Flyers

End to End: 2016-17 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

End to End: 2016-17 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

Flyers hockey is back.

Dave Hakstol and company open the 2016-17 regular season Friday in Los Angeles against the Kings (10:30 p.m./CSN).

Throughout the season, our resident hockey analysts will discuss hot topics surrounding the team.

Let's start with a special prediction-focused End to End, featuring Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio, CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Panaccio

Flyers prediction/outlook
The Flyers won't win the Metropolitan Division.

The Penguins will but I see the Flyers getting into the playoffs via the wild card, just as they did last season.

A lot could go very smoothly for them if they get off to a quick start instead of chasing the entire pack, start to finish, as they have the past three seasons. 

Stanley Cup Final prediction
I have Tampa Bay winning the Cup over the St. Louis Blues. 

We will never know whether the Bolts would have beaten Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals had Steven Stamkos been healthy and playing the entire series. I think a healthy Stamkos makes the difference this season. 

It is virtually impossible in the NHL to repeat as Cup champions. No one has done it since Detroit before the turn of the new millennium. That said, the Penguins brought back nearly their entire roster and did not lose a single core player. 

St. Louis plays in the toughest division in hockey and this figures to be Ken Hitchcock's last season before he moves into management. 

Dougherty

Flyers prediction/outlook
The Flyers are no doubt a playoff team again in 2016-17, strictly because of their goaltending. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth give them a fighting chance at finishing third in the Metropolitan Division, and with a slightly improved team from last season, an opportunity to move past the opening round. Still, I don't see them going far.

With Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov on the Flyers, this season will be exciting to watch. Konecny gives the orange and black, on paper, a legitimate top six. They have two lines with scoring potential, and I think we see Sean Couturier break out this year.

The defense is still not perfect, but Provorov will help the team make incremental improvements on the blue line. I expect Shayne Gostisbehere to regress in his sophomore season, and I believe we saw glimpses of that in the preseason.

So Philadelphia gets another round of playoff hockey, which is always exciting. Anything can happen once late April comes around. They'll be there again. No doubt in my mind.

The Flyers finish third in the Metropolitan and lose in the opening round of the postseason.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
In Hitchcock’s final season as head coach, the St. Louis Blues will finally enjoy a deep playoff run in 2016-17, and hoist the Stanley Cup in June, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. I will most likely be wrong because I have been the last four years.

The Blues have been my Cup pick each of the past four seasons. Call it ignorance, call it whatever you want, but there’s too much to like about this group for me not to pick them again. Their defense is one of the deepest in the league, they have a bunch of skill up front and they finally settled in on a goalie. This is the year they finally figure it out.

Hall

Flyers prediction/outlook
I know we should exercise patience with two 19-year-old rookies, but my gut tells me at least one will make a sizable splash this season.

The more we saw Konecny during the preseason, the more it looked like he could add a serious and much-needed element of playmaking to the Flyers.

Provorov was just as impressive. He was durable and reliable in all facets. It’s clear he can strengthen the Flyers’ defense.

Even general manager Ron Hextall, a master of prudence, couldn’t keep the kids down.

The pair will make the Flyers better — and more than we think. The defense isn’t where it should be, but the Flyers should see an uptick in scoring, strong goaltending and an improved penalty kill.

The orange and black still have a ways to go, but 2016-17 will be a healthy step forward.

They'll just miss out on third place in the Metropolitan Division, snag a wild-card spot but lose in the first round.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
I’m going to say the Capitals finally erase their ghosts of postseason failure and win the Cup this season.

They remain loaded and should be angrier and more determined than ever after bowing out again before the conference finals.

Let’s go Capitals over the Blackhawks.

Paone

Flyers prediction/outlook
The infusion of stud rookies Provorov and Konecny will make the Flyers markedly better this season. They each fill needs the Flyers have had for a while now — an all-round anchor on the blue line and a scoring winger — and do so at cheap rates, which helps the cap situation.

