Jackson's Five: Questions for the final 2 weeks

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Jackson's Five: Questions for the final 2 weeks

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Posted: 12:01 p.m.
By Jim JacksonCSNPhilly.com Contributor

Two weeks from now, we will be analyzing the Flyers first-round playoff opponent. There will be strengths and weaknesses to dissect, trends to figure out and season series to review to see if there is anything of value that could affect the upcoming series. There will be that incredible anticipation of the first puck drop. Its almost here.

However, there are still roughly two weeks remaining to the marathon that is the NHLs regular season. Over the final seven games of the Flyers season, there are still some rather important questions that need answers.

Here are five of them:
1. Can they avoid any more major injuries?
Throughout the NHL, every day seems to bring news of another key player going down. The Los Angeles Kings have lost both Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar in the last week. The Blackhawks lost Patrick Sharp. Pavel Datsyuk went back onto the injured list for Detroit. Washingtons Alexander Ovechkin is missing games (although hes expected back). The list goes on and on.

The Flyers are without Chris Pronger and Jody Shelley. Pronger is expected back (see below). Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff have to be saying their prayers that no other players are lost to major injury as the regular season comes to a close. There will be bumps and bruises for sure, but they have to be hoping nothing of a serious nature comes forth.
2. Will Pronger return in time to get some games before the postseason?
He has missed 25 games this season with three different injuries. The Flyers have more than held their own without him, going 14-6-5 in games hes been out of the lineup. Still, though, his absence is felt, especially late in games, whether the Flyers are leading or trailing.

It would seem to be important for the 36-year-old Pronger to get at least a couple of regular season games in before the playoffs begin. Expecting him to be sharp without any game action would be a reach. He will play in all key situations once the postseason arrives. Rust would not be welcome.
3. Will either goaltender emerge as the guy to run with in the playoffs?
It certainly is not written in stone that a team has to rely on only one goaltender to carry them in the Stanley Cup tournament. But it probably is at least written in erasable ink. Every coach is hoping that their goalie gets hot come April. You want a goalie at worst not to cost you games and, at best, to steal two or three.

The Flyers have two (or is it three?) candidates. Sergei Bobrovsky has recently shown the ups and downs that should be expected with a 22-year-old rookie to pro hockey. His ups are tantalizingly impressive. His downs are cause for concern. Hes had two very strong starts in a row heading into this week. Can he get on a confident roll heading into the first round of the playoffs?

If not, is Brian Boucher the steady veteran who can step up and take the team where it wants to go? Since hes been part of two long playoff runs in Philadelphia, I would venture to say Boucher is capable. It does seem as though he has to prove himself all over again every year though. Outside observers seem to lose faith quickly.

Is there a third choice in current Adirondack Phantom Michael Leighton (you remember him)? He did a great job stepping in during the second round last season and getting the Flyers to within two games of the Cup. After injury issues earlier this season, hes playing well in the AHL. However, he would have to pass through re-entry waivers and theres no guarantee another team wouldnt claim him.

The Flyers safest bet is for either Bobrovsky or Boucher to shake their recent inconsistency and take command over the seasons final seven games.
4. Can the Flyers hold off the competition and take the Easts top seed?
They have been at the top of the Eastern Conference standings since Jan. 8. But their lead has been shrinking throughout March. Heading into the final two weeks, Washington, Pittsburgh and even Boston suddenly feel they have a shot at the top spot.

The conference champ gets home ice throughout the Eastern portion of the playoffs. That is important, although as the Flyers proved last season, not vital. With the Flyers piling up road wins this season, they have plenty of confidence that if they have to win a big postseason game away from home, they can get it done.

However, having led the East for so long, it would be a shot to their confidence to lose their grip on first place just as the regular season winds down. Additionally, if they are caught by Pittsburgh, their seeding drops all the way to fourth at best. That just does not seem to be the springboard into playoffs that any club would want.
5. Can they rediscover their identity and play with some consistency?
The answer to this question trumps those of the other four. Thats because, even with a healthy team including Chris Pronger, a hot goaltender, and home ice advantage from the conferences top seed, without an affirmative answer to this question, the Flyers will not have a long postseason run.

They spent the first 50 to 55 games of the season establishing an up-tempo, hard working, in-your-face identity. They were almost impossible to check with a myriad of offensive weapons. Their defense was also deep, physical and as good at moving the puck as any blue line corps in the league. The goaltending was solid and relatively consistent.

However, over the last month, the tempo has sagged as has the work ethic. They have become much easier to play against. The puck seems to be in the Philadelphia end a lot more than in opposition territory. Are the Flyers tired or just bored?

