#74 Arizona Coyotesvs.#73 Philadelphia Flyers
Written by Matt Severance
When/Where: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Gila River Arena, Glendale
Moneylines: Coyotes -120, Flyers +110; total: 5.5
The Philadelphia Flyers were given no favors by the NHL in terms of their first few games of the new season as the Flyers open with three straight on the road against Western Conference foes. They play the second of a back-to-back on Saturday night in facing Arizona.
Last year, Philadelphia probably overachieved in finishing with 96 points and snaring the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference by three points over Boston. Philly got in despite a minus-4 goal differential. It then lost to the NHL’s top regular-season team, Washington, in six games. The Flyers didn’t score more than two goals in any of the six. The Flyers will open this season without defenseman Radko Gudas as he was suspended six games for interference against Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik during an exhibition game last Saturday night. Gudas had five goals and nine assists in 76 games last year. In addition, first-line forward Brayden Schenn will miss the first three games due to suspension. That was for Capitals forward T.J. Oshie during Game 6 of the playoffs. Schenn had 26 goals and 33 assists last year.
Last season, the Flyers were 22nd in scoring. Only one team with a worse offense made the playoffs (Detroit Red Wings). Philadelphia wasn’t all that active in the offseason, adding the likes of Boyd Gordon, Roman Lyubimov and Dale Weise and losing Sam Gagner, R.J. Umberger and Evgeny Medvedev. Offensively, the Flyers scored only 2.57 goals per game in 2015-16 and relied too much on the top line of Schenn, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. They combined for 80 goals. The Flyers don’t really have a true No. 1 goaltender but instead rotate Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, who combined for a .933 save percentage at 5-on-5 last year, second in the NHL.
Arizona, in its season opener, missed the playoffs last season with 78 points, which was good for fourth in the Pacific Division. The Coyotes were a very solid 22-15-4 at home but 13-24-4 on the road and finished with a minus-36 goal differential overall. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson led the team with 55 points. Shane Doan was tops with 28 goals even though he’s like 80 years old. Goaltender Mike Smith was limited to 32 games due to injury but had a solid 2.63 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
The Coyotes have the youngest GM in the history of the four American major pro sports leagues in hiring 27-year-old John Chayka in May. One of his first moves was trading for Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski on June 16 and signing him to a five-year contract. Over 562 games in his NHL career, Goligoski has 277 points. He had 37 in 82 games last season as he helped the Stars win the Central Division. Defenseman Luke Schenn, and forwards Radim Vrbata, Jamie McGinn and Ryan White were signed as free agents. McGinn is questionable for the opener with an upper-body injury.
The Coyotes and Flyers split last season. Philadelphia won at home 4-2 and Arizona did the same 2-1. The Coyotes aren’t going to be very good again but they have some promising young players on the horizon. I won’t take Arizona often this year but will in the home opener and with Philly playing a second game in 24 hours.
The Pick: Arizona & Under 5.5
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Matt has been a sports journalist for nearly two decades. He is a former sports editor/writer at two newspapers and a magazine. Went full-time freelance sports writer in 2008 -- not by choice then but became a life-changing decision in the best possible way. Consider myself expert on all major US sports. If you are looking for Curling or Badminton expertise, etc., I'm not your guy.