Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Atlantic Division preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Special to the Phanatic

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (2011-12 -- 47-26-9, 103 pts, 3rd place; 264 GF, 232 GA)

REVIEW: Last season had to leave many Flyers fans with a bittersweet feeling. The six-game shellacking of the Pittsburgh Penguins was one of the most exciting first-round series in recent memory and the fact that Philadelphia made its hated rivals look like an absolute train wreck was the icing on the cake. The only problem was the Flyers went down quietly to the more disciplined and opportunistic Devils in the following five-game series, making the thrilling win over the Penguins look like a mirage.

KEY ADDITION: The Flyers waved goodbye to some key pieces this offseason when Chris Pronger "unofficially" retired due to post-concussion syndrome, Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle left via free agency and James van Riemsdyk was dealt to Toronto. In return for van Riemsdyk, the Flyers received Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn, the older brother of Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn. The fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, the 23-year-old Schenn already has 310 NHL games under his belt and the organization hopes the stay-at- home defenseman is preparing to enter his prime. Considering his high draft status, Schenn has been called a disappointment but the Flyers don't need him to live up to being the fifth overall pick, they simply need him to be a steady performer in the middle of a defensive corps that is short on depth.

X-FACTOR: It's no secret that Ilya Bryzgalov had an up-and-down first season as Philadelphia's No. 1 goaltender last year -- both in the crease and in the locker room -- and the Flyers will expect a more consistent effort from the eccentric netminder starting at the end of this week. Bryzgalov received a nine-year, $51 million contract from the Flyers prior to the 2011-12 campaign and he has some serious work to do to prove he was worth that price tag. With question marks all over the Flyers' defensive unit, Bryz needs to be better more often if Philadelphia wants to compete for Eastern Conference supremacy this truncated season.

PROGNOSIS: The Flyers are loaded with offensive talent thanks to guys like Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell but the club's defensive issues -- centering on the short-term health of steady veteran Kimmo Timonen and including the statuses of Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja -- prevent Philadelphia from being taken seriously as a Cup contender. A more focused Bryzgalov could help this team exceed expectations but the lack of depth at the back end (even with the recent signing of Kurtis Foster) could be too big of a problem to solve this season.

PROJECTION: Third place and a playoff spot. 

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