Flyers season preview: Which team will we see?

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Flyers season preview: Which team will we see?

So which Flyers crew shows up Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Will it be the one that has the potential to do some damage in the realigned Eastern Conference with newcomers Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit and Ray Emery?

Or will it be the one that lost five of seven preseason games and held a lead for less than 14 minutes?

Will it be a team that protects the slot or one that invite chaos in front of its goalies?

Most of all, will this look like an extension of last spring’s Flyers squad that won six of its final seven games and realizes a hot start is absolutely necessary, or will it be a carbon copy of last January's club that started off losing six of its first eight and never recovered?

For Peter Laviolette’s sake, this club needs to be decisively settled into a positive rhythm from the get-go.

“No question we want to get off to a good start,” Laviolette said. “When you put yourself behind the 8-ball, you are burying yourself and you have to dig out of a hole and that becomes difficult. … For us, it remains get off on the right foot, win hockey games, put yourself in position.”

A quick start would prove the preseason was a mirage forged out of the team having just one exhibition with a full, healthy roster.

“You want to have a great start,” Scott Hartnell said. “That is what everyone focuses on. Not just the first game, but the first five to 10 games. You want to get wins, get hot early, get a couple points, get the confidence going in the first part of the season.

“When you are winning games, points are gonna come. … We have to hit Wednesday running and have a quick start. It’s not going to be easy this year.”

Unlike the lockout restart, Hartnell is in shape, looking to turn the clock back two years ago when he had a career season with 37 goals and 67 points.

Thanks to a full-scale realignment, it will more difficult this season. Not just in the East overall, but in the new Metropolitan Division, which is the “old” Atlantic plus Carolina, Washington and Columbus.

That can be daunting for a club that failed to make the playoffs during the lockout-shortened season.

“I’m ready,” 15-year veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “I feel like I’ve been off a really long time. Too long. To have a year like that last year, sometimes, it’s good to settle down and see what we did wrong together -- everybody. Coaches, players, management, everybody.

“I hate to say it was good that we didn’t make the playoffs, but at least now everybody realizes we have to work even harder and make better decisions. Sometimes, you need [as a team] to go down to come back up again.”

So much is riding on team chemistry -- offensively and defensively -- for a club that seemed to lack both in exhibition play.

Streit was signed to move the puck efficiently and yet he struggled in the preseason, as did young Erik Gustafsson, who looked nervous in his own end.

Only Timonen and partner Braydon Coburn seemed relaxed.

You can’t emphasize enough how important it is for the Flyers to settle down in front of Emery and Steve Mason. A strong defense at the season’s start will allow the offense to catch up. 

“Defense is important everywhere,” Lecavalier said. “You got to be sharp defensively. In practices we do a lot of offense, which is very refreshing. You’re feeling good in the offensive zone.

“Protecting that puck, the difference from last year to this year for me is getting that puck in the offensive zone and keeping it. Not just being a one opportunity and you’re out. Cycle and do things like that.”

Emery figures to be No. 1 in goal. Whether he stays remains to be seen. Neither he nor Mason were sharp in exhibitions amid the chaos in front of them.

“It’s healthy to have competition,” club chairman Ed Snider said. “It’s great. These [players] both know each other, like each other. It’s not any negative type of competition. It works out well for us.”

Lecavalier will center Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The top line remains intact with Claude Giroux centering Hartnell and Jakub Voracek.

“Just play simple,” Voracek said. “Take care of the puck in our zone. Everything will come if you’re skating. Lanes open up.”

Lecavalier developed some chemistry in camp with Schenn and Simmonds.

“It’s all about feeling comfortable with the guys you play with and I feel comfortable,” Lecavalier said. “I played with everybody last year. So many [lines] I can’t remember.

“It changed one period to the next. Guy Boucher changed lines constantly. I didn’t have anyone consistently with me for the last few years except Teddy Purcell.”

Laviolette was encouraged with Lecavalier in exhibitions.

