What You Need To Know (TCL Penguins Edition)

 

In what is due to be one of the most exciting playoff series in recent history, the Pittsburgh Penguins are set to play the Philadelphia Flyers in round one.  This marquee matchup will feature the two highest scoring teams in the NHL as well as two bitter rivals.  It is sure to be filled with emotion and hatred, but we are going to analyze the measurable the evidence and find out what this series is sure to bring.

Forwards – A former Hart and Art Ross trophy winner, a two time Art Ross winner, and a budding superstar are only a few of the immense talents that will be seen on the ice.  Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin averaged over 1.4 points per game this season and not far behind was Claude Giroux.  These three players are some of the strongest puck carriers in the league as well as some of the best skaters. Any time they hit the ice, the defense tightens and goaltenders immediately focus their attention.  The difference between these stars and the goal scoring dynamos like Stamkos and Ovechkin is their uncanny ability to turn the players around them into stars.

Both James Neal and Scott Hartnell had career years.  Neal produced 40 goals and added 41 assists, destroying his career high in both totals.  Hartnell had seven more goals than his former career high and seven more points as well.  Both players success is directly correlated to the play of Malkin and Giroux.  Their shot is quick, powerful, and accurate.  Neal and Hartnell led the league respectively in powerplay goals, giving their teams a much needed special team’s advantage.

The underrated forwards in this matchup could make all the difference.  Pascal Dupuis of the Pittsburgh Penguins is on a scoring streak of 17 games.  He had a career high 25 goals and 59 points.  He also had 3 shorthanded goals and is a true do it all forward.  Philadelphia counters with another strong depth player in Wayne Simmonds.  His career high this season was also in goals and points.  He brings a very strong forchecking game as well as a tremendous net front presence.  Both players provide their respective clubs with great depth and needed depth.

Defense – The most underrated portion of these teams is easily the defense.  Since both teams play a very open style, both defenses are left chasing quite often.  They are, however, some of the stronger units in the league. 

The Penguins boast a smaller core of players that pack a punch.  Brooks Orpik is one of the strongest hitters in the league, as is Derek Engelland.  Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen are quick, puck moving defensemen that have a great ability to pinch in the offensive zone.  Zbynek Michalek is a true shot blocker.  The defense is led by the up and coming star Kris Letang.  His 42 points in 51 games gave him the second highest PPG per defensemen in the NHL this season.  His speed and new found physicality make him one of the best two way defenders in the entire NHL.

The Flyers bolster a significantly different defensive core.  They are led by veteran Kimmo Timmonen, whose great skating and ice vision are among the best in the league.  Nicklas Grossman is a large space taking defensemen who is very difficult to play against.  He is not overly physical, but is almost never out of position.  Similarly, defensemen Braydon Cobourn is a larger bodied defensemen who likes to lay the lumber.  Matt Carle and rookie Pavel Kubina are both good skating defensemen who have a great ability to keep the puck moving in the offensive zone.   Andreas Lilja and Marc-Andre Bourdon are players who are responsible enough in their own end to provide Philly with a great set of rotating defensemen for this series.

Goaltending – The largest part of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  It is commonly stated that a hot goaltender can steal the series, but it is never overstated.  Both Marc Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov have had up and down seasons.  Their ups, however, were some of the strongest performances of the season.  Bryz is a larger goaltender that uses excellent positioning to shut down the opposition.  Fleury is an athletic goaltender that loves to make any save a highlight reel.  Both of these goaltenders have what it takes to steal this series and in my opinion, one of these goaltenders will steal this series as both of these offenses are as strong as it gets. 

Special Teams -  The Power Plays are almost identical in this series.  The Flyers however scored more powerplay goals this season in the series, giving them a slight edge.  The penalty kills are a little bit different.  Pittsburgh has a penalty kill that operates at 88% efficiency, while Philadelphia posts an 82% kill rate.  Pittsburgh also has an advantage with 11 shorthanded goals to Philadelphia’s 6.   With Pittsburgh’s strong kill and shorthanded prowess and Philadelphia’s deadly power play, the special team’s battle is going to be very tight.

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Overall, this matchup is going to be extremely tight and competitive.  The two offenses will be humming, the defenses will be knocking the snot out of one another, and the goaltenders will be stifling. This series is sure to be exciting, physical, and emotionally draining.  Given the almost identical statistics and the great play of both teams, the only prediction that can be made is that this series is going to be great.