October will shape Flyers season


With rookie and prospect camp starting Monday and full training camp to follow on Thursday, hockey is back in the City of Brotherly Love. After an elongated summer thanks to missing the postseason for the second time in three years, the Flyers players and coaches are eager to hit the ice in preparation for the 2015-16 season in which they will face stiff competition in the NHL's Metropolitan Division. 

First-year head coach Dave Hakstol has given each of his players a Tabula rasa, or clean slate. Spots and positioning will be won the old-fashioned way – by earning it from the coach.

Hakstol wants his team to hit the ground running right out of the gate, something that the franchise has struggled to do the last few seasons under Craig Berube and Peter Laviolette. Knowing then how important it is to jump out to a good start, let's take a look at the club's October slate, a series of 10 games that will set the tone for the entire season. 

As the Flyers make their way to Florida in preparation for the season opener against the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 8, they'll do so with a new identity for the first time in quite a while. Hakstol employs a system of strong forechecking and getting the puck to the net with heads-up support from the defensive corps.

While the mission of any coach and team is obviously to score goals and score them frequently, Hakstol will not hesitate to call an audible to his gameplan if it benefits a struggling player – a philosophy that was certainly not utilized in seasons past.

While only three of the team's first 10 games are against a playoff team from last season, the remaining seven are against teams that have gotten visibly stronger and will immediately test the efficiency of Hakstol's vision. 

The Orange and Black will do battle with the Lightning, one of the conference's top teams, right off the bat. It will be a great test for the club's skilled forwards as they take on a Vezina-like goaltender in Ben Bishop as the defense and Steve Mason attempt to corral superstar Steven Stamkos and young phenoms such as Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. The Flyers have not won an opener since 2011, so there would be no better start to the season than to dismiss of the Bolts. 

Following the Lightning, the Flyers will remain in state to face the Panthers as part of a home-and-home series that sees Florida travel up for Philadelphia's home opener on Oct. 12. These two clubs are likely evenly matched, so it will behoove the Flyers to assert a level of dominance early on, a feat that may not be all that simple against Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and former Flyer Jaromir Jagr. GM Dale Tallon has infused his lineup with a perfect mix of young players and veterans and the Panthers seem poised to challenge for one of the conference's eight playoff spots. 

The Flyers will remain in Philadelphia to play the defending Stanley Cup Champions when Chicago comes to town, a night in which both clubs with commemorate the brilliant career of the recently-retired Kimmo Timonen. The Flyers will need to be sure that they don't get caught up in the night's hoopla because even without players like Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards and possibly Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks are a force to be reckoned with and the crew of Jonathan Toews and Co. will certainly be out to show everybody that they are still tops in the NHL. 

Speaking of Sharp, his new team, the Dallas Stars, will be in town after Chicago and will have much to prove after missing out on the postseason as well despite a roster full of talent including scoring champion Jamie Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin

After a trip to Beantown to face the potentially declining Bruins, the Flyers return home to take on the reigning Presidents' Cup-winning New York Rangers, the new and improved Buffalo Sabres and the consensus least-improved team in the Metropolitan Division, the New Jersey Devils.

With some varying degrees of competition, it will be a good test to see if the Flyers play consistent hockey as compared to playing up or down to a team, a common occurrence of late.

The Flyers will end the month the day before Halloween with another matchup against the Sabres. The club will either be looking to continue a successful gameplan if victorious three days prior or they will be looking to correct what may have gone wrong against last season's worst team.

The Flyers are 9-17-2 in October dating back to the lockout-shortened year of 2012-13. For them to have a legitimate chance of being successful in their division, they will need to start strong and build off of it along with whatever alterations Hakstol feels are warranted. If they can do so, they will have asserted themselves as a team to watch in what is arguably the NHL's toughest division.   

Zach Hopkins is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @healedbyhockey. 

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