First off, I want to let you all know that both Dan and I are attending game 1 tonight. So be sure to check back here for picture from the game as well as our first ever playoff analysis!!!
Moving on, Jesse Marshall over at Faceoff-Factor invited me (Chris) to participate in a playoff roundtable with some of the finest minds in Pittsburgh hockey. To say FF is a solid blog is an understatement. If for some reason you haven’t stopped at their page before, go there.
Just so you know, you can also hit this post up at Stater Sports Blogs, which is my hockey blog for the paper I write for in Kent, OH. I’m trying to teach this town about hockey!!!
On with the show …
“I could go the easy way and say goaltending, but to me the key is going to be 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.”
“The Penguins need consistent goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. Philadelphia is going to pepper him with shots and crash the crease in order to get him off his game. We saw what kind of goaltender he can be last spring. Pittsburgh may not have the horses they did a year ago, but they have enough of a working mentality to earn goals against a Flyer team who is healthy and eager for revenge. Dan Bylsma’s system is clicking with this group right now and it will be his adjustments as the series goes on that will be the determining factor.”
“If there is one key to victory for the Penguins it is probably special teams. They have the horses to compete 5 on 5, but they have got to win the special teams battles if they want to take the four games necessary to advance in this best of seven series. The Penguins power play has a huge opportunity ahead of it, especially when you consider that the Flyers were the second most penalized team in the league behind the Anaheim Ducks. If the Penguins can exploit this weakness and score with the extra attacker, they should be able to put together enough offense to win the series. Getting bodies and traffic in front of Marty Biron will go a long way towards achieving this goal. Though this sounds like a good plan, it will not be an easy one to enact, as the Flyers penalty kill is among the best in the league. Mike Richards prowls the high slot like a jungle cat and his ability to pounce on point to point passes and go end to end cannot be underestimated. The bad news is that he isn’t the only Flyers forward who is dangerous while killing penalties. Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter also have the ability to burn a power play unit and the Penguins have seen it first hand. I am confident that the Penguins can do what is necessary to gain an advantage in this realm. Their special teams have been greatly improved under Dan Bylsma; with their power play clicking at roughly 18% since February and their penalty kill at 87%. I do expect both stats to increase, as they have made a steady improvement over the last month. If the boys in Black and Vegas Gold can get themselves a 20% on the PP and kill roughly 89% of their own penalties, they should be able to win this series in six.”
“The hate between these two teams can mean only one thing: penalties. Thus, special teams play will play a huge role in determining the series. The Flyers lead the NHL in penalties, averaging roughly two more trips to the box per game than the Penguins. For Pittsburgh to win, the power play must convert. The Pens also need to make sure that they don’t buy in to the gimmicks of the Flyers. Philly wants to get you angry, frustrated and feeling a bit retaliatory. By keeping a cool head, Pittsburgh can make the Flyers pay where it counts — on the scoreboard. There’s no better way to get inside Philadelphia goaltender Martin Biron’s head than on the power play. Quick and easy goals will fluster him, which will make winning the series an easier task.
Well, there you have it.”
Jesse Marshall: (in response to these entries)
In a nutshell, we agree with everything these guys had to say. If I had to single out one aspect, I’d focus on the special teams battle as well. The Penguins need to get the man advantage in order, and they need to do it fast. Otherwise, the Flyers could make this series closer than it needs to be.
Chris | PPT