No strangers to adversity, the Philadelphia Flyers will face an early onslaught at the start of the 2019-20 season. Six quick games in October will likely define the season for the orange and black. A mix of contenders and on-the-cusp re-builders will show if Alain Vigneault, Chuck Fletcher, and Claude Giroux are ready to return to the postseason. Not to undersell the rest of the season, but the first few games are the best stress test for new acquisitions. The Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Dallas Stars will challenge the Flyers to find cohesion or get left behind.
Related: 5 Must-See Flyers Games in 2019-20
Oct. 4 vs. Blackhawks
The Flyers start the 2019-20 season in Prague as part of the 2019 NHL Global Series. They will be facing off against their long time rivals, the Blackhawks. Many of us have this game circled on the schedule because it is incredible that the Flyers were chosen to help spread the game and grow fans in other countries. It will also be an early test against a team that is fast, talented, and able to put up goals at will.
Kevin Hayes and Carter Hart will have their work cut out for them as they play host to Patrick Kane, Alex Debrincat, and Dylan Strome. The Blackhawks are trying their best to keep the Cup window open and I expect them to play hard on the world stage. Let’s hope the defense starts to mesh in the first outing of the 2019-20 season.
Oct. 11 @ Canucks
A team on the rise, the Canucks boast a slew of speed and young prospects. Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen will be tested against Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Bo Horvat. I believe in the Canucks; they are a mere few pieces (and maybe one or two years) from being serious contenders. They’ve rounded out their roster with big-bodied, defensive-minded players and if their defense prospects pan out, they’ll be crushing the Western Conference soon enough.
The reason this game, so early in the season, is crucially important is the goalie matchup: Thatcher Demko versus Hart. They are two up-and-coming goalies looking to start the season off right. I expect these two to compete for the Vezina Trophy in the near future, making this game one to watch. The contest also marks the first stop in a three-game road trip through western Canada.
Oct. 15 @ Flames
Number one in the Western Conference last season, the Calgary Flames are looking to build on a tremendous 2018-19 season. The matchup I am most looking forward to in this game, is newly acquired Hayes against either Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund. The Flames have talent throughout their lineup and the Flyers will have to rely on Hayes this season to nullify the opposing offense. Being able to face off against the Flames so early is both a blessing and a curse.
The Flyers will get a chance to prove their mettle and compete against a near-guaranteed playoff team. It will also be interesting to see, with Wayne Simmonds no longer on the team, who will answer the physicality brought by Matthew Tkachuk. In two games last season, Tkachuk put up six points while also getting under the Flyers’ skin. If Sam Morin makes the Flyers roster, he should fill the enforcer void left by Simmonds, though I find that scenario unlikely.
Oct. 19 vs. Stars
The night after the Flyers play the Flames, they visit Connor McDavid and the Oilers, but I’m focusing on the next game on Oct. 19, against the Dallas Stars. This game will be a stress test for the Flyers’ defense. The Stars spent the offseason adding even more offense to their already solid roster. Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry round out a lineup already loaded with players who can put it in the net. This game will be a test for the Flyers’ young defense, and even though it is a home game, they will have to play their best.
Sean Couturier will do his best to matchup against a top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. The Stars also have one of the fastest young defenders in the league in Miro Heiskanen. This game could get ugly early if the Flyers fall behind in the first period. Look for strong play from Niskanen and Braun to steady the young defense and protect Hart.
The 2019-20 NHL season is right around the corner, and the Flyers will need to be strong out of the gate if they hope to make the playoffs. The first six games of the season bring in a unique challenge that will test the roster from top to bottom.
The players to watch through this early spat will be Hayes, Niskanen, and Hart. These three will be key to the team’s success this season. Can this team buck the trend and start off hot? Vigneault and company will be tested early and often, as October will set the tone for the season. If the Flyers want a chance at the postseason and Lord Stanley’s prize they will need to perform well against an early gauntlet that features some of the top offensive teams in the league.