As the Flyers finally return to practice for the first time in a while after a lengthy wait due to COVID-19 protocol, so to returns the many questions we as fans have about our beloved franchise. How will they pick up after being unable to practice for so many days? How many line-up regulars will be out? Will the Flyers’ tactics change to match the ongoing situation?
Well, we don’t know all of those answers yet, and fortunately the Flyers resume play against a struggling Rangers team that have lost four straight games. As expected, Artemi Panarin is cruising with 15 points in 12 games played, and Adam Fox is a pretty good young defenseman, but otherwise, there haven’t been many stand-out players on this New York Ranger squad. Quite a few of their players have been disappointing so far, including Mika Zibanejad (only three points in 14 games) and Alexis Lafreniere (one point in 14 games).
After the Rangers, however, the Flyers take on Boston (probably) at Lake Tahoe, followed by another contest with New York, then host the Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center twice in a row. It isn’t the easiest return schedule in the world, given the Flyers’ struggles against the Sabres earlier this season.
Regardless, here are three predictions for the Flyers’ next few games as they make their way back into the swing of the NHL season:
The penalty kill will improve
In fairness, the penalty kill can’t possibly be worse than they were against the Boston Bruins, given the Bruins’ strength at the man advantage and the Flyers’ lack of a Mr. Sean Couturier.
But, I think they will show marked improvements. Currently, a PK percentage of 70.45% leaves them 28th in the league, and they were 5/13 in their last four games. However, they have shown flashes of how effective they can kill penalties. Against the Devils and Islanders in late January, opponent power-plays were only 1 for 15.
Given Sean Couturier finds his feet quickly (which he certainly did against Washington) and Kevin Hayes plays better, the Flyers will show far better penalty kill numbers.
James van Riemsdyk continues to put up points
I certainly didn’t think he’d be tied for 8th in the league in scoring at this point before the season began. The man lovingly referred to as “James van Hockey” has 18 points in 13 games played, and has seemingly rediscovered his scoring touch from his office, in front of the net.
Five of JVR’s seven goals so far have come on the power-play, and seeing him do what he is being paid to do comes as a welcome sign for a player we were sure could get lost to the expansion draft.
However, if he keeps this up, it will be an interesting conversation to have over summer about his future. That as much is guaranteed.
The Flyers finally beat the Bruins this year
If indeed the Flyers and the Bruins do play at Lake Tahoe, the orange and black could make it two outdoor victories in a row following Claude Giroux’s iconic overtime winner against the Penguins during the 2018-19 season.
I don’t expect the Flyers to lose five games in a row to Boston, and the Lake Tahoe setting should serve as a proper venue for an entertaining hockey game that will hopefully fuel the Flyers’ burning desire to beat the Bruins. The last time the Flyers played the Bruins, on the 5th of February, despite losing they played better than in the 4-3 overtime loss the game before. Hopefully, this better process can result in finally entering the win column against the much hated northern rivals.