Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: The Stanley Cup Journey Begins Wednesday, CONSOL, 7:38 pm EDT
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Keys To The Game
Defense, Defense, Defense!
The Pittsburgh Penguins led the NHL in scoring with 282 goals -- 13 more than the Boston Bruins (269) and 18 more than the Philadelphia Flyers (264) – but team defensive lagged the last two weeks of the regular season.
The Penguins surrendered 36 goals in their final nine games, an average of four per contest. That simply won’t cut it in the playoffs. Analysts talk ad nauseam about the firepower Pittsburgh possesses, but offense doesn’t win championships, defense does. The Pens may be able to win a game or two scoring five or six goals, but very few teams win series relying solely on goal scoring.
Going back to Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup days of the early 1990s, coach Scotty Bowman praised Mario Lemieux as the best penalty killer he’d ever seen. If the Pens have any question marks, they are in the defense. An early-season shut-down line of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek struggled. Then, with Kris Letang missing nearly two months with a concussion, the team was forced to reconfigure its defensive posture. An area that was thought be a strength has not played out that way in recent weeks.
Pittsburgh forwards need to watch play in their own end. As good as Evgeni Malkin is – and the Art Ross winner is likely to add a Hart Trophy after 2011-12 – he does have a tendency to make occasional blind passes in the defensive zone. Malkin also stick handles a bit too much, something that is fine on offense but not so much when a team is simply trying to clear a puck. That’s something to watch for in the series.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has strung together his finest season but his performance waned in late March. Just a blip? The Flower has an .856 save percentage in his last five starts.
Let the games begin! Talk is cheap and Penguins fans have been listening for the last couple weeks about how their team is a bunch of whiners, their coach is gutless and their best player is a punk. Penguins fans, this is your opportunity to enjoy the fastest game on ice. Mike Milbury makes fun of Sidney Crosby’s concussion history, Pierre McGuire lauds Brayden Schenn as a character guy immediately after cross-checking Crosby, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette says Pens coach Dan Bylsma made a gutless move, Flyers assistant Craig Berube calls Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the two dirtiest players on the Pens, Jeremy Roenick opens his mouth, Rangers coach John Tortorella whines. Heard enough?
A hot tender can knock off a superior squad in the NHL, we see it nearly every year. If Fleury plays the way he did for most of the year, the Penguins have little to worry about in the nets. The Flower posted a career-high 42 wins. His teammates believe in him to stop the 2-on-1 breakaways and he usually comes through.
Philadelphia has an interesting dilemma with their netminders. Backup Sergei Bobrovsky won five straight starts at CONSOL Energy Center before losing his first decision in a mostly meaningless game Saturday. Bobrovsky has played dreadfully since the All-Star Break, going 3-6-1 with a 4.16 GAA and .860 save percentage. He’s allowed fewer than three goals just once in 10 appearances since January.
Ilya Bryzgalov rode four shutouts in five early-March starts to being named the player of the month. He has strong numbers against Pittsburgh – 4-1-1, 2.08 GAA, .930 save percentage, one shutout – but he was yanked against the Pens on Feb. 18 when he gave up three goals on 13 shots (but did not take the loss).
The Flyers giveth and the Flyers taketh away. By a wide margin, Philadelphia took the most penalties in the regular season. It also scored the most power-play goals. The Penguins bettered Philly’s power-play by the slimmest of margins, 19.72 to 19.70 percent, and the series may come down to which team takes better advantage of its power-play opportunities.
The Pens would seem to have the upper hand killing penalties. Pittsburgh ranked third in the league with a 87.8 kill percentage while Philly finished 17th with an 81.8 mark. Keep in mind that Sidney Crosby missed the series' first three games and Kris Letang, the first two, which resulted in Pittsburgh losses.
Pity the officials that ref this matchup. Their style will set the tone for the physical play. They’ll dictate what the players are and aren’t allowed to get away with. The Flyers have taken agitation to a new level with the likes of rookies, of all people, trying to get under Penguins stars skin. The line of Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood has done an excellent job of agitating Pittsburgh. Couturier has cross-checked Malkin behind the net, Schenn has cross-checked Crosby on line changes and Wellwood has played well.
For the Pens, Joe Vitale has stepped up. Known more for his faceoff ability to Penguins fans, he has done a yeoman’s job of hitting the Flyers and getting under their skin. Vitale rocked Daniel Briere with a legal hit April 1 that drew the ire of Philly coach Peter Laviolette. The hit was clean but the Flyers coach likely wasn’t happy with the momentum swing in Pittsburgh’s favor. Vitale also pestered Scott Hartnell into taking a misconduct in February’s matchup.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia -- Season Series Numbers
Craig Adams: 6 games, (1 goal, 2 assists), plus-1, 4 penalty minutes (PIMs), 15 hits, 4 blocks, 1 Short-Handed Assist, 7 shots.
