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Battle in the Keystone State
Posted By Ian Altenbaugh On Apr 14 2009 @ 4:10 pm In Pittsburgh Penguins | No Comments
In this installment of Around the Atlantic, we look at the first round match between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. We also look at more of the irreverent.
This Flyers team has a healthy Gagne, Timonen, and Coburn. None of who were available when these two teams met last spring.
This is what their current forward depth chart looks like:
Scott Hartnell-Jeff Carter-Dany Briere
Simon Gagne-Claude Giroux-Mike Knuble
Daniel Carcillo-Mike Richards-Joffrey Lupul
Andreas Nodl/Riley Cote-Darroll Powe-Arron Asham
It is not uncommon however to see some of the lines get mixed up. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are often paired together to create an offensive spark. Simon Gagne has been seen skating alongside Dany Briere in the past as well. As you can see, the Flyers have three true scoring lines. Mike Richards averaged 21:44 minutes in ice-time this season playing as a ‘third-liner’. Everyone on the top three lines with the exception of Carcillo has averaged between fifteen and twenty minutes a game.
The fourth line however sees little ice-time. Riley Cote averages around four minutes a game. Darroll Powe, the player on that line that sees the most ice-time averages just over ten minutes a game and that is mainly because he sees time on the penalty-kill. Asham is often grafted onto the Mike Richards line to create a different look as well. Really though, the Flyers have three regular lines and a ‘fourth line’ that consists of role players or utility men.
This is what their defensive depth chart looks like:
Kimmo Timonen-Ryan Parent
Matt Carle-Braydon Coburn
Andrew Alberts-Randy Jones
Luca Sbisa, Lasse Kukkonen, and Jamie Fritsch could all make appearances as well.
It is fair to say this defense is significantly better than last years. Many people feel that the Flyers’ defense does not have the physical punch that it had last season with the absence of Derian Hatcher, I am not one of them. Braydon Coburn has 146 hits on the season and has on more than one occasion dished out a questionable hit. Alberts is tied for 21st in the league with 157 hits.
I have been accused of bias in the past but I honestly have never felt Marty Biron to be a true starting goaltender. He has just been too inconsistent his entire career to be considered anything more than a talented journeyman in the mold of Dwayne Roloson. He could get hot and steal a series. But in my opinion this is a very weak point in the Flyers organization.
This Penguins team on the other hand no longer has Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, or Jarkko Ruutu. Instead they have Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Matt Cooke. It is close to a wash with Kunitz and Malone. Cooke is a much more complete player than Ruutu. Guerin would be slight step down…ten years ago. Ruslan Fedotenko, well he is definitely not Gary Roberts. But you know what? Roberts was scratched for the bulk of the playoffs and Fedotenko is known as being a playoff performer of the Claude Lemieux variety so it is not as bad as it seems on the surface. Having said all of that, the Penguins are not as physical as they were last season, something that is definitely going to be tested in the first round of the playoffs.
Here is what the Penguins depth chart looks like:
Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Guerin
Ruslan Fedotenko-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora
Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy
Pascal Dupuis-Max Talbot-Craig Adams/Eric Godard/Miroslav Satan
The Penguins have a classic set up; two scoring lines, a grind line, and an energy line. With Crosby and Malkin centering the scoring lines they become line 1A and 1B because both play the same minutes and have posted comparable numbers. The third line of Cooke-Staal-Kennedy plays about eleven minutes even strength while the two scoring lines can play anywhere from 15-30 minutes five-on-five. The fourth line’s ice-time fluctuates. If the Penguins gain a lead, they can play as many as 15-18 minutes a game. If the Penguins are behind for most of the contest, the fourth liners could see as few as five minutes of ice-time.
All of the players on the third and fourth line with the exception of Eric Godard contribute on special teams.
The Jordan Staal line is something of an x-factor for the Penguins as it can play as much five-on-five time as the Crosby and Malkin lines. It does not produce at the same prolific pace, but few lines in the NHL do. Staal, Kennedy, and Cooke do however control the play in the opponents end and protect the puck as well if not better than just about every line in the NHL. At 6’4, 220 (which is conservative if you have ever seen him) and a wingspan of Cretaceous proportions, Staal is practically unstoppable down low. At 20-years-old, he is ridiculously skilled for a big player as big guys tend to take much longer to develop. If the Penguins are to have success in this series, it will be on the backs of their third line.
The defense is well balanced. Brooks Orpik lead all defensemen in hits with 309 – 85 more than second place Brent Seabrook. Orpik is also blocked 152 shots, good for 21st among defensemen. Defenseman Rob Scuderi is tied with Flyers defensman Kimmo Timonen with 164 blocked shots, good for 12th in the league. Mark Eaton is 24th among defensemen with 148.
Kris Letang is 51st among defensemen with 111 hits and 42nd among defensemen with 127 blocked shots. Considering that he is a primarily offensive defenseman (10 goals, 23 assists in 74 games), these are very good stats for the soon-to-be 22-year-old and shows that he is gradually developing into a complete defenseman.
Although the idea of Garon starting a playoff game should frighten any Penguin fan, the Penguins have a clear advantage in goal for this playoff match. Fleury is an elite level goaltender (Who is still developing mind you) with the capability of stealing a series. Look no further than his elite play over the month of march these past three years or his various performances in playoff game. Even in losses he prevents the score from being as one-sided as the game may have been.
The Penguins interim coach and the man nick named “Disco”, Dan Bylsma’s regular season coaching record of 18-3-4 continues to boggle the mind. An even more outlandish stat is the Penguins record of 27-25-5 before he took over. They literall
y went from tenth place to fourth place in less than two months. It is not so much that one wonders how Bylsma got the job done, that much is apparent. After playing for a disciplinarian style of coach who routinely called his players out in the media, Michel Therrien’s message started to fall on deaf ears. By February, the Penguins appeared to be in a tailspin as to which there was no coming back. So much so that this column openly talked about the Penguins picking up Evander Kane in the 2009 NHL draft. Not going to happen. No way. (Since then I have decided that big-bodied, right-handed, goal-scoring prospects Zack Kassian and Carter Ashton would better fit the team anyway).
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