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, producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.


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. 


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.


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.


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.

Finish-them-off mindset fueling Flyers' surge

AP Images

Finish-them-off mindset fueling Flyers' surge

From the upbeat music blaring when you first walk in the locker room to the jovial tones the players on the team speak with, it's clear times have changed drastically from a few weeks ago for the Flyers.

Just over two weeks ago, the music would have been shut off and a straight-laced attitude of needing to play better would have been blatantly evident during the 10-game skid.

Wins cure all, don't they?

And the Flyers will be going for their seventh consecutive win when they host the Los Angeles Kings Monday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Beside the music and the attitude, what has changed over the last few weeks to ignite this stretch of success? The Flyers feel a massive key has been their play in tight games, specifically in the third period. Where they would have crumbled weeks ago, they are excelling now.

"We've come to the conclusion that, obviously, we have to be on the same page to win games," Wayne Simmonds said Monday after morning skate. "We've done the exact same thing every single third period. To win games, you have to be consistent and do the same things every night.

"[Saturday vs. Dallas] in the third period, I think everyone thought we were actually winning the game 2-1 instead of being tied. That sets our expectations high. That's what we expect of ourselves. It was a good feeling and we kind of knew we were going to win that game, whether it was going to take 65 minutes or a shootout. ... We've kept it simple. I think that's the main thing for our team - we've kept it simple and everyone is on the exact same page."

The proof is in the pudding of Simmonds' words.

During the miserable 10-game losing streak, the Flyers were outscored 10-2 in third periods. Five of those games wound up as one-goal defeats decided in either OT or a shootout. Leads were held at one point or another in six of those contests. 

Moral of the story? Points were there for the taking and the Flyers left them dangling on the table for the opponent to grab.

Now, during this six-game win streak, the Flyers are outscoring the opposition 7-1 in third periods.

"We've been going into the third period and we've been on the same page," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We're excited to go out there and win that game. I think we're doing a lot of good things. We were doing a lot of good things when we weren't winning. But now it's more good things, doing the right things. 

"We go into the third period and it's a tight game or we're up a goal, we feel confident. If we play our game, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win. But we have to keep that mindset."

Much like Giroux, head coach Dave Hakstol feels the Flyers were doing good things during the skid, but now they're putting them all together and the wins are the result of just that.

"We obviously went through a stretch where we didn't have good third periods and at times we were our own worst enemy," Hakstol said. "Yet even within those periods we were playing pretty good hockey. But we had a tendency to try a little hard or look for a play that wasn't there that comes back to haunt you pretty quickly. 

"I think that's probably the biggest thing that has been different for us here over the last short stretch - just staying with the game."

Facing a defensively sound and structured Kings team that has a plus-22 goal differential and features a world-class goalie in Jonathan Quick, it likely means the Flyers are in for another close game Monday night.

And unlike two weeks ago, that's a welcomed situation. Because it's never too close for comfort now.

Twisted history
The Flyers on Monday can tie a weird, crazy, bizarre and whatever else you want to call it NHL record. They can tie the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs for the longest winning streak immediately after losing 10 games in a row. Those Leafs lost 11 in a row before storming back to win seven straight. Those Leafs also went on to win the Stanley Cup. 

Hey, who knows anything anymore, right?

More honors for Elliott
Flyers netminder Brian Elliott was honored by the NHL for the second straight week. This time, he was named the league's second star of the week after posting a 3-0-0 record, 1.31 goals-against average and .943 save percentage as the Flyers extended their win streak. His best performance last week came Saturday against the Stars when he stopped 27 shots in the 2-1 OT victory. Elliott, who will start Monday vs. the Kings and sports a 12-6-6 record, 2.61 goals-against average and .915 save percentage this season, was the third star the previous week.

No lineup changes are expected for the Flyers Monday. Injured goalie Michal Neuvirth, whose missed the last almost two weeks with a lower-body injury, took part in morning skate again, but still isn't ready to go. Alex Lyon will again backup Elliott.




Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

Photo: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Greyhounds won their 20th straight game Saturday afternoon and now haven’t lost a game since Oct. 27, and Frost has been at the forefront of Sault Ste. Marie’s winning stream. Frost is averaging two points per game, collecting 40 points during the Greyhounds’ 20-game winning streak. Last week, Frost had eight points in three games.

