Orange & Black Breakdown
by Marc Siciliano on 04/11/12 at 04:19 PM ET
To some, the regular season might seem like an eternity. Others - such as myself - see it flash before their eyes in a haze of enjoyably meaninglessness, waiting for the real season to finally begin.
Well I’m here to tell you (as if you didn’t already know. Please tell me you already knew!) that THE WAIT IS OVER. The Stanley Cup playoffs are here, and even though the hockey gods have decided to start the Flyers against the odds-on Cup favorites there is still plenty of room for optimism on this float headed towards Broad Street.
So take the jump for a playoff preview truly worthy of a Flyers and Penguins playoff match-up!
(courtesy of both Vindisi and yours truly)
Before We Begin…
After such a roller coaster regular season, it’s tough to really put a finger on what type of team will come out of the locker room in Pittsburgh tonight. The fact is, the lows have been quite disastrous and large in magnitude. The loss of Chris Pronger has been talked about on a daily basis, but one would argue that amount of chatter still doesn’t do it justice. It was a permanent blow. To a lesser extent, the same can be said about injuries to other players as well - especially on the back end.
These injury woes surely contributed to the chaos between the pipes, a period perfectly epitomized in the 24-hours surrounding the Winter Classic. Bryzgalov ended up on the bench in arguably the biggest game of the regular season, announcing his status in a manner that will go down in history amongst those who will be able to recall this year. The up and down play of both goaltenders (but particularly Bryz) led to a Cold War of twilight-esque proportions between fans, split in angst between letting Bryz ride out the storm or giving the hard-working, unproven Bobrovsky the reigns.
As we all know, the Flyers would go on to ‘right the ship’ as the season progressed. The trade deadline brought Kubina and Grossmann into the mix, and their combination of size and presence has allowed the Flyers defense to once again puff its chest as an imposing force on the ice. Bryzgalov also hit his stride, going on a tear before falling to injury a few weeks ago.
With all the turnover before the season began and ensuing turmoil that followed, you would think this might leave the Flyers on the outside looking in once the playoffs rolled around; but that was nowhere near the case. The tangible result of it all was a 5th place seed (with the 3rd most points in the conference), and a first round match-up with our bitter cross-state rivals - the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the true, unquantifiable result of this season? A notion that this team is capable of so much more, and a legitimate belief and desire in their ability to win.
That is why this team excites me more than any team has since the Boston comeback a few years ago. In years past I’ve felt the teams were capable, but the jam just didn’t seem there. Maybe it’s the mix of guys, but that missing portion of grit from years past that never existed is back in flying colors, and fans couldn’t be happier. This fight was epitomized in their most recent (meaningful) game versus Pittsburgh, in which they got under their skin and also went on to embarrass them on their home ice en route to a 6-4 win. You couldn’t find a Flyers fan in the world that wasn’t confessing their love with what they saw, and even still they seem capable of more.
The mix of youth and experience, combined with the dynamic players on offense, big bodies on defense, and athleticism in net have all the makings of an Orange Crush induced love affair between the fans and this team. The only thing that stands in the way of this long-term relationship are those pesky Penguins, fully capable of playing the role of home wrecker while on their own quest for all-time greatness.
It Begins Tonight. Pic c/o @DNFlyers
There are two things that I will really be looking for from the Flyers on the offensive side of things during this series: puck possession and good decision making. While the two do go somewhat hand in hand, I think winning these battles will play a huge role in deciding this series.
For the Flyers, their play along the boards throughout the season has been quite stellar. When they get in a groove they utilize their cycles and board play to truly dominate the opposition down low and open up space in more high percentage shooting areas. Doing so against Pittsburgh will be huge, because opening up space will give them more time to operate in front and give them a greater opportunity to cash in on the rebounds that usually plague MA Fleury’s game. Establishing a presence along the boards will help to tire the opposition and keep the puck out of the hands of two of the most dangerous players in the game - Crosby and Malkin.
