Tomorrow starts the 2016 playoff run for the Philadelphia Flyers. After clinching the 8th and final seed by winning game 81, the Broad Street Bullies are rewarded with the task of facing the Washington Capitals. The top team in the NHL this year, the Presidents Trophy winners amassed 120 points over the course of the season. However, this is April, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and all bets are off, and the regular season means nothing. As the dust settles from the fight to get in, here are 5 variables that could affect the Flyers in a playoff run.
1. How will emotions factor in?
On Monday morning, the Flyers family lost its father. Ed Snider passed away at 83, after a two-year battle with cancer. The owner of the team since the outset of the franchise, Ed Snider was the heart and soul and ever-present watchful eye of the team. In Philly, his loss is felt and his passing is mourned, as it has been within the organization and the Flyers are dedicating their success to the late owner as they’ve done this whole season.
“Although we will be playing with heavy hearts, we know we will be doing everything we possibly can obviously to be successful in the playoffs because that’s what Mr. Snider would want,” Simmonds said. “I know there’s nothing else he wanted to see more than for the Flyers to win another Stanley Cup. That’s definitely our goal. We’re going to go out there and strive to bring the Cup back to Philly.” – Wayne Simmonds
Since the All-Star break the Flyers have been in an all-out slugfest to grab the 8th seed, vaulting over several different teams in the process, and remaining laser focused. They’ll need to stay focused and disciplined. The Penalty Kill could turn the momentum in the Capitals favor very quickly. The Passing of Mr. Snider could add an emotional boost, or throw them off their game.
2. Can Mason keep up?
Steve Mason has played his heart out since the injury to Michael Neuvirth and has firmly cemented himself in the #1 goaltender position. Mason has played the entirety of the home stretch for the Flyers and could be feeling the mileage as they enter the playoffs.
Mason should be the starter, but with Michal Neuvirth healthy again we might see Mason get a bit of a break. If Mason has a bad start to the series, it might put the Flyers in a hole they can’t dig themselves out of. Goaltending might be the biggest decision in this series.
3. Calling on Jake Voracek?
Jake Voracek has had a frustrating season, to say the least. He’s had injuries, spent time on the 4th line, and hasn’t seemed to be able to fill the net as he has in previous years. His assist numbers were there, and he’s playing hard, but is he going to be able to break through and score?
Voracek has stated issues with his hands ever since coming back from his most recent injury. His possession numbers are still amazing, but to fight against the Capitals, the Flyers will need all of their top six talent to produce.
4. How will the Defense stack up?
Shayne Gostisbehere is racking up the minutes on the back end, and producing points, but can he hold up physically in a playoff atmosphere? Shayne Gostisbehere will be feeling the full weight of Philadelphia. With almost every professional analyst citing him as the Flyers x-factor in this series. Not only will Ghost have to carry the Flyers back end, but he’ll have to play through adversity for the first time.Detroit was able to stifle Ghost in their last meeting. If the Capitals have been paying attention, they’ll do the same thing.
Will Schultz and Streit play like cagey veterans or will their defensive liabilities be exposed by Washington’s uber talented set of forwards? If Ghost is effectively shut down, it will be up to other defensemen to drive play and create offensive chances. Can Gudas play on the edge without going over? He’ll definitely have a target painted on his back. There will no doubt be some frustrating penalties, but the Flyers will be counting on Gudas to be a physical force.
Will Brandon Manning make a strong debut or crumble under the pressure and open the door for Medvedev? Does anyone know what to expect from Andrew MacDonald anymore? He figures to be a key cog as Ghost’s partner and in blocking shots. With only Medvedev as an option for change, look at this core group to sink or swim.
5. Can Hakstol Hack it?
Dave Hakstol has jumped easily from college ranks to the pro’s, his part in developing the younger players on this team has contributed to the success we’re seeing. Can the Flyers rookie coach handle the pressure of the playoffs, and will he be able to adapt to competetion?
His experience at North Dakota says yes, he’s been to six Frozen Four championships with the University of North Dakota. But we also see that he was never able to win a national championship, a feat the Fighting Hawks (Still the fighting Sioux to me) accomplished this season without him.
The first thing he’ll need to address is the drop in scoring power from the lineup. This could mean more line shuffling or a different healthy scratch – as long as R.J. Umberger doesn’t find his way back into the lineup – to shake up the roster. The power play needs a bit of fine-tuning as well. With the Flyers now leaning heavily on the Giroux-Ghost side of the power play, it may be time to let Voracek get back into the mix. The Focus is on Ghost and that might just leave Jake and Brayden Schenn open and dangerous.
The Flyers Playoff series begins Thursday night at 7pm.