For the second straight year the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Philadelphia Flyers the playoffs. The Penguins clinched home-ice advantage when the Flyers squandered a lead against the Rangers in the final regular season game. The ‘turnpike series’ promises to be a good one, but who has the advantages, and which team will find thier way into round two?
This is a tough call. The edge probably has to go to Stevens since he took his team to the conference finals last year. The only thing keeping him from winning is that Bylsma is 18-3-4 in his 25 game stint with the Penguins. To put things in persepective, that is the best 25 game total in Penguins history, the second best belongs to Scotty Bowman (13-8-4) in 1991–the year in which the Pens brought home their second Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh looks like a new team with Bylsma’s “high-aggression” system, and the players seem to follow him much more than they did Michel Therrien.
Both of these men are qualified coaches, but the upper hand goes to Stevens. In his first full year with the Flyers, he improved the team by 39 points from the previous season and was named “The Hockey News” coach of the Year in 2008. Advantage: Flyers
Flyers–Jeff Carter/Mike Richards/Simon Gagne/Scot Hartnell
Penguins–Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Bill Guerin/Chris Kunitz
Offensively, the Penguins are deeper than the Flyers, case closed. The Penguins have two of the top three scorers in the NHL, and now that Sidney Crosby has line mates, he is even more of a threat. The problem for Philadelphia is that (thanks to a 2005 Darius Hatcher stick blade to the chops) he already kicks it up a notch against them thanks to a . Crosby has nine points against Philadelphia in six games this season and is coming off his second best statistical month of the year. Sid brings his best for the playoffs, as was evidenced by his playoff leading 27 points last year and 5 point performance in the 07-08 playoffs while playing on a broken foot.
Malkin is a whole new threat to the Flyers. He is relieved to have beat hated rival Alexander Ovechkin for the scoring race.This should help him play more loosely in the playoffs. The concern for Pens fans is if Malkin will burn out in this year’s post-season. It should not matter for this series though, because last year he looked brilliant in the first round and did not seem to slow until the Cup finals.
On the Flyers side of the ice, Carter, Richards, and Gagne are a potent mix, however Scotty Hartnell, conveniently for Pittsburgh, often comes down with the ‘Biron syndrome’. Anytime he faces the Penguins’ he inevitably does something stupid to lose the game. Richards, although extremely good and under appreciated by the NHL, is more of a threat on the penalty kill, however the Penguins should closely watch Gagne and Carter. The Penguins may have the advantage but Philadelphia is not exactly offensively challenged. They average 3.17 goals a game which is .02 more than the Penguins. In terms of pure offense though, Pittsburgh still reigns supreme, scoring 14 more even strength goals than the Flyers over the course of the season. Advantage: Penguins
Philadelphia–Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn
Pittsburgh–Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang
For overall defense the nod has to go to the Flyers. The only reason Philadelphia has a better defense is because they have two really good defensemen and a solid core, whereas the Penguins have three good defensemen and a horrible core. Timonen and Gonchar are the same type of player; the only difference is that Timonen is better on defense. No offense to “Sarge”, but at times his defense is suspect. I will admit that his shut down “D” has improved this season–which means that he has not gone totally to the Brian Campbell end of the pendulum.
Timonen, on the other hand, is one of the best one-on-one players in the league and has a +19 rating to prove it. He is gifted offensively, and is as valuable to the Flyers special teams as a power wheelchair was to Christopher Reeves. Coburn has 28 points this year, but he is much more valuable on the ice than statistics would indicate–this is evidenced by the way the Flyers suffered last year against the Penguins after talking a Malkin slap shot to the face. Letang is the best all-around defensemen the Penguins have, but he is streaky. Pittsburgh will be in trouble if last year’s playoff version of Letang appears. Advantage: Flyers
Philadelphia–Martin Biron/Antero Niittymaki
The Flyers goaltending is about as consistent as an 80-year-old man’s bladder, so the obvious edge goes to the Penguins who boast one of the leagues top goalies in Marc-Andre Fleury. The 2003 first overall pick has reached 35 wins in two of the past three seasons, all while having a suspect defense. Fleury’s best quality is his ability to make mind-blowing saves at crucial points in the game. It is important to note that Martin Biron can make some pretty impressive saves himself, the problem is that he usually offsets those by letting in a weak goal or making a costly mental error (ex. Crosby’s goal to win the game on Feb. 21). Philadelphia’s second goalie, Antero Niittymaki, is not dependable if Biron cannot get the job done. He is a solid number two, but he won’t steal any games, especially in the playoffs. Advantage: Penguins
Philadelphia–6th ranked PP, 6th ranked PK
Pittsburgh–20th ranked PP, 8th ranked PK
The statistics are all you need for this category. Richards also leads the league in shorthanded goals with seven, but with Fleury hot it will be much tougher to score a shorty on the Penguins. The real issue here is the Penguins powerplay. If Pittsburgh is hoping to make a deep playoff run, they cannot afford anymore 0-5 performances like the one in the regular season finale. Advantage: Flyers
Most of the time on the rink is spent at even strength, and the Penguins have the advantage with goaltending and offense. If Petr Sykora can get hot, or even back to average, then the Pens will be even tougher to beat. I see this one going in six to the Penguins, they have too much fire power and the better goalie–which is critical to a deep playoff run. Advantage: Penguins 4 games, Flyers 2 games.