This is where the puck possession battle comes in. Establishing that offensive presence keeps Crosby, Malkin and Co. out of the Flyers zone. Keeping them out of the zone (obviously) reduces their opportunities to score, thus eliminating their presence from the game. It’s inevitable that guys with their talent will get their chances and ultimately cash in. The challenge lies in minimizing those opportunities as much as possible in order to minimize their damage. The best defense you can play on a team as offensively potent as Pittsburgh is keep-away.
You can’t win the puck possession battle without good decision making. The Flyers have been prone to getting too fancy with the puck and turning it over. Doing so against a team as quick as Pittsburgh is a recipe for disaster, as their transition game is one of the best in the league. This decision making most definitely extends to the back end as well. Crisp, concise outlet passes will be crucial to success, because turnovers in our own zone will surely be reflected in the score at some point this series if the defense doesn’t take care of the puck.
Hopefully we see plenty of this from Jagr
Line-by-Line breakdowns (Courtesy of Vince)
HARTNELL – GIROUX – JAGR
PROS: Hands down have the best chemistry on the team. Hartnell thrives on lines that are constructed as such: Giroux is acting as a playmaking “Briere” on the line, and Jagr is acting as a puck handling “Leino”. Giroux loves playing at home in front of his fans and having last change at home since he has scored 15 more points at home than on the road.
CONS: Defense is sometimes lacking for them. Specifically Giroux has looked lost and worn down at times. I wouldn’t label him as a defensive liability, but he surely doesn’t have that same grind that Richards would bring on each shift. Will he be able to step it up a notch in the limelight of the playoffs?
SCHENN – BRIERE – VORACEK
PROS: Much like how I feel Hartnell succeeds on lines with structure, I feel Lavvy is searching for that same mix of success for Briere, utilizing Schenn as Hartnell and Voracek as Leino. (PERSONAL OPINION ALERT: I feel that they should switch out Simmonds for Voracek to add some real sandpaper to this line to mask Briere’s defensive deficiencies and diminutive size and allow Voracek to add to the rookie speedster line.) Fortunately, they have a premier playoff performer in Briere on this line. He thrives off having the last change as he has netted 13 more points at home than on the road this season.
Welcome to bizarro world…Cooke has gone from being the dirtiest player in the league to a legitimate quality hockey player, especially on the road. He has notched 10 more points on road this year as matchup problems have not had any effect on him. In addition, Staal is enjoying a career year with 25 goals in only 62 games played courtesy of a 16.8 shooting percentage. They will be looked upon as Pitt’s “shutdown line” as Giroux will probably have them in his back-pocket his entire time in Pittsburgh.
CONS:Their firepower still doesn’t jump out at you from the offensive ineptness they showed this year. Schenn has yet to put his offensive stamp in an NHL game. Voracek is a great passer and often passes too much, while his shot reminds me a little of Carter (..in that it never hits the net). Just look at the fact that all 18 of his goals this year were of the Even Strength variety. He’s trying to be too perfect instead of simply getting it on net. This line holds the 2nd and 3rd worst shooting percentages for all 12 Flyers forwards (Briere 9.2% and Voracek 9.5%) Only Rinaldo is lower. Yikes!
TALBOT – COUTURIER – RINALDO
PROS: Hey Couts, good luck: you have the dubious honor of stopping the NHL MVP this year. No pressure or anything as a 19 year old. In all seriousness, Couts and Talbot have proven all year to be the most defensively responsible players. Rinaldo on the other hands brings that WOW factor. Flyers are trying to mold him into the Steve Downie mold: defensively aware, but still capable of providing that potent impact if players decide to venture into the middle. Maybe Neal or Malkin second guess coming into the middle because he is on the ice.
CONS: Offense is not there. One job out there: stop Malkin. Does Couts have the extra gear of nastiness? There are inexperienced playoff performers on this line outside of Talbot. This line is starting to truly tap into the rookie pool. Could the world come crashing down for them? Only time will tell.
