Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 10/8/14 @ BOS

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FLYERS @ BRUINS: GAME PREVIEW

The Philadelphia Flyers have not played a meaningful hockey game since April 30. On that night, the team lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the New York Rangers by a 2-1 score. One hundred sixty one days later, the puck finally drops on the 2014-15 regular season.

The Flyers have a tough task at hand right off the bat, opening the season with a road game against the powerhouse Boston Bruins.

Game time is 7:30 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network.

This is the first of three meetings between the Flyers and Bruins this season. The clubs will meet on the afternoon of January 10 in Philadelphia and the afternoon of March 7 in Boston.

After tonight’s game, the Flyers return to action twice in the next three nights. Tomorrow, the Flyers will play their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center against the New Jersey Devils. On Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens come to Philly. Flyers outlook

The main objective for the Flyers in October is to avoid the same sort of horrendous start that forced the club to climb uphill for the rest of the season. Given the club’s 1-7-0 record through the first eight games and 4-10-1 through 15 games — plus the fact the team scored a meager 22 goals in the first 15 games last season — it was rather remarkable that the club was ultimately able to reach the playoffs.

Early last season, subpar team conditioning played a major role in the club’s struggles. Flyers head coach Craig Berube and new general manager Ron Hextall heavily emphasized offseason conditioning as one of the primary objectives for every player on the team.

One of the most noticeable ways that subpar conditioning plagued the team early last season was a tendency to fade in third periods. Through the first 11 games last season, the Flyers entered the third period of each and every game in position to come away with one or two points if they won the final stanza. They led four times (2-2-0 in those game), were tied twice at the second intermission (1-1-0) and trailed by a single goal five times (0-5-0).

Over that span, the Flyers got outscored by a combined 14-5 in third periods. As a result, Philly had a 3-8-0 record in those 11 games.

On the first official day of training camp this September, Hextall said that bad third periods are one sign of subpar conditioning but added that it’s not the only problem that a team can have. The GM said that issues can manifest at ANY time of the game.

For example, conditioning issues can pop up in players’ recoveries after shifts. Someone can have a long shift and be needed to go right back out shortly thereafter, and he’s not physically ready for it yet. Sooner or later, there’s probably going to be a negative outcome.

Late in training camp, Berube said he is certain lack of conditioning will not be an issue this time around. Rather, he said the team’s main challenge is to be mentally ready to start the season by playing the right way and handling adversity better than they did at times last year.

As last season moved along, the Flyers became an increasingly resilient and cohesive bunch. The team ultimately set a franchise single-season record for third-period comeback victories; a 180 degree turnaround from the club’s early season woes in third periods. Down the stretch, the team played a series of games against Cup contending teams and more than held their own.

Even in losing to the Rangers in the playoffs, the Flyers showed the bounceback ability to win all of the even-numbered games in the series after pundits summarily wrote them off following losses in the odd-numbered games. In the seventh and deciding game, a horrendous second period proved to be Philly’s undoing but a spectacular goaltending performance by Steve Mason kept the game close until the end.

Without a question, Mason’s strong season last year was one of the high points that the Flyers hope to carry over into 2014-15. Team captain Claude Giroux ended up as a Hart Trophy finalist after getting off to an extremely slow start by his standards.

The biggest question mark for the Flyers heading into this season is team defense, especially with the long-term absence of longtime blueline leader Kimmo Timonen (blood clots). Five-on-five play was an area of weakness for the team both last year and during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

It should be noted that the Flyers’ improved noticeably at even strength in the second half of last season. Nevertheless, the club often rose and fell on the strength of its special teams play. This season, Flyers hope to remain near the top of the NHL in both the power play and penalty killing categories.

Relatively speaking, there are not many new faces on the Flyers this season. The most notable offseason move saw the Flyers trade first-line left winger Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets to reacquire R.J. Umberger. In August, the club found that Timonen had blood clots in his lungs and right calf and, furthermore, had a congenital condition that makes him prone to blood clots. The 39-year-old player may have to take blood thinners for the rest of his life, which would preclude a return to playing hockey.

In order to fill Timonen’s vacated spot in the starting lineup, the Flyers signed offensive defenseman Michael Del Zotto as an unrestricted free agent. Just a few years ago, Del Zotto seemed to be a rising star with the New York Rangers. Now he is trying to get his career back on track after being traded by the Rangers to the Nashville Predators last season and having the Predators decline to tender a qualifying offer to him as a restricted free agent.

