Flyers – Penguins preview

In the past 22 games of the season, the Flyers and Penguins were headed in different directions.  The Flyers finished the season going 11-10-1 and Pittsburgh went 16-3-3.  But when the rivals  take the ice Wednesday in Pittsburgh for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the contest should be oddly close.

Regular Season

Fifth seed: Philadelphia (Season series 2-2-2) – 44-27-11

Fourth seed: Pittsburgh (Season series 4-2-0) – 45-28-9

Offense

The Flyers ranked fifth in the league in total offense, with an average of 3.17 goals a game.  Pittsburgh ranked sixth with 3.15 per game.  The difference in the two offenses is the Flyers’ depth vs. the Penguins top side firepower.

The Flyers had six 25+ goal scorers. Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter all contributed heavily, not to mention rookie Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, who missed most of the season with an injury.

The Penguins obviously have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  Malkin won the regular season scoring title with 113 points.  Crosby was in third with 103.  Stop Malkin and Crosby and you stop the Penguins.  However, it’s almost impossible.

Defense

Just like the offense, the defensive numbers are as close as it gets between the two teams. Philadelphia ranked 16th in overall defense, giving up 2.83 goals a game on average.  The Penguins sit at 17th, giving up 2.84 per game.

The Flyers are led by a healthy Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn.  Young blue liner Ryan Parent is skating after a groin injury and will play on Wednesday.  The Flyers are missing Darian Hatcher, who has been on the ice coaching the defense as an assistant rather than a player.  He will not return for the playoffs.

The Penguins are headed by very capable playoff producer Sergei Gonchar and banger Brooks Orpik.  But Kris Letang may be their most lethal rear guard, leading Pitt defenseman in points with 33.

Goaltending

If you ask any Flyers’ fan, they will tell you that Philadelphia goalie Marty Biron has been sub-par the entire season and is the main reason the Flyers couldn’t climb past the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.  And if you ask any hockey fan about Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre Fleury, they will tell you he is one of the best in the East.  But both assumptions are wrong.

Biron ranked 25th in the NHL with a goals against average of 2.76.  But Fleury wasn’t much better, ranking 23rd with a 2.67 goals against.  Biron’s save percentage was actually better than Fleury’s at .915 to  Fleury’s  .913.  Both netminders are far from unbeatable, so it will be a test to see which can raise their game higher.

Special Teams

The key to the series will be performance on special teams.  The Flyers rank sixth on the power play with a 22.5 conversion percentage.  Pittsburgh ranks 20th with a 17.2 percentage.

On the penalty kill, sixth-ranked Philadelphia edges No. 8 Pittsburgh, 83% to 82.7%.

The Flyers lead the entire NHL with 446 minors, compared to No. 20 Pittsburgh’s 397.

Although the Pens have a mediocre power play on paper, taking bad penalties can absolutely sink the Flyers.  The Pens play an aggressive style and the Flyers need to weather the storm and not buckle and commit infractions.

Overall and Prediction

The Flyers will need to play mistake-free hockey and get above average goaltending from Biron to stop the Pen’s mighty offensive attack.  The Flyers’ defense needs to shutdown the big guns of Pittsburgh and hope that the rest falls in place.  To be successful in the series,  the Philadelphia power play needs to be on fire and they need to be semi-disciplined, to avoid giving charity goals to the Pens.  The Flyers also need to avoid the big first period from the Pens, who are a quick start team.

Prediction: Philly seems to have an “on” switch when it comes to playing the Penguins and producing in the playoffs.  Revenge plays a big factor for the orange and black, who break a close series open by splitting the first two games, then winning back-to-back, possible overtime games at home in game three and four.

Flyers in a very tight six games.

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