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“View from the Philly Pressbox” – Flyers-Penguins, Game 6, The Clincher

In Philadelphia Flyers on April 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

In today’s “View from the Philly Pressbox” we look at the Flyers dominating, 5-1, series closeout, victory over the Penguins in Game 6 of the 1st Round at the Wells Fargo Center, Sunday afternoon.

In our series preview we identified the four keys for the Flyers to win the series and they didn’t change throughout the series.

  • ·        Don’t fall behind early in games
  • ·        Ilya Bryzgalov
  • ·        Staying out of the penalty box
  • ·        Stay healthy

Don’t fall behind early in games. The team that scored first in the first five games of the series had lost the game. Claude Giroux and the Flyers would have none of that in Game 6. Giroux started the game with a bone crushing hit on Sidney Crosby, 5 seconds in to the game, that set the tone. Giroux completed his shift by shooting a laser shot, just inside the pipe at the :32 second mark. The route was on! The Flyers fought off a Danny Brier high sticking penalty at the 2:08 mark and then put their lethal power plant to work. With Matt Cooke off for interference, Scott Hartnell poked a goal past Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 2-0. Giroux and Jakub Voracek added assists at the 13:01 mark. The period ended with 10 shots for the Flyers and 9 for the Penguins. The Penguins were buzzing throughout the period but it was very clear from the start of the game that there would be no lead change in this game. The Flyers were in a defensive lock-down mode from the drop of the fist puck.  This was the type of period that we had been expecting all series long.

Ilya Bryzgalov – Bryzgalov stopped 30 of 31 shots in the game and never wavered. He played well. The only goal he allowed was a screen shot by Evgeni Malkin that he had little chance of stopping. Bryz, along an outstanding team defensive effort, never wavered throughout the game. He was solid.

This was an interesting series for goaltenders. Bryz, and the Flyers, allowed 26 goals, while Fleury, and the Penguins, allowed 30 goals. Bryzgalov and Fleury were both under fire in this series and both replaced during the series once, but we know that these are both quality goalies. If ever you could say that hockey is a “team” game that has to be played by everyone on the ice, it was this series. When the total team effort was put in play, by the Penguins in Game 5 and the Flyers in Game 6, the goalies showed their stuff.

Stay Healthy – James Van Riemsdyk was back in the lineup again for the second straight game after missing a good part of the season with various injuries.  JVR saw only 6:46 seconds of ice time in his second game back. His return to full action is still a work in progress.

Nick Grossman was unable to play again due to an “upper body injury”. Grossman has been a big part of the defense down the stretch and a very important member of the blue liners. However, Grossman being out may have been a blessing in disguise for the Flyers. With Grossman out, Peter Laviolette didn’t have to make a decision regarding which defenseman to scratch. That left rookie Eric Gustaffson in the lineup. Gus responded with his first career playoff goal, logged the third most minutes of any defenseman, 22:09, blocked a team high seven shots and tallied a +3 for the game. Gustaffson’s ability to step in and play well against Malkin and Sidney Crosby allowed the ice time to be spread out among Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Andreas Lilja more evenly. Pavel Kubina saw only 4:31 second of ice time. Tired players make mistakes and the Flyers couldn’t afford mistakes on the back end in this game.

With the Flyers earning a few days rest, awaiting their next opponent, there will be a better chance of getting Grossman back for Round 2. Also, more time may allow the Flyers to get Andrej Meszaros back from injury as well. It will be a big boost to get both of these guys back. Lavey could have tough, but good, decisions to make.

Staying out of the penalty box will be critical. The Flyers were whistled for five minor penalties in the game, with one resulting in the Malkin goal. Moving forward in the playoffs, the Flyers must remain disciplined and stay out of the box. Five penalties, not many in a regular season game, are too many in a playoff game. The Penguins were charged with three minor penalties, resulting in one Flyer power play goal. On the flip side, the Flyers penalty kill combinations were excellent. Forwards Max Talbot, Giroux and Matt Read, along with defenseman Coburn, Carle and Timonen were all over the ice, smothering the Penguins power play.

Special Teams is always critical in the playoffs. The Flyers held the advantage in 5 of the 6 games of the series, including Game 6. For the series, the Flyers scored on 11 of 23 power play opportunities, an unbelievable 47.8%. The league average is slightly above 20%. They added 3 shorthanded goals as well.

Following the Game 5 loss in Pittsburgh, Scott Hartnell stated, “Five-on-five, we got badly outplayed, badly outscored; now we’ve got to regroup.” The Flyers did exactly that, scoring three even strength goals as well as an empty net goal. Just as importantly, the Flyers did not allow a Penguins an even strength goal. They held Crosby to only three shots and a -3 for the game. Crosby was held to zero points in the last two games of the series. Malkin managed a total of six shots and a -1 while logging the most ice time of any forward in the game, 27:43.