WELLWOOD – READ – SIMMONDS
PROS: This is what happens when you have so much forward depth. A 28 goal scorer and a 24 goal scorer on your 4th line. But don’t tell them that. Wellwood and Read could be a terror for Pitt with their blazing speed. Read loves the fact that teams put their worst defensive matchups against him as he has tallied 9 more points away from the lovely confines of the WFC. I know national pundits discredit the +/-, but you have to love that in 24 games for the young Wellwood that he is a +12.
CONS: This line truly doesn’t have an identity. I feel like this will be a temporary line with a lot of mixing and matching going on throughout the game/series. It may be just me, but putting a guy who has 6 points in 6 games versus the Penguins on the 4th line sounds counterproductive.
KUNITZ – MALKIN – NEAL
PROS: This line has been a terror for the league all year. It consists of two of the top 4 goal scorers in the league with Malking (50) and Neal (40). But let’s not forget Kunitz who notched himself 26 goals. Mind boggling production from one line. Malkin is a force at home netting 25 more points than on the road. In fact the entire line benefits from the benefit of final change as Neal has 15 and Kunitz has 9 more points at home.
CONS: Hit Malkin frequent and often and he will find himself off his game. Great player, but tends to find himself in the penalty box late in games because he can’t keep himself under control. Probably because he is ugly. I’m not the only person who thinks this:
NSFW: Hartnell’s opinion of Malkin
DUPUIS – CROSBY – SULLIVAN
PROS: Crosby will be Crosby. He will irk you, but you can’t knock his production. He produces no matter who is on his line. Hands down best player in the game. Pairing him with the hottest player in the game right now in Pascal Dupuis (ended the season on a 17 game point streak) makes life even tougher. 25 points in 14 games since he came back (12 points in his past 5). Operation: Limit Crosby has to be the main goal for the Flyers.
CONS: As hot as Dupuis is, Sullivan and Dupuis are older veterans that really don’t scare me. Nothing against them, but I don’t expect Sullivan to last the entire series. He is too streaky, with streaks of 7 games and 4 games accounting for a third of his point total for the year. They are both fast, but are aging and benefit from having Crosby feeding them. If only the Penguins lined up teammates that could keep up with Crosby’s skill level, he could be even better. Scary, isn’t it?
COOKE – STAAL – KENNEDY
PROS: Welcome to bizarro world…Cooke has gone from being the dirtiest player in the league to a legitimate quality hockey player, especially on the road. He has notched 10 more points on road this year as matchup problems have not had any effect on him. In addition, Staal is enjoying a career year with 25 goals in only 62 games played courtesy of a 16.8 shooting percentage. They will be looked upon as Pitt’s “shutdown line” as Giroux will probably have them in his back-pocket his entire time in Pittsburgh.
CONS:All the good vibes coming from this line stop when you mention Kennedy. A guy that Pittsburgh looks to produce has been awful this year. He has nearly 200 shots and is shooting a paltry 5.6% as he shoots the 4th most shots per game behind the obvious ones (Neal, Crosby, and Malkin) with 3.2 shots per game. Personally, it sounds like someone is relying too much on their shot and not getting into the dirty areas enough.
ASHAM – VITALE – ADAMS
PROS: They will bring the pain. Just ask Briere’s back, Grossman’s knee, and Schenn’s face. Quintessential 4th line as they bring pure toughness with no polish at every position.
CONS: Flyers 4th line definitely has the upper hand if paired against this line. No offense is expected from them. Making up 75% of the forwards who are sporting a minus (-16 overall; Sullivan being the other forward at -3).
DEFENSE and GOALTENDING:
On the defensive side of things, it would appear the Flyers haven’t had too many problems rising to the occasion versus Pittsburgh this season. Maybe it speaks to the importance of this rivalry to the Flyers, but they will need to continue to be physical and staying committed to team defense if they want to sustain this success over the course of a grueling seven-game series.
