It’s that time of the year again. Your Philadelphia Flyers are finally playing meaningful NHL hockey again, opening the season at home (wait, you can do that?) against the Vancouver Canucks. We’re excited to bring you yet another season of high-quality coverage, jokes, and pre/post-game jams, starting with this preview. Let’s dive in.
After going 2-5 in the preseason and starting off their regular season with a 3-2 loss in the shootout to Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks travel to Philly in search of their first win. This is a weird Vancouver team from all angles, with a few stars and not much else providing hope for a big rebound season after a dismal follow-up to their playoff run in the COVID-19 bubble.
The ‘Nucks are led by alien/bobblehead/stud center Elias Pettersson, whose young career has been defined by sparkling analytical results and his deadly release from the face-off dots on the power play. They also return key pieces like Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, JT Miller, and Nils Höglander up front to compliment their Swedish star.
The offseason saw the addition of two major names to the roster in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes. While the move may seem like a slam dunk on paper, consider the following: Ekman-Larsson is getting paid $8.25 million AAV for the next five years and has a full no-movement clause to boot. For a guy who’s accrued 0.7 xWAR by Evolving-Hockey.com’s model over the past three seasons, that’s quite a bit.
The Canucks are hoping that the addition of a play-driving, even strength scorer in Garland will shore up their forward depth, but more importantly are betting the future of the franchise on OEL bouncing back to where he was in the 2017-18 season (42 points, 20th in WAR, third in xWAR). Quinn Hughes is the only other notable NHL defenseman patrolling this blue line, and he’s coming off of a painful regression in 2020-21 too.
The key to beating this team lies in attacking with speed via the forecheck. Winning puck races opens up opportunities to find your trailer wide open after they’ve cooked the ever-loving shit out of big, slow/unaware guys like Tyler Myers or Luke Schenn. The Flyers will make their money against Vancouver via the rush.
Behind all of that confusingly assembled talent is Thatcher Demko, who now stands to be the Canucks’ starter in front of the wizened Jaroslav Halák. Demko finished seventh in even strength GSAx last year, posting a respectable .915 save percentage despite getting some atrocious defensive performances in front of him.
Halák probably gets the start tonight after an excellent outing from his younger cohort on Wednesday, but he’s not exactly a slouch either. The former Boston Bruin and Montreal Canadien has been one of the better backup goalies of the past decade, and while he’s coming off of back-to-back years with negative GSAx totals, he’s shown numerous times that he can steal games (sixth in GSAx in 2018-19).
What might this team accomplish? Nobody seems to know, including the coaches or GM, but that’s honestly to be expected. After suffering one of the more comprehensive offseason roster overhauls the NHL has seen in recent memory, the Flyers look quite different from top to bottom.
Alain Vigneault will be expecting big things from his key veterans (Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Ryan Ellis) as well as his emerging younger talent (Joel Farabee, Oskar Lindblom) while he attempts to tarry a potentially disastrous start. Why might the beginning of the season be a mess? Injuries.
Kevin Hayes was recently placed on LTIR, clearly defining him as an absentee for ten days or more. Wade Allison, who was predicted to factor heavily into the middle six winger depth, will be missing indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. Morgan Frost is still getting back up to speed after missing almost an entire year of ice time and wasn’t ready to play big minutes for the NHL squad.
All of this is to say, the Flyers enter a season where things desperately need to go right with everything falling apart. Starting things off with a bang in front of a home crowd might get those with more morose prognostications about this franchise on board. Momentum will be everything for this roster if they’re looking to stay afloat until some of their big guns return.
The Flyers will live or die by Carter Hart, who will be starting his first regular season game since being shut down on April 15, 2021 barring something unforeseen. With the defense still a question mark and establishing chemistry, No. 79 bringing his best between the pipes is less a want than a necessity. Whether they’ll begin hot or cold rests on the shoulders of a 23-year-old.
Three Big Things
- Starting out with a suffocating forecheck and executing the second pass when breaking out will be two crucial schematic points of emphasis for this team. Alain Vigneault’s system works best when the Flyers outwork the opposition, frustrating them into hasty decision making and opening up room for counterattacks via stretch passing and chip-and-charge possessions. Philadelphia coming out of the gates looking confident within their scheme would go a long way in quelling some of the concerns fans might have.
- Taking penalties against this Vancouver team is a death sentence. The Canucks have entirely too much scoring talent and skill to afford teams mercy, let alone a pathetic Flyers penalty kill that still appeared lifeless and stationary in preseason viewings. The best way to avoid giving up power play goals is to avoid taking penalties at all; the Orange & Black need to remain composed and disciplined.
- Hockey is back. Enjoy yourself and refrain from screaming too much when your least favorite player blows a scoring chance or concedes a back-breaking goal. Remember that small sample sizes can be deceiving, and that the 2019-20 Flyers we all loved so much didn’t get things figured out until after the Disney on Ice road trip.
That said, starting hot for a change would be nice.
Game Day Tunes
We’re doubling up today. One song for the clever title ...
... and another for good measure:
Damn, I’m not a huge fan of SchoolBoy Q, but this song goes hard. Hope y’all like this one. If not, here’s a playlist of every song from last season’s previews and recaps. Take your pick from there.
Have a fantastic opening day, and as always, go Flyers.