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Five questions facing Philadelphia Flyers

Chemistry of new defensemen, Hart return to form, third-line center among unknowns

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Philadelphia Flyers:

 

1. How will the new defensemen fit together?

The Flyers revamped at defenseman in the offseason, adding Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle while subtracting Philippe Myers, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg.

Ellis, acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on July 17 for Myers and forward Nolan Patrick, has the highest expectations. He's expected to play on the right side of the top pair with Ivan Provorov, help on the power play and penalty kill, and provide a calming presence on and off the ice.

"Ryan is an excellent all-around defenseman," general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "In our opinion he's one of the best passers in the game on the blue line. He's great in transition, he can play the power play, he's got a heavy shot and he's a very good penalty killer. He's been part of the leadership group in Nashville for a while. ... He's a really well-rounded hockey player, a quality person and somebody that we feel very fortunate that we were able to add to our group."

 

2. Can Carter Hart and Martin Jones bounce back?

Hart's .877 save percentage last season was the lowest among the NHL goalies who played at least 20 games, down from .917 as a rookie in 2018-19 and .914 in 2019-20. But the Flyers displayed their confidence in the 23-year-old when they signed him to a three-year contract Aug. 9.

Jones signed a one-year contract July 28 after the San Jose Sharks bought out the final three seasons of his six-year contract. One reason the Flyers were drawn to Jones is his history with goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh, who worked with him as a goalie development coach with the Los Angeles Kings. The Flyers believe reuniting them can help Jones rediscover his game.

"We have two quality goalies that can help each other, that can push each other," Fletcher said. "We have a very good tandem."

Video: PHI@BUF: Hart earns shutout against Sabres

 

3. Who will center the second line to start the season?

Sean Couturier likely will start as the top center, but who fills in for an injured Kevin Hayes is in question.

Hayes had abdominal surgery Sept. 21 and is expected to miss at least 10 games, coach Alain Vigneault said. Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton, who have played center and wing the past several seasons, could be options on the second line.

Possibilities for the third-line center include Morgan Frost, the No. 27 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, who is healthy after missing all but two games last season because of a shoulder injury; rookie Tanner Laczynski, who played five games last season and is healthy following hip surgery in April; Nate Thompson, who signed a one-year contract July 28; and Derick Brassard, who signed a one-year contract Aug. 25.

Video: PHI@NJD: Couturier fires a shot that beats Blackwood

 

4. How will the power play look this season?

The Flyers averaged 0.57 power-play goals per game last season, their second fewest since 2005-06 (0.49, 2018-19). But they could have more of a shooting mentality this season after the acquisition of forward Cam Atkinson in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jakub Voracek on July 24.

Atkinson has averaged 1.82 power-play goals per 60 minutes of ice time since 2016-17, with a shooting percentage of 13.2 percent on the power play. During that span, Voracek averaged 0.92 power-play goals per 60 minutes, with a power-play shooting percentage of 6.5 percent.

Voracek's 162 power-play assists are seventh among NHL forwards since 2011-12, but the Flyers have Giroux (218; second behind Nicklas Backstrom's 223) as their primary facilitator on the power play, and now Atkinson as an extra shooter to go with forwards James van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee.

 

5. Can Travis Konecny bounce back?

Konecny led the Flyers with 24 goals in 2019-20, the third straight season he hit that number. But he did not score a goal in 16 games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and scored 11 goals in 50 games last season.

With Konecny at his best in 2019-20, the Flyers were seventh in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.29 goals per game. With him not scoring at nearly the same level last season, they were 15th (2.86 goals per game). For Philadelphia to return to playoff contention, it will need Konecny to return to form.

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