The NHL transitioned from lockout to hockey so fast, we’ve hardly
had enough time to cobble together a proper preview of the season to come. Every
year begins with the same simple yes-or-no question though: is the home team
equipped to compete for a championship?
When it comes to the Flyers, the answer usually seems to be Yeah, but...
2012 doesn’t appear to be any different. Philly’s potent
offense is still among the most dangerous in the league, but head coach Peter
Laviolette must seek a replacement on the top line, plus fill the role of a
puck-moving defenseman. Speaking of the blueliners, the work stoppage was over
for all of a day when we were already dissecting whether or not this team is deep
enough on the back end. Then there is eccentric Ilya Bryzgalov in net, good
enough to post a 10-2 won-loss last March en route to setting a franchise
record for consecutive shutout minutes, yet still only manages to finish 32nd
in the NHL with a .909 save percentage.
This squad looks like the definition of yeah, but.
And while the Flyers have plenty of concerns on their own
roster, the Atlantic Division is no picnic, either. The New Jersey Devils lost
Zach Parise to free agency over the summer, but were just in the Stanley Cup
Finals, so they should be tough. The New York Rangers met them in the Eastern
Conference Finals, and added a big-name reinforcement in the name of Rick Nash,
instantly making them the favorites in some eyes. Then there are Sidney Crosby’s
Pittsburgh Penguins, perennially the favorite.
That’s where our season begins today, at the Wells Fargo
Center against the “favorite.” Conveniently that’s where the Penguins’ season
ended last April, in the first round of the playoffs as the “favorite.”
You could say there is no love lost between Philly and
Pittsburgh, but that probably only serves to downplay the animosity between the
two at this point. The rivalry reached its boiling point right before the postseason
even got underway with a feisty encounter that nearly culminated with Lavvy
diving into the opposing team’s bench after Pens’ coach Dan Bylsma. A short
time later, the Flyers were scrapping their way to a 4-2 series victory. They
were winning the fights for the puck, and they were winning most of the actual fights,
As fun as it was to watch though, and as much they undoubtedly
despise black and yellow, the Flyers need to put that series behind them to a
certain extent. The Penguins looked distracted by all of the extra-curriculars
a year ago, taking way too many penalties while tumbling into a 3-0 hole. I
would expect them to walk into the enemy’s building with a renewed more focus
today. They’ve been waiting for this opportunity for almost eight months now.
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Something to watch is how everybody holds up on the ice after
the extended time off and/or apart. The speed and quality of the game stands to
be impacted as guys get used to playing together again, or in some cases playing
again, period. However, given these are two clubs that a) didn’t have a ton of
turnover in the offseason and b) are extremely familiar with one another, we
should be in for a treat of a hockey game – and yeah, a bit of brawling as
As for the Flyers’ yeah-buts, how they answer those
questions remains to be seen over the course of the next 48 games. Yet while
championships normally would be on our minds already this time of year, we wouldn’t
want to take for granted the simple fact that the game is back on the ice
today. There will be plenty of time to hash out what this team is made up, but
for one day at least, we’re just going to enjoy the show.