Flyers 2010 season preview

This article can be found published on MVP Philly.
The Philadelphia Flyers made history with their amazing comeback in the series and Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers made history with their amazing comeback in the series and Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Flyers shocked the hockey world with their Cinderella story of a postseason run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Needless to say, Flyers fans are anxious to get the 2010-11 season underway and see their team bring home the Stanley Cup.

With the remarkable turnaround in the playoffs, one has to wonder what a full season under Laviolette will do for this team. His style of coaching will not allow for players to take mental breaks in a game or for the team to go into horrendous slumps for weeks. Players were left with a bitter taste in their mouths after the loss in the Finals, and now they know what it takes to get to that point and take that final step towards achieving the ultimate goal of bringing the Cup back to Philadelphia for the first time in 36 years.

Many of the key components from last season are returning, but as with any team, some changes had to be made. Gone are goaltender Ray Emery, tough guys Arron Asham and Riley Cote, Jared Ross, Mika Pyorala, Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek. But the ones fans remember the most was the sad departure of longtime player and fan favorite, Simon Gagne.

Welcome in to the Orange & Black newcomers Nikolai Zherdev, Jody Shelley, Andrej Meszaros, Sean O’Donnell and Matt Walker.

The Forwards
For a season where many of the forwards slumped in goal scoring, the team was still able to finish the season with an average of 2.83 goals per-game, good enough for eighth in the league. But no one on the team hit 70 points last season. The closest were Mike Richards, who led the team with 62 points, followed by Jeff Carter with 61.

Carter and Richards were the only two players to break the 30-goal plateau (33 and 31, respectively), and Danny Briere was the only player in 20-goal range. The drop-off is evident when compared with the 2008-09 season where six players scored 20 or more goals.

With Gagne out of the picture, who reached the 20-goal mark in seven of his 10 seasons (twice a 40-goal scorer), General Manager Paul Holmgren and the team will look to Zherdev to fill the void. The right winger, who spent last season in the KHL, has contributed at least 30 points in each of his five seasons in the NHL.

Carter may have reached the 40 goals for the second season in a row if a broken foot didn’t cost him to miss eight games during the final stretch.

The Flyers hope that Scott Hartnell and Briere can build on their postseasons and continue scoring consistently during the regular season. Hartnell (17 points in 23 games during the playoffs) suffered a goal drought last season, falling from 30 goals in 2008-09 to only 14 in 2009-10. Briere (30 points in 23 games and led the NHL in points during the playoffs) enjoyed the best postseason of his career after only a 53-point regular season.

Expected to step up their games this season are Claude Giroux, who had another spectacular playoff performance, and James van Riemsdyk who now has a full season under his belt.

Shelley returns some of the grit lost by Asham signing in Pittsburgh and Cote retiring to become assistant coach of the Adirondack Phantoms.

The Defensemen
One of the most exposed areas on the team last season was the defense. The third pairing of Krajicek and Parent was burned on more than one occasion during the postseason, causing Laviolette to use the top two pairings almost the entire game on many nights.

Chris Pronger averaged 29:03 (first in the NHL in the playoffs) and Kimmo Timonen had 26:37 (good enough for sixth).

Holmgren used the free agency and some trades to bulk up the fifth, sixth and seventh defensemen positions with Meszaros, O’Donnell and Walker. These new additions are sure to relieve some pressure off the top two pairings, especially Pronger and Timonen, who will both be 35-years-old at the start of the season.

Meszaros comes in as a big, 6’2” defenseman who has a power shot from the blueline similar to Pronger. He contributed only 17 points on the Lightning last season, but his three years with the Senators saw him contribute over 30 points each season.

O’Donnell has spent 15 seasons in the NHL, playing on six different teams along the way. He has won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 alongside Pronger. He adds veteran leadership to a defense that now splits down the middle in age with four players 30-and-older and four 25-or-younger.

In the Gagne trade to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flyers acquired Walker in return. Walker has only contributed 30 points in 306 games played in the NHL but has 444 penalty minutes. Look to see either Walker or Oskars Bartulis sent down to the Phantoms.

The Goaltenders
The goaltending situation is the same as the playoffs. Michael Leighton was re-signed to a two-year contract extension on June 30. Neither Leighton nor Brian Boucher has been the named the No. 1 goalie, meaning they will have to battle it out during training camp to claim the spot. Also hoping to fight his way into the roster is Johan Backlund, who spent last season with the Phantoms.

Leighton’s shocking 16-5-2 record (2.48 GAA, .918 SP) fed into his 8-3 playoff performance (2.46 GAA, .916 SP). Holmgren and the rest of Philadelphia are hoping Leighton wasn’t a flash in the pan and can pull off similar results this season.

Boucher struggled in the regular season along with the rest of the team (9-18-3, 2.76 GAA, .899 SP), but stepped up at the end to sneak the Flyers into the playoffs and helped backstop them through the first round and half of the second (6-6, 2.47 GAA, .909 SP) before getting hurt.

Leighton and Boucher went No. 1 and 2 in the league in goals-against average in the postseason.

The Outlook
Holmgren spent the summer bolstering the defense in front of the Leighton-Boucher tandem in the hopes that the goalies can make the saves they need to and the defense can be there to sweep away the lose rebounds and prevent a bulk of the shots from getting through.

The offense seems set, even with the departure of Gagne. There is no reason for this team to have to sneak their way into the playoffs on the last day of the season again this year. They should have no problem locking up a spot and making another deep run into the postseason and perhaps they now have all the right pieces to claim the Cup this year.


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Categories: Ice Hockey, NHL, Sports

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