Philadelphia Flyers

NHL playoff predictions: Quarterfinals

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NHL playoff predictions: Quarterfinals

It's time to drop the puck on the NHL playoffs. With that said, Tim Panaccio and Sarah Baicker provide their predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
Panotch: Sidney Crosby and John Tavares both got votes from CSNPhilly.com for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. After a prolonged playoff absence, the Isles are back, but they’ll get rolled. Pittsburgh played the final weeks without key personnel and was scary strong. Pick: Penguins in five.

Baicker: It’s great to see the Islanders finally get a chance at a postseason run … but they’re not going to last very long. The Penguins -- with or without Sidney Crosby -- have so much depth on offense, they’re almost unbeatable at this point. There’s not much more to say than that. Pick: Penguins in four.

No. 2 Montreal vs. No. 7 Ottawa
Panotch: This is one of those “much anticipated” rivalry series within Canada that will have the Hockey Night fans glued to their sofas for two weeks. Can the Sens’ Craig Anderson be the ultimate difference? He has a 1.69 goals against and .942 save percentage, but played less games than Carey Price. We smell upset. Pick: Senators in seven.

Baicker: Montreal has looked shaky in recent weeks despite its second-place finish. They’ll face a tough task in Ottawa, which as Tim points out, can and has won some goaltending battles with Anderson in net. But I think the Habs, who were 1-1-1 vs. the Sens this season, can pull out a series victory -- if Price plays up to his potential. Pick: Canadiens in six.

No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
Panotch: Oh well, Winny-peg died in the final weeks and forked it over to the up-and-down Capitals. Alex Ovechkin finished as highest goal scorer in the league (32), while the Rangers floundered as the eighth seed nearly the entire final two months of the season. Gotta like the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist. Pick: Rangers in six.

Baicker: What happened to the Rangers? Expectations were so high at the beginning of the season, and the acquisition of Rick Nash should have helped propel them forward. Instead, they’re lucky to have finished sixth. That said, the Rangers didn’t lose to the Caps in regulation this season, and I can see their success in this matchup continuing, in spite of Ovechkin’s domination. Pick: Rangers in seven.

No. 4 Boston vs. No. 5 Toronto
Panotch: If any team is ripe for an upset in these playoffs, it’s the Bruins, who managed to blow the No. 2 seed in the East at the end. The Bruins lacked their usual bite over the final month of the season but … the Maple Leafs aren’t the team that can upset them either unless Phil Kessel and James Reimer steal the series. Pick: Bruins in six.

Baicker: The Bruins lost a step as this season came to a close, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fall to Toronto. In fact, the B’s have had the Leafs’ number this season, going 2-1 against them and outscoring them 5-2 in their two victories. The Leafs had an impressive season, and it’s nice to see James van Riemsdyk have some success, but I just don’t see their playoff stint lasting very long. Pick: Bruins in five.

Western Conference

No. 1 Chicago vs. No. 8 Minnesota
Panotch: It would have been nice if Columbus had won the eighth seed. Guess Ryan Suter and Zach Parise only had so much influence on the lame Wild, which was lucky to make it. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Co. are going to make mincemeat of them anyway. Pick: Blackhawks in five.

Baicker: Like Pittsburgh in the East, Chicago is the team to beat in the West right now. Nevermind their record-breaking start to the season -- the Blackhawks are a smart team with great coaching, and the Wild barely made it to the postseason … even with Parise and Suter. Pick: Blackhawks in five.

No. 2 Anaheim vs. No. 7 Detroit
Panotch: This isn’t yesteryear in which the fabled Red Wings scared the hell out of everyone in postseason. The Wings were good down the stretch. It should be an interesting trade-off series between the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf and the Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk. Jimmy Howard would have to win this series for Detroit. Pick: Ducks in seven.

Baicker: This could be a fun one to watch -- Anaheim very well could be fighting for the Cup come June. Of course, they’ll have to fight past Datsyuk and the Wings first. I think the Ducks learned last year’s lesson (they missed the playoffs altogether) and won’t let this year’s opportunity go to waste. Pick: Ducks in six.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 San Jose
Panotch: When was the last time you saw a playoff club like the Sharks sell off assets at the trade deadline and still finish sixth? Goalie Cory Schneider’s health is everything to the Canucks. No one sees the Sharks as a legit Cup contender. Those days are long gone. Pick: Canucks in six.

Baicker: The Sharks were lukewarm even after their deadline moves, but they did win all of their meetings with the Canucks this season. The odds might be against them, but they were stellar in their home arena this season, posting a 17-2-5 record in front of their fans. I think they’ll come close, but fall just shy of the upset here. Pick: Canucks in seven.

No. 4 St. Louis vs. No. 5 Los Angeles
Panotch: Talk about having a delightful coaching matchup: Ken Hitchcock vs Darryl Sutter. Oh baby! It’s hard to look past the reigning Cup champions and goalie Jonathan Quick and truthfully, both of these teams deserve to stick around but … the Blues have the better defense. Pick: Blues in seven.

Baicker: I want to pull for the Blues, if only because Hitchcock is a great coach and I spent four great years living in St. Louis. But the Kings have won four in a row over the Blues, going back to last season. I don’t believe a lengthy run is in the cards for the Kings, but I do think they’ll just barely beat out Blues, who would probably have had little trouble facing almost any other Western Conference foe. Pick: Kings in seven.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

VOORHEES, N.J. — With 26 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and whatnot, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time."

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery — though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go," Hextall said, "so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go."

Some cuts will be easier than others. As expected, Alex Lyon was demoted to Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has only appeared in two preseason games thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does," Hextall said, "and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is."

