6-5 slugfest against the defending Western Conference champs without a goal from Giroux, Gostisbehere, Simmonds, Voracek, Ivan Provorov, Jordan Weal and Sean Couturier. That's a good sign.

• The Flyers have lost four of their last five home openers. In order to win this one, they'll want to play with controlled aggression and puck discipline.

"Don't turn pucks over,” Simmonds said Friday of the Capitals (see story). "That's when they hurt you. They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team."

As the Flyers have seen, Washington is a team that doesn't need help to score. When it gets it, it tends to take advantage. The Flyers have already allowed five power-play goals for a 70.6 penalty-kill percentage, tied for 30th in the NHL.

• The Flyers' morning skate in Voorhees, New Jersey, was optional. Brian Elliott took the typical preparation of the starter and was the first off the ice, signaling he'll be between the pipes. Elliott is 6-5-0 with a 3.31 GAA and .888 save percentage in 13 lifetime matchups with Washington. Michal Neuvirth is 1-1-0 with a 3.14 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in three games against his former team. He was strong against the Capitals in the 2016 playoffs.

• Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen suffered an upper-body injury Friday and was placed on long-term injured reserve.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.