No one seems sure. In recent seasons, this corps group has had a habit of taking any margin for error they build and using every last bit of it. That seems to be the scenario again this season.

Still, in these last two weeks, the Flyers have the opportunity to get back to basics and re-establish the qualities that have put them in such a good position to begin with. If they finish the season strong and then carry it over into the playoffs, they will have answered the most crucial question and this somewhat maddening month of March will all be forgotten come June.
E-mail Jim Jackson at jjackson@comcastsportsnet.com

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to lose in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to lose in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to lose in 2016-17?

Dougherty
What Shayne Gostisbehere accomplished in his rookie season was unforgettable. He set Flyers records, broke some NHL rookie records and finished with 17 goals in 64 games.

The list can go on and on. He can become the first Flyer to win the Calder Trophy when the NHL Awards are announced on June 22. We all want to see what "Ghost" can do as an encore.

But now Gostisbehere has expectations. Lofty expectations — fair or not.

Gostisbehere will be expected to quarterback the power play, a job he excelled at this season and wrangled away from Mark Streit, whose injury paved the way for his call-up.

In addition, Gostisbehere will be asked to produce offensively and consistently as well as continue to hone his defensive game, which still has areas that needs improvement.

Seventeen goals will be difficult to duplicate and we should not hold him to — or expect — that number again in his sophomore season. We should all temper our expectations.

But the reason I believe Gostisbehere has the most to lose in 2016-17 is because he's very much still a growing product. There will be growing pains and should he hit those next season, how will he bounce back from it? Defensemen generally develop at a slower pace than forwards, and for Gostisbehere to enjoy so much success in Year 1, how will he react to a step backward in 2016-17? It's a weighted response and one that's geared more toward the long-term, but to me, Gostisbehere has the most to lose next season.

Hall
I believe Matt Read will be back next season.
 
After all, he’s under contract through the 2017-18 campaign.
 
But his leash will be as short as it’s even been. At 30 years old, he’ll be fighting just to dress. And when he gets playing time, he’ll have to do enough to show he deserves it over other candidates, many of which will be young, spry and hungry for jobs.
 
Read said he learned a lot last season.
 
Will he make adjustments and carve out a role in Dave Hakstol’s system?
 
Next season, we’ll get an answer.
 
If he doesn’t, his time in Philadelphia could quickly dissolve.
 
And who knows what that would mean for his NHL career.

Paone
Want to talk about having something to lose? How about possibly losing a job, which is a very real possibility for Scott Laughton next season.

The young forward, who will turn 22 on Monday, posted seven goals and 14 assists in a career-high 71 games this season. But much more telling was the fact he found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch down the stretch, as Dave Hakstol felt there were better options as the team completed its improbable run to the playoffs. And that came after he was moved from his natural center position to the wing for the first time since he represented Canada in the world junior tournament.

His inconsistency has come a pretty bad time because as more and more talented prospects come through the system, roster spots with the big club become more and more precious. Laughton will need to have a very good summer and training camp to earn his spot again. The forward prospects will push him during camp, which could be a good thing. But even if Laughton makes the Flyers out of camp when the season starts, the leash could still be short. 

Ron Hextall makes no bones about how he prefers to hold on to young talent and let it develop. But we could be at the point where the Flyers want to see Laughton take the next step. And it could be a much different story if you replace young talent with young talent.

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

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Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

Flyers prospect and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov on Saturday afternoon was named the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year.

Provorov, who the Flyers drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2015, recorded 21 markers, 73 points and was a plus-64 in 62 games with Brandon during the regular season.

The 19-year-old beat out Windsor's Mikhail Sergachev and Shawinigan's Samuel Girard for the honor. Both Sergachev and Girard are eligible for this year's draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.

In 21 playoff games with the Wheat Kings, Provorov added three goals and 10 assists. Brandon beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Championship Series to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup. However, in the Memorial Cup, Brandon lost to the Red Deer Rebels on May 25.

What's next for Provorov?

The defenseman will come to Flyers training camp in September with his eye on making the roster. Many believe Provorov is ready to make the jump to the NHL, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has built a reputation of being patient, especially with his defensive prospects.

Provorov is one of five prospects in the Flyers' system that has created excitement, joining Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, an undrafted free-agent signing who made noise this season. Could Provorov — or any of the other prospects — join Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers' blue line in 2016-17?

After the Flyers' season ended with a playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, Hextall hinted he'll continue to be patient with his prospects (see story).

“What we're building towards remains the same,” Hextall said after the season. “I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago — our vision is the same and we're on a path.

“And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."

But all eyes will be on Provorov come training camp. Can he force Hextall's hand?