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First Look: Philadelphia Flyers

A scouting report on Pittsburgh's cross-state rival heading into the first of eight meetings

by Michelle Crechiolo and Caleigh Burchfield / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Philadelphia Flyers are a hungry and motivated group looking to build on the huge step forward they took in Alain Vigneault's first season as head coach.

The Flyers finished the 2019-20 campaign with a 41-21-7 record, good for fourth in the NHL and second in the Metropolitan Division. They went on to win a playoff series for the first time in eight years before the New York Islanders eliminated them in seven games in the Second Round.

Philadelphia comes into the 2020-21 season with the majority of that roster remaining intact, and didn't have to look outside of the organization for a couple of key additions. Returning to the mix are talented young forwards Oskar Lindblom, who completed his radiation treatments this summer after being diagnosed last December with Ewing's sarcoma, and Nolan Patrick, who missed all of last season with a migraine disorder. 

Their most notable departure came on the blueline, as former Penguin Matt Niskanen - who had played alongside No. 1 defenseman Ivan Provorov - retired in October. So the Flyers had room to add Erik Gustafsson, who brings skill and speed, in free agency. 

Here is their projected lineup…

Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Claude Giroux-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee

James van Riemsdyk-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek

Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun

Travis Sanheim-Phil Myers

Robert Hagg-Erik Gustafsson

Carter Hart

Brian Elliott

FORWARDS: The Flyers have had the same group of core leaders for years with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier.

Couturier won the Selke Trophy last season, which is awarded annually to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. He is certainly a frustrating shutdown center and will look to make life miserable for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin throughout the season. But what makes Couturier so dangerous is that he also possesses scoring ability, finishing third on the team with 22 tallies in 2019-20 after passing the 30-goal mark each of the prior two seasons. 

While Couturier has been tremendous, the Flyers are looking for more from both Giroux and Voracek. Giroux is coming off of a relatively down year, while Vigneault said that he challenged Voracek to be better, saying he's been in the league a long time but has only won two playoff rounds.

Voracek will have some good young players pushing him to be at his best. Travis Konecny is coming off his third-straight 20-goal campaign and led the Flyers in that category last year. Lindblom had piled up 11 goals in 30 games before missing the remainder of the season. Patrick, the second overall pick in 2017, adds depth down the middle along with a lot of potential at just 22 years old, while fellow first-rounder Joel Farabee is looking to build on his rookie year.

Kevin Hayes, who thrived in his first season with the Flyers with 23 goals, and James van Riemsdyk provide size and physicality. Scott Laughton led the Flyers with five goals in 15 games during the Return to Play, and it was quite the competition throughout training camp to see who would flank him on the fourth line. 

Right now Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel are slotted into those spots, but rookie Morgan Frost made the opening-night roster as the 13th forward and will be battling for playing time. Overall, the Flyers' forward group is a strong blend of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm.

DEFENSE: The Flyers named Provorov an alternate captain on Tuesday, just one day before his 25th birthday. 

The young defenseman is incredibly gifted offensively, coming off of a season where he scored 13 goals in 69 games. Two years prior to that, he recorded 17 (!). He logs a lot of minutes and plays in all situations. This season Provorov will anchor the top pairing with veteran Justin Braun, who is entering his second season with the Flyers.

The second tandem of Travis Sandheim and Phillippe Myers brings youth and size, while Gustafsson joins fellow Swede Robert Hagg on the third pair. Shayne Gostisbehere, who has offensive ability but is coming off a couple of down years, is currently the seventh defenseman.

GOALTENDING: The Flyers have found their franchise goalie in Carter Hart, who is entering his third season with the team. At just 22 years old, Hart is one of the youngest starters in the NHL but is well on his way to becoming one of the league's elite.

He went 24-13-3 with a .914 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average in 43 regular-season games last year before posting terrific numbers in his first career postseason. Hart went 9-5-0 with a .926 save percentage and two shutouts across 14 postseason games.

The Penguins actually didn't see much of Hart last season, as backup Brian Elliott got all three starts. He had his ups and downs in those games, getting pulled in Pittsburgh's 7-1 win on Oct. 29, pitching a shutout in the Flyers' 3-0 victory on Jan. 21, and then suffering a 4-3 overtime setback on Jan. 31. 

But overall, the veteran has been invaluable to the Flyers, serving as a tremendous mentor to his rookie counterpart while also doing his part to win hockey games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A couple of former Penguins coaches are overseeing the Flyers' special teams, with Michel Therrien running the power play and Mike Yeo running the penalty kill. 

The Flyers finished the regular season with the NHL's 14th-ranked power play, but clicked at just 7.7 percent in the postseason - including going 0-for-13 in the Second Round as they were eliminated in seven games by the Islanders. 

During training camp, the Flyers had Giroux, Hayes, Couturier, Konecny and Provorov on the first unit. Patrick, Farabee, van Riemsdyk, Voracek and Gustafsson made up the second unit.

Meanwhile, the penalty kill ranked 11th in the NHL last season after finishing 26th the year before. 

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