Greg Paone

Flyers Weekly Observations: Highs of crushing Washington, lows of falling apart in Nashville

Flyers Weekly Observations: Highs of crushing Washington, lows of falling apart in Nashville

Another week of Flyers hockey is in the books on this infantile season.

So that means it’s your favorite time of the week: It’s time for Flyers Weekly Observations!

Please, hold your applause.

We’ll take a look back at the week that was with the Flyers, including Tuesday's absolutely stunning 6-5 loss to the Predators in Nashville and Saturday evening’s 8-2 shellacking of the Washington Capitals in the home opener in South Philly.

It’s not hard to figure out where we’re going to start this week. So let’s not wait any longer and hop right into the main course.

• Let’s just get right to the last several minutes Tuesday night in Nashville, where the Flyers saw a lead disintegrate into a frustrating, head-scratching 6-5 loss to the Preds. Firstly, Dale Weise and Andrew MacDonald, two veterans, can’t be taking penalties, ticky-tack or not in the eyes of some, like they did late while trying to nurse a lead on the road. In such hostile territory like Bridgestone Arena and on a banner night for the home team, no less, that’s a recipe for disaster. But Dave Hakstol, knowing the risks, cannot issue that coach’s challenge on the tying goal unless he knows for sure the Preds were clearly offside.

Look, I get what he was trying to do. He was taking a chance at dramatically shifting the momentum back in his team’s direction. But that wasn’t the time for chances. Any sort of uncertainty, and he needs to hold back there. Instead, he put his team in a deeper hole in a now even more hostile environment and you could just feel the nightmarish ending being written before it actually happened with the next 5-on-3.

I’m not a big fan of the offside challenge in general. It’s just such a convoluted rule and process that needs smoothing out. A guy is either onside or offside. Why the league insists on creating so much grey area in something that should be way more cut-and-dry is beyond me. And this new rule that penalizes an unsuccessful challenge defeats the purpose of having a challenge anyway. But it also means, more than ever, that there is a time and place to challenge. With uncertainty surrounding whether the Preds were actually offside, let’s just say holding onto a precious point while your team still has a penalty to kill and creating a second 5-on-3 for your team to kill on the road in the final minute of tie game isn’t the time or place for Hakstol to take that challenge.

• With as heartbreaking as the result in Nashville was, quite the impressive rebound performance Saturday night against the Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center. Sure, it was the home opener and there were all types of juice in the orange-clad atmosphere, and the Caps were playing their third game in four nights, missing star defenseman Matt Niskanen and started backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. But that was just utter domination of the Caps in all phases.

The Flyers outshot the Caps by a 37-23 margin, converted on the power play and added a shorthanded tally. The Flyers had five players with multiple points, led by Claude Giroux with four. Alexander Ovechkin had six shots on goal but was minus-4 on the evening. Basically, the Caps barely ever had a chance. The Flyers jumped on them early and often and squeezed the game away. That’s how you respond from a loss as jarring as the one in Nashville.

• Prized 21-year-old rookie Travis Sanheim was a healthy scratch Saturday and watched in a suit from the press box as Brandon Manning dressed instead. Sure, Ovechkin and the Caps are a tough matchup, but they’re a tough matchup for anyone on any team around the league. What exactly does Sanheim get out of watching that game from above? Is it more than the in-person experience he would get going up against a star-studded team? Nope.

If a 21-year-old rookie with the skill of Sanheim struggles and takes his lumps, so be it. He’ll gain that valuable experience that comes with it. And when he comes back and plays well afterward, whenever that may be, he’ll have all the confidence in the world. Confidence isn’t gained watching from the press box.

• How about the first line of the Flyers? Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek combined for 10 points against the Caps. Giroux and Couturier each had two goals apiece and Voracek was all over the ice all night long as he had both the puck and the Capitals on a string. The trio had three more points a few days earlier in Nashville, giving them 13 in their last two games. That’s impressive, and we’re just five games into the season.

The chemistry is obviously there, but they are still jelling together as a trio as the early season progresses on. Couturier has been on a tear dating back to last season. In his last 24 contests overall, he’s got 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists).

• I’m a big believer that every good team has a fourth line that not only can annoy with grit and hard work but can also be a threat to contribute offensively on any given shift. The Flyers hadn’t had that in recent years, needless to say. The script has been flipped this season with the Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier line. They can punish and smother teams on the defensive end and they can be a threat when they scoot up the other end of the ice.

Look no further than what Laughton did against the Caps on Saturday. His shorty was all effort and then his third-period tally was a laser beam of a beauty. These guys are more than effective together, but each also has the ability to move up and down the lineup if necessary. The Flyers may be on to something here with this triumvirate.

• Good for Nolan Patrick getting that first goal of his career under his belt, albeit during Tuesday's loss in Nashville. It was a great play by Weise to drive the net hard and create the ruckus in front that ended with Patrick burying the puck into the twine.