One of the ways teams are successful against Pittsburgh is by playing physical with them and knocking them out of their rhythm. Anyone who tells you they aren’t scared of Pittsburgh’s ability to put the puck in the net is lying through their teeth, because once they get on a roll they are downright scary to watch. The key is not just playing physical in a cheap fashion, but outworking and out-hustling the opponent in a way that is demoralizing and destructive to their game. We all know that taking a cheap shot on Sid or Malkin could spark a fire within them then would be borderline inextinguishable, especially if they felt that they were outworking the guy or guys responsible for it. But finishing your checks and winning every physical battle has a way of frustrating an opponent who is used to dominating, especially one as ugly as Malkin.
This physical play needs to extend beyond the defenseman, too. It is imperative that the Flyers forwards stay fully committed to playing defense in their own zone or things could get out of hand. Pittsburgh is just as creative with the puck as the Flyers, so losing your man could result in losing the game. Pittsburgh has been known to get off their game when you get physical and back it up. If the forwards can contribute heavily and consistently to this effort, it would give Pittsburgh other things to think about besides putting the puck in the net.
As far as goaltending is concerned, it doesn’t get more intriguing than this. Fleury is coming off a stretch of rough performances (trust me, he was my fantasy hockey goalie), yet he is always capable of shutting the door and downright stealing games, especially against the Flyers. He also has a knack of rising to the occasion when it matters most. What more could you want from a goalie? (If your response to this rhetorical question was “rebound control”, than touche.)
On the opposite end of the ice sits a goalie on the opposite end of the spectrum. Riding high after a rough stretch in the middle of the season, Bryzgalov must now respond to those critics who point to his recent lack of playoff success for the Flyers to have any hope of truly making a Cup run. The question on everyone’s mind is which playoff goalie will show up: the one who hold’s one of the longest shutout streaks the playoffs have ever seen, or the guy who was 0-4 with a 4.36 GAA with Phoenix in the 2011 playoffs? Anywhere in the upper-middle portion of that scale would be a welcome change to the usual chaos that is the Flyers crease in the playoffs.
These two need to set the tone early and often
COBURN – GROSSMANN
Liberty I and Liberty II for their size, this is a pairing that is certainly capable of leaving a bad taste in the Penguins mouth all series. They have been by far the best defensive pairing since they were paired together in the latter portion of the year. They are going to be a lot of fun to watch. Grossmann truly has brought out the nastiness from Coburn on a more consistent basis. Only worry with them is they could be left standing around if Pitt decides to throw out some fleet-footed forwards (think Crosby) because of the agility issue that comes with being that size. Coburn will need to be on his toes and always ready to use that speed of his.
CARLE – TIMONEN
Carle and Timonen bring a completely different look: tactical positioning over brute strength. They will not out muscle anyone so they have to be quick to retrieve the puck and move it out before the Penguins can establish their patented fore-check. Two of the smartest players on the ice that need to utilize their biggest strength, which is their outlet passing. Carle needs to eliminate any and all brain farts that seem to come once or twice every game and seem to always end in the back of the net. Not to give excuses, but he gets a little slack since he far and away logged the most ice team for the Flyers this year (nearly 100 minutes more than Coburn, thanks to being one of the 3 Ironmen this season playing in all 82 games - Simmonds and Hartnell being the other 2)
KUBINA/GUSTAFSSON – BOURDON/LILJA
It’s a toss up. Do they go experience over youth? Size over skill? Only time will tell. If Kubina does play, than his decision making needs to be quicker. He also needs to get more shots on net.
Nauseating over-analysis all year over his roller coaster season. His size and athleticism are a huge strength. Rocking a 2.60 GAA and .912 save percentage against the Penguins this year which is better than his fellow net-mate against the Penguins (Bobrovsky: 3.84 GAA and .885 save percentage). Biggest worry is his lateral movement (on a bum wheel) against a team that passes as well as Pittsburgh does. No one, and I mean no one knows what he is thinking. Therefore, I’ll leave you with this:
ORPIK – MICHALEK
I have nothing but respect for a guy like Orpik. He is one of the hardest hitters in the league and lays the wood year in and year out (he sported a lofty 259 hits). Michalek is that steady defenseman. Doesn’t really bring much else to the table.
