2011

Most recent year in which Phillies had winning record

Flyers-Pens: Tough matchup — for both teams

Posted by Eric Fisher On April 10

With the Flyers and Penguins facing each other in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the unanswered question is which team got the short end of the stick.

The Flyers drew the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. It appeared that neither the Devils nor Blue Jackets put much effort into winning their final game, thereby finishing one point behind the Flyers and avoiding the Penguins in the first round. To make matters worse for the Flyers, they were swept by the Penguins in their four-game season series.

On the other hand, the Penguins can’t be thrilled with opening the playoffs against their cross-state rivals. Although some view this series as a mismatch, the Penguins only finished with two more points (100-98) than the Flyers this season. No forward in the NHL is played better than Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who tallied 19 points in the season’s final 10 games. Sean Couturier has the size and skill to match up with the Penguins’ top centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Let’s take a closer look at the Flyers and Penguins as they prepare for the battle of Pennsylvania, which kicks off Wednesday (7 p.m.) in Pittsburgh.

FORWARDS

Penguins: When Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel are on the third line, it speaks volumes about the level of quality depth along their forward lines. Sidney Crosby (29 goals, 60 assists) is accompanied on the top line by Jake Guentzel (22 goals, 26 assists) and Bryan Rust. On the second line, Evgeni Malkin (42 goals, 56 assists) is flanked by Patric Hornqvist (29 goals) and Carl Hagelin. Kessel has 34 goals and 58 assists this season, and Brassard was a good trade deadline pickup from the Senators. Conor Sheary rounds out the Penguins’ impressive third line. Crosby compiled nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in the four wins over the Flyers this season.

Flyers: Claude Giroux, with career highs in goals (34) and points (102) is a top candidate in the race to be the NHL’s most valuable player. One of the keys was Giroux’s move to left wing, allowing center Sean Couturier to move to the top line. Couturier responded with career-highs in goals (31) and assists (45). Regardless of who was on the right wing with Giroux and Couturier, the top line was cooking. The most recent addition at right wing is Michael Raffl, whose big body seemed like a nice fit the past two games. The more the top line can keep the puck in the offensive zone, the less time Crosby or Malkin can spend with the puck in the Penguins offensive zone.

Travis Konecny (24) moved down to the third line, where he joins Wayne Simmonds (24 goals) around center Valtteri Filppula. The second line features Jakub Voracek (20 goals, 65 assists) along with rookies Nolan Patrick (13 goals, 17 assists), who was much better after the All-Star break, and Oskar Lindblom. Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera and Matt Read form a fourth line that doesn’t produce many goals. The Flyers have quality depth, but not enough to match the Penguins.

DEFENSE

Penguins: If the Penguins are vulnerable, it’s on defense. But that doesn’t mean they’re weak. Kris Letang looked more like his old self, averaging 25 minutes per game after missing a lot of time the past few years with injuries and health issues. But Letang only scored nine goals, which is fewer than either Shayne Gostisbehere or Ivan Provorov. Letang did, however, register 42 assists. The rest of the Penguins’ defensemen are rather ordinary. Brian Dumolin, usually paired with Letang, and Jamie Oleksiuk are big, but they aren’t particularly quick. Olli Maataa and Justin Schultz are a decent No. 2 pairing. Matt Hunwick joins Oleksiak on a third pairing that could be taken advantage of by any of the Flyers’ top three lines.  impressive third line. Crosby compiled nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in the four wins over the Flyers this season.

Flyers: Ivan Provorov (17 goals, 24 assists, plus-17) and Shayne Gostisbehere (13 goals, 52 assists, plus-10) form one of the best – if not the best – young defense pairing in the NHL. Provorov (left), in his second year in the league, turned the puck over more often than during his rookie season, but he also increased his offensive production. Gostisbehere, in his third season, was much better defensively this season while ranking fourth on the team in points. The second pairing consists of veteran Andrew MacDonald and rookie Travis Sanheim, who has been much better since being called back up from the Phantoms. Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning, the No. 3 pair, could have trouble if they can’t get the puck out of the defensive zone and end up spending a lot of time there against one of the Penguins’ top three lines. Rookie Robert Hagg, who became a healthy scratch late in the season after missing time with an injury, could enter the lineup if the Flyers have defensive problems.

GOALIE

Penguins: Matt Murray doesn’t know what it’s like not to win the Stanley Cup, having won it in his first two NHL seasons. But Murray has been inconsistent this season. Will he be able to turn it on for the playoffs?

Flyers: The Flyers are going to start Brian Elliott, who was a steady presence in net until missing 25 games due to surgery to repair an abdominal injury. Elliott returned for the season’s final two games. He was shaky while allowing three goals in a victory over the Hurricanes. Elliott recorded a shutout in the season finale, but only faced 17 shots against the disinterested Rangers. If Elliott can regain his pre-injury form, the Flyers will have a much better chance of winning the series. They can’t afford to have uneven play in net against the dangerous Penguins.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Penguins converted 26.2 percent of their power play chances. The Flyers only killed off 75.8 percent of their shorthanded situations. Obviously, the Flyers need to stay out of the penalty box.

ANALYSIS

The Flyers are capable of winning this series. First, they need Elliott to be steady in goal. It would help if Murray is inconsistent and can’t bail out the Penguins’ defensemen. Giroux must continue to play at an MVP-level as the Flyers’ top line puts pressure on the Pittsburgh defense by keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Another key for the Flyers, particularly when facing a team as talented and deep as the Penguins, is for Provorov and Gostisbehere to be the best defensemen in the series. Balanced scoring, with goals from beyond the first line, is another essential piece for the Flyers. The Flyers can match the Penguins 5-on-5. Their problems begin when they give the Penguins too many power plays.

PREDICTION

If this is a short series, it will be bad news for the Flyers. The Flyers want to drag this series out. Although the Penguins have the edge in talent, the Flyers might be a hungrier team with more to prove. A Flyers victory in six or seven games is certainly possible, but I need to see Elliott play better than he did during the final two games to make that prediction against a team with Crosby, Malkin and Kessel in its lineup. Penguins in 6

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