Here’s what I really liked about that goal from the 19-year-old’s perspective: He lifted the puck and left no doubt about it. Many his age would hastily try and shuffle the puck along the ice, where there was no open real estate. It may seem like such a simple concept, but that was some savvy and poise in the heat of the moment by the teenager. And that was also the first of many times he’ll light the lamp in his promising career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Florida (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Nashville (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Edmonton (1 p.m. on NBCSP).

Wayne Simmonds named NHL's third star of the week

Wayne Simmonds named NHL's third star of the week

It's just a week into the season, but Wayne Simmonds already needs to make some room in his trophy case.

The Flyers' power forward on Monday was named the NHL's third star of the week after leaving his fingerprints all over the first three games of the year.

In those three games, Simmonds scored four goals, including a hat trick in last Wednesday's season-opening 5-3 win in San Jose and the OT winner in the 3-2 triumph in Anaheim on Saturday evening. He's scored the game-winners in both of the Flyers' victories.

It's obviously very early in the season, but Simmonds' four goals place him in a tie for second in the league.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin as names first star after scoring seven goals in the Capitals' first two games (that's not a typo). Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was named second star after going 2-0-0 with a .098 goals-against average in the Golden Knights' first two games.

The Flyers are back on the ice Tuesday night in Nashville before returning to South Philly for the home opener against Ovechkin and the Caps on Saturday night.

End to End: 2017-18 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

End to End: 2017-18 Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

In 2017-18, the Flyers will look to avoid back-to-back seasons without the playoffs for the first time since 1989-94, when the club suffered five straight postseason absences.

With that, among many other compelling components, this season certainly isn't lacking for storylines (see Fearless Forecast).

Will an infusion of youth and new roles bring playoff hockey back to Philadelphia?

We have answers with a special prediction-themed End to End from reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, before the Flyers' season opener Wednesday night against the Sharks.

Boruk

Flyers prediction/outlook
You want the good news or the bad news first?

Let’s begin with the good: The Flyers have one thing clearly working in their favor this season — history. They have not missed the postseason in back-to-back years since 1992-94 when Eric Lindros broke into the league.

Since then, the Flyers have missed the playoffs on four different occasions. On the previous three occasions, they were able to bounce back and reach the playoffs the next season. Will they make it 4 for 4 in 2017-18? I think they will. For starters, they’re a deeper team both at the forward position and on defense, and I think the goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will provide stability.

However, this is a Flyers team that has not finished higher than fifth in the titanium tough Metropolitan Division in each of the past three seasons. It may be able to sneak its way into fourth place, but that may be its ceiling. 

So, here’s what I see for the Flyers: 42-28-12, 96 points, fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and a spot in the playoffs, where they’ll face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
This will be the season Steven Stamkos stays healthy, Nikita Kucherov is a finalist for the Hart Trophy and the Lightning win the Atlantic Division. 

Connor McDavid will win the Art Ross Trophy for the second consecutive season, and the Oilers and Lightning will meet in the Stanley Cup Final, with the Oilers winning it all.

Dougherty

Flyers prediction/outlook
Welp, last year didn’t end well for me.

Anyways, I do see the Flyers getting back into the playoffs this season. They’re deeper at forward with a legitimate top six and a potential 20-goal scorer (Travis Konecny) on the third line. Dale Weise will be the fan’s punching bag this season, which is, well, much better than Chris VandeVelde or Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

The defense, led by Ivan Provorov, will be better. Robert Hagg and Sam Morin (or Travis Sanheim, or all three?) will have solid rookie years and we’ll see more consistency from Shayne Gostisbehere in Year 3. The goaltending is the big question.

Can Neuvirth stay healthy? What will Elliott give the Flyers? How many games will Alex Lyon see in 2017-18? I think they’ll get solid enough goaltending to make the playoffs — perhaps even win a round, too. No Cup for the Flyers this season.

But playoffs? Sure, I think they can get there. And with Nolan Patrick centering the second line, and a top-heavy first line, yeah, I could see this team winning a series.

As long as it avoids Pittsburgh in the first round.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
Injuries have made this harder for me. Banged up and bruised, I cannot (wrongly) predict, for a fifth straight season, a Stanley Cup appearance for the St. Louis Blues.

I can’t bet against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two Stanley Cups in less than 365 days. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. For now. Phil Kessel, hot dogs and all. Pittsburgh returns for a third straight Cup appearance, proving kings of the East again. It’ll be a tougher road to the Final, but the Penguins get there. Again. Sorry, Philly.

The Penguins become the first team since the Islanders, from 1980 to 1983, when New York won four straight, to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. Pittsburgh beats ...