But do two 19-year-olds make the Flyers better than others in the top-heavy Metropolitan Division at this point in time? Probably not. Outside of those two, the Flyers return basically the same team as last season. While that team made great strides in reaching the playoffs last season and should continue to grow in Hakstol’s second year at the helm, it still isn't near the level of the Penguins or Capitals yet. The Islanders have boatloads of talent and the Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist.

That said, I do see the Flyers making their way into the playoffs as a wild card, just as they did last season. But I don’t see them getting past the Caps, Pens, Lightning or Panthers just yet. Those teams are just way too deep.

Next year is the year to target for a bigger Flyers jump as cap dollars roll out and more and more young talent is able to roll in. But, hey, that’s why they play the games, right?

The Flyers finish fifth in the Metro, make the playoffs as a wild card and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

I envision the Metro breaking down like this: 1. Capitals 2. Penguins 3. Islanders 4. Rangers (wild card) 5. Flyers (wild card).

Stanley Cup Final prediction
Count me as a believer in the Panthers. The bundle of young talent they have is ready to compete at a high level and the Atlantic is basically up for grabs.

I feel this is the year the Blues, deep as ever, finally break through as they have their goalie in Jake Allen and Vladamir Tarasenko is a superstar who can score at will.

It's St. Louis' year.

Blues over Panthers.

Flyers Notes: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

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USA Today Images

Flyers Notes: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Believe it or not, the Flyers are "aware" of 21-year-old Oilers phenom Connor McDavid. That doesn't make preparing for the 2017 Art Ross Trophy (most points in NHL) winner any easier, let alone slow him down.

“You have to be understated a little bit and say you're going to be aware when he's on the ice, but obviously there's more to it," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. "He's a heck of a player and a guy that can make something happen at any time.”

McDavid has picked up right where he left off last season when he led the NHL with 100 points and 70 assists. Six games into the '17-18 campaign, the third-year centerman already has three goals and five assists, and he's doing it in style. His two helpers helped lift Edmonton over the Blackhawks on Thursday, one of which led to the game-winner in overtime, the other — a no-look, behind-the-back pass — making highlight reels everywhere.

So, yeah, the Flyers are well aware of McDavid and what he's capable of. That doesn't mean he'll be easy to stop.

"We just have to take time and space away from him," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "That's the biggest thing. You just can't give him space out there. He's going to wind it up and wheel.

“We're aware of it. We're going to stick to our gameplan, nothing special, but obviously be aware when he's on the ice.”

The Flyers knew all about McDavid last season, too. He still managed to find the back of the net twice and rack up three assists in those two meetings.

McDavid has also experienced success against both of the Flyers netminders. As a member of the Flames, probable starter Brian Elliott posted an 0-3-1 record with a .870 save percentage in four appearances against the Oilers in '16-17. Michal Neuvirth was 0-1 and allowed six goals in his only meeting.

It seems all the Flyers can do is be aware of the challenges McDavid presents.

"Probably everywhere they go, they have reporters asking the other team what their plan is against him," Elliott said.

“He's just a unique talent that you have to be aware of at all times. He's able to make plays that a lot of other guys aren't. You just have to be on your toes. You have to respect him, but you have to play your game and make sure you're tough no matter who it is out there.”

Laughton confident
Brandon Manning isn't the only member of the Flyers who has experience with McDavid.  Scott Laughton has been up close and personal with the budding superstar, having played against him in juniors and in some camps.

With Laughton centering the fourth line, he should have some opportunities to put his familiarity of McDavid to the test. The Flyers are going to need any advantage they can get — no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.

"I went to a pro camp with McDavid in Toronto in the summer, and he's special," Laughton said. "He's got the best hands I've seen. He's a world-class talent.

“At the same time, tomorrow I'm going to try to limit his space, get in his face and make it hard for him to get going and get speed. I think I can try to keep up with him once I get my speed going.”

Laughton seemed confident about potentially matching up against McDavid. At least he has a plan, anyway.

“There's not much you can do," Laughton said. You just have to be hard to play against, be in his face all night and kind of get him off his game that way.”

Injury report
Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Taylor Leier both missed Friday's skate with what the club termed as maintenance days.

