by Tony on 04/13/09 at 04:58 PM ET
This could be an easy post. I could just give you my preview from last May’s Eastern Conference Finals series between the Pens and Flyers. But that wouldn’t be any fun.
Look, everyone knows the background on this one. No gray area here. The Pens and Flyers despise each other. The teams’ fans despise each other. Hell, even the teams’ press hates each other.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the keys to the series:
- Going back to last year’s playoffs, the Pens have won 8 of the past 11 meetings. This season, the Pens have won 4 out of 6, including one overtime win and one shootout win. The Penguins are 2-1 at both the Igloo and the Wachovia Center.
- The Wachovia Center is among the toughest venues to play in the NHL. Their rabid fans are vocal and intense, to put it politely. And boy, do they love Sidney Crosby. It was there in Crosby’s rookie season that his teeth were chipped by bosom buddy Derian Hatcher, only to have Crosby score the game-winning goal in OT. That said, the Pens’ core group have played there so much in the past few years that they’re more than used to it.
- Although the Flyers lost R.J. Umberger, Scottie Upshall and Vinny Prospal, they’ve still got more than enough firepower. Jeff Carter has become one of the best snipers in the NHL. Mike Richards is just a beat, enough said. But the biggest improvement in the Flyers’ offense very well may be a healthy Simon Gagne, who chipped in 34 goals this year.
- Special Teams - The Pens are going to need their powerplay to start generating some life into it, which won’t be easy considering the Flyers’ good penalty killing unit. The inclusion of Sergei Gonchar has improved the Pens’ PP a little bit, but overall they’re still doing too much passing and not enough shooting. In addition, Kris Letang is slowly but surely losing his shyness when it comes to putting pucks on net from the left point. But even more importantly, the Pens containment of the Flyers’ powerplay could be the key to the series. I think the Pens have a significant advantage 5-on-5, especially the bottom two lines. But if the Pens get into penalty trouble, the Flyers have a lot of weapons on both powerplay units. That said, since IHCDB came aboard, the Pens’ penalty kill has been simply outstanding. Bottom line: If the Pens win the battle of special teams, they win the series.
- Goaltending - If you’re looking specifically at status, Marc-Andre Fleury and Marty Biron have performed nearly identically this season. Fleury’s GAA is 2.67, while Biron’s is 2.76. Fleury’s save pct. is .912, while Biron’s is .915. However, Fleury has have a better record in recent play. Fleury is 16-3-4 recently, while Biron is 14-8. The key between the pipes hasn’t changed since last year, if Biron plays well, the Flyers become a very tough out. However, if the Pens can get to Biron, as they have done recently, then it’s a good bet that the Pens will win the series.
- Retaliation - The Penguins cannot get into a slugfest with the Flyers, that would be playing right into their hands. The Flyers have one of the better agitators in the league in Scott Hartnell, he’ll be sure the get in the face of Crosby and Malkin all series long. It may sound easier than it is, but the Pens will have to use come discipline and skate away, and let the Flyers head to the penalty box.
- Intangibles - There are a couple miscellaneous things that could go a long way in determining the winner of the series: They are:
1. The Penguins’ 3rd and 4th lines - These aren’t your typical ham-n-egger lines. Both the third line of Cooke-Staal-Kennedy and the fourth line of Dupuis-Talbot-Adams/Godard have made significant contributions since IHCDB took over. Any offensive scoring these two lines can do would be huge.
2. Danny Briere - Briere has had an off-year dealing with his groin injuries, only scoring 11 goals. However, if he gets back to his normal abilities, that could make a difference.
It’s going to be an physical, intense series. To me, the big key will be special teams, specifically whether the Pens PK can hold the Flyers PP, and whether the Pens PP can finally come to life.
Prediction ?? Penguins in six.
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Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
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