Orange & Black Breakdown
by Marc Siciliano on 04/27/12 at 04:49 PM ET
You might almost be inclined to call the Flyers lucky.
The only way to overcome their defensive shortcomings versus the Penguins last round was to put on a supreme display of offensive and special teams work. The Flyers rose to the challenge in record breaking fashion, dominating Pittsburgh with a lethal power play and slick penalty killing, a tenacious offense hell bent on disrupting Marc Andre Fleury, and an overall attitude that made it clear the second round would be their only option. They took an always disciplined Pittsburgh completely off their game en route to a convincing 4-2 series victory. Furthermore, a Game 7 upset by the Capitals over the Bruins assured the Flyers of a Rangers-free Cup run until at least the Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers would either have home ice advantage versus a division foe or a matchup versus the Panthers upon the completion of their Game 7.
Five Periods of hockey later, the matchup with the Devils was set – and I couldn’t be happier about it.
The scene at the Wells Fargo Center before Game 6
There are plenty of reasons to love this matchup if you’re a Flyers fan. First and foremost, it seems easier to get up and play right away versus a bitter division rival than it would have against the Panthers in Florida. The Flyers still have plenty of hatred for New Jersey, and you can bet they are relishing in the opportunity to knock the Devils out. This group of Flyers players – Giroux and Briere in particular - has largely had success versus the Devils, but they still always seem to play them like they have something to prove. Furthermore, with the likelihood of Brodeur retiring at seasons end, how much do you think the Flyers would like to (respectfully) be that nail in the coffin?
And although many of the current Flyers may not have experienced the dark days of Devil dominance in uniform, you can bet the fans have not forgotten. I expect the Wells Fargo Center crowd to be in full force on Sunday in support of a team that is giving them their all. This won’t do anything to calm the nerves of a Devils team that has to be feeling a bit intimidated after the display of dominance the Flyers put on offensively versus the Penguins. If the Flyers can pounce early a la Round 1, there just might be no looking back (a la Round 1).
Giroux and Briere will look to continue their success versus the Devils
If the Flyers can maintain any semblance of momentum on special teams this could end up being the difference in this series. The Devils boasted a supreme PK in the regular season, but it fell apart versus a fine Panthers PP and yielded 9 goals over the course of the series. Meanwhile the Flyers power play operated at above 50%, going 12-23 versus another regular season PK juggernaut. While another 50% performance is very unlikely, even operating at half that success rate would give the Flyers plenty of momentum (consider this: the Devils needed just 5 PP goals to advance last round). Maintaining this success will be key to the Flyers cups hopes, but there is no reason to think this will stop anytime soon. Having guys like Schenn and JVR on the second PP unit will do that, and that depth is what makes this Flyers team so dangerous.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Devils power play looks mighty vulnerable to an aggressive PK like the Flyers. The Devils deploy Kovalchuk on the point sometimes for the full length of the power play because of his ability to fire what I would call the perfect one-timer, but this is bound to leave them vulnerable to counter attacks from the lethal Flyer PK forwards. A fully rested defensive defenseman would have a hard time containing Giroux one-on-one – I’m hard pressed to imagine Kovalchuk being more up to the task after an extended shift on the back end. SH tallies aside, with only one PP goal in four road games, the Devils won’t find it any easier to score on the man advantage in Philly – and that doesn’t bode well for their success.
Hopefully Couturier will matchup better with Kovalchuk…
Up and down the lineups the individual matchups would appear to favor the Flyers as well. Much like the first round, it would appear that rookie Sean Couturier will be matched up against a supremely talented Russian in Ilya Kovalchuk. After shutting down the Hart Trophy favorite there is no doubt Couturier is feeling confident and up to the task, but will he be able to keep the pure goal scorer off the board and get under his skin like he was able to do with Malkin? Winning this battle will be crucial to the success of the Flyers, because Kovalchuk has the ability to flat out take over a game. Eliminating this man also helps eliminate his newly appointed line-mate and currently hot rookie Adam Henrique, thus shutting down two of the Devils biggest offensive threats in the first round. If that happened, it would be up to Zajac (3 goals), Parise (2), and Elias (2) to outscore Giroux (6), Briere (5), and the rest of the Flyers offense. Some food for thought? Couturier and Talbot would be tied for the lead in goals amongst Devils forwards right now. It’s going to take a supreme offensive effort to outscore these Flyers, and I don’t think the Devils have it in them.