Edmonton in six games and a Stanley Cup Final the NHL would absolutely hit pay dirt with. It’ll be Crosby against McDavid, the best in the world against the next one. I like this Edmonton team. Think its defense is finally respectable, and with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, its 1-2 punch at center is ridiculous. Cam Talbot provides steady goaltending again and Edmonton gets into the Final for the first time since 2006.

Hall

Flyers prediction/outlook
Think about how different this team is compared to last season's opening lineup.

In 2016-17, the Flyers kicked things off with a third line of Nick Cousins, Bellemare and Weise. The fourth unit: VandeVelde, Boyd Gordon and Matt Read — all three not currently in the NHL. Michael Raffl, who could be in a fight for playing time this season, was on the first line.

The defense featured Mark Streit and Nick Schultz, 38 and 34 years old, respectively, at the time.

Sure, Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas were missing because of suspensions, but these 2017-18 Flyers should be better after some significant maintenance.

Now, you get Jordan Weal for a full season, as well as Valtteri Filppula. Weal is primed for a prominent role, while Filppula legitimizes the bottom six with his experience and ability.

The 2017 No. 2 overall pick Patrick is here at 19 years old, set to start what Flyers fans hope is a prosperous career in orange and black.

Konecny is a third-line option because of the overhaul and depth. Raffl has become a probable fourth-liner, alongside players like Scott Laughton (2012 first-round pick), Taylor Leier (23-year-old AHL All-Star) and Jori Lehtera (33 career playoff games in three seasons with the Blues).

And we haven't even mentioned the possibility of anticipated prospect Oskar Lindblom as a call-up from the AHL at some point.

While on defense, Provorov is a year better, Gostisbehere is healthy with rediscovered confidence, and one or two rookies — maybe even three — will push the youth movement forward on the back end.

The biggest concern is the goaltending (in Philadelphia, you don't say!) because the tandem of Neuvirth and Elliott could be pleasantly formidable or really bad.

Overall, though, it's hard to deny the Flyers' improved makeup. With younger players making the NHL jump, expectations need to be tempered, but this is an important season in the rebuild and for the future of the team's core.

I do see the playoffs coming back to Philadelphia but a hard-fought, first-round series loss being the final result of the Flyers' 2017-18 campaign.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
Shield your eyes, Flyers fans (but don't actually, please keep reading).

The Penguins just have a special feel to them.

The mainstay pieces are still very much in their primes, creating a perfect blend with the team's surrounding youth. I see Crosby and company hoisting a third straight Stanley Cup because the Penguins don't appear to be slowing down yet.

As for their foe in the final, I'm still high on the Blackhawks. The Brandon Saad reunion will pay off largely, youngsters Alex DeBrincat and John Hayden will help, and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the rest should be ticked off after being flattened by the Predators buzz saw in last year's first round.

Let's go Penguins in seven games.

Paone

Flyers prediction/outlook
Preseason is just preseason, but there are times when you can get at least some type of feel from a team after a preseason.

That's not the case with this Flyers team. I feel like they are just stuck in this state of limbo right now. Could a bounce back fueled by hell-bent veterans and supplemented by eye-popping younger players be in store? Sure it could. Could a total flop happen that sees underperforming pieces, no matter the experience, slog through another season marred by inconsistency and disappointment? Sure it could.

This Flyers team could easily trend in either direction. At season's end, we could be saying to ourselves that was tangible progress or we could have even more questions than from before the season began.

And, to me, when you struggle to get a feel or your finger on the pulse of a team, that's not the sign of a great team. That's not a sign of a team I have confidence in to make a push to the playoffs, especially in a stacked Metropolitan Division that features some of the league's heavyweights in Pittsburgh and Washington, constant thorns in the Flyers' side in the New York Rangers and Columbus, and a spunky, up-and-coming Carolina team that could be a problem this season.

The Flyers' outlook this season, for me, is too murky. Too many variables. Too many unanswered questions. Too many things have to fall into place.

I see the Flyers hanging around the playoff mix, but ultimately coming up short, much like last season. I see them finishing behind Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, the Rangers, Carolina and the Islanders in the Metro.

But, I do see more rookie and youthful contributions coming. And while those players will take their lumps, watching them develop will be an exciting storyline throughout the season.

Stanley Cup Final prediction
As for my Stanley Cup Final prediction, well, there's an old saying popularized by Nature Boy Ric Flair that goes a little something like this … "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." And right now, the Penguins are "the man" until proven otherwise. They are just so deep with talent, youth, speed and skill at every turn.

From the West, I'm still a big fan of what the Sharks have put together. Patrick Marleau is in Toronto now, but they are still dynamic with the likes of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns. And Joe Thornton? That guy's a legend. Martin Jones is a rock in net, too.

In the end, likely much to your chagrin, gimmie the Penguins in six games again. The crown is theirs until someone takes it.