A new era begins today as NHL finally returns to our tv screens when the Philadelphia Flyers travel to Tampa to face the lightning. A lot of people are keen to see how the team differ from last year with all eyes being placed on new head coach David Hakstol. Here are five things to watch out for when the two teams take to the ice later today.
Welcome to the big leagues!
In a lot of ways, Hakstol is going to open his NHL campaign with a trial by fire. He’s facing a Tampa team that were arguably the best in the Eastern Conference last year and fell two wins short of a Stanley Cup. The Flyers have a 2-7 record against the Lightning over the past three seasons and it’s notoriously become a tough place to play. If the Flyers new coach can come up against one of the best in his first game and come away with a win then there is certainly a positive to be taken and it would certainly make a good impression on the fans.
The Lightning ended last season with a 32-8-1 home record and a large part of that was down to Stamkos, but the Center also has an intimidating record against the Flyers. 18 goals and nine assists in 23 games against the Flyers are intimidating enough but then you have the possibility of seeing him play on the right wing which is where he played during the playoffs. He’s obviously a versatile player and dangerous from any area on the ice. Laughton and Couturier will likely split shifts in trying to keep that space minimal but the Flyers desperately need some defensive help to aid Steve Mason. With a couple of new faces appearing at the blue line and a do or die scenario or Luke Schenn, the pressure is on the Flyers D to stop Stamkos for running riot. Medvedev and Brandon Manning will be expected to perform in their season opener and a good show here may result in being one of the key factors in the game.
The centre of it all..
We all know how dominant the top line can be. Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek will all want to start the season strong and kick off their campaign to win an Arts Ross trophy, but it’s the lines below that could really make an impact. Coots and Laughton will be crucial tonight in controlling the pace of the game. Sean Couturier had a his best season last year when it came to goals, scoring 15. But the Broadstreet bullies still wanted to see more of an Offensive presence. Couturier is a brilliant defensive Center, but after such a big year and a new coach..could this finally be the year we see a more attacking Coots? It all starts at Tampa…a statement here would really set the tone.
A forced hand
Last season saw a flurry of games where the Flyers started strong and often choked narrow leads in the final period. Against Tampa..it’s simply not an option because they will punish you dearly. The Lightning have a very fast and very attacking style of play. Failure to keep up for all three periods could result in a scenario all too familiar for Philadelphia. But with Hakstol at the helm, fans are hoping his system fights fire with fire and brings a very attacking style of play to the table. Will it be enough to establish early dominance and hold it? Only time will tell.
Avoiding a slow start
The Orange and Black have had a recent tendency to start slow in the regular season and only once in the last three seasons after a slow start (in 2013/14) have the team come back to make the playoffs. But it’s something the players have acknowledged and worked on. The players are a year deeper into their career and will have learned why the started slowly in the past three years with their experience. The team have reportedly skated a LOT more than they are used to in practise in preparation to face one of the best teams in the league..the question is, have all the pieces fallen into place to finally break the mould?