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Insider Only Series Preview: Penguins in 6

(Courtesy of South Central)
Season Series
10/14/08: PIT 3 – PHI 2
11/13/08: PIT 5 – PHI 4
12/13/08: PHI 6 – PIT 3
1/13/09: PIT 4 – PHI 2
2/21/09: PIT 5 – PHI 4
3/22/09: PHI 3 – PIT 1
Star Power
PIT: Evgeni Malkin (112 pts), Sidney Crosby (103 pts)
PHI: Jeff Carter (84 pts), Mike Richards (80 pts)
Advantage – Pittsburgh
Forwards
Pittsburgh: Down the middle the Penguins are the deepest team in the NHL with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. While Crosby, Malkin had little help for much of the season, Penguins general manager Ray Shero added Chris Kunitz (18 points, 20 pts) and Bill Guerin (12 points, 17 games) prior to the trade deadline.
The additions of Kunitz, Guerin has led to Sidney Crosby’s game taking off in the past month and role players such as Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, are now in roles that they are suited for. The wildcards upfront for the Penguins in this series are

Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora.
Fedotenko has been plagued by inconsistency this season but his game has picked up at the right time (10 pts in his last 7 games). In the 2004 playoffs, Fedotenko had 12 goals and 2 assists for the Tampa Bay Lightning, including the game winning goal in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Petr Sykora has been a complete disappointment over the Penguins past 25 games. He has been battling a few minor injuries but has picked the worst time to be in a slump where he has 6 points in his last 25 games. Sykora in a contract year, must produce in the playoffs for the Penguins to be successful.
Philadelphia: The Flyers are often regarded as having the deepest group of forwards in the NHL. While they don’t have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the Flyers have 6 players with 25 goals or more including 46 goal scorer Jeff Carter.
Down the middle the Penguins have an edge over the Flyers but on the wings the Flyers have more firepower. Simone Gagne who did not play in last years Eastern Conference finals, is the Flyers X-factor heading into this series.
Gagne, 34 goals, 74 pts will begin the series on the Flyers top line with Mike Richards (80 pts) and Mike Knuble (25 goals).
Leading scorer Jeff Carter, 46 goals, 84 pts, has 30 goal scorer Scott Hartnell and 25 goal scorer Joffrey Lupul on his wings. Hartnell, 60 pts, 143 PIM, has 6 points in 5 games against the Penguins this season.
The key for Flyers upfront will be Richards – Carter cancelling out Crosby, Malkin.
The key matchup of the series will be third line vs third line. The Penguins third unit of Matt Cooke – Jordan Staal – Tyler Kennedy matches up very well against the Flyers unit of Daniel Briere – Claude Giroux – Aaron Asham.
The Flyers have a bit more fire power in Briere and Giroux but Staal & Co get the edge because they are a much more complete line.
Top to bottom, both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, but due to the Flyers fire power on the wings, they get a slight advantage over the Penguins.
Advantage – Philadelphia
Defensemen
Pittsburgh: The Penguins blueline has been up and down this season. During the early part of the season, it looked like a strength, by mid-season it was a weakness but since the Penguins coaching change, it is back to being a strength.
The Penguins run-n-gun style plays to their strength on the blueline. They are much more aggressive in between the neutral zone and their gap control is among top five in the league.
There were serious question marks whether Mark Eaton, Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill could adapt to an uptempo-system. All three have done so admirably.
The return of Sergei Gonchar gives the Penguins a legitimate #1 tandem between Gonchar – Orpik. Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi are expected to get the duty of shutting down the Richards line.
Mark Eaton and Kris Letang are playing strong hockey and Philippe Boucher had two solid performances when he returned to the lineup during the Penguins final two games.
The Penguins are 7 deep and as a core, are playing their best hockey of the season.
Philadelphia: The Flyers blueline is much different then the unit the Penguins went up against last spring.The Flyers believe a healthy Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn will be the difference in this series.
Coburn and Timonen are the Flyers difference makers and they are much deeper with the addition of Matt Carle and the emergence of Ryan Parent. Andrew Alberts and Randy Jones are formidable five through six defensemen but the uncertainty with this group is whether they have a shutdown pairing that can matchup consistently with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Advantage – Pittsburgh
Goaltending
Pittsburgh: Marc Andre Fleury (35-18-7, 2.67 GAA) is playing at a higher level than he was last year when the Penguins reached the Stanley Cup finals.
Fleury, 24, has started 29 of the Penguins past 31 games and appears on the verge of becoming a top 5 goaltender in this league. Pittsburgh clearly has the advantage in goal and how far they go will depend on Fleury.
Philadelphia: The pressure is on Marty Biron (29-19-5, 2.76 GAA) who has yet to get the backing of the tough crowd in Philadelphia, despite leading the Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals last season when they were underdogs against the Capitals and Canadiens.
Throughout the year Biron has been plagued by inconsistency. When he is on his game he can steal a game like what happened in the last meeting between the cross-state rivals.
When he is off his game, it’s a different story. The big question mark is whether Biron can steal four games from the Penguins.
Advantage – Pittsburgh
Special Teams
Pittsburgh: Power Play: 17.2% (20), Penalty Kill 82.7% (8)
Philadelphia: Power Play: 22.5% (6), Penalty Kill: 83.0% (6)
Advantage – Philadelphia
Coaching
Pittsburgh: Interim Head Coach Dan Bylsma is 18-3-4 since taking over for Michel Therrien on February 14, 2009. Bylsma has implemented an up-tempo system that suits the Penguins top end players and he has made hockey fun for the players again.
A rookie coaches first playoff appearance is always uncharted waters. There is a bit of pressure on Bylsma who may need to win a series to remove the interim tag, despite leading the Penguins to home-ice in the first round and having the backing of his players.
Bylsma also has tough personnel decisions to make with Boucher, Godard, Adams all trying to get into the lineup.
Philadelphia: Head coach John Stevens has led the Flyers to back-to back playoff appearances. A surprising run last spring granted him a long-term extension. What Stevens has that Bylsma doesn’t have is playoff experience
Advantage – Philadelphia
Analysis: This is going to be a much tougher series than last year but the Penguins have an advantage in two important areas; Goaltending and Home-ice
The Penguins come into the series as a slight favorite. For the Flyers to steal this series, they will have to win the special teams game and Marty Biron will have to outperform Marc Andre Fleury.
The Flyers are going to use the same blueprint that they used in beating the Penguins 3-1 on March 22nd.
It’s going to be a great series but home-ice advantage will win out
TIOPS Pick: Penguins in 6

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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