Flyers

Flyers-Sharks thoughts: The Nolan Patrick-led youth movement begins tonight

Flyers at Sharks
10:30 p.m. on NBCSN, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 10
 
Ready for the real thing?
 
The Flyers' 2017-18 regular season gets underway tonight with a visit to the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center, opening up a four-game road trip to commence the new campaign.
 
Thanks to a Nolan Patrick-led youth movement and a current core starting to fight the proverbial clock, this Flyers' season brings a fascinating dynamic to the table (see Fearless Forecast).
 
How it all unfolds begins now (see predictions).
 
So, without further ado, here are some thoughts for the season opener:
 
• Let's enjoy Patrick's NHL debut, regardless of how he fares tonight. The fact he's here is still sort of hard to comprehend. Remember when the No. 2 overall pick in the June entry draft just fell into the Flyers' lap courtesy of immense lottery luck? A little over five months ago, the chances of Patrick wearing orange and black were slim to none.
 
Now it's actually here.
 
It sure will be a treat to watch the 19-year-old center night in and night out. He's expected to center the second line between Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. One quote that encapsulates Patrick comes from his uncle, James, in June. "If he's playing with some skilled guys, he will get them the puck, he will make plays," James said. "Put the best players on the ice with him and they will get chances, and chances all night. I think that's what his offensive upside is."
 
• Claude Giroux to the left wing will always be worth watching, and especially now when the games start to matter. It looks like the Flyers' captain will start the season in the new spot, next to Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Giroux put up four assists but no goals in four preseason games of playing left winger. Still, there were tons of positives and it will be interesting to see how long this change sticks. A quick start certainly won't hurt.
 
“It's different with ‘G’ on the left plank. I think he can risk a little bit more than when he was at center,” Voracek said last week. “For his advantage, I think it’s real important that he can use the boards because he’s a very smart player. If you know how to use the boards, it’s a big advantage. I think we’ve been very good and we’ve just got to keep going."
 
• The Flyers are carrying eight defensemen, including three rookies. Two very well may be healthy scratches in the opener, before one of them could be sent back to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley soon. Robert Hagg is the only rookie defenseman playing tonight, while Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim will serve as extras provided Shayne Gostisbehere (upper-body injury) is able to go. Hagg will be paired with Gostisbehere. Nonetheless, the defense will be key in both ends. The Flyers are hoping a lot of their offense can come from the blueliners joining the rush and making plays.
 
• Last season, the Sharks surrendered the fourth-fewest goals at 2.44 per game, which helped outweigh them scoring just 2.67 per game, only two spots ahead of the Flyers. Goalie Martin Jones was strong at 35-23-6 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. San Jose, which was just in the Stanley Cup Final two years ago, is top heavy with formidable names in Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton.
 
• The Sharks went 26-11-4 at home last season, while the Flyers went 14-22-5 on the road. The Flyers have lost four of their last five season openers and 17 of their last 21 matchups to San Jose.
 
• Keep an eye on the power play, which never found great rhythm or consistency during the preseason and is under new instruction from first-year assistant coach Kris Knoblauch. The man advantage wasn't of great emphasis early in training camp, so some patience may be required.
 
• Brian Elliott will make his Flyers debut tonight. Elliott was 26-18-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 49 games last season with the Flames.