The other new players in the Philadelphia lineup are speedy 29-year-old forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who played his entire career in Europe prior to being signed over the summer, versatile utility forward Blair Jones and seventh defenseman Nick Schultz. Additionally, rookie forward Jason Akeson, who has dressed in two NHL regular season games and seven playoff games, will attempt to stake down a full-time NHL job.

Power forward Wayne Simmonds and veteran defensemen Mark Streit have been named assistant captains this season, replacing Hartnell and Timonen. Simmonds, who led the team in power play goals last season, sustained a left foot injury in a preseason game last Tuesday. He returned to practice on Monday and is expected to play tonight.

Timonen, center Ryan White and Chris Pronger enter the season on the long-term injured reserve list for the Flyers. White is expected to be available in the second half of the season after undergoing late-offseason surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Timonen is likely to spend the entire season on LTIR, while Pronger is certain to be on LTIR for the duration of his contract. BRUINS OUTLOOK

If the Stanley Cup playoffs started a little earlier last season, there is a good chance the Boston Bruins would have reached the Finals and possibly have won the whole thing. For a period of two-plus months, the Bruins mowed down just about every team they faced. How dominant were the Bruins around midseason? It often took an opponent playing virtually flawless 60 minutes of hockey just to grab a point from the game.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, the club peaked a little too soon. There were signs of a drop-off down the stretch and the club was erratic in the playoffs but still took the Montreal Canadiens to seven games before bowing out in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Entering the 2014-15 season, the Bruins are still a stacked team with two-way talent up and down the lineup. Tuukka Rask is one of the NHL’s top netminders. In short, Boston is still very much a threat to be the team that emerges from the Eastern Conference playoffs come next spring. The trick will be to avoid critical injuries and to click at the right time. The talent is still there, even with the departure of Jarome Iginla and the recent salary-cap forced trade of key defenseman Johnny Boychuk.

This time around, the Bruins hope to get a healthier and more productive season out of former Dallas Stars two-way standout Loui Eriksson. Additionally, losing shutdown defenseman Dennis Seidenberg to a serious knee injury last season was a big blow to the team.

One of the Bruins’ key players — and a frequent Flyer-killer — is unavailable to the club to start the season: Top line center David Krejci enters the season on the injured reserve list with an undisclosed “minor issue.” Even so, the Bruins still have plenty of weapons, ranging from Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron and power forward Milan Lucic to perennial Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara.

At the Bruins’ practice on Tuesday, Ryan Spooner skated in Krejci’s spot, centering Milan Lucic (left wing) and a combination of Jordan Caron and Matt Fraser take line rushes at right wing. However, the Bruins subsequently sent Caron to Providence of the American Hockey League. Additionally, the Bruins recalled right wing Brian Ferlin and prospect goaltender Malcolm Subban from Providence.

Longtime Flyers left winger Simon Gagne was in camp with the Bruins on a tryout basis throughout the preseason. Due to salary cap related complications, the player was not signed to a contract. That could still change as the roster gets juggled. PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS (subject to change)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

24 Matt Read – 14 Sean Couturier – 17 Wayne Simmonds

12 Michael Raffl – 40 Vincent Lecavalier – 18 R.J. Umberger

36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 42 Jason Akeson

47 Andrew MacDonald – 5 Braydon Coburn

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

Scratches: Blair Jones (healthy; could play if Simmonds has a setback or if Flyers swap out Akeson on the fourth line), Nick Schultz (healthy).

BRUINS

63 Brad Marchand – 37 Patrice Bergeron – 18 Reilly Smith

17 Milan Lucic – 51 Ryan Spooner – 25 Matt Fraser

23 Chris Kelly- 34 Carl Söderberg – 21 Loui Eriksson

20 Daniel Paille- 61 Craig Cunningham- 64 Bobby Robins

33 Zdeno Chara – 27 Dougie Hamilton

44 Dennis Seidenberg – 54 Adam McQuaid

47 Torey Krug – 86 Kevan Miller

40 Tuukka Rask

[72 Niklas Svedberg]

Scratches: David Krejci (IR), Matt Bartkowski (healthy), Malcolm Subban (healthy), Brian Ferlin (healthy).

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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