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.”

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

VOORHEES, N.J. — Radko Gudas was so hyped up, he was having great difficulty trying to communicate his excitement after having crunched two players during battle drills.
 
“This is the fun where it starts … where the fun starts?” he said with a laugh. “Everybody wants to get the feeling of game-like situations. Everybody is trying their hardest.”
 
After two days of mostly drills with gradually advancing intensity, the Flyers wrapped up Saturday’s training camp with two-on-two battle drills.
 
Two guys going to the net and shooting, getting the rebound, all the while fighting off another player.
 
Gudas wants to demonstrate he can still maim guys along the boards with a taped-up right wrist (stress fracture). And he did.
 
“I haven’t used the wrist for a couple weeks so it’s nice to get a touch with somebody else and get into the battle situation with someone else and know I can still do it,” he said.
 
“This is more for the older guys who weren’t here for the rookie [camp] to get in there, get a feel for it.”
 
All this aside, Gudas might not participate in Sunday’s full squad scrimmage only because he has not been cleared to shoot pucks yet.
 
“I have to stay as much as I can off the heavy slapper,” he said.
 
The Flyers have two split-squad games Monday — one in New Jersey, the other in Brooklyn.
 
“The guys are anxious to have a scrimmage,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Couple good, hard workdays and they handled it really well. It’s time to get into a scrimmage situation, which leads into a game the next day.”
 
Hence the battle drills to get players to take their energy to that next level.
 
“You got to slowly keep moving toward game readiness,” Hakstol said. “There’s a difference from practice to a full preseason game.
 
“Today was a little more battle in practice than yesterday but some subtle detail mixed into each of the drills.”

Broadcast notes
Monday's game in New Jersey will be broadcast on radio on 97.5 The Fanatic, while the Islanders' game is slated to be a video webcast on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.

Tuesday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center and Wednesday's game against the Devils in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will both air on TCN and 97.5.

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

VOORHEES, N.J. — What a difference for Brayden Schenn to walk into Flyers training camp and feel as if he’s arrived.
 
The forward is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), which earned him the team’s Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved Flyer. 
 
Best of all, he was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract in July.
 
“I feel good coming into this year,” Schenn said. “The Flyers showed some trust and confidence in me by signing me for four years. Coming in here, I’m excited to get the season going and build off last year.”
 
At least he won’t have to begin camp on the fifth line like he did last fall after general manager Ron Hextall had challenged him to take his game to another level and new head coach Dave Hakstol made him work to advance himself in the lineup.
 
“You hope it won’t be like that [fifth line], especially with [seven] guys gone,” Schenn said jokingly, meaning the Flyers playing in the World Cup of Hockey.
 
The big question for Schenn is whether he plays left wing on Claude Giroux’s line or plays wing on Sean Couturier's unit. He proved to everyone last season he can play all three forward spots now and be effective on the ice.
 
“I finished on the left,” he said. “I said forward or center but I played so much left wing, right wing a little center in the playoffs. So I feel comfortable now all over.
 
“Wherever the opportunity is to play with great players and make the most of the situation is where you want to be right now.”
 
These first two days of camp, Schenn has been very aggressive and motivated on the ice.
 
Schenn, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds represented the top line much of last season, especially in the second half. That was partly because Jakub Voracek had slumped so badly from his breakout season the year before and couldn’t hold his spot on the first line.
 
“It’s tough to say because lines change throughout the year,” Schenn said. “When you are trying to find chemistry and this and that. Wherever I start, I just have to make the most of every opportunity.
 
“We have a lot of top players around here to play with … to pencil my name into one spot is hard to say. Wherever they place me at the start, I’ll to try with it.”
 
It’s expected he’ll start the season again at left wing on Giroux’s line after he serves his three-game suspension for a hit against Capitals forward T.J. Oshie in the playoffs.
 
“It’s good to have guys who can move around because you never know what you are gonna need in a top six,” Hextall said. “You like a left-hand Brayden on the left side with skill.”
 
Hakstol said he wants guys “who fit well” together, so that may be the answer right there.
 
There was talk last season whether the Schenn Brothers were having negative impacts on each other. Luke Schenn, the veteran defenseman, came to camp and was demoted to eighth on the depth chart. He was angry from Day 1. Brayden Schenn was angry at the fifth line.
 
Both would huddle with each other every day. Both cared so deeply about the other, they acted as each’s confidante. Yet when Luke Schenn was traded, it seemed to benefit both players.
 
“Probably a better question for Brayden, but a lot of people have pointed to that,” Hextall said. “When Luke got traded, Brayden had played six or seven really good games ahead of that.
 
“Whether that was coincidence or not I don’t have an answer. I do think what he said there, there’s obvious reason based on personality and it probably could do you good or do you harm.”
 
Brayden Schenn said he always dreamed of playing with his brother, but it adds other pressures.
 
“When you come to the rink [as brothers], you are so tight and so close, you tend to worry about each other more than you have to, just because it’s family and he’s your brother,” he said.
 
“Now that Luke’s gone, he’s in a good situation in Arizona, I hope he gets a good opportunity. Now you tend to worry about yourself a little more. Come to the rink and focus on what you have to do and not to worry about Luke or vice-versa.”
 
Schenn said it’s obvious that the club has made a commitment to himself, Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier and Voracek with the long-term contracts handed out in recent years.
 
To that end, he said, the window of opportunity for some of these Flyers is fast approaching. Some are in their peak years now. Schenn, 25, and Couturier, 23, are the youngest among that group.
 
“They will challenge us again this year to get better,” Schenn said. “They have invested in us. We all got to step up. Parts on the back end like 'Ghost' [Shayne Gostisbehere] and Gudy [Radko Gudas]. Everyone has got to get better year by year.
 
“I hate to say it. We’re not old by any means, but our core group of guys are in their prime now and we have to try to make it happen.”
 
It starts in training camp.