Frost capped off the week with a two goal, two assist effort in Sault Ste. Marie’s 7-1 blowout win over Guelph. He also had a two-goal game Wednesday in the Greyhounds’ 4-1 win over the Flint Firebirds. Frost is now second in the OHL in scoring, with 55 points, second in assists with 36 and leads the OHL with a plus-42 rating. He’s averaging 1.67 points, third in the OHL and winning 50.1 percent of his faceoffs.

As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor pointed out, Frost is scoring comparable to what Travis Konecny was during his after-drafted season. Konecny spent one more season in the OHL after the Flyers drafted him in 2015 and then made the team in 2016-17. While it’s easy to look at Carter Hart in awe, Frost is the one prospect who’s breaking out.

We knew what Hart was — and what he’s doing in Everett is astonishing. We’ll see Hart plenty next week in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. Frost wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s selection camp this year, but it’s a safe bet he’ll be there next year. We continue to see panic over the Brayden Schenn trade, but that’s misguided. Frost is turning out to be an intriguing prospect, and remember, the Flyers have another first-rounder from St. Louis. Frost is most certainly trending upward. Sound familiar?

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge has played his final game for Victoriaville, as the forward will be traded Monday to the Quebec Remparts, according to La Nouvelle’s Matthew Vachon. After a brief period to start the season, Laberge cooled off considerably and has since been inconsistent. In his final week as a Tigre, Laberge had a three-assist game last Friday night in Victoriaville’s 7-2 win over Shawinigan but was pointless in his two other games.

When evaluating Laberge, it’s hard to root against the versatile forward because of his backstory. The 19-year-old faced adversity throughout his draft year and then dealt with concussions during his first season as Flyers property. He’s a kid you want to succeed, and so far, he hasn’t been able to get back to his draft-year production. He has just six goals and 20 points in 31 games this year. He will get a fresh start with the Remparts.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
We’re starting to see Lindblom come into his own with the Phantoms. The Swedish forward continues to adjust to the North American game, and we’re seeing more consistency from him in the AHL. Last week was no different. Lindblom saw his point streak hit four games before coming to an end Sunday against Bridgeport. Lindblom scored his seventh goal of the season last Wednesday, which capped off a three-goal in a four-game stretch. Then he picked up an assist on Friday against Charlotte and another Saturday against Syracuse. When we look at the advanced metrics, with many thanks to Broad Street Hockey’s Brad Keffer, you can see Lindblom’s Corsi numbers consistently improving, which is an indicator that he’s becoming more comfortable here.

Carsen Twarynski, LW, 19, 6-2/201, Kelowna (WHL)
We don’t talk a lot about Twarynski, the Flyers’ 2016 third-round pick, but let’s check in on the defenseman-turned-left-winger. Twarynski, who the Rockets acquired last season from the Calgary Hitmen, is producing above a point-per-game in Kelowna. Twarynski had six points in four games last week. He has 24 goals — seven on the power play — and 39 points in 31 games. What exactly kind of future does Twarynski have? It’s tough to get a read on him because he’s a streaky player. Twarynski projects to be a serviceable AHL player, but whether he’ll be an NHLer is up in the air. His WHL numbers are respectable, but he doesn’t seem to have the consistency to excite.

Quick Hits
• As expected, German Rubtsov made Team Russia for the World Junior Championships. Last week, Rubtsov had a goal in two games for Acadie-Bathurst.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri has a three-game point streak after picking up two goals and an assist in three games last week. Salinitri has 33 points in 35 games this season.

Matthew Strome, of the Hamilton Bulldogs, extended his point streak to five games. Strome has three goals and six points during his streak. He has 17 goals in 32 games.

• Kitchener’s Connor Bunnaman’s point streak reached five games with a goal Friday and an assist Sunday. Bunnaman has seven points during his current point streak.

Samuel Morin returned to action last Tuesday for the Phantoms but sat out Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. He’s been dealing with lower-body injuries.

• Without any official declarations, it appears Mike Vecchione is dealing with some sort of injury with the Phantoms. Vecchione hasn’t played since Dec. 9.

• The offense has picked up for Nicolas Aube-Kubel in his second pro season. He had two goals and two assists in four games last week. He now has 21 points in 30 games.