The Flyers return to the TD Garden in Boston tonight for the first time since they ended their playoff hopes there back in April. The Bruins, fresh off of an impressive run through the playoffs and a Stanley Cup victory, will be hoisting their championship banner into the rafters to kick off their 2011-2012 campaign. The Flyers open up their first two games on the road before heading home against the Canucks next week, so this one should be a good test.
The Bruins are largely unchanged from their roster last year, with lots of depth on the forward lines and a stout defense backed by impressive goaltenders. The Flyers are coming off a forward overhaul and a big signing of a top-tier goalie. Tonight’s game should be a great game for hockey fans to add the budding Philly/Boston rivalry that was rekindled during the Winter Classic and the 2010 playoffs. How will the Flyers match up? Will the forwards begin to gel with such a young squad? Will the defense hold up this season? Is Bryzgalov worth his price?
The biggest makeover this season was the Flyers’ forward corps. The departures of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg, Darroll Powe, Dan Carcillo, and Blair Betts left holes all over our line-up. However, the additions of Wayne Simmonds, Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek, Maxime Talbot, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and (eventually) Brayden Schenn will all see action this season to fill a role. Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and James VanRiemsdyk will all have to carry the load for the offense as returning players. That’s not to say that the new guys will not be contributing either; because Jagr, Read, Voracek, and Simmonds will see an expanded role offensively for the Flyers. Most of these guys are very young and will have to gather chemistry with each other in order to be successful against some of the top talent in the East. Their age hopefully will equal energetic shifts that will mesh with Laviolette’s up-tempo offense.
Talbot enters as a penalty killer and checking line player that should help alleviate the loss of Blair Betts and Darroll Powe. Matt Read was spectacular in the pre-season, but can he translate that to a regular season NHl game? Can Simmonds eclipse 20 goals for the first time in his young career? Will Jagr have enough in the tank for the whole season? Can Voracek build off of his decent start and equal his trade value? And when Schenn finally plays on the Flyers, is he for real? Only time will tell, but the potential of our forwards is there. Let’s see if they can put some goals together.
Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky: The Russian Connection
Ilya Bryzgalov, the bajillion dollar man. He comes to the Flyers this season as one of the best goalies they’ve had in years. Will his success in Phoenix continue here in Philadelphia where he has arguably a better team in front of him? What about Bobrovsky? Bobrovsky could vary well be dangled as trade bait until the deadline, or he could be our young backup trying to gain a starting job in the future. I’d rather see the latter, but for once we have a solid goalie and a solid prospect at the same time. Can’t tell you the last time that happened. Let’s see what Bryz can do between the pipes tonight.
The Aging Defense
Chris Pronger, our newly crowned captain, is apparently healthy and ready to go after seeing some action in the pre-season. He returns with Kimmo Timonen, another fellow aging veteran. Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros return as well as the younger guys with good NHL experience. I do not think Carle and Coburn will both be returning next season, so their play will dictate who stays and who goes. Matt Walker will be starting for the Flyers tonight after clearing waivers, and free-agent signing Andreas Lilja will be the 7th defenseman. Our defense’s success will be predicated on our older guys staying healthy and remaining effective. If they can do that, our defense should be as good if not better than last year. Also, look for Bartulis and Gustafsson to get some playing time this year if there should be any injury or Laviolette feels the need to give these guys a shot.
Flyers are set for a 7 PM puck drop aired nationally on VS. Then they’ll travel to NJ to face the Devils on Saturday night. Get ready for this one, because it’s going to be a wild ride.