The Philadelphia Flyers gambled on Steven Mason as a starting goaltender last season and the move paid off.
The former Calder Trophy winner, whose performance had suffered greatly since his 2008-09 rookie campaign, posted a solid 33-18-7 record with a 2.16 goals against average and a .917 save percentage to help the Flyers make the playoffs last season.
Mason has resurrected his career in Philly, but challenges remain as the new season nears. The blue line in front of him lacks elite talent and depth (more on that below), and the pressure of playing goaltender in Philadelphia is higher than most cities. He’s also been an inconsistent player in his career and hasn’t won 25-plus games in back-to-back seasons.
The Flyers’ chances of making the playoffs and winning a round(s) hinges on Mason’s performance.
Let’s preview the 2014-15 Philadelphia Flyers.
Key arrivals: R.J. Umberger, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz
Key departures: Scott Hartnell, Steve Downie
Player to Watch
Giroux is the engine that drives the Flyers offense. He led the Flyers with 86 points in 82 games, which included a team-high 58 assists and 28 goals (second-most on the team). He also led all Philly forwards with 20:26 of ice time per game. As an elite playmaker and a dominant force on the power play, Giroux elevates the performance of his teammates. It’s not a coincidence that first-line winger Jakub Voracek tallied a career-high 62 points playing alongside Giroux last season.
Giroux will be among the top Hart Trophy candidates this season because few players have more of an impact on their team’s success. The Flyers lost just three of the 24 games Giroux scored in last year.
Scoring depth is a huge advantage for the Flyers, who ranked eight in goals scored last season. Philly had seven 20-goal scorers, nine double-digit goal scorers and seven players hit the 40-point mark in 2013-14, and we should see a similar level of offensive production this season.
Philly also has three lines capable of scoring against quality competition, and it’s power play ranked seventh in the league with a 19.8 percent success rate last season.
Top center prospect Scott Laughton — who scored 40 goals in the OHL last year — will provide even more scoring depth to the team’s bottom-six forward group if he makes the roster.
Most Glaring Weakness
The Flyers have a below average blue line, and the recent loss of veteran Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) is a major setback. Philly also lacks a top-pairing, shutdown D-man — a common denominator among the championship-caliber teams around the league. The only upgrade the Flyers made on defense during the offseason was the signing of Michael Del Zotto, who is a turnover machine and has trouble in his own end.
Mason will need to perform at a high level on a consistent basis for the Flyers not to rank in the bottom third of the league in goals against.
Expectations In 2014-15
The Flyers made the playoffs last season despite a horrendous 1-7 start in October, and there’s no reason to believe this team will fail to make back-to-back postseason appearances. Philly benefits from playing in a weak division that also includes Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers teams that lost key pieces from last season’s roster.
Expect the Flyers to claim one of the three playoff berths from the Metropolitan Division, but don’t expect them to reach the conference semifinals.
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