Are you ready for some hockey?!?!
*wild applause, cheering, sobs of joy*
*fireworks light the sky above the Wells Fargo Center*
*Jori Lehtera drops the kilo of cocaine he’s carrying to watch*
That’s right, it’s Real Hockey Time for your Philadelphia Flyers, who open their regular season slate of games tonight(!) against the Vegas Golden Knights. Naturally, the past couple of days have been fairly eventful in Flyers-land. Rosters were finalized, players added and dropped, and one iconic ex-Flyer called it quits. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s dive right in.
State of the Roster
Here’s how the starting lineup is shaping up, based on their practice arrangements:
— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) October 3, 2018
Jordan Weal, Dale Weise, and Christian Folin will take a seat in the press box. And as for goaltenders, Brian Elliott’s decrepit form has been deemed healthy enough to start, backed up by either Anthony Stolarz and Calvin Pickard (more on him later), depending on how much more complicated the Flyers want to make an already convoluted goalie situation.
Some immediate takeaways:
- As the lines from recent practices gave away, Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk were flip-flopped on the de facto second and third lines. It’s not a demotion or a promotion—just an attempt to build a middle-six with decent chemistry. The Patrick line never quite got going during the preseason with JVR aboard, so it makes sense that Hakstol would want to see if Lindblom makes the perfect third wheel. We know Giroux, Couturier, and Konecny will play at a high level, but it’s the success of the lines beneath them that will go a long way toward determining whether this team can take a step forward.
- Vorobyev, as expected, is your 3C. One down, four to go.
- It still smarts to see Jori Lehtera, our resident drug lord in disguise as a bottom-of-the-pile NHL forward, getting a starting nod. But after a few days of reflection, it’s pretty clear that 10 minutes of Lehtera every night will not determine whether this season is a success or failure. This is not meant to excuse Hakstol for continuing to think in terms of “roles” as opposed to “performance,” only to say that there are more significant factors (i.e. goaltending, all defensemen besides Provorov and Ghost, etc.)
- The clear loser from Lehtera’s presence is Jordan Weal. What a fall it’s been for the player touted at the beginning of camp as a potential 3C candidate. While obviously more dynamic than Lehtera, it’s also true that, three years into his NHL career, Weal has not lived up to the reputation of a scoring forward that he built in the AHL. Time’s ticking, Wealy.
- Sanheim-Gudas: yes, please. Hagg-MacDonald: cover your children’s eyes.
There are two distinct Flyers fan factions when it comes the team’s newest goalie on the block, waiver pickup Calvin Pickard. On one hand, you have the unabashed Pickard stans, who have been enamored of him since he came out of the womb with a pair of skates. Then you have the critics who reasonably point towards his largely disastrous performance in the past couple years.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Pickard’s resume is that of an Alex Lyon-type, but at least with a touch of upside. Pickard recorded a .927 SV% over 36 games in his first two seasons, which earned him the starting job with the Avalanche heading into 2016-17. Unfortunately, his year as a starter left a lot to be desired. A .904 SV% and 31 losses in 48 starts won’t get you very far, and for Pickard, it was a sign that he needed to marinate in the minors. He recorded a .918 SV% in the AHL last year: solid but unremarkable.
But even if his floor is Alex Lyon (career AHL SV%: .912), he should do quite nicely backing up Brian Elliott to start the year. Who knows? Maybe he can rediscover the magic of his early career. And even though Pickard’s addition creates a significant logjam in goal, Hextall will be able to make it work, even if it results in returning Pickard to the Maple Leafs per waiver rules. No risk, no loss.
Somewhat lost in all the commotion was the news that longtime Flyer and fan favorite Scott Hartnell announced his retirement this week. Hartnell scored 326 points in seven seasons and 517 games with the Flyers, winning our hearts with his Gritty™ style and power play prowess. But let’s not forget how undeniably weird Hartnell was. He was involved in two bizarre incidents involving gloves. He fell so often that #HartnellDown became a thing (and eventually, a foundation). And of course, how could we forget his bushy, glorious mane. If anyone was destined to become a Flyer, it was Scott Hartnell.
Godspeed, Hartnell. May you enjoy retirement like you enjoyed heckling that one Pens fan.
Opening Night Prediction
Golden Knights 3, Flyers 2
The Golden Knights’ success is built on speed and aggressive forechecking, similar to our cross-state rivals (who will not be named). It’s a style that tends to be effective against the Flyers, as became clear in the playoffs last year. The Flyers’ second and third lines are unproven in their current configurations, and this game will be taking place in Sin City. All in all, there’s a lot going against the Orange and Black on opening night. I expect the Flyers to come up just short, but flashing the promise that has us so excited to see what they can do.