The Flyers officially began the second half of their season Tuesday night in Buffalo. Their Eastern conference-leading record of 26-10-5 is one of the best starts in franchise history. Here are five Flyers' predictions for the final 42 games.
1. The Flyers will not have a definitive number one goaltender. Yet the Flyers will continue to win. Peter Laviolette believes that he has two starting goalies, with Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky. Although he has shown a propensity to not play his back-up goaltender, the Flyers do not have a definitive pecking order, which leads me to believe that both players will get their fair share of action. More often than not, the hot goalie will get the starting nod. And as we have seen all season, when the Flyers lose, Laviolette will likely start the other next game. One thing is for certain: the demotion of Leighton will prevent the dreaded three-goalie tandem and keep goals from behind the net to a minimum.
2. The Flyers special teams will improve when Chris Pronger returns. The Flyers currently rank 20th in the NHL in powerplay percentage and only 17th best on penalty kill. It's no mistake that the two top teams in the NHL, Detroit and Vancouver, are in the top three on the powerplay. In order to win the divison and have another deep playoff run, the Flyers need to improve on special teams. It's conceivable that the return of a rested Chris Pronger will help the Flyers improve in both areas.
3. Having Claude Giroux as the Flyers' lone All-Star Game representative will be a good thing. Flyers' fans learned this afternoon that Danny Briere and Mike Richards were snubbed in not being elected to the 2011 NHL All Star Game. But the Flyers can use this to their advantage. Fresher teams are often winning teams, especially in the playoffs. The Flyers (especially Mike Richards, who continually wears down late in the season) could use the week off to their advantage. Secondly, the Flyers can use this as motivation. In my opinion, there is no better way to show the NHL that they made a mistake than to win the Stanley Cup.
4. Andrej Meszaros will continue to be a force on defense. Although Meszaros never lived up to his rookie season potential with Tampa Bay, Paul Holmgren traded for him and his $4 million cap hit in the offseason to bolster the defense. Now, Andrej's +25 leads the NHL, and he has chipped in 15 points from the blue line. The Flyers have been burned in recent years with very poor defense from their third pairing (ie Jaroslav Modry, Randy Jones, and Jim Vandermeer, to name a few). But with six solid defenseman on the ice when Chris Pronger returns, the Flyers have one of the strongest defensive corps in the league, which is important when facing Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin a total of 10 times per season. Meszaros has not shown any signs of slowing down, and the Flyers need him to be a force to win the cup.
5. The Flyers will win the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have an astounding 11-1-0 record against divisional opponents. While the Pittsburgh Penguins simply will likely keep pace with the Flyers, its hard to beat a team that continually beats up on their own division. Needless to say, the road to winning the division will not be easy – the Pens and Sidney Crosby are only a point behind the Flyers, and the Rangers have quietly put up 53 points thus far.
Honorable Mention Flyers Predictions: Jody Shelley will continue to steal ice time from Nikolay Zherdev, Brian Boucher will let up one goal from the red line, Danny Briere will score another 40 goals and take more mindless offensive zone slashing penalties, and Jeff Carter will miss high and wide on every breakaway.
Your thoughts Flyers fans?