“He looks like he is in terrific shape,” Laviolette said. “He had Tampa Bay going in the right direction and then the injuries hit the club and hit him. He seems 100 percent healthy and motivated. He’s in shape, and he’s a talented guy.

“I still go back to the first couple times we played Tampa Bay last year. I was so impressed with the way he played the game. His competitiveness. The fact that he fought a couple of our guys. The way he was playing offensively.”

If Lecavalier ignites the offense, there should be a trickle-down effect. Voracek and Giroux were pretty much the only offense last season.

“We have a good balance of players here,” Laviolette said. “We have guys who can score and put up points. What teams do in the summer doesn’t matter as much as what they can build together as a group. The confidence they put into each other and play hockey games.

“Whether they are scoring or playing defense, winning is the name of the game. I think teams build that. That’s not put together in a summer. That doesn’t build a successful team or a championship team. It will come from the guys in this room … the identity and brand we bring on a consistent basis, that will be the difference between winning and losing.” 

Giroux seems recovered from a right hand injury via a freakish golf accident in August. He led the club with 48 points -- two more than Voracek, who led the team with 22 goals.

Giroux hopes his year carries over into something far more.

“I was playing with a lot of confidence,” Giroux said. “Any player who is playing with a lot of confidence can be a dangerous player. It’s about finding yourself and your game. You go on the ice and know what to do.

“It’s something I want to do, become a dangerous player offensively and defensively.  Jags [Jaromir Jagr] told me if I was going to be one of the best, I would have to also be the hardest working guy out there. I have had that on my mind [all offseason].”

With the Eagles in the tank, all eyes in South Philly shift to the Flyers this month.

General manager Paul Holmgren is a bit on edge as well.

“We need to be better,” Holmgren said. “The players know that. I am sure the coaches laid it out to them that it’s got to be better. I've addressed a couple individuals. In the last couple days, I think the players that we have realized it and picked it up a couple notches in practice.”

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Different players just keep stepping up for the Nashville Predators, and now their magical postseason run has an even bigger destination: the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Colton Sissons scored his third goal with 6:00 left, and the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 win in Game 6 on Monday night in the Western Conference finals.

"In the back of your head, you've been thinking about the Finals and then when the buzzer goes off, it's an amazing feeling," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said.

The Predators, who've never won even a division title in their 19-year history, came in with the fewest points of any team in these playoffs. They lost their top center, Ryan Johansen, for the playoffs after Game 4 because of emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher has missed two games with an upper-body injury.

"We went through a tremendous amount of adversity the last 72 hours losing two key guys in our lineup," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I mean, I said it before earlier in the playoffs that this team's got tremendous amount of composure. There is so much confidence in this dressing room what we can accomplish together if we play the right way."

They've swept the West's No. 1 seed in Chicago, downed St. Louis in six in the second round and now the Pacific Division champs. Peter Laviolette is the fourth coach to take three different teams to the Final, and the first since the playoffs split into conference play in 1994.

Laviolette joked that probably means he's been fired a lot.

"Our guys know the big picture," Laviolette said of his Predators. "They understand what it is that we're trying to do here. And when that time comes, we'll be ready."

The Predators will play either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

Anaheim lost in the conference finals for the second time in three years.

"Our effort was there and we were a desperate hockey club right from the opening faceoff, and we didn't quit until they scored the second empty-net goal," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Cam Fowler tied it 3-3 at 8:52 of the third for Anaheim as the Ducks tried to rally for the fifth time this season when trailing by multiple goals.

But Sissons, who scored on the third shot of the game, scored twice in a wild third period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead at 3:00 and then 4-3 three minutes later.

"I don't think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can't speak enough for just our whole group," Sissons said. "We've been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are."

Austin Watson scored on Nashville's first shot and had an empty-netter with 1:34 to go. Filip Forsberg also had an empty-net goal.

Rinne made 38 saves to improve to 12-4.

Ondrej Kase scored his second career goal -- both in this series -- giving Anaheim a chance to tie the NHL record with a fifth rally when trailing by multiple goals. Chris Wagner banked the puck off Rinne's head for a goal at 5:00 of the third to keep the Ducks close.

