The Flyers and the Penguins are about to renew one of the best rivalries in all of sports. It's only been a few years since the two Pennsylvania hockey clubs have met in the playoffs---but a lot has changed.
Flyers: The Flyers forwards are the least recognisible from the last time we played the Pens in the playoffs to now. Only two current Flyers played in the 07-08 ECF and only three current Flyers played in the 08-09 ECQF. Briere and Hartnell played in both, and then-rookie Claude Giroux got his first playoff experience in 2008-09 (In 07-08 he lead his junior team to the Memorial Cup with 51 points in 17 games). Out are guys like former-captain Mike Richards, former alternate-captains Simone Gagne and Jeff Carter. Joffrey Lupul, Vinny Prospal, Mike Knuble, Scotty Uphsall, Aaron Asham, Darroll Powe, Andreas Nodl, Dan Carcillo, Mike Knuble, and R.J. Umburger. In are rookies Sean Couturier (8 OA pick in 2011), Braydon Schenn (5 OA pick in 2009), Matt Read (NHL rookie goal leader this year with 24), Zac Rinaldo (NHL PIM leader with 232), Eric Wellwood, and Harry Zolnierczyk. Trading Carter and Richards netted us with Wayne Simmonds (career high 28 G and 49 P), Jake Voracek (49 points) in addition to some of those rookies. And our free agent pickups last July brought in former Penguin cup-winners Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr. Our offense has changed from a center-heavy squad with speed and skill on the wings, to a much more balanced squad with a lot more size and physicality on the wings (and speed).
Penguins: The Penguin forwards have obviously had some turnover, but not nearly as much as the Flyers. They are still lead by their three all world centers: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Other familiar names to Flyers fans are Matt Cooke, Pasquel Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz. In 07-08 the Pen's 4th and 5th leading scorers were Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone---both gone. Also gone are Marion Hossa, Max Talbot (ha!), Ruslan Fedetenko, and Miro Satan. They have been replaced with 40-goal scorer James Neal, Steve Sullivan, Craig Adams, and Aaron Asham.
Advantage: Home-Team. Hockey is all about match-ups. The home team gets to pick the match-up. Eric T wrote a great article about how the match-ups will influence this series and with the offenses being so equal in potency the advantage will lie in the home team's hands. Eric showed that the Flyers have an advantage when we get to play Giroux against either Malkin or Crosby and when we keep Briere away from Staal. The Penguins want to get Staal on Giroux and Malkin and Crosby on against Briere.
Flyers: In 07-08 Kimmo and Coburn both got hurt and missed the majority of the series---playing a key part in the 5 game loss. In early 08-09 we traded for Matt Carle. Those three will anchor the blue line in this coming series. Pavel Kubina is the Flyers answer to the injured Chris Pronger---as they do very similar things on the ice, but obviously Kubina is no Pronger. Nick Grossmann is most likely going to be paired with Coburn and they will be assigned Evgeni Malkin. Coburn is 6-5 and Grossmann is 6-4. Malkin has been known to get frustrated and take a bad penalty or two---hopefully our twin towers will be able to take 71 off of his game. That obviously leaves Kimmo on Sid (not 100% sure who's going to be paired with Kimmo). The three guys battling for the last defensive spot are Andres Lilja (big, experienced, slow), Marc-Andre Bourdon (physical rookie with some offensive upside), and Eric Gustafsson (puck moving rookie). All three could see time in the series depending on match-ups and how they are playing individually.
Penguins: Although the Penguins still have Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik, the Pens defense is the deciding factor in this series. When they made the cup two years in a row their blue line was held down by Sergei Gonchar (14 its in 22 games in the 08-09 playoffs) and Hal Gill (6-7 crease clearing behemoth). They are gone now, replaced by Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek (40 points combined this year). Both are solid defenders, but nothing near the likes of Gonchar and Gill three years ago. The Pens blue line is rounded out this year with Brian Strait and tough guy Derek Engelland.
Advantage: Flyers. Timonen is the best defender on the ice---and that is very important in the war that is the playoffs. The playoff experience is also on the Flyers side. Kubina was with the Lightning last year who made the ECF. Coburn and Carle (and Timo) have major playoff experience. Michalek, Engelland, Martin, and Niskanen have one playoffs of more than 10 GP combined. Timonen has 3, Carle 5, Coburn 5, Grossman 1, Lilja 3, Kubina 2.
Goalies: Bryz v. Fleury. Advantage: Pens. Not much more to talk about there.
Series Prediction: Flyers in 6.
LETS GO FLYERS!!!