Simmonds was already dealing with a lower-body injury before he was clipped in the face by a stick during Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Predators. It doesn't sound like anything that should prevent the 10-year veteran from suiting up against the Oilers, but clearly, he's banged up right now.

Leier's absence was a bit more of a mystery, and given the 23-year-old rookie's inexperience, missing practice would seem to point to an injury of some kind.

In a bit of good news on the injury front, Jordan Weal returned to practice for the Flyers. However, he refused to let on as to whether he'll be on the ice Saturday.

“Just got out there, went for a twirl," Weal said. "It's day to day right now, so just taking it day by day.”

Matt Read replaced Simmonds during the skate and could be preparing to make his regular-season debut. Read joined Weal and Valtteri Filppula on Simmonds' unit, while Jori Lehtera took Leier's place on the fourth line.

Don't read too much into those combinations, however, as the availability of Simmonds, Weal and Leier will no doubt play a role.

Sanheim sticks in the lineup
Following his strong showing against Nashville on Thursday, it appears rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim will suit up for his second game in a row.

Sanheim was a healthy scratch for the Flyers' previous two contests but drew rave reviews for his performance against the Predators. He was paired with Radko Gudas at practice, while Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg continued their partnership.

Manning may be the odd man out on Saturday, despite his history with McDavid. Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald remained a unit at practice, with Manning getting some work in MacDonald's spot.

Manning was hopeful he would be in uniform. Hakstol, on the other hand, downplayed Manning's personal rivalry with McDavid as it pertains to any decision about which defensemen will skate.

“It's a situation for us every game where we have that tough decision," Hakstol said. "Regardless of whether it's one particular team, we'll look at it situationally and consider all of those factors as to who the six are that dress tomorrow. There's a lot of different factors involved."

Best of NHL: Red-hot Devils storm back to beat Senators in overtime

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USA Today Images

Best of NHL: Red-hot Devils storm back to beat Senators in overtime

OTTAWA, Ontario -- John Moore scored 1:20 into overtime and the New Jersey Devils used three unanswered goals to beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in overtime Thursday night.

This year's No. 1 draft pick Nico Hischier scored twice for New Jersey. The Swiss center's opening goal was the first of his NHL career.

Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson also scored for the Devils, who improved to 4-0-0 on the road and 6-1-0 overall. Cory Schneider allowed four goals on 24 shots before leaving with a lower-body injury. Keith Kinkaid started the third period and stopped nine shots. Taylor Hall chipped in with four assists.

Kyle Turris, Derick Brassard, Alex Burrows and Tom Pyatt scored for the Senators, and Craig Anderson made 41 saves (see full recap).

Bergeron sparks Bruins’ win over Canucks
BOSTON -- Patrice Bergeron had a goal and three assists in his season debut, moving up to seventh on Boston's career scoring list as the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 6-3 on Thursday night.

Anders Bjork scored twice for Boston, Brad Marchand had a goal and two assists and David Pastrnak added a goal and an assist for the Bruins, who scored five straight goals after falling behind 1-0 early in the first period.

Anton Khudobin made 26 saves for Boston while starting in place of Tuukka Rask, who is out indefinitely with a concussion he suffered in practice Wednesday.

Derek Dorsett, Bo Horvat and Thomas Vanek scored for the Canucks, and Michael Del Zotto had two assists (see full recap).

Sergachev, Vasilevskiy help Lightning blank Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Mikhail Sergachev scored his first two NHL goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 43 saves for his fifth career shutout in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Nikita Kucherov assisted on both goals to push his NHL-leading points total to 14. His goals streak was stopped at seven games.

The Lightning took advantage of the few openings offered by Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 19 shots for the Blue Jackets and lost for the first time this season. Columbus had won four straight.

The Lightning, coming off an overtime loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night, improved to 6-1-1 for their best start opening 7-0-1 in their Stanley Cup-winning 2003-04 season.

Columbus dropped to 5-2-0, hurt by uncharacteristic sloppy passing and continued power-play problems in its first shutout loss of the season (see full recap).