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Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams? 

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

RELATED: CSN'S 2017-18 CAPITALS PREVIEW

Team: Philadelphia Flyers

2016-17 Results: 39-33-10 (88 points). Sixth in division, 11th in conference. Missed playoffs for second time in three years.

Notable acquisitions: C Nolan Patrick, G Brian Elliott and C Jori Lehtera.

Notable departures: G Steve Mason, F Brayden Schenn, D Michael Del Zotto, F Nick Cousins, F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Nick Schultz and F Chris VandeVelde.

When they will play the Caps: At Philadelphia Oct. 14, at Washington Jan. 21 and Jan 23, and at Philadelphia March 18.  

MORE CAPITALS: GRUBAUER EAGER TO INCREASE LONG-TERM VALUE

2017-18 Flyers Analysis: 

The Flyers will sport a different, younger look this fall, with a new goaltender, a new second line center and a handful of prospects vying for significant roles.

What’s less clear is whether they’re any better than the 2016-17 edition, which enjoyed a ten-game winning streak but still finished seven points out of the playoffs.   

The answer to that question likely will be determined by their ability (or inability) to improve in two critical areas: stopping pucks and 5-on-5 scoring.

In an effort to improve the former, GM Ron Hextall signed goalie Brian Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1. Although Elliott figures to split time with Michal Neuvirth, the hope is that the well-traveled 32-year-old will be better than Steve Mason and can help Philadelphia improve upon its 26th ranked team save percentage from a year ago (.901).

Elliott had some solid seasons in St. Louis, but he struggled with consistency last season in Calgary, finishing with a .909 save percentage (25th among goalies who appeared in at least 40 games). Neuvirth, meanwhile, posted a .891 save percentage—the worst mark for a goalie who appeared in at least 15 games.

The Flyers are in need of a big boost at the other end of the ice, as well.

They were tied for 20th in goals per game (2.59) and tied for 26th in goals scored 5-on-5.

Although there were many culprits for Philly’s offensive woes, Claude Giroux’s subpar season underscored the problem. The 29-year-old captain, who is also the team’s highest paid player with a cap hit of $8.275 million per, finished with 14 goals and 58 points in 82 games, marking a third straight year of declines for the first line center. In 2013-14, Giroux was the NHL’s third leading scorer with 86 points.

If Giroux rebounds, second overall pick Nolan Patrick produces as a rookie, wingers Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds do their thing and Shayne Gostisbehere also bounces back, it’s not unreasonable to expect the Flyers to pack a more formidable offensive punch.

That, of course, is a lot of ‘ifs’.  

2017-18 Flyers Season prediction: 

You’ve got imagine the goaltending will be better than it was last year, particularly if they get the Brian Elliott who posted a .936 save percentage in March for the Flames, not the one who scuffled so mightily early in the year. And there’s no way Neuvirth is that bad again, right?

Assuming they get what they need in net, and a few of the youngsters manage to outperform expectations the way Ivan Provorov did as a rookie last year, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Dave Hakstol and a youthful Flyers’ lineup loitering on the edge of the playoff race late in the season.

If they get in, it’ll accelerate the organization’s youth movement and keep Hakstol off the hot seat. If they don’t, Flyers fans will at least be able to take solace in the fact that the infusion of youth means brighter days are ahead.  

More Metro Division previews:

• Pittsburgh Penguins

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JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

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JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

In the very first edition of JJ vs. the fans bold predictions, no one got a single prediction right. Well, there’s nowhere to go but up!

The Caps hit the road on Friday to take on the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus). Let’s check out our predictions.

RELATED: MADISON BOWEY IS ALREADY LOOKING MUCH IMPROVED

Fan predictions:

For those who don't know, a Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, an assist and a fight all in one game. Tom Wilson gets the promotion to the top line tonight and Wade is expecting big things. I am not so bullish on it. I think adjusting to a new line and a new side, Wilson has moved from right wing to left, will take Wilson some time.

The Caps face former defenseman Mike Green and Garrett thinks he is going to get one past Braden Holtby. This is pretty bold considering Green has yet to record a single point in five games against his former squad.

The Capitals’ defense has had its problems of late and it has certainly dragged down the penalty kill. Remember how hot the penalty kill was to start the season? Now the Caps rank 19th in the league at 78.6-percent. Still, two power play goals is a lot considering Detroit ranks 24th in the NHL with a success rate of only 14.8-percent.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-RED WINGS

JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will allow more than two goals

Washington’s defense is not as bad as they looked against Philadelphia, but it isn't as good as they looked against Toronto either. One thing that helped against the Maple Leafs was that the game was at home. Barry Trotz could get the favorable matchups for his rookie defensemen as his team had the second change. That won’t be true on Friday in Detroit. The defense will struggle as a result.

John Carlson will play more than he did against Toronto

See above. Carlson logged a hefty 27:33 on Tuesday and that was with the Caps getting the second change. The Caps will rely even more on him on the road.

Washington will get at least two goals form players not named Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have 17 of the Caps’ 22 goals this season. Perhaps the big three will have another big night, but eventually the team will need someone else to step up and score. Whether because the team emphasizes it or through just dumb luck, the Caps are going to record a few points from a few of their other players on Friday.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

Madison Bowey’s second game went a lot better than his first and it’s not just because the Caps allowed only two goals as opposed to eight.

Despite being thrust into a significant role in his first taste of NHL experience, Bowey seemed to settle in a bit in his second contest even as it came against the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Just everything in the first game felt like it happened so quick, I think,” Bowey said Thursday after the team’s practice. “It was obviously nice to come back in Washington and play in the home in front of the home crowd, get a practice in on Monday before the game Tuesday with the team. Just all the little factors that went into it definitely helped and I think it definitely felt a lot smoother out there on the ice.”

RELATED: BURAKOVSKY DEMOTED TO THIRD LINE

Playing at home definitely has its benefits for the coaching staff as they try to protect the rookie defensemen. Home teams get the chance to change after the visiting team allowing the coaches to pick the matchups they want for Bowey.

More favorable matchups certainly helped him, but Bowey also seemed to play with more confidence and a level of calm that was not there against Philadelphia. For Bowey, the difference was having time to settle in and practice with the team.

“Obviously this team is one of the veteran teams in the league so to be able to practice against top players in the league, it goes a long way,” Bowey said.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS SHOULD NOT TRADE PROSPECT IIYA SAMSONOV

Bowey was called up for a Saturday game in Philadelphia after Matt Niskanen suffered a hand injury Friday in New Jersey. That means he quickly had to join the team and jump into the lineup for his first ever NHL game without any practice with the Caps at all.

Bowey now has two practices and two games under his belt and even a team-building day at FBI training. The effect that has had on his game was noticeable on Tuesday. It should be even more clear on Friday as the team travels to face the Detroit Red Wings.

“I feel myself improving every day,” Bowey said. “It forces you to really work hard and be on your top every day you come to the rink so for me, just having those two practices already have been huge. I feel the development's getting a lot better early.”