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Insider Only Morning Pens Buzz: On players who could take over a playoff game for 87/71; Scout Weighs in on two underrated strengths for PHI; Fleury has .893 sv% in last 20 playoff games


The Pittsburgh Penguins are 1-3 all-time (excluding last season) in playoff series where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combine for 3 goals or less and 7-0 in series where Crosby and Malkin combine for 4 goals or more.
Following their second round ouster in the 2010 playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens after Malkin and Crosby combined for just 2 goals in the series, talks internally started to begin among the Penguins brass about the need to find another game changer who could dominate a playoff game. The Penguins had seen that as a cause of concern and due to no feasible forward options, the team felt the best and easiest way to attack that problem was bolstering the blueline in the summer of 2010 when the team dished out $45 million to Paul Martin, Zbynek Michale and establishing a new defensive mindset when camp started.
A year later following the Penguins first round exit to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 playoffs without Malkin and Crosby, just like 2010, the Penguins brass discussed this issue internally again, and sources say quite often, and it eventually led them to pursue 39 year old winger Jaromir Jagr. While the Penguins never felt Jagr would come back to the NHL and be a 30+ goal scorer, putting up 70-80 points, two factors drew them to him:
(1) The team felt Jagr could be a force on the power play and (2) what intrigued the Penguins scouting staff was they felt Jagr could be that player come playoff time who could take over a playoff game when Malkin, Crosby were being shutdown.
Despite missing out on Jagr, several months later Penguin management likely feels much more confident of a game changer emerging than they have in the past two post-seasons, if the Flyers or another team shuts Crosby and Malkin down like Montreal did two years ago.
Aside from Crosby and Malkin, the three notable players who could take over a game at a crucial time in the series:
1. Kris Letang – can impact the game at both ends of the ice and has the ability to take over a game
2. Jordan Staal – Has progressed offensively to the point where he can be a consistent force in the offensive zone and has already shown in the past he could take over a pivotal game like he did in Game 6 of the 2009 Cup Finals against Detroit.
3. James Neal – His ability to finish makes him a game changer, unlike last post-season.
For the Flyers there’s a lot of wildcards but the two obvious players that standout are Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. Hartnell can make an impact in several areas and alter a game, while Giroux can take over a game at even strength, on the power play or even the penalty kill.
One player not to sleep on though is Jagr in this series. Although he’s shown some signs of slowing down and his shot appears to be a lacking a lot of zip to it, the sense among hockey people is Jagr could have a quiet two or three games, then suddenly take over a game like he did against the Penguins in the Flyers 4-2 win at the Consol Energy Center on December 29th where the play came to Jagr like we saw so many times from him in the past.
The only series the Penguins have won when Malkin and Crosby combined for three goals or less was a big one, the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. In that series, secondary players Max Talbot, Ruslan Fedotenko, Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal combined for 9 goals.


The Penguins have emerged as heavy favorites in the eyes of many NHL pundits, but what are two underrated causes of concern for the Penguins in how the Flyers play them? Philadelphia’s ability to skate with the Penguins and the Flyers ability to come at the Penguins.
“They’re young guys are tenacious and {they} come at you, ” an Eastern Conference scout said. “They wear teams down and Pittsburgh has to do a better job {than they did in regular season] combating that.”

[There’s} “A lot to like with the speed they have as a group to match up with Pittsburgh, ” the scout said when asked, while also indicating he would be “really concerned” for Philadelphia’s chances if they try to come out and trade chance after chance with Pittsburgh, despite the Flyers being one of the highest scoring teams.
The Flyers have an impressive young group of forwards who have a good mix of skill, speed and grit. Three rookies scored double digit goals in the regular season: Matt Read (25 yrs old) 24 goals, Sean Couturier (19 yrs old) 13 goals, Brayden Schenn (20 yrs old) 12 goals.
Overall, seven Flyers 25 years old or under, scored 11 goals or more.


In 69 career playoff games, Marc Andre Fleury is 41-28 with a 2.52 goals against average and .910 save percentage. Ilya Bryzgalov has a 12-13 career playoff record with a 2.55 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
With Bryzgalov such a wildcard, the Penguins come into the series with less uncertainty at the goaltender position but Marc Andre Fleury has had his share of struggles and inconsistent play in the post-season since the 2010 playoffs. If he performs at the level he has the past two post-seasons, Pittsburgh will struggle to get out of the second round and maybe even the first round without Bryzgalov having to be great for Philadelphia.
Fleury in his last 20 playoff games (since 2010 post-season) is 10-10 with an .893 save percentage, stopping 453 of 507 shots he’s faced.

Goals against per game since in last 20 playoff games:

5 Goals Against (1 Game)
4 Goals Against (7 Games)
3 Goals Against (4 Games)


— Head coach Dan Bylsma on the familiarity between the two teams: “It’s pretty clear which matchups they want, lines and D-pairings against Evgeni Malkin’s line and they showed us who they’ll play against Sidney’s line, and Jordan Staal’s line as well. I don’t think there’s a lot of secrets heading into this [series] in terms of which matchups they’re looking for, whether it’s at home or on the road.”
When trying to shut down the Malkin line, Bylsma knows Malkin and Co will be seeing plenty of Flyers checking line center Sean Couturier, while Philadelphia knows Claude Giroux will be seeing Jordan Staal quite often in games 1 and 2.
— “While Ilya Bryzgalov said he fears “Bears in the forest, Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossman (knee) who told reporters he’s 100% and ready to go for game 1, fears the Penguins firepower. “It’s their firepower up front,” Grossmann said about the Penguins. “Look at the players they have, and they are point-leaders. They have a lot of skill up front, which is something we have to respect. At the same time, we have to play our game and not focus too much on what they do. Respect them, play hard and prepare.”
— Defenseman Ben Lovejoy and head coach Dan Bylsma both indicated after Monday’s practice that Lovejoy is ahead of schedule and a source close to the situation told me Monday evening that Lovejoy is likely to be cleared to return for game action by Friday and he hasn’t been ruled out for Game 1 yet. He will be re-evaluated following Tuesday’s practice and is pushing to play this week.

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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