Given the lack of defense in the Flyers and Penguins first round tilt it would be easy to mark this one up in favor of the Devils, but even that warrants a closer look. With Larsson being left out of the lineup, the Devils have been forced to spot start Peter Harrold in a limited role. Flyers fans know all too well what usually happens when a poor third defensive pairing is forced to hit the ice, and combined with the injury sustained by Salvador in Game 7 the Devils defense doesn’t look capable of matching up with the Flyers deep offense. Icing a meager third pair leaves you exposed, but keeping them on the bench tires out the rest of the group: pick your poison, Devils.
Hartnell needs to make his presence felt this series
Meanwhile, the Flyers are coming off one of their most complete defensive efforts of the season and seem poised to add one of their recent stalwarts back to the lineup in Grossmann. His addition combined with the emergence of Gus drastically changes the appearance of this Flyers defense for the better, and with Meszaros’s return looming in the distance this Flyers defense is going to be significantly improved over the one that was constantly undressed versus Pittsburgh, an elite offensive team to begin with. The Devils may have a balanced offensive presence but it just isn’t all that intimidating and the results show it. The Flyers held this Devils offense to 20 shots or less twice this season (both 3-0 wins), the best result versus any opponent except Tampa Bay. Nothing is stopping this unit from repeating those results in a playoff setting, and with the emergence of Gus, Mesz’s return would give the Flyers 3 legitimate defensive pairs to assist in the shutting down of the Devils offense. CTRL (Carle and Kimo) – ALT (Mesz and Gus) – DELETE (Grossmann and Coburn) anyone?
Last but not least, it’s not a series versus the Devils without talking about the great equalizer between the pipes. Just when you think he’s lost a bit of his swagger, a stellar performance in Game 7 versus a ferocious Panther attack reminds you how capable Marty Brodeur is of impacting the outcome of a game. He definitely isn’t the same old Marty, but you can bet he will be playing hard in what could be the playoff series of his career. The Flyers need to stick to what brought them success versus Fleury – crashing the net and controlling the play. Marty has been known to come unglued at times – making this a long series for him could be all it takes to get under his skin and the puck behind him. Seemingly unaffected by the legend, Giroux will look to continue his success this season versus #30 – he has 4 goals and 7 points versus NJ is year.
On the other end of the ice, all eyes will be on Bryz. With a less than stellar first round overall statistically, Bryz was still able to make many key saves the Flyers needed when it mattered most. Unfortunately he was also plagued by some weak goals much like the regular season, but he seemed to improve as the series wore on. Game 6 was a dominating win for the Flyers, and Bryzgalov’s play had a lot to do with it. Hopefully the time off allowed him to continue his recovery from injury, but if Game 6 was any indication it would appear that he is beginning to reclaim his late-season form at just the right time
Does it get any better than Playoff hockey in Philly?
At the end of the day, the best players will say that you make your own luck. With everything falling into place for this Flyers team, it is up to them to take advantage of the path that has presented itself. Luck only goes so far, and that goal that many of these players have only been able to dream about is deliciously close. Took care of business versus a supremely talented Pittsburgh team, but that won’t happen every year – they need to take advantage of it and continue their success versus the Devils. Luck may be on the Flyers side, but it will be the sheer amount of skill on this roster that ultimately drives them to the next round.
My pick? Flyers in a hard fought (but ultimately uncontested) 6 games.
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The Orange & Black Breakdown looks to be the ultimate, around the clock source for news and information on the Philadelphia Flyers organization and it’s ever-present quest for the Stanley Cup. Focusing on what the team can do to achieve success is the ultimate goal.
The OBB is written and maintained by myself - Marc Siciliano. I’m a college graduate and media production professional in the sports industry with credits on projects like Hard Knocks: Bengals and 24/7 Penguins vs. Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic. A man of many hobbies, I always seem to find a way to spend a disproportionate amount of my daily routine with two things: Flyers hockey and social media (much to the dismay of my hockey impartial friends on twitter).
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