MARTIN – LETANG
Letang is what Subban is trying to get to be in this league: a great producer with that nasty edge to him. Letang is not afraid to stick up for himself, which can sometimes get himself in trouble. He led the defense in points with 32 points in 51 games played. Martin is no slouch either, having netted himself 27. The one thing that is a known weakness around the league is the defensive deficiency of Martin. Therefore, expect the Flyers to put their best lines/forecheckers on this defensive pairing to try and knock them off their game.
NISKANEN – ENGELLAND
Once again a third defensive pairing that will be hidden as much as possible. One thing going for Engelland is his nasty streak. You have to watch out for him on the ice as he will pop you (tallied 174 hits in limited ice time).
The one thing you can always take away from the regular season is the confidence you have to score on a goalie, and the Flyers know they can do that. This year, he put up a 3.41 GAA and .872 save % against the Flyers. Shaky numbers, but we all know that he can turn things around real quick and carry this team. I think the first goalie to steal a game shakes the landscape of the series. On a lighter side, who do you think will have the last laugh between Talbot and Flower?
NSFW: 24/7 Fleury’s opinions of Talbot at 0:52 and 1:12 marks
The Final Word..
I hope the fans feel as good about this team as I do. Regardless of what happens over these next two games, it’s time to take back the title of most intimidating fans in hockey on Sunday. We talked about the roller coaster season, but fans have been slacking. This team is playing hard for us, so we need to go hard for them. The NHL playoffs are here, and nothing is better than the battle for the cup in a city that rewards hard work and effort like the City of Brotherly Love does.
We need to be with them now, because there’s a good chance this is the toughest battle they could face on their quest. If the Stanley Cup playoffs are WWII, then this battle would surely be dubbed ‘Normandy’ (Please don’t take this the wrong way - I’ve been watching a lot of Band of Brothers lately). Imagine the momentum and confidence a potential series win would carry into the next round. The cards are stacked against us, but if we don’t win this battle the war is over. Losing is not an option.
Take this as a challenge and fully embrace this team and this run. Now is the time to truly be the factor we’re synonymous with being. It’s time to get under the opponents skin and make them jealous of a REAL playoff atmosphere!
*A PERSONAL PLEA: Please boo Pittsburgh the entire time they are on the PP and cheer when we clear the puck (this was my favorite playoff tradition during 2004 that has since been forgotten).*
It’s time to bring back the orange crush
But for all of this to be a factor, the Flyers need to go at least 1-1 at CONSOL. Hopefully they start early for a change, because getting a win out of the way tonight would be a HUGE relief heading into Game 2. We’re looking ahead a lot here, but that’s because we aren’t playing in the game. The Flyers themselves need to be looking to set the tone TONIGHT, or be prepared to play from behind for the whole series. In a series against a team as potent as Pittsburgh, the importance of Game 1 cannot be understated.
They’ve played 82 games to get to this point. Now, it’s time to execute. The quest for the cup begins tonight, and we couldn’t be more Flyered up about it.
LETS GO FLYERS!
PS: Vince is growing his playoff beard for charity. Click here to help him out!!!
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About Orange & Black Breakdown
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).
So what does this mean for you? The plan is to combine these
time-wasting habits passions with my love for writing to provide you with complete coverage of the Flyers from both my head and around the web, 24/7.
This is my second writing stint focusing on the Flyers, but for a much larger audience - so do be gentle. Different perspectives and opinions on the organization are welcome and encouraged. Just because I see it one way doesn’t mean I’m beyond seeing it your way as well, so speak up!
I’m always interested in interacting with readers, so find me on twitter (@marcs797) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s talk hockey.
Thanks for reading; Lets go Flyers!