2021-22 Season Preview: Part 5

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.



The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here!

This is part five of our team preview series, which we're releasing every Tuesday and Friday. You can view Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

Don’t forget, for everything NHL, check out NBC Sports EDGE's Player News, and follow @NBCSEdgeHK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

2020-21 Record: 25-23-8, 58 Points.

Result: Sixth in East. Did not make playoffs.

Significant Gains: Keith Yandle, Martin Jones, Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Ellis

Significant Losses: Brian Elliott, Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Philippe Myers, Nolan Patrick

Strengths: Their defense is far from perfect. Rasmus Ristolainen is terribly analytically, not just defensively, but offensively as well, Ryan Ellis has run into injury problems, and Keith Yandle shouldn’t be viewed as much more than a power-play specialist at this stage of his career, but there’s real potential here too. First off, if Ellis stays healthy then he’s a good top pairing defenseman at a reasonable cap hit, giving the Flyers a strong blueline core between him, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim. That leaves Ristolainen as at most their fourth defenseman, which is a role that he might be able to serve well in. The Flyers are betting on the idea that part of Ristolainen’s issue is that he was overused with the Buffalo Sabres and in a more limited role on a better team, his mix of physical play and puck moving abilities could be an asset. Plus, while Yandle is mostly a power-play specialist, that’s really all the Flyers’ need out of him. Their defense is a deep enough that he’s not projected to be more than a third-pairing option anyways. There’s a fair amount of reason for cautious optimism here.

Weaknesses: Carter Hart isn’t a weakness per ce, but the Flyers’ goaltending is their biggest risk. Hart has a ton of potential, and his first two seasons were solid, but he struggled mightily in 2020-21 with a 3.67 GAA and .877 save percentage in 27 games. The Flyers are counting on him to bounce back and that’s not an unreasonable bet, but Philadelphia has left themselves without an appealing Plan B. Rather than get a solid backup, the Flyers decided to roll the dice on Martin Jones, who has posted a 3.04 GAA and .896 save percentage in 137 games over his last three years with San Jose. Maybe the change of scenery will help Jones, but going into the season, the Flyers have two big X-Factors in net.

Player To Watch: It’s got to be Carter Hart. Forget the 2021-22 campaign, the Flyers are pinning their next window to compete on the idea that Hart is a future elite goaltender – or at least a very good one. It would be unfair to say that this is a make-or-break season for Hart. He’s only 23-years-old so even if he struggled again this season, he’d almost certainly get another chance in 2022-23, but it will be interesting to see how he responds to his first real stretch of hardships. If he can bounce back this season, then the Flyers will probably make the playoffs and they’ll be in good shape going forward. If he doesn’t, then Philadelphia will likely enter the summer of 2022 with plenty of questions about their mid-term prospects.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

2020-21 Record: 37-16-3, 77 Points.

Result: First in East. Lost 4-2 to the New York Islanders in the first round.

Significant Gains: Brock McGinn

Significant Losses: Cody Ceci, Jared McCann

Strengths: Sidney Crosby is 34 years old, and Evgeni Malkin is 35, but the Penguins’ offense is still one of the best in the NHL. Pittsburgh ranked second last season with 3.45 goals-per-game and they’ll entering their campaign with largely the same forward core, minus Jared McCann. Between Crosby, Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Kasperi Kapanen, the Penguins will ice two strong lines. Jeff Carter, who scored nine goals and 11 points in 14 games during his stint with the Penguins at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, manages to continue his post-trade revival, then that’s just gravy on top.

Weaknesses: Tristan Jarry had a rough start to the 2020-21 campaign and while he evened out as the season went on, his inconsistency and overall meh performance was discouraging for a team looking to win now. The Penguins still got into the playoffs between Jarry and Casey DeSmith, who at times outplayed Jarry but had his own struggles towards the end of the season. However, with a 3.18 GAA and .888 save percentage in six playoff starts, Jarry couldn’t help the Penguins as they were eliminated in the first round by the New York Islanders. Jarry and DeSmith aren’t bad goaltenders, but for a franchise hoping to get another serious Stanley Cup run in before Crosby and Malkin hang up their skates, it remains to be seen if Jarry and DeSmith are good enough to accommodate that.

Player To Watch:

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

2020-21 Record: 36-15-5, 77 Points.

Result: Second in East. Lost 4-1 to the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Significant Gains: None

Significant Losses: Brenden Dillon

Strengths: Washington and Pittsburgh have been adversaries throughout Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby’s careers and even now their stories have some common threads. Like Pittsburgh, the Capitals have an aging offensive core. Alex Ovechkin will turn 36 before the start of the season, T.J. Oshie will turn 35 in December, and Nicklas Backstrom will turn 34 in November. And yet their offense is still one of the best out there. In fact, they tied the Florida Panthers for fourth place last season with 3.36 goals-per-game. Beyond Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie, they also feature Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha. On top of that there’s Tom Wilson, who is more known for his physical play, but is also a threat to score over 20 goals.

Weaknesses: Similar to the Penguins, in contrast to their aging, but talented forward core, the Capitals’ goaltending has promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Ilya Samsonov entered the 2020-21 campaign amid high expectations, but he struggled with a 2.69 GAA and .902 save percentage in 19 games. Vitek Vanecek wasn’t great either, though he was better with a 2.69 GAA and .908 save percentage in 37 contests. The Capitals offense still powered them to the playoffs, but once they got there, they were eliminated in five games by Boston. Samsonov is still just 24-years-old and could bounce back this season, but he is by far the Capitals’ biggest X-Factor.

Player To Watch: And yet, if you’re going to pick a player to watch on the Capitals, it wouldn’t be their promising young goaltender. It’d be Alex Ovechkin. He won or shared the Rocket Richard in seven of eight seasons from 2012-13 through 2019-20 and even last season he excelled with 24 goals and 42 points in 45 games. So far age hasn’t been a factor but how much longer will that be true? That’s the biggest question in the entire league and not just because the Capitals are still built around him and need him to continue to perform like a star in order to make a serious Stanley Cup run. Ovechkin is also chasing history. He has 730 career goals, putting him 164 away from Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record. That’s so close and yet still a ways away. He signed a five-year extension with Washington, so we can assume he’ll stay in the NHL at least that much longer. He would need to average 32.8 goals over the next five seasons to match Gretzky’s record, which is entirely feasible given his track record, but also very hard to do as time takes its toll. Staying at the top of his game this season is important in his battle towards reaching that incredible record.