Flyers, Devils strive to improve on last season
After a dreadful year which included a coaching change, a litany of injuries and only 25 victories, the host Philadelphia Flyers look to trend upward when they open the regular season against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
The Flyers brought in 64-year-old coaching veteran John Tortorella to resurrect the franchise. But the task will be difficult since Sean Couturier remains out with a back injury and defenseman Ryan Ellis may already be out for the whole season.
In addition, Cam Atkinson missed all six preseason games with an upper-body injury and his status is unclear for the opener.
“I do think we have to score by committee,” Tortorella said. “I don’t want the players that, I guess you’d call them maybe your third or fourth lines, resting on just keeping the other team off the board. We need to get something out of them. We need to get something out of our power play, to kick in a goal or two along the way here.
“Because I do believe that’s how we’re going to have to play.”
Without Atkinson, who scored 23 goals last season, the Flyers are likely to going to lean even heavier on goaltender Carter Hart. Like Atkinson, Hart also missed the entire preseason with a lower-body injury.
Hart is expected to start against the Devils.
“Just like with all the guys, we just want to make sure they’re healthy for the opening part of the season,” Tortorella said. “We’re just trying to be careful.”
The Devils will also look to improve following a disappointing 27-win season.
And they may have to start without captain Nico Hischier.
After suffering a hamstring injury Sept. 26 at Montreal, Hischier finally returned to practice on Tuesday.
It will likely be a last-minute decision whether he plays on Thursday.
“I still have to do some stuff in the gym, start skating (full time) with the team,” Hischier said. “I do already feel good, but there is definitely stuff I need to work on with my hamstring right now. It’s more or less day-to-day, game-time decision.
“At the end of the day, I have to feel ready. I don’t want to come back too early in a long season,” Hischier added. “It’s something small. If you start too early, it’s going to bother you for a while. You have to be careful with that.”
Last season, Hischier had 21 goals and 39 assists.
Preseason statistics are generally meaningless, but the Devils won five of their seven games. They look ready for a fresh start in the regular season.
“These last days of camp are always the hardest,” Tomas Tatar said. “It was great to get the win (against) Boston, you know they played almost a full lineup as well. I know they were missing some guys, but so did we. It’s starting to look like more closer to the season start. I think we’re all excited, we have a few days to have a good time, fix a few problems we have, correct them and try to be as sharp as possible for the season’s start.”
The Devils have yet to make it official, but Mackenzie Blackwood is likely to get the start in goal. Blackwood dealt with a number of injuries and played only 25 games last season.
–Field Level Media