On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Flyers prepare for their archrivals

When the Flyers squandered a 3-2 lead to the New York Rangers on Sunday evening, it cost them home-ice advantage in the first round of the NHL playoffs, but more importantly, it gave their opponents, the Pittsburgh Penguins, a chance to continue their recent hot streak from the comforts of Mellon Arena.

We all know that the Penguins are led by their two superstars, Evgeni Malkin and Sydney Crosby, who ranked first and third in the NHL in scoring this year, but this is not the same team that sent the Flyers packing in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. These Penguins are not nearly as deep or as dangerous as the one that reached the Stanley Cup Finals and revitalized a franchise.

Last year, the Penguins had five scorers top 50 points for the season, and this year, just Malkin and Crosby reached that plateau, and the team's power play plummeted from fourth in the NHL last year to 20th this season.

In addition, the Penguins allowed 23 more goals this season, and Marc-Andre Fluery's goals against average jumped from 2.33 to 2.62, which could be a sign that he is wearing down after playing in 32 more games this season than a year ago.

Switching over to the Flyers, both the numbers and the players are looking stronger this season, as the Flyers boast six 25-goal scorers for the first time in franchise history, and have improved their power play and penalty kill units from last year.

Compared to last year's team, these Flyers are far more dangerous because of their depth. Last year, the Flyers were a team of guys who needed to make perfect plays with everyone in sync to score, but this year is entirely different.

Since being ousted by the Penguins last year, the Flyers' offense has added Simon Gagne, who scored 34 goals this year while compiling a plus-22 rating, and Forsberg-esque rookie Claude Giroux. They have also received huge boosts from Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Scott Hartnell, who all set new career highs in goals and points. These players all have stepped up their games, and, unlike last year, have shown the type of individual explosiveness that is necessary to put the team on their backs for a shift or a period or an entire game.

Moving to the ever important man between the pipes, thanks to the improved offense, Martin Biron shouldn't need to stand on his head like during last year's playoffs, but he will need to be solid. The most important thing for Biron to do is continue his solid third period play. This year, the Flyers were 26-3-2 when taking a lead into the third period, and as a team, they had a league-best +27 goal differential in the third period. If the Flyers are going to make a deep playoff run, Biron, along the guys in front of him, will need to continue their third period dominance and close out the games the way Brad Lidge slammed the door in the ninth inning for the Phillies.

While all of the statistics are nice to use as indicators of what might occur, the players actually have to play the games, and thankfully, the Flyers are (knock on wood) a healthy team. When the Penguins knocked out the Flyers in five games last year, Gagne had already been shut down with a concussion, and Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn had each missed most of the series due to injury.

In addition to health, the Flyers now have experience. Look at how the Phillies' young stars came through in October after a playoff let down the previous year. Guys like Richards and Carter know what it is like to make a deep run in the playoffs and come up short, while young defensemen like Ryan Parent and Braydon Coburn know how much more intense the playoffs are compared to the regular season.

Last year, a stronger Penguins team overpowered a shallow Flyers roster to move onto the Stanley Cup Finals. This year, the Flyers, despite stumbling a little down the stretch, can match up with any team in the league as long as they come out strong and stay healthy. As long as they stay healthy...

Prediction: Eight scorers are better than two, and the Flyers dispose of their cross-state rivals in six games.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


May 4, 2009 10:44 PM  

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