The reason for the Flyers success in Game 6 was a total team lock down defense that started with the first dropped puck. The Flyers blocked a total of 40 shots to go along with Bryzgalov’s 30 saves. The fore-checking and back-checking was outstanding. Sean Couturier’s work on Malkin was tremendous throughout the series. Malkin did score three goals in the series but he earned them. His frustration with Couturier was evident early in the series and got worse, or better depending on who you were rooting for, as the series went on. It was an outstanding effort by the rookie.

Our prediction was the Flyers in 6 games. We hit it right on the nose. I can’t say it happened anywhere close to how we expected it but the result is the same. We expected to see six games played like the last two. The Penguins took themselves out of the series early by deciding that hitting, clean and dirty, was more important than scoring goals. Their early series antics cost them the first three games and ultimately the series. It was also interesting the response from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, “I want to congratulate the Flyers organization on the series win but, I really can’t wish them good luck though.”  That classless attitude fom the coach is the same one that his team brought to the series and the same one they’ll carry with them as the losing team. Leadership starts at the top and this is a good indication of the Penguins leadership.

While the Penguins were suffering from leadership problems the Flyers leadership was just starting to show its face in the name of Claude Giroux. Peter Laviolette said this following the game about Giroux,  “When the best player in the world comes up to you and says, ‘I don’t know who you’re planning on starting, but I want that first shift,’ that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there.” He added, “His game tonight was monstrous. He was so adamant he wanted that first shift. He wanted to make a statement. You see the skill, but sometimes you don’t hear that, you don’t know that, you don’t get that feel for him. Or maybe you do, but we do. For him to come up and say that, that speaks volumes for him – not just as a player but as a person.” Briere added, “About 10 seconds before they dropped the puck, he came over and told me, ‘Watch the first shift. He set the tone. That first shift, that was beautiful to see. That’s the sign of a great leader.” However the most telling compliment may have come from Timonen who stated, “We talked about getting off to a good start. He got us off to a great start. To me, he’s the best player in the league right now.”

Lastly, it’s tough to talk about individual play in a series like this because you will always miss guys that played well, however, we would be remiss to not talk about the goal scoring of Briere, 5 goals, the overall play of Jaromir Jagr, Hartnell, Talbot and the rookies, Couturier, Read, Brayden Shenn, an empty net goal, and Eric Wellwood. Most importantly was the play of Coburn and Carle throughout the series. They logged between 25 and 30 a game, every game of the series. They were a wall on the ice and had very few breakdowns while keeping the high powered Penguins in check. Hats off to them for an outstanding series!!

Finally, hats off to the Flyers fans that had “The Well” rocking every game from the start of the game to the finish. Kate Smith and Lauren Hart can do that to you if you need a boost.

Bring on the next opponent, the Penguins are history, whoever they are! The Flyers will be ready!!

 As Gene Hart would say” GOOD NIGHT and GOOD HOCKEY”

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“View from the Philly Pressbox” – Flyers-Penguins, Game 5

In Philadelphia Flyers on April 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm

In today’s “View from the Philly Pressbox” we look at the Penguins, 3-2, closely played, Game 5 of the 1st Round series. The Flyers now lead the series 3-2 as the series comes back to the Wells Fargo Center for a Sunday noon game.

In our series preview we identified the four keys for the Flyers to win the series and they haven’t changed.

  • ·        Don’t fall behind early in games
  • ·        Ilya Bryzgalov
  • ·        Staying out of the penalty box
  • ·        Stay healthy

Don’t fall behind early in games. The team that has scored first has lost all five games of this series. The Flyers jumped out first with a power play goal by Matt Carle at the 11:45 mark of the 1st period. The Penguins bounced right back with a power play goal of their own when Steve Sullivan scored at 14:51 with Braydon Coburn in the box serving a mystery interference penalty. Numerous replays couldn’t find the penalty. The Flyers came right back with their second power play goal of the period when Scott Hartnell scored at 17:35, finishing up a perfect set-up from Danny Briere and Claude Giroux.

The period was very well played by both teams. Both teams were on defensive lock down with the Flyers leading in shots on goal, 7-6. The offensive fireworks we’d seen throughout the series are finished. Ilya Bryzgalov was playing well and the Flyers had gotten off to the good start they needed.

 Ilya Bryzgalov – Bryzgalov bounced back from his awful Game 4 with a decent showing. He made several big saves with the game on the line early in the 3rd period. Two of the Penguins goals were defensive break downs that allowed Penguins players to shoot lasers from in close that Bryz had no chance to stop. Overall, we feel, he played fairly well, stopping 20 of 23 shots. Bryz effort was overshadowed by the outstanding effort from the games #1 star Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury saw 26 shots, turning back 24 of them. He made several