Preseason: First Impression

LONDON, Ontario – With four days of practice and two preseason games, we have gotten our whistles whet with this new Flyers team. Here are a few observations:

THE GOOD:
James van Riemsdyk – Some had questioned whether coming into camp the Flyers would give van Riemsdyk more consideration because of his high draft status. That’s not the case. But he is being given a serious opportunity to make the team. He has impressed so far, scoring the Flyers’ only goal in two preseason games. The 20-year-old hasn’t looked tentative, he isn’t getting pushed around, he handles the puck well in tight spots and he can score.

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Blair Betts, in camp on a tryout, has impressed everyone in the early going.

Blair Betts – At this point, I would be absolutely stunned if Betts didn’t make this team out of training camp. Flyers coach John Stevens said today that he is looking for players with identity. Betts has that with his penalty killing. It is second to none, and that includes Ian Laperriere – who is a fine ‘killer in his own right. A lot can happen in these next two weeks but Betts is making it harder to cut him with each performance.

Mika Pyorala – Pyorala, a quiet native of Oulu, Finland, has jelled nicely in his first taste of NHL action. He has looked more impressive in practice than games, however. But that doesn’t mean he looks bad. He just hasn’t stood out. But not many players on the Flyers’ offense have at this point.

Chris Pronger – He is everything that the Flyers thought he would be…. and more. Pronger lived up to his reputation in Detroit on Wednesday with an incredible 26:04 performance by bringing that snarl in front of the net and in the corners that he is so well known for. The Flyers’ most complete, all-around player was booed every time he touched the puck – and loved it in the locker room afterwards. He is likeable and fits in well with this team. Everyone is excited to play alongside him. He instantly makes this team better.

Danny Syvret – Syvret would probably make 22-25 of the other NHL teams in the league right from training camp. He is smart, quick and mobile. He runs the power play well and while he isn’t superb defensively, he is far from a risk in his own end.

Penalty Killing – As mentioned above, Betts has been a huge part of the Flyers’ success on the penalty kill in the early going here. They certain look like they would be in the top 2 or 3 in the league this season if they keep it up. While Toronto has struggled recently on the power play, the Flyers held the Leafs to 0-for-8 and held Detroit (last year’s top PP team) to 0-for-7. That will make a big difference this year.

THE BAD:
Offense – Scoring just 1 goal in 120 minutes is unacceptable, preseason or not. You just aren’t going to win a lot of hockey games that way. The Flyers manage to put pressure on in the zone but aren’t getting a lot of quality chances to capitalize. You could probably count the amount of serious scoring chances in the first two games on two hands and still have a finger or two left over. Say it together now, it’s still early…

Claude Giroux – I know that I am going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but hear me out. Giroux himself hasn’t been bad. But he doesn’t look as focused as he could be out there. Stevens mentioned on Thursday that Giroux’s defensive position had worried him. Giroux’s defense was one thing that really impressed Stevens last year and showed his maturity. Now Stevens said he is worried that Giroux is focusing too much on the offensive side of the game and forgetting that he can create offense from defense.

Undisciplined penalties - Yes, I know it’s still early, but this is a trend that is continuing from last year. Sure, fights are a huge part of preseason hockey – especially for guys trying to make the team and provide a spark – but I’m talking about the senseless ones that cost you. Scott Hartnell had two silly penalties in Detroit on Wednesday. I know he was probably going to rest on Thursday night anyways but I bet those made the decision a little easier. Giving a team 8 power play chances is asking for trouble… even if it’s the Leafs.

Brian Boucher - Let me first start out by saying that Ray Emery has been excellent (or at least he was in the first two periods in Detroit on Wednesday). That should quell some fears. But Boucher has not looked very good. He allowed 2 goals on his first 4 shots in London on Thursday night. He also allowed 1 goal in just 1 period of action against Detroit. He doesn’t look slow but he looks like he is struggling with his position a little bit. I have to think that there were better backups available for similar money. We will have to ask new goaltending coach Jeff Reese what he thinks about Boucher’s camp when we see him.

THE QUESTION MARKS:

  • How will Simon Gagne’s groin and hip hold up when he takes the ice on Tuesday at the Wachovia Center against Detroit?
  • Will the Flyers regret signing Ole-Kristian Tollefsen? He hasn’t looked much more than average so far…
  • Does Patrick Maroon have a realistic shot to make the team despite not traveling for this 4-day trip in Detroit and Canada?
  • Will the Flyers fill all available contracts and put themselves in a tight spot for possibly later in the season, specifically around the trade deadline?

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