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5 Questions: Philadelphia Flyers

Goaltending battle between Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth among key issues

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

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Philadelphia Flyers:

Who's the No. 1 goalie?

Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth each quietly performed well for the Philadelphia Flyers last season. Mason had a .932 save percentage at even strength, fifth among goalies to play at least 50 games. And when the Flyers needed a late push to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he went 10-4-3 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .924 save percentage starting 17 of the final 19 regular-season games. Injuries limited Neuvirth to 32 games, but his .924 save percentage was tied for fourth in the League among goalies to play at least 30 games. They combined to give the Flyers a .933 save percentage at 5-on-5, second in the League to the New York Rangers (.934), according to Corsica Hockey.

 
How will coach Dave Hakstol do in his second season? 

Last season, Hakstol became the third coach to go from the NCAA to the NHL with no prior NHL experience, and after a rocky start, he guided the Flyers to the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Most of the same players return from last season and will know what Hakstol expects from Day One. The learning curve in place the first half of last season shouldn't be needed this season.

 

Can Jakub Voracek bounce back? 

Voracek had 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) last season, significantly down from 2014-15, when he was fourth in the League with 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists). Hakstol moved Voracek around the lineup in hopes of sparking him, including from right wing to left wing, which he never had played before. Voracek had one goal in his first 30 games, and his early struggles combined with pressure to perform in the first season of an eight-year contract reportedly worth $66 million (average annual value $8.25 million), were the biggest reasons for his dip in production. But after a solid performance (one goal, one assist in three games) with Team Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, Voracek said he feels ready to return to his 2014-15 level. "The World Cup helped me so much," he said. "I was playing playoff games in September. … I'm in midseason [form], basically. It's very good for me."

Video: NYR@PHI: Voracek rips PPG to give Flyers 2-0 lead

 

Can Ivan Provorov impact the defense?

Provorov, the No. 7 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, was named the top defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League last season. At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, Provorov, 19, has the size and well-rounded game to help a Flyers defense that has struggled in its own end and in transition. There are six defensemen on one-way contracts, along with Shayne Gostisbehere, the Calder Trophy runner-up last season, but general manager Ron Hextall has shown he isn't averse to sending a player on a one-way contract to the American Hockey League. But Hextall also said he won't rush any of Philadelphia's prospects. The Flyers need a player with Provorov's skill set, but he'll have to show he can be a contributor for 82 games to earn an NHL spot. 

 

Where will the offense come from?

Last season, the Flyers' 2.57 goals per game were 22nd in the League, and they return 11 of the 14 forwards who played at least 20 games. The only notable offensive-minded addition was Dale Weise, who had an NHL career-high 14 goals last season but scored one goal in 19 regular-season and playoff games with the Chicago Blackhawks after being acquired from the Montreal Canadiens. Last season, the top line of Wayne Simmonds (32), Brayden Schenn (26) and Claude Giroux (22) combined for 80 of the Flyers' 211 goals (37.9 percent), but no other forward scored more than Michael Raffl's 13. To get back to the playoffs, Philadelphia will need more offensive contributions throughout the lineup.

Video: NYI@PHI: Weise chips the puck over Gibson

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