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.

Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

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Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

Rookie Robert Hagg will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career following his performance Tuesday in Detroit, where the defenseman played just 12:39 and finished with a minus-2 rating, including just four shifts and 2:28 during the Flyers' third-period comeback.

Hagg missed four games with a lower-body injury, and when he returned he played on the left side, paired with Radko Gudas. For most of the second half of the season, Hagg has played the right side with Andrew MacDonald as the team’s second pairing.

“It’s not always about the individual,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “The pair (Hagg and Gudas) didn’t have easy chemistry there. We ended up in some situations with and against the speed and ended up with some bad gaps. The pair and combination wasn’t as effective as we needed it to be.”

Lyon in the crease
If Hakstol wanted to be a very unconventional think-outside-the-box coach, he would start Petr Mrazek for a period and then bring in Alex Lyon for the remaining two periods and beyond.

Lyon will start tonight’s game against the Rangers, the same team he earned his first career win against after replacing Michal Neuvirth following the first period. 

Some of Lyon’s best work this season has been coming in cold off the bench. He owns a .970 save percentage in games he has entered in relief, and a pedestrian .890 save percentage in five games he has started.

“It’s not just based on one performance, it never is,” Hakstol said. “ It’s always based on situation and a player’s body of work. Alex’s body of work has been good. He came in the other night and did an excellent job and that’s part of the decision.”

Shorthanded shortcomings
The Red Wings scored the tenth shorthanded goal against the Flyers Tuesday, matching the Colorado Avalanche for the most 5-on-4 goals allowed this season. 

This season, the Flyers are 4-4-2 in games in which they’ve given up a shorthanded goal, but more importantly, many of those goals have been momentum killers — the difference between tying a game or facing a two-goal deficit.

In the Flyers' 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 16, New York forward Paul Carey scored shorthanded with ten seconds remaining in the first period that extended the Rangers lead to 3-1, and took away any hope for a Flyers' comeback.    

“The Rangers are going to come with the kitchen sink on their penalty kill and they’re playing without a lot of pressure,” Hakstol said. “At times, you’re going to see two, three and four guys on their PK come up the ice offensively, so we’re going to have to do a very good job of that tonight.” 

Much of the blame can be attributed to the power play’s 1-3-1 setup — Shayne Gostisbehere serving as the only player on the point with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek in the circles, Sean Couturier in the high slot and Wayne Simmonds down low.

When a turnover or giveaway is committed between the circles and the blue line, typically only Gostisbehere or the player taking his spot at the point is the only player back to defend, leaving the Flyers wide open for a two-on-one shorthanded chance against.   

“We starting off taking a chance with one defenseman out there,” Gostisbehere said. “That’s just the name of the game. I don’t think there’s too many power play units with two D out there right now. I think for us, it’s staying within ourselves and keeping it simple.”

Crosby's highlight-reel goal sparks Penguins' rally

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Crosby's highlight-reel goal sparks Penguins' rally

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby ignited a rally with a highlight-reel goal and became the third active player with 700 career assists in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.

Crosby's picked up his 24th goal of the season when he knocked a pass from Jake Guentzel out of the air, deflected it toward the front of his stick and smacked it by Carey Price to tie it at 3 late in the second period.

Derick Brassard put the Penguins in front to stay, beating Price early in the third period as Pittsburgh avoided dropping both games of a back-to-back against also-rans Montreal and the New York Islanders.

Guentzel had a goal and two assists. His 21st goal of the season came off an assist from Crosby, the 700th of Crosby's career. Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist also scored for the Penguins, who drew within two points of idle first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. Casey DeSmith finished with 27 saves.

Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Scherbak and Jacob de la Rose scored for the Canadiens, who have dropped nine of their last 10 games. Carey Price made 34 stops in his first start in a month due to a concussion (see full recap).

Schwartz, Blues top Bruins in OT
ST. LOUIS — Jaden Schwartz scored his second goal of the game 30 seconds into overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

Schwartz skated up the middle and fired a shot past Anton Khudobin. The Blues won for the fifth time in six games to move within a point of the final Western Conference wild-card spot.

Jake Allen made 21 saves to improve to 24-21-2.

Ryan Donato scored for Boston. The Bruins clinched a playoff spot and moved within four points of Tampa Bay for the Eastern lead.

Schwartz tied it midway through the third period with a wrist shot from the top of the circle.

Donato scored his second goal in his second NHL game. He had a goal and two assists in a 5-4 loss to Columbus on Monday night.

Donato, still a student at Harvard University, returned to Massachusetts on Tuesday to attend class before flying back to St. Louis to rejoin the Bruins. His father, Ted, played 528 games in two stints with the Bruins (1992-99, 2003-04) (see full recap).

Rookie sets record in Coyotes’ victory
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Clayton Keller had two assists to set the Arizona Coyotes' franchise record for most points by a rookie in a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night in a matchup of the NHL's two worst teams.

Rookie Dylan Strome scored in his first game after being called up from the minors. Derek Stepan had a goal and assist, and Richard Panik and Max Domi, with an empty-netter, also scored. Antti Raanta stopped 29 shots to improve to 12-4-4 in his past 20 starts.

Keller, Arizona's 2016 first-round draft pick, extended his points streak to six games, in which he has two goals and five assists. He has 55 points, one more than Peter Mueller had in setting the rookie team record in 2007-08. And Keller has 35 assists, one more than teammate Max Domi had in his rookie season two years ago.

Arizona improved to 13-5-2 in its past 20, and earned its 61st point in leaving Vancouver alone at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Jordan Nolan scored for Buffalo, which dropped to 23-38-12 to remain in last place in the overall standings (see full recap).