And just like that, training camp is over.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ abbreviated preparations — which lasted just eight days — came to a close on Sunday night with an intrasquad scrimmage that was the best possible option to replicate actual gameplay, seeing as there were no exhibition games against other teams allowed.
Just another byproduct of life in the NHL during a pandemic as the Flyers now prepare to drop the puck on a 56-game season beginning Wednesday night against their in-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, at Wells Fargo Center.
They’ll get a heavy dose of Pittsburgh and most of their other rivals as the NHL instituted geographically-driven schedules, meaning they’ll play the Penguins, New York Rangers, Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and Boston Bruins eight times each this season.
It’s the toughest division in hockey as six of the eight teams made the playoffs in some capacity last season.
Surprisingly, it was the Flyers that came out as the top dog in the Eastern Conference last season after winning the three-game, return-to-play, round-robin tournament that featured triumphs over the Bruins and Capitals. After taking down the Montreal Canadiens, they pushed the Islanders to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals — almost overturning a 3-1 deficit — before bowing out.
Their postseason run was way ahead of schedule in head coach Alain Vigneault’s first year as many expected the Flyers to be more of a rebuilding side.
Expectations are now considerably higher this year — and their roster looks in much better shape.
While forward depth was one of the Flyers’ Achilles heels last year — especially down the stretch — the organization is now flush with options.
Oskar Lindblom has successfully returned from beating Ewing’s sarcoma, Nicolas Aube-Kubel looks poised to build off a successful 36-game stint from last year, Nolan Patrick looks as though he’s 100% and skating better than ever, and Joel Farabee is expected to take a major step forward in 2021.
Add that to the proven playmakers like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, and even James van Riemsdyk, and the Flyers legitimately have nine big-play contributors ready for the season.
Here is how the forward lines could look this season:
LW: Oskar Lindblom
C: Sean Couturier
RW: Travis Konecny
LW: Claude Giroux
C: Kevin Hayes
RW: Joel Farabee
LW: James van Riemsdyk
C: Nolan Patrick
RW: Jakub Voracek
LW: Michael Raffl
C: Scott Laughton
RW: Nicolas Aube-Kubel
On the defense, Matt Niskanen’s sudden retirement fueled by the COVID-19 outbreak certainly eliminated a proven, veteran presence on the blue line, but a mostly young, impressive group of defensemen are expected to headline the foundation of the Flyers. Though, decisions will not come easy. Seven current blueliners played at least 40 games in the NHL last season, including new signing Erik Gustafsson:
Ivan Provorov is one of the brightest young defensemen in the game at just 23 years old. He’ll anchor the first pairing along with veteran Justin Braun to allow another pair of youngsters in Travis Sanheim (24) and Philippe Myers (23) to hold down the second pairing. Both took sizable steps forward in 2020.
Robert Hagg and Gustafsson look as though they will round out the bottom pairing with Shayne Ghostisbehere acting as the seventh defensemen.
Flyers projected defensive pairings
Ivan Provorov – Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim – Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg – Erik Gustafsson
There is no drama when it comes to deciphering who will be in net for the Flyers — whether that be in 2021 or the following 10 seasons, at least.
Carter Hart quickly ascended toward the status of premier goaltender in the NHL last season. He went 24-13-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in regular-season play before hitting a different level in the playoffs, posting a .926 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average with a pair of shutouts.