Alright so after a few days I’ve been able to collect my thoughts as I enter my last week of classes for the semester. Like many other Flyers Phaithful, I have been going nuts waiting for the second round to start. Never been a huge fan of teams having too much idle time, even if Chris Pronger is saying the time off is welcome. The Flyers are awaiting their next opponent and I’m watching a possible one right now as the Capitals take on the Canadiens in Game 6 of their series. The Capitals are the easiest guess to make since they were NHL’s best team and are leading the series 3-2, but the Canadiens have been playing really well as of late and in watching them I see a good possibility of them bringing it to a Game 7. They’re home tonight and currently Montreal is up 2-0 in the second period. Anything can happen in a Game 7, home-ice won’t be a huge factor as the Caps know all too well from their playoff exit two seasons ago (courtesy of Joffrey Lupul).
But I digress. The Flyers were the only team to finish their opponent in 5 games or less in the first round, and for good reason. There were many factors surrounding this advancing Flyers team; a team who was gaining momentum in the last few games of the season. I’m going to review the finer points of why I think the Flyers have upset the Devils and made it to the next round.
First things first… our penalty kill in that first series was absolutely astounding. The Flyers were shorthanded a league high 32 times in their first round and they played less games than anyone else. They only let up 8 goals, a 87.5% (4th best in the league thus far). You can thank guys like Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts mostly for this as they were shot blocking machines. Laperriere and Simon Gagne blocked some shots which led to their injuries. Gagne will be out for a few weeks, but Lappy’s blocked shot with his head is apparently healing well. Two guys with fractured bones from blocking a shot. We were up 3-0 and guys were still blocking shots, even after Lappy just went down bleeding on the ice from blocking one with his face. Guys who make sacrifices like that win hockey games more often than not, and this team is playing play off hockey. We can’t just focus on the forwards, though. Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen were blocking shots as well with 20 and 13 blocked shots respectively. With some questionable calls in the series, it doesn’t matter. They need to try and stay out of the box because there’s no guarantee that our next opponent will be as easily frustrated on the power play as Kovalchuk and Co. was.
Speaking of power play, the Flyers are currently 3rd in the league in playoff power play percentage at 27.6%; going 8 for 29. Claude Giroux leads the team in power play goals with 3, while Pronger and Carter each have 2, and Briere has 1. The numbers on the power play for the Flyers aren’t spectacular, but that’s pretty damned good against one of the best goalies of all-time. Getting shots to the net and getting people in front of the goalie (especially when Pronger’s big body is there) was the bread and butter of our power play last series… If they can do that again it is going to be hard to find ourselves not scoring a few goals with the man advantage. Our power play was simply better than the Devils, and our penalty kill was better than theirs. Enough said.
Probably one of the feel-good stories the NHL can use this playoff season in their headlines. Brian Boucher was THE ultimate penalty killer for us in this series. He was rarely out of position, square to the puck, and he knew where his posts were. I couldn’t have said these things about the guy 3 weeks ago, but he’s come a long way to get back in his groove. Boosh had one playoff shutout, and leads the league in save percentage and goals against average (.940% and 1.59). Incredible when you consider that guys like Nabokov and Miller are playing too. Some of the saves he was making took me back to his rookie campaign when I was real young and watched this young guy carry us through the season and playoffs. He was definitely not going to lose a series to Brodeur again, and he out-matched him.
Stepping It Up
Dan Carcillo had a game-winning overtime goal and an important even strength goal in Game 5. When you have your gritty role players scoring like that, it brings the whole team up and makes those “goal scorers” work harder to score goals. He leads the team in +/- with a plus 4 rating… great numbers by a guy deemed as a “goon” by much of the hockey world. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux have stepped up in a big way this post-season, as Giroux is making himself quite a post-season resume these past two years. Giroux is second on the team with six points and Briere is tied for third with Pronger with 5 points each. They have been an integral part of our power play and will need to continue that hard work and precision in all facets of the game to help our defense and goal tender out. Carter seemingly found his stride with two power play goals in Game 4 when he got hurt, but his contribution to our series win cannot be underestimated with his 17 shots on goal.
My Captain, My Captain
Mike Richards has certainly stifled his critics since the playoffs started. With a team-leading 8 points and his average 22 minutes of ice-time, (a good amount for a forward) his playing has lead this team to follow him to battle each game. He boasts a 53.7% face-off percentage so far, and was not found to be taking many poor penalties or making bad decisions. Pronger may be the vocal leader in that locker room as we hear in the media, but Richards is definitely one of those leaders on the ice. Seeing this young captain grow up and learn on the job is going to be a treat for Philadelphia fans for the next decade, and he’s earning that contract we paid him right now. Has he been perfect? No. This is a guy who’s leaving everything on the ice every night and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the second round.
One of our weaker points the past few seasons, our defense is arguably one of our strongest and most consistent parts of our game right now. The first pairing of Pronger and Carle has been good all year, and this series was no different. They shut down the top scorers in Kovalchuk and Parise and were great at getting the puck out of the zone in the transition game to spring our forwards on rushes. Clearing the crease? Not a problem albeit a few plays on the power play. This one pairing weren’t the only ones doing these things, as truly great defensive teams usually have two great pairings; and we have that in Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. Timonen has been our defensive hero the past two seasons while Coburn has taken what many believe to be a step back in the past season and a half. Right now, Timonen is playing just as big of a role as ever as he was one of the main reasons Kovalchuk and Parise had trouble finding the back of the net. Coburn has taken a step up in his game also, and he always plays better with Timmo at his side. In the beginning of the series, our 3rd pairing was a bit shaky as Laviolette experimented with Parent, Bartulis, and Krajicek in different scenarios. Eventually he went with just Parent and Krajicek and I like the way they have played the last 3 games of that series. Parent was partly responsible for that game-winning goal in the Game 2 loss, but he had a quick memory and has played much better since then. The rest of the teams we could possibly play have quite an arsenal of offense as well, and our defense has to be ready.
Whether it’s Pittsburgh, Washington, or Buffalo, or Boston… the Flyers will be ready. They’ve had some intense practices and training to keep their stamina up and they’ll be playing by the end of the week.