The 2013, lockout-shortened season was a disappointing one for the Philadelphia Flyers. Their final standing was a disappointing 10th in the conference, as their offensive firepower was counterbalanced by eroding defensive depth and poor performance between the pipes.
Last year's non-playoff finish was their first time outside of the big dance since their last-place year in 2006-07, and with a sour taste in the mouths of the Flyers' management team, offseason change was inevitable.
In 2010-11, the Flyers had grown tired of waiting for Sergei Bobrovsky to blossom into a top-flight NHL goaltender, andopened up the vault for Coyotes star Ilya Bryzgalov, virtually assuring saver supremacy for years to come. Bryzgalov supplanted Bobrovsky as the team's starter, and the toughest cop on the force was eventually dealt to Columbus for draft picks.
Flashing forward to this offseason, and Bryzgalov, the Flyers free agent prize of only two seasons prior, was bought-out, taking almost $40 million in pay for his two seasons of labour. At the time of the buyout, speculation abounded that Philly would make a play for big name goaltender. Specifically, the discussion seemed to focus on the participants in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, with rumours stating that Roberto Luongo or Tim Thomas would be finding their way to the City of Brotherly Love. When neither scenario played out, the Flyers were stuck in a cruel twist of fate. The very player that Columbus cast aside when Bob rose to stardom, Steve Mason, looked set to become the Flyers starting goaltender.
Of course, the universe has no sense of humour, and Philly was able to supplement Mason with a player who is more likely to be a stable starter. Ray Emery, repatriated from the Blackhawks after a Stanley Cup-winning campaign, will the Flyers starter this evening. Emery has a record of 9-6 in fifteen career starts against the Habs, sporting a .908 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average. Emery was impressive in a platoon with Corey Crawford last year, and the Flyers will hope that he can continue his solid play this year as he competes with Mason.
With the obligatory pointing and laughing about Bryzgalov taken care of, it's important to note that the Flyers were not entirely unsuccessful in their offseason reload. The Flyers landed the biggest fish in the free agent pond, signing highly-sought Centre Vinny Lecavalier, and beating out suitors like the Habs. Lecavalier will be expected to solidify the Flyers second line, likely playing alongside Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read. Read-Lecavalier-Simmonds will support the Orange and Black's de facto top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Brayden Schenn. The Flyers were in the middle of the pack for team scoring last year, an improved performance is likely to be expected this year.
Perhaps the most important variable in the Flyers season will be the play of their defensive group. Not long ago, featuring names like Pronger, Timonen, and Coburn, the Flyers defensive group was the envy of the league. Injuries ravaged the group last year, and with the squad back to health, Philadelphia will count on a better performance than they received in 2013.
In addition to the Flyers established names, like Coburn and Timonen, some other veterans have been added to the back-end in Philly. Mark Streit was poached from the Islanders and signed to a four-year deal. The Flyers then reached even further into the pool of former Hab talent and scooped up Hal Gill - everyone's favourite tall, slow, and (by all accounts) highly likeable penalty-killing defenceman. The four names mentioned above, in addition to players like Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros (rumoured to be on the trade block), will make up the Flyers defence corps this season.
The Canadiens, following their disappointing season-opening loss to the Leafs, have developed some injury issues of their own. Max Pacioretty will not play this evening after sustaining a hand/wrist injury during an awkward collision with a Maple Leaf on Tuesday. George Parros, meanwhile, is obviously out after hitting his head on the ice following a scary tumble during a tussle with Colton Orr. Their spots will be taken by Michael Bournival and Ryan White tonight, with the duo likely to play together on the fourth line. Brandon Prust, as is customary, should see a promotion to the top six to fill in for Patches.
Carey Price will start in net for the Habs tonight, and will try to bring his career record against Philly up to .500. Price is currently 7-8 against the Flyers, sporting a 2.82 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. In his last outing against the Flyers, Price was lit up for six goals on 29 shots, as the Canadiens endured one of the most challenging stretches of their season last year. Price looked strong and healthy against the Leafs on Tuesday, and will look to keep his goals against to a level commensurate with his strong play.
Finally, Daniel (don't call me Danny) Briere will face off against his former teammates only one game into his Canadiens career. With the Canadiens most potent offensive weapon, Pacioretty, out of the lineup, the spotlight will be on Briere to create some offence and sustain the depth that Montreal relies on for their success.
For analysis of the Flyers powerplay, the latest Andrej Meszaros rumours, and up-to-the-minute coverage of Ilya Bryzgalov as he earns $1.6 million of Ed Snyder's money to prepare to take on the Colorado Eagles next week, check out Broad Street Hockey.