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GREENBERG: Analyzing A Fast Start

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

Only eight of the Flyers’ first 21 games will be against teams that made the playoffs last season, a green light to the fast start they crave.

“I don’t think [Coach Dave Hakstol] has to talk about it, everybody who was here the last [three] seasons knows that we had terrible starts,” said Jake Voracek.

“Last year and the lockout year we didn’t make [the playoffs]. Two years ago we did and we had to use up a lot of energy.”

Sleepy Flyer Octobers extend even farther back than three seasons. Only once since 2007-08 have the Flyers been over .500 after 10 games, and that was the only year (2010-11) during this period that they won the Atlantic Division. In the three-point (and 30 teams for 16 post-season spots) era, coming uphill has become exhausting.

To be accurate, last year’s Flyers, while getting off at only 1-3-2, were 7-5-2 after 14 games. It was the 1-8-1 that followed, becoming an extended 7-13-5 into early January, which was dooming. But whether you want to measure a start as 10, 20 or 30 games, the Flyers can’t head into January under .500, not in an Eastern Conference that may be deeper than ever in playoff-caliber teams.

Thus, Thursday night in Tampa, reveille sounds bright and early for Troop Orange and Black, their recent, sour, experiences having become these guys’ drill sergeant. There can be no hitting the snooze button for a few extra games of zzzzzzs..

“You do take some learning experiences from it and part of that was the work ethic in camp this year,” said Steve Mason. “You can control how hard you work and if you do, you can push through the most difficult of times.

“Clawing our way back (two seasons ago), it was like we had had a 40-game playoff run already (when the playoffs started). We can’t put ourselves in that position. We want to be the team that is being chased.”

The Flyers will become that club if: The Flyers will again be chasing if:

1) Mason stays as healthy and as sharp as he was during the pre-season.

2) The coaching change, which is apparently leading to a role change for Sean Couturier, gives the Flyers a potent center for a second scoring line, making Wayne Simmonds as productive as he should be at even strength, too.

3) Evgeny Medvedev, the significant upgrade of the off-season, adjusts sooner, rather than later, to a North American game that affords less time and space than to which he was accustomed in the KHL. The potentially cornerstone-caliber defensemen the Flyers believe they have picked in the last three drafts are not yet here. Nevertheless the team now has a good puck mover on each pair, something the playoff club of 2013-14 did not possess. This unit should be improved.

4) Brayden Schenn and Matt Read resume their paths to becoming the players most of the hockey world thought they were going to be two and three years ago.

5) Michal Neuvirth wins whatever starts he gets in the first month, when the schedule provides plenty of opportunities for Hakstol to get some work for his backup.

1) They are don’t prove any better at the three-on-three overtime than they were at the four-on-four (5-7) last season. The record in shootouts was 3-11 and no sniper has been added to change that. Nobody is going to be sitting back in three-on-three hockey, especially the Flyers.

2) The 27th ranked penalty killing in the NHL last season doesn’t improve to at least middle of the pack. Even when using the same players, special team success can fluctuate from year to year. Talent is necessary, sure, but these units rise and fall on their level of confidence. If they start a season well, usually it stays that way.

3) The NHL’s third-ranked power play of 2014-15 slips. Even strength goals figure again be a problem unless one or more of the Flyers’ young veterans steps up considerably.

4) If Couturier’s role is indeed changing, Scott Laughton proves not ready to anchor a line that can check the top ones of the opposition.

5) The Flyers lose Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds or Mark Streit for any length of time to injury. Their best players have to be their best players.

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