But this has been the best postseason ever for Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, a stretch ranking among the NHL's best. And the 6-foot-5 Finn used his big body to turn away shot after shot even with the Ducks trying to crash the net every opportunity.

Music City buzzed all day leading up to the puck drop waiting for one of the biggest sports parties this town has ever seen.

Superstar Garth Brooks spoiled the usual mystery of who would sing the national anthem with Twitter hints hours before the game. Sure enough, his wife Trisha Yearwood became the latest to handle the honors. Former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George waved the rally towel to crank up the fans.

That didn't even include the throngs packing the plaza outside the arena's front doors and the park across the street.

The Ducks, who came in 2-1 when facing elimination this postseason, peppered Rinne with pucks.

But they had goalie Jonathan Bernier making his first career playoff start after John Gibson was scratched with a hamstring injury. Caryle said Gibson, who went out after the first period of Game 5, was expected to play before telling them he was unavailable after skating Monday morning. Jhonas Enroth dressed as Bernier's backup.

Watson's third this postseason deflected off the left skate of Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour just 81 seconds into the game. Sissons skated on the top line in place of Johansen. He finished a game-high plus-5.

"This one is going to sting for a while," Ducks forward Corey Perry said.

Notes
Laviolette won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and coached Philadelphia to the Final in 2010. Laviolette joins Scotty Bowman (St. Louis, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit), Dick Irvin (Chicago, Toronto and Montreal) and Mike Keenan (Flyers, Chicago, Rangers) taking at least three teams to the Final. ... Sissons' hat trick was the first in a conference final clincher since Chicago's Patrick Kane in 2013 against Los Angeles. His hat trick is the second in Nashville playoff history.

NHL Notes: Desperate Senators hoping to avoid elimination

NHL Notes: Desperate Senators hoping to avoid elimination

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Guy Boucher has typically kept his team off the ice on off-days during the postseason. Not Monday.

The Ottawa coach opted for a half-hour practice ahead of Game 6 on Tuesday night to help his team "refresh" and "reload" after a 7-0 beating by Pittsburgh, one of the worst losses in team playoff history. Players thought the practice, as well as an encouraging chat beforehand, helped wipe the slate clean as they prepare for an elimination game. The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference final 3-2 and can return to the Stanley Cup Final with a win.

"We can't be sitting in our mud puddle," Boucher told The Canadian Press after practice. "We've got to get up and go."

Reloading against an opponent vying for back-to-back Stanley Cups means reverting back to strengths of the club. In Sunday's blowout loss, Boucher said, he thought his team tried to trade goals with the high-scoring Penguins -- an odd choice for a Senators team that thrives on shutting down opponents.

"If we stay away from our strengths there's no chance," Boucher said on Monday. "We're aware of that. We got slapped -- hard enough. The reality sets back in" (see full story).

NHL: Former All-Star Bill White dies at 77
CHICAGO -- Bill White, a former Chicago Blackhawks all-star defenseman and a member of Canada's 1972 Summit Series team, has died. He was 77.

The Blackhawks announced White's death Monday.

White, a Toronto native, started his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 1967 before being traded to Chicago during the 1969-70 season. He formed an imposing tandem on the Blackhawks' blue line with Pat Stapleton and helped the team reach the playoffs in all seven of his seasons in Chicago.

He appeared in six consecutive All-Star games between 1969 and 1974 and briefly served as head coach of the Blackhawks for the final 46 games of the 1976-77 season.

White finished his career with 50 goals, 215 assists and 495 penalty minutes in 604 NHL games with Los Angeles and Chicago, adding seven goals and 32 assists in 91 playoff appearances.

"The Chicago Blackhawks organization extends its thoughts and heartfelt condolences to Bill White's family as we mourn his loss," the team said. "He will be remembered as a leader, generous teammate and tough player to play against. His energetic style helped the Blackhawks see great success during his tenure with the team."

He joined Canada's squad for the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union after Game 1, finishing with a series-best plus-7 defensive rating while acting as a key part of Canada's penalty-killing unit.