Arron Asham: 6, (0,2), plus-1, 12 PIMs, 9 hits, 4 shots.
Matt Cooke: 6, (2,1), plus-1, 2 PIMs, 21 hits, 2 blocks, 1 short-handed goal, 12 shots.
Sidney Crosby: 3, (1,3), plus-1, 0 PIMs, 0 hit, 1 block, 1 PP Goal, 1 PP Assist, 1 GWG, 11 shots.
Pascal Dupuis: 6, (2,3), plus-2, 2 PIMs, 13 hits, 1 block, 1 GWG, 10 shots.
Dustin Jeffrey: 1, (1,0), plus-1, 4 hits, 2 shots.
Tyler Kennedy: 5, (1,1), plus-1, 5 PIMs, 6 hits, 21 shots.
Chris Kunitz: 6, (2,3), minus-2, 8 PIMs, 18 hits, 2 blocks, 1 PP Goal, 1 PP Assist, 20 shots.
Evgeni Malkin: 6, (3,6), minus-1, 12 PIMs, 1 hit, 5 blocks, 2 PP Assists, 20 shots.
James Neal: 5, (3,0), minus-5, 4 PIMs, 15 hits, 1 block, 1 PP Goal, 24 shots.
Richard Park: 2, (0,0), even, 4 hits, 1 shot.
Jordan Staal: 6, (2,3), even, 4 PIMs, 11 hits, 1 block, 1 PP Assist, 1 short-handed goal, 12 shots.
Steve Sullivan: 5, (2,1), plus-1, 6 PIMs, 3 hits, 7 shots.
Eric Tangradi: 1, (0,0), even, 1 hit, 1 block.
Joe Vitale: 5, (0,0), minus-2, 21 PIMs, 9 hits, 5 blocks, 3 shots. Defensemen
Deryk Engelland: 4, (0,0), minus-3, 5 PIMs, 11 hits, 4 blocks, 3 shots.
Kris Letang: 4, (0,3), plus-5, 8 PIMs, 10 hits, 8 blocks, 11 shots.
Ben Lovejoy: 1, (0,0), even, 1 hit, 3 blocks, 1 shot.
Paul Martin: 5, (0,0), plus-3, 2 PIMs, 3 hits, 9 blocks, 6 shots.
Zbynek Michalek: 5, (0,1), plus-3, 4 PIMs, 6 hits, 8 blocks, 5 shots.
Matt Niskanen: 5, (0,1), minus-5, 6 PIMs, 11 hits, 5 blocks, 1 PP Assist, 8 shots.
Brooks Orpik: 6, (0,1), even, 6 PIMs, 25 hits, 5 blocks, 2 shots.
Brian Strait: 1, (0,0), minus-1, 2 PIMs, 2 hits, 3 blocks.
Marc-Andre Fleury: 6 games, 6 starts, 1-3-1 record, 3.41 GAA, .872 save percentage.
Brent Johnson: 1 game, 0 starts, 1-0 record, 2.14 GAA, .833 save percentage.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh -- Season Series Numbers
Daniel Briere: 5 games, (1 goal, 2 assists), minus-2, 0 PP points, 10 shots.
Sean Couturier: 6, (0,2), plus-3, 10 shots, no penaIty minutes (PIMs).
Scott Hartnell: 6, (3,2), minus-1, 20 PIMs, 15 hits, 15 shots, 2 game-winning goals.
Jaromir Jagr: 6, (4,1), minus-3, 2 PP Goals, 15 shots. Matt Read: 6, (0,1), minus-2, 8 hits, 4 blocks, 8 shots, 1 GW Goal.
Zac Rinaldo: 4, (0,1), plus-2, 29 PIMs, 10 hits, 3 blocks, 1 shot.
Brayden Schenn: 5, (1,1), minus-3, 4 PIMs, 15 hits, 2 blocks, 1 power-play assist, 5 shots.
Jody Shelley: 2 (0,0), even, 10 PIMs, 3 hits.
Wayne Simmonds: 6 (3,3), minus-5, 7 PIMs, 10 hits, 2 blocks, 2 PP Goals, 1 PP Assist, 9 shots.
Max Talbot: 5, (2,2), plus-2, 9 hits, 4 blocks, 1 PP Assist, 10 shots.
Jakub Voracek: 6 (2,5), even, 2 PIMs, 6 hits, 2 blocks, 3 PP Assists, 14 shots.
Eric Wellwood: 4, (1,1), plus-3, 2 PIMs, 2 hits, 4 blocks, 5 shots.
