The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season was not the best for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, but what will 2013-14 bring? The season kicks off Wednesday night as the Flyers host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Wells Fargo Center. With high-octane players on the roster such as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell, and the newly-signed Vincent Lecavalier, among others, the expectations are high enough to see the team as a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, the Flyers will have to contend with old rivals such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and New Jersey Devils. But because of the offseason division re-alignments, the Flyers will see the Carolina Hurricanes, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Washington Capitals four or five times throughout the season as a divisional opponent. Also, they will not see the aforementioned old rivals eight times a season like in previous years. Whether this helps or hurts the Flyers has yet to be determined, but four of those seven future divisional opponents were playoff teams last year, with the Columbus Blue Jackets narrowly missing the playoffs.
This season, the Flyers will not have to contend with Ilya Bryzgalov's inconsistencies in net. One of Bryzgalov's replacements is former Flyer and 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Ray Emery. Emery had a wonderful year with the Blackhawks last year, splitting time in net with Corey Crawford, and posting a stellar 17-1 record with a pristine 1.94 GAA and a .922 save percentage. While Emery did not start any games during the Stanley Cup Finals last year for the Blackhawks, he and Crawford were dually awarded the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals last season.
However, Emery has not been outright named as the starter. In fact, he is expected to split time with Steve Mason, who came to the Flyers in a trade late last season. Mason, who won the Calder Trophy in 2009 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, has struggled ever since, although he posted very good numbers in seven games with the Flyers at the end of last season. The two will split time to begin the season – a decision regarding a starter will likely be made by head coach Peter Laviolette if one outplays the other.
Looking at forwards and defensemen, there are really not too many changes from last year, although the changes that have been made are certainly notable. Vincent Lecavalier was brought in to replace the outgoing Danny Briere, who has moved on to Montreal to play for the Canadiens. The 33-year old Lecavalier will provide a major offensive presence as a second-line center, bringing in a 0.84 points per game average over his 14 year career. The 19-year old Scott Laughton will begin the season as the team's fourth-line center. Laughton saw action with the Flyers in five games last season and did not register a point.
Bryzgalov was a major problem for the Flyers at times last year, but did not get much help from his blueliners at times. As a result, the Flyers went out and picked up veteran defenseman Mark Streit from the New York Islanders. The 35-year old Streit will add stability to the line as well as an offensive presence – just five seasons ago, Streit registered a 56-point season with the Islanders, while posting a 62-point season with Montreal the year before. Familiar names such as Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, and Erik Gustafsson will serve as the rest of the defense core, with veteran Hal Gill's name also in the mix as a seventh or eighth defenseman. With the amount of uncertainty surrounding Andrej Meszaros and his role moving forward, the 27-year old defenseman is not on the opening day roster.
New divisional opponents, the departure of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov, and the additions of Mark Streit and Vinny Lecavalier are all factors to be considered as the new season begins. A healthy Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek will mean that the Flyers' first line, also consisting of Scott Hartnell, will be one of the most dangerous in the Eastern Conference. They have good depth on their second and third lines, and have players like Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Lecavalier, Sean Couturier and Matt Read who are capable of massive offensive contribution.
The defense and goaltending situations are a little less clear, but the talent and experience are there for both aspects to click. Whether or not they will come together is something that can only be answered as the season begins. Peter Laviolette and his staff have a lot of talent to work with, and if the Flyers' defensemen and goalies can stay consistent, they have a chance to be right up there with the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference.
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