Leading up to Wednesday's game one, we'll be taking a look at the different components that will make up this Quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Penguins. To start, we look at the guys that score the goals.
When the playoffs open on Wednesday, it's possible for John Stevens to throw together a Flyers lineup where every player on the top two lines is a 25 goal scorer. And that's not including Danny Briere, who missed most of the season with a groin injury. In fact, the Flyers are the first team since the 1993/94 Calgary Flames to boast six 25-goal scorers.
The balanced scoring depth of this Flyers team is simply unrivaled in the Eastern Conference. There are simply so many elements to the Flyers attack that the Pens have to worry about. There's Mike Richards, team MVP, who netted 30 goals this season. There's the best comeback story in the league, Simon Gagne, who wasn't around last year when these teams met in the Conference Finals. There's the new found duo of Claude Giroux and Danny Briere that seem to have a ton of chemistry building right now. There's also Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell's mouth, and Mike Knuble, all 25 goal scorers. But it begins and ends with Jeff Carter.
When Jeff scored in games this season, the Flyers went 26-3-6. When he didn't score, they went 18-24-5. His shot is absolutely deadly, one of the most feared in the NHL. But where we don't talk about Carter often is his defensive awareness. People have been wondering all season about why exactly Carter has been so successful. According to Paul Holmgren, the answer is his defense.
"He's turned that defensive responsibility into offensive opportunities. I think that's where he gets a lot of his goals. Just by being in good position defensively. He jumps on a loose puck and he has the speed where he can separate himself from a lot of people."
The Penguins also have two guys that run their offensive attack: Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, and of course, Sidney Crosby. Malkin has been on fire all season long, ending the season as the league's top scorer with 113 points (35 goals, 78 assists). Crosby has had a more imperfect season, largely due to a lack of chemistry between him and his linemates. At the deadline, the Pens went out and picked up Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz to play along side Sid the Kid. The moves have drastically helped his offensive output, and Pittsburgh has their two bonafide stars clicking heading into the playoffs.
We know better than anybody else that these two have hurt Philadelphia. Malkin has 31 points in 21 career games against the Flyers. Impressive, until you look at Crosby's numbers versus Philly. 26 games, 20 goals, 26 assists, 46 points. And you wonder why the Penguins have, for the most part, owned the Flyers in the past three years?
After those two though, Pittsburgh is easy to shut down. Kunitz, Jordan Staal, and Petr Sykora are nice players, but they aren't going to hurt you like the Flyers offense can. If the D, largely Kimmo Timonen and Ryan Parent, can effectively shut down Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins are managable. If they can't, we should expect more of the same.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia will score their goals. I don't think there is any denying that. There are just way too many weapons on the team to keep them down long, no matter how well Marc-Andre Fleury plays in goal.
Tonight, we'll take a look at the Flyers defense. How can they successfully limit Crosby and Malkin effectively?