PUCK DROP: 1pm
TV: NBCSN in the 606, NHLN outside
WOOTER ICE: Broad St. Hockey
What seemed like a three-year offseason finally comes to an end this afternoon, or at least it sort of feels like it does. This still has an extended preseason feel to it, even though the points will be real. The Hawks don’t play for another week after this, giving it sort of an odd oasis-in-the-desert-of-West-Texas feel. Still, these points might matter come April, so you might as well get them.
We’ll start with the reason we’re here, and that’s the Hawks. The opener feels like new toy day in a way, though the Hawks will have to wait to unveil a couple. Calvin de Haan won’t make the bell, which allows Dennis Gilbert and Slater Koekkoek to be your third pairing and for you to wonder if maybe there isn’t a better way to spend your lunch break. Robin Lehner will cede the first net of the season to Corey Crawford, as he should.
So whatever’s “new” about the Hawks today is what you were kind of worried about before. Olli Maatta will debut next to Brent Seabrook, because of those preseason performances that apparently only the coaches could see. Alex Nylander will get to run with Daydream Nation, as the Hawks make every effort to prove he does in fact give a shit, or slightly more of a shit to actually get inside the circles. No one was actually “worried” about Zack Smith or Ryan Carpenter, because we know what they’re here for. So yeah…ok, maybe it doesn’t have the juice of a real “New Toy Day.”
As far as weird openers in a foreign country that don’t really feel like openers, there are harder landings than the Flyers. Except they do come with a fair amount of speed up front, which is something that will give the Hawks problems all season. And if you’re wondering, “Doesn’t every team have a fair amount of speed up front?” Well, now you see the problem.
The Flyers are in a strange place, where it feels like they’re rebuilding but most of their players have been around a while now, whatever their age. And to help take it a step forward, they have three failed coaches behind the bench. Alain Vigneault seems to get a bounce in his first year or two, but eventually drives everyone nuts and by the time he’s fired it’s usually just about the time his players are constructing a flammable effigy of him or two in the dressing room. He’s also an odd choice for such a young team. Beyond that, what Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo have to offer other than grunts and suggesting “MOAR HITZ,” I can’t tell you.
Still, the Flyers should boast a decent enough top-six, with Giroux and Travis Konecny flanking Sean Couturier up top, and new signing (and way overpaid) Kevin Hayes between Jakub Voracek and either James van Riemsdyk or Oskar Lindblom. It’s not the best top six, but it’s hardly the worst, even if Giroux is something of just a spot-up shooter right now. Joel Farabee turned some heads in camp at 19, and will start in the bottom six today, with the hopes of sticking around longer term.
The real hope for the Flyers is on the back end and especially in the crease, where Carter Hart is hopefully going to end the decades-long reign of all the goblins and evil spirits that have inhabited the Flyers crease. Hart was the only one of eight (!) goalies last year to look good, has been billed as the answer since arriving in the organization, and looks the part. The Flyers can only hope that he is finally the one strong enough to overcome the curse of anyone in orange pads.
The Flyers have promise on the blue line, though Ivan Provorov will have to overcome something of a plateaued year last year. Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Samuel Morin are all young, which is why Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen were brought in to be steadying hands (Niskanen was also brought in to make sure Radko Gudas didn’t turn them all into felons). Shayne Gostisbehere needs to prove he wasn’t just a one- or two-year power play phenomenon, because the Flyers have more than enough talent there to shuffle him along to save money.
Whatever it’s going to be, it starts now. The Flyers don’t have near the speed to destroy the Hawks defense, but they have enough that we can see what the plan actually is here. If they get snowed under by this, especially without de Haan or Connor Murphy in the lineup, we know how big the problems just might be. And whether or not Crow can keep Atlas-ing this team so that it’s scoring can make up the difference.