The Pittsburgh Penguins come into the first round with the Flyers as the odds on favorite to come out of the east. At least that is what the odds makers are saying. As for matchup, the flyers were swept by the Pens during the regular season but that was the regular season. Will that trend continue? Lets take a closer look at the series to find out.
The Flyers come into round 1 of the playoffs fairly happy just to be there. They are a different team then the Flyers teams we have seen in past years, although some of the faces remain the same. They have plenty of talent and can score. Their achilles heel has been and will be in net until they have one of their many goalies step up and win big. Brian Elliot will likely get the start in the series but I would not be surprised to see them go to one of the other goalies if he struggles during game 1. Until they prove they can keep the Pens from scoring 5 or 6 goals a game which is what they scored in each game this season, the net will be in question for this Flyers team.
Holdovers from the last time they played in the playoffs, The Flyers still have the likes of Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux. But their big play this year was the Couturier move to center. That has allowed Giroux to become a more dynamic scorer as he finished the season with more points than he has previously scored. Many have dismissed this series in favor of the Pens and some have gone as far as saying the Pens would sweep. The Flyers have made the Playoffs just once in the past 3 years so they are looking forward to this series. The flyers also have a luxury of a quality rookie center-man in Nolan Patrick.
He has been a real find for them this season and has played well. On the flip side though, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something Patrick has not been a part of. I do not see him being a big factor in series as a whole. I feel like he will not yet be ready for the big moments.
I’m in the minority in Pittsburgh as thinking this is not a Penguins slam dunk. The Flyers lost 4 games to the Pens, but two of those games were in overtime. There is no 3 on 3 or shootouts in the playoffs. At that point, the teams have to fend for themselves without that luxury. The Flyers have the firepower to score against THIS YEARS PENGUINS TEAM.
The Pens defense is average at best, and Letang is not the player he was before his injury. Although they won without him last year, they will need him to return to form in order for the Pens to go anywhere in the playoffs. The Pens have youth and speed in the their lineup but they do not have the stay at home type players that have had in the past. Although the speed game is what Coach Sullivan preaches and wants to play, he emphasized in his presser yesterday that “Discipline” is the most important attribute for his guys coming into the post season. If they do not play disciplined on both offense and defense, this Pens team will not go far.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs the series was a mess riddled with poor goal tending which led to a plethora of goals. The penalty’s were out of hand throughout the series but I do not see anything of the sort happening during this series.
Good News: The Pens finally have a healthy Murray in net which has been rare throughout the season. Casey Desmith will be his backup and although he has no playoff experience, he has in fact played fairly well throughout the season and can spell Murray if need be. With that said, if the Penguins get into a situation where Murray is injured again and the Combo of Desmith and Jarry have to hold down the net for the Pens, I do not believe the defense is solid enough to win any series in this years run. Murray’s health is paramount.
Coach Sullivan stated that the Brassard, practiced with the team and looked good. He is a game time decision, but I believe we will see him.
The Penguins had the best Power Play in the game during the regular season at 26.2, which is actually a higher rate than their record setting teams of the 90’s. As we all know, the game is called differently in the playoffs. The referees allow way too much and it puts a premium on special teams opportunities. The Pens will need to win the special teams play, scoring when opportunities arise and they must be better at killing penalties. They will need big contributions from Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary.
Phil Kessel has been one of their best goal scorers this season, just behind Malkin. He has been consistent throughout and he will need to be just as good if not better in the playoffs. Malkin slowed down in recent weeks, maybe conserving a bit for the run.
The Pens will need to use their speed on defense to control the puck, and get back to the game that has won them back to back cups. Murray will need to play as he has in the previous two runs or likely even better. He is without the luxury of some of the guys he had in front of him in prior years and will likely face 30+ shots per game if the defense does not play the way it needs to.
This series will go 6 games and the Pens will need to win every game at home. Evgeni Malkin said as much a week before the season ended when asked if it was important to get home ice. Pens win, but it’s closer than most think.
Pens in 6, Crosby and Kessel play well and Kessel the determining factor. Malkin has struggled against the Flyers in years past and I believe they dial into that a bit this series. The Flyers will go through 3 goalies in this series, and the Pens may in fact see Desmith in net at some point.