"Guess who just got back today? Those wild eyes boys that had been away. Haven't changed, haven't much to say. But man I still think them cats are crazy
The Boys Are Back In Town
, the obligatory song that will be played in every arena across the NHL at some point during opening warmups on Opening Day. Not that anyone is complaining because all it means is one thing, HOCKEY IS BACK!
For Philadelphia fans it is very important to have their Bullies back at Broad and Pattison after the 2012 sports seasons they have had to endure. Philly fans lasting image of sports in 2012 won't be the Eagle's being shot down or the Phillies and their struggles but budding superstar Claude Giroux asserting himself in the Flyers opening round series last spring against the cross-state rival Penguins. Giroux was lighting the lamp and setting up countless plays on offense while effectively killing off penalties and playing physical defense in his own end, but it all culminated into one shift on a warm April afternoon in Philadelphia. Giroux lost the opening draw but proceeded to drop Sidney Crosby then 27 seconds later fired a howitzer past Fleury, in a game the Flyers would never look back on.
All good stories end though as the Flyers advanced to the second round and were beaten by the Devils, then a summer of disappointment endured as the Flyers were left standing there as big name UFA's went elsewhere and Nashville matched the offer sheet to Shea Weber and then there was the Lockout, which doesn't need to be spoken about anymore!
The Flyers are coming back from all over the globe and looking forward to the 2013 season. It might be shortened but it will not be any less stressful or intense on these players and coaches. Let's take a preview of this team and how they will fare this season and some question marks and concerns that have been sitting here for the last seven months.
Gone from the group this year is the legendary Jaromir Jagr and often criticized JVR. The Flyers had a very high-octane offense in '11-12 that was led by Giroux's 93 points but had many surprises along the way. Scott Hartnell proved he was no caveman by posting another 30 plus goal season for the Orange and Black, Rookie Matt Read emerged as a speedster with a great scoring touch, Max Talbot proved to be a demon on the PK and contributed with a few short-handed goals during the season, Wayne Simmonds showing true grit and toughness in front of the net and let's not forget the emergence of another rookie, Sean Couturier, who was one of the best defensive forwards on the team and proved he has the ability to shut down elite players in this league and then go back down the other end and bury a goal.
For this team to succeed and make a deep playoff run this year a few things will need to happen by this offensive group. One thing for certain is the young players such as Read, Schenn and Couturier will need to take that next step and not have a Sophomore slump. They need consistent scoring depth throughout their top 3 lines. Another big question is Jakub Voracek. The guy has shown at times flashes of brilliance and why he was taken so high in the draft but he goes through long droughts of being invisible. He needs to fill the shoes of Jagr on the top line by using his speed, size and playmaking ability to take some pressure off of Giroux and Hartnell and make them one of the most dangerous lines in hockey. The third question is will Scott Laughton make the Opening Night roster? He has been invited to camp and looked impressive so far in the OHL. While the Flyers have a depth at the center position they should strongly consider moving Danny Briere or Brayden Schenn to the wing and really add some depth to their wings.
This Flyers defensive group is not as strong as it should be. Team Captain and future HOFer Chris Pronger's career has ended due to an ocular concussion. Matt Carle has jettison to Tampa after being spurned by the Flyers back in July. Left is an aging Timmonen, a player in Coburn who will need to take that next step and try to fill Pronger's void, oft-injured Meszaros, new comer and highly criticized Luke Schenn, hard-hitting Grossmann, and an aging and slow Lilja. This defense is not one which can win the Cup if they don't buckle down and play tough defense for Bryzgalov every game. While they are a solid group look for Bruno Gervais, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Danny Syvret and Erik Gustafsson to be playing throughout the season on the 3rd pairing. Maybe Holmgren will trade for some defensive help but at the moment this is all the Flyers are left with.
The biggest question will be Timmonen's health. Can his body endure the big minutes still and can he stay at the high level he has been at in recent years? Only time will tell. Coburn is the key for this defense at the moment. He will need to assert himself physically and begin to really contribute offensively. This defense is a major concern for the Flyers heading into the season but if they play to their abilities and some exceed expectations then they will be just fine.
Ah, yes the biggest question mark in Philly sports since the 80's. Ilya Bryzgalov didn't live up to his contract last season and hurt the Flyers at times with inconsistent play. Part of this may have been HBO's cameras, part may have been Bobrovsky as a threat to steal his job at times and part of it was team play around him. He had a great stretch March and April where he was a brick wall but he returned to human in the playoffs. For the Flyers to have any hope of a championship it rests squarely on this mans shoulders. Mr. Universe will need to become the goalie we saw in March permanently and not just when he wants to be.
I believe Bryz will have a much better season this year and become the goalie we thought he would be. He came from Anaheim and Phoenix where there was no pressure to win and the media didn't hound his play. Now with being familiar to the city and Bobrovsky traded he will be a different player. He is the starting goalie and there are no questions about Bob coming in for him. This definitely hindered his play and made him very uneasy during the season until Lavy said he's our guy. Bryz will have a bounce-back season and help the Flyers become a much better team. While the team needs to bail him out a little more, he also needs to do steal games. Defenses will play poorly, but Bryz has to steal games on his own. That was something we didn't see last season.
In a 48-game season we will begin to see these question marks answered. Hopefully they are the answers we as fans are looking for. This team has the talent to go far it's just a matter of living up to it. They are in a very tough division with PIT and NYR around them and they need to make it clear early they will not be third best in their own division.
Hockey is finally coming back, here's a video to get you pumped up for this season after that horrible lockout.
From the Box