Harry Zolnierczyk: 3, (0,1), plus-1, 12 PIMs, 9 hits, 3 blocks, 3 shots.
Matt Carle: 6 games, (0 goals,3 assists), minus-2, 9 blocks, 10 shots.
Braydon Coburn: 6, (0,2), plus-6, 11 hits, 10 blocks, 6 shots.
Nicklas Grossmann: 4, (0,0), plus-2, 15 hits, 8 blocks, 0 shots.
Pavel Kubina: 5, (0,0), 16 PIMs, 11 hits, 9 blocks, 4 shots.
Andrej Meszaros: 3, (0,1), plus-1, 8 hits, 6 blocks.
Kimmo Timonen: 6, (2,3), minus-5, 4 PIMs, 10 hits, 12 blocks, 2 PP Goals, 1 PP Assist, 8 shots.
Sergei Bobrovsky: 4 games, 3 starts, 2-2 record, 3.84 GAA, .885 save percentage.
Ilya Bryzgalov: 3 games, 3 starts, 2-0 record, 2.60 GAA, .913 save percentage.
Jordan Staal stands out in the faceoff circle in the matchup between the Pens and Flyers. He’s particularly efficient in his own end, winning nearly twice as many draws as he loses (33-17). Joe Vitale is better at the offensive end of the rink, going 14-4, as compared to his own end (7-14). Sidney Crosby missed three of the six games against Philadelphia. His 28-31 overall mark is below his 50.1 percentage season mark. Evgeni Malkin sits right at 50 percent, better than his 47.5 percent on the season. Several other Penguins took faceoffs but none on a regular basis or more than a few per game.
For the Flyers, Claude Giroux (58-68) took most of the draws and he sat out the final game. Giroux held his own on offense, going 20-17, but struggled with defensive faceoffs (19-29). Daniel Briere is the only Philadelphia player with a winning faceoff mark (30-25). It would be surprising to see him sit out Game 1 after his shoulder collision with Vitale on April 1. Rookie Sean Couturier has taken the second-highest number of draws for the Flyers (70), but hasn’t proven overly effective thus far. Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Max Talbot all come in at under 50 percent in the circle.
Craig Adams: 6 Wins-2 Losses (Offensive Zone), 6-7 (Defensive Zone), 7-5 (Neutral Zone), 19-14 (overall)
Sidney Crosby: 19-15 (O), 2-7 (D), 7-9 (N), 28-31 (Overall)
Evgeni Malkin: 16-18 (O), 7-2 (D), 10-13 (N), 33-33 (Overall)
Jordan Staal: 16-10 (O), 33-17 (D), 17-21 (N), 66-48 (Overall)
Joe Vitale: 14-4 (O), 7-14 (D), 16-12 (N), 37-30 (Overall)
Daniel Briere: 14-11 (Offensive Zone), 4-8 (Defensive Zone), 12-6 (Neutral Zone), 30-25 (Overall)
Sean Couturier: 5-9 (O), 9-14 (D), 16-17 (N), 30-40 (Overall)
Claude Giroux: 20-17 (O), 19-29 (D), 19-22 (N), 58-68 (Overall)
Matt Read: 5-3 (O), 5-8 (D), 2-11 (N), 12-22 (Overall)
Brayden Schenn: 6-7 (O), 5-11 (D), 7-11 (N), 18-29 (Overall)
Max Talbot: 0-4 (O), 7-10 (D), 5-1 (N), 12-15 (Overall)
- Dave Molinari @MolinariPG
Bylsma said lineup and starting goaltender will be game-time decision. Have crazy hunch Fleury will be in goal, though.
- Dejan Kovacevic @Dejan_Kovacevic
Bylsma: Niskanen didn't skate this morning, won't play. Look for Lovejoy in his place.
-Kevin Allen @kausatoday
For those asking, @68Jagr is Jagr and he's already at 29,000K followers and climbing. Gotta believe Jags will be a must-follow.
- Pittsburgh Penguins @pghpenguins
Matt Niskanen is the only #Pens player not on the ice. Lines for AM skate: 14-71-18, 24-11-48, 26-87-9, 45-46-27.
- Frank Seravalli @DNFlyers
Bylsma: "Most of the nicknames for Sidney Crosby have originated in Philly."
Dejan Kovacevic @Dejan_Kovacevic
Bylsma on keeping Strait over Despres: "Brian's done a really good, consistent job every time he's gone over the boards."
Predictions, Predictions, Predictions
Team Winner: Penguins, I'm going with Pittsburgh in seven.
Sleeper: Tyler Kennedy. TK registered 21 shots for the Pens against Philly but has fallen off the radar.
Treasure Life & Let's Go Pens!
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