If the Philadelphia Flyers hope to get back to the playoffs this season then the bottom six forwards will need to contribute and the defense will need to play smart.
The Flyers couldn’t do much in the offseason because of its cap situation, but General Manager Ron Hextall did manage to improve the penalty kill and get some offensive depth. Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon were the Flyers two major offseason signings. Hextall seemed to focus on improving the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, by signing a lot of good players to two-way contracts. The focus had to be on the Phantoms and call-ups because the Flyers didn’t have much cap room to work with during the offseason. Philadelphia also re-signed a couple of restricted free agents to new contracts specifically defenseman Radko Gudas and forward Brayden Schenn.
If the Flyers don’t want to be on the outside looking into the playoff picture then they’ll need for Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek to have bounce back seasons. Giroux did manage to get 67 points last year, but there were games that the opposing teams kept him off the score sheet and out of the game completely. The addition of Gordon to the penalty kill should help Giroux because that’ll mean less ice time and it should keep him fresher for even strength and power play shifts. Voracek really struggled last year only managing 11 goals and 55 points. He had a 26 point drop off from the 2014-15 season where he had 81 points. Voracek looked really good in preseason, using his speed and strength to make plays. If the duo can get back to their old form then they’ll have two formidable lines with scoring threats.
The x-factor this season will be the play of the special teams. The Flyers have a strong top power play unit that includes Giroux, Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere. They’ll need to shoot the puck more and stop overpassing for the perfect chance, just get the puck on net. The second power play unit has been upgraded with the addition of Travis Konecny over Matt Read. Konecny can man the half boards and he has no problem going to the front of the net either. Dale Weise should be the net front presence for that unit. The penalty kill looked really good in preseason and should be improved with the addition of Gordon and a new system. Philadelphia is being more aggressive on the penalty kill this year and it worked for them in the preseason.
Sean Couturier should have a breakout season on the offensive side of the puck. He’ll be playing with Konecny and Voracek, who can both shoot the puck and pass the puck. Couturier should be able to set up in front of the net and get some “dirty” goals since he has good size. He will also get time on the second power play unit, which was improved in the offseason. The young forward should flourish with more ice time and better line mates this year. A big factor in him having a breakout season will be to stay healthy.
The offense still looks to be an area where the Flyers need to live up to potential or there won’t be many goals scored. Philadelphia had trouble scoring last year and it continued in the preseason where they were shutout three times in eight games. They aren’t a balanced group and will rely a lot on the top six forwards to score and produce points. The bottom six are going to need to find a way to contribute on the scoresheet, specifically to the goals and points columns. If the bottom six can’t find a way to contribute then they’re going to be in trouble because teams can just focus on shutting down the top six.
The defense is a question mark like it is almost every year at the start of a new season. They won’t have Michael Del Zotto for the first four to five weeks of the season due to an injury suffered in the preseason and Gudas is suspended for the first six games of the season due to an illegal check in the preseason. How does Gostisbehere respond after having a successful rookie campaign? Does he have a sophomore slump or find a way to continue his success? How much responsibility is put on rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov? The veterans like Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz will need to play a smart game and avoid turning the puck over. Does Gudas play the smart way like he did the second half of the season or is he suspended again because of another bad hit?
The goaltending is actually a strong aspect of this team. The duo of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth were unbelievable last season. They single-handedly won game for the Flyers especially Mason with a long run of good games down the stretch to get them into the playoffs. The goalies are both in contract years so look for them to really shine, if they can manage to stay healthy. They really stepped up last season when called upon, but they both could improve in the shootout, but that goes for the whole Flyers team. If Mason and Neuvirth can have repeat performances of last season then the team will have a tough decision to make as to which goalie to keep.
Philadelphia will be on the outside looking in come playoff time because of its lack of balanced scoring and not having a true number one defensive pairing.