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open Oct. 4 at San Jose.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly."

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured — if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be — all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Roster cuts
The Flyers on Saturday continued to trim their roster. Forwards Greg Carey, Corban Knight and Phil Varone and defensemen Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill were assigned to Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers as well as Lyon.

Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

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Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

If you have witnessed preseason hockey this past week, you are well aware that the NHL is buckling down on its rulebook and even revising it. An excess of penalties and power plays have occurred as a result of these changes. Are they good for the game? I examine each of the five new rules or changes to the existing rulebook. 

Rule 78.7 (b) — A coach's challenge on an offside play — If the result of the challenge is that the play was “onside,” the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.

In 2015, the NHL granted each coach a challenge they could utilize in the event of overturning an incorrect call on the ice. If the challenge failed and the original call stood, then the challenging coach would forfeit the team’s timeout. Starting this season, a failed challenge on an onsides call in which there’s a goal will result in a two-minute minor penalty.   

By doing so, the NHL instituted a method to help maintain the game’s integrity in the event of a missed call by a linesman, as many coaches hold onto their challenge at a critical juncture — typically during the third period. Now with a two-minute penalty, it’s a way of reversing course without actually taking away the challenge. It's as if the league is saying we want you to have a challenge, but not really. The league is now discouraging teams from using it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, offsides calls can be measured in millimeters — that’s how arbitrary it’s become. But to penalize an entire team for a coaching staff’s misjudgment is excessive, and as we’ll see this season, it will sway the outcomes of a few games. Forfeiting a timeout for losing a challenge is acceptable, but killing a two-minute power play? Absurd, and for that I give it …

Two thumbs down   

Rule 61.1 — Slashing — Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

Flyers fans can call out Sidney Crosby for emphasizing this rule, which is not a rule change but simply the enforcement of an existing rule. Crosby violated this in the worst way when he performed a machete slice over the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Methot late in the season. The result was a broken finger, nearly severed from the tip and the loss of one of Ottawa’s top defensemen for weeks. Watch the video and you can hear Methot scream in pain as Crosby took his whack.

In the preseason, we have seen more slashing than department store prices during Black Friday. It’s out of control, not the slashing itself, but the slashing calls. As the rule states, it’s a "forceful or powerful chop," which usually requires a two-handed grip. However, the referees have resorted to blowing the whistle for a one-handed love tap. As Shayne Gostisbehere said Wednesday, “When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s not a penalty.”  

I suspect come October when the regular season begins, the officials will ease up on their slashing calls, but it definitely creates a gray area, much like the interference call. Over the course of the season, some refs will whistle everything, while others will let stuff go. If it protects the league from injury, especially serious injury in cases like Methot and even Johnny Gaudreau, it can be beneficial, but I see some inconsistency from game-to-game and for that I give it ...

One thumb up ... my good, non-slashed thumb

Rule 76.4 — Faceoff positioning and procedure — The players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink and clear of the ice markings (where applicable).

Like the slashing penalty previously discussed, this is another enforcement of an existing rule. In other words, the league wants to cut down on cheating during faceoffs. You know when players began cheating on faceoffs? Since the inception of the faceoff. In fact, I can recall producing a three-minute story when I was working at a Nashville TV station on how players gain advantages and bend the rules on faceoffs. Three minutes. On cheating! 

Now, those L-shaped lines are no longer suggestions or recommendations, but strict guidelines of where the players should stand prior to a faceoff. If a team is caught twice during the same faceoff (and it doesn’t have to be the same player), the result is a two-minute minor penalty. The Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang was a guilty offender twice during Wednesday’s game in Allentown and the Flyers benefited with a power play in each instance. The league’s explanation states they want to protect players from banging heads, and more importantly, protect the linesman dropping the puck. 

Like the slashing penalty, I’m curious to see which linesmen strictly enforce this rule and which ones will be a little laxer. This is another one of those penalties (like the challenge call) that you certainly don’t want to impact the outcome of a game. The league has good intentions for enforcing Rule 76.4, but will they have consistent enforcement? And for that I give it …

One thumb up

Rule 87.1 — No timeout shall be granted to the defensive team following an icing.

Once again, here’s another example of a moment when a coach would intervene during a critical point of a hockey game (usually late during the third period). An attacking team is applying pressure in the offensive zone of a close game and the defensive team, obviously gassed, flips the puck out of the zone for an icing. That coach proceeds to call a timeout to allow his team to catch its breath and grab some water before the ensuing faceoff.

My take on the new rule: Love it! This rule should have been implemented years ago. You can penalize a team for icing without actually calling a penalty. Allowing a timeout does exactly the opposite and circumvents any drawbacks of icing. By forcing a tired group of guys to line up and take a faceoff right away is precisely the way it should be handled, and for that, I give this new rule …

Two big thumbs up

Eliminating Rule 80.4 — Numerical advantage on faceoffs — When a team on the power play high sticks the puck, the ensuing faceoff will be conducted at one of the two faceoff spots in their defending zone.

This is the abridged version of the rule that was roughly half a page long. Playing the puck with a high stick is instinctual and when the game is played at warp speed, a player’s natural inclination is to raise their stick in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. When a player is guilty of a high stick, the whistle is blown and a faceoff occurs. Now that this rule has been eliminated entirely from the rulebook, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the zone in which the infraction was committed.

No team should be given a territorial advantage as a result of a high stick. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to acknowledge the absurdity of Rule 80.4, and for finally acknowledging this, I give the elimination of this rule …

Two thumbs up