Flyers

'The biggest story of camp' is 1 of the Flyers' 2 victories before the games even begin

Flyers

Following the organization's first playoff series victory since 2012 and a second-round Game 7 loss, expectations were inevitably going to rise for the Flyers in 2020-21.

Add in reinforcements like Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom, and the Flyers feel the bar has definitely been raised.

"The expectations are high, let’s not kid ourselves here," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said during training camp. "Our first goal is to get into the playoffs and then we are not in this to win one series; we're in this to win the Stanley Cup. Four series. Sixteen wins. We believe that we've got a very good team, we've got a Stanley Cup-contending team. And we can be if we play to our level and play to our potential."

The Flyers open their 56-game regular-season slate Wednesday when they host the Penguins. Let's get into the essentials for the game:

• At this time last year, Patrick was in the midst of searching for answers as he battled a migraine disorder. In December 2019, Patrick called the recovery process “sh---y” and “pretty wavy.”

On Sunday, after scoring a goal in the Flyers' intrasquad contest to wrap up 2021 training camp, the 22-year-old center said:

"I feel really good. I'll be ready for Wednesday."

The regular-season opener will be Patrick's first NHL game since April 2, 2019, a span of over 650 days.

"It's been, at least in my eyes, the biggest story of camp," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday. "Not only to see that Nolan is feeling better physically and able to participate in camp, but after all the time he's missed, he's been able to go out and play at a high level, which is remarkable. Regardless of why you missed time, to be able to come back and play at that level, play with the speed, the pace, the energy that he has played with has been great to see."

 

Patrick's presence is huge for the Flyers down the middle of the ice. Along with Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, Patrick gives the Flyers three tough-to-play-against centers with size and smarts.

"His skill level has always spoken for itself," Fletcher said. "He sees the ice so well, 200-foot player, doesn’t cheat away from the puck, he doesn’t cheat defensively and has a very good shot. I look at our top three centermen in Couturier, Hayes and Patrick, and all three of them are going to play important even strength minutes, all three of them are going to play power play minutes and all three of them are going to play PK minutes. We're very fortunate, and obviously we have Scotty Laughton and even Morgan Frost that can move up in the lineup and play big minutes, too. We like our depth through the middle of the ice and I'm excited to see what Nolan can do this year, as well as everybody else."

• At this time last year, Lindblom was beginning his treatments for Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones.

The 24-year-old winger completed his radiation treatments in July, when he was cleared of cancer, and inspirationally returned to the Flyers' lineup for two games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now he's geared up for a new regular season after an offseason to focus on training and rebuilding his body.

"There's no doubt that he'll be ready to go," Vigneault said Sunday. "He wants to play."

The Flyers struggled to score goals in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, during the regular season, they finished seventh in the NHL with 3.29 goals per game. That was without Lindblom for the final 39 games and without Patrick for all 69 games.

Prior to his diagnosis, Lindblom was tied for the team lead in goals with 11 and was projected to finish with 30 over a full 82-game season.

• A storyline to follow closely all season is how the Flyers fare on the back end without Matt Niskanen, a Stanley Cup champion who retired this offseason.

The all-situation defenseman was critical to the club's drastic goal-prevention improvement in 2019-20. The Flyers, with youth and upside on the blue line, will essentially be replacing him by committee.

 

"Big minutes, someone you can count on and I think it just has to be the young guys stepping up and stepping into that role," veteran goalie Brian Elliott said last week. "I think it was good to have him, the time that we did have him because guys saw what type of consistency he brought and what type of game you need to play on every single night. Having guys just play alongside that, watch that from a close distance, I think that only helps you."

For the opener, the Flyers won't have defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who has been unfit to play the past three on-ice days.

• Sidney Crosby has 105 points (43 goals, 62 assists) in 70 career regular-season games against the Flyers. The 43 goals are his most against any team.

Projected lineup

 

Forwards

Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Claude Giroux-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee

James van Riemsdyk-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek

Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun

Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers

Robert Hagg-Erik Gustafsson

Goalies

Carter Hart

Brian Elliott

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