As the Flyers made their first significant playoff run in nearly a decade, you started to see what makes playoff hockey so enjoyable. There was a new sense of rivalry, that going to battle for six games against the Montreal Canadiens and seven games against the New York Islanders created some animosity between the two sides.
Take that emotion and bottle it up into a 56-game schedule where you play the same seven teams for the entire season and it’s a recipe for rivalry. The 2020-21 season schedule will be the strangest we’ve seen so far, but it has a chance to restore some of the rivalries between the Flyers and their divisional foes.
“It’ll be great. Again, it’s a hard division. Last year, I felt we had the best division in the league, and I think it’s the same this year,” Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher said. “Any of the eight teams can make the playoffs. We all can make it, we all can miss. There’s going to be some drama and some tension.
“In terms of re-establishing rivalries and renewing a few others, I think it will be tremendous. It will be great for our fans. I think our players will enjoy it. We won’t have to do a whole bunch of pre-scouting as the season goes on. I think our coaches will save a lot of time on the pre-scouting. You’re only playing seven teams all year. I’m just thrilled we get a chance to play. The league and the union did a tremendous job getting this all together. It’s going to be exciting. It’s equal footing for everybody. It’ll be tough, but I can’t wait. It’ll be fun.”
For the players on the ice, there will be no shortage of bad blood as the season progresses. While the Flyers only play the same opponent twice in a row in their 56-game schedule, not a rarity even in a normal season, there will be enough visits and trips to see the same opponent that it will make playing these opponents more familiar than in years past.
“It’s going to make for some interesting games. Playing the same team over and over again, eight times, there’s bound to be bad blood,” Kevin Hayes said. “There’s bound to be some big hits and bit plays. There’s a lot of chance for some bad blood to turn over into the next game. Obviously we’re going to get used to each other, system-wise. Come the third or fourth time we play each other, everyone is going to know every player on the ice and the ins and outs of the systems they run. What I’m excited about is that it’s all going to come down to work ethic and making sure whoever works harder is going to be winning at the end of these games.”
“I remember playing a lot of those teams a lot more times earlier in my career. It will definitely make for a different sort of challenge,” James van Riemsdyk said. “It’s hard enough to beat a team twice in a row, let alone when you play them that many times. You need to be sharp. Like you mentioned too, there can be little extra rivalry and competitiveness that get fought out. That’s kind of how it goes.”
The Flyers open the season with two games on home ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team they certainly have had their share of moments against over the years. Things get heated between the two teams often, and the thought of playing them eight times this season provides visions of the early part of the previous decade.
Add in eight matchups with the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, teams that have all been involved in recent playoff series against the Flyers, and you have a chance to revive those rivalries as well.
Perhaps the biggest new rivalry brewing is between the Flyers and Islanders. After the two teams battled it out in the second round of the playoffs in a seven-game series that truly went the distance, that energy and passion surrounding the game should only return at a higher level.
It makes for an exciting season, though a difficult and competitive one. The Flyers will have a lot of competition for one of the four playoff spots to come out of the division. As Hayes said, one of the best things about consistently playing within the division is that it will come down to work ethic, the team that wants it more on that night. We’re only three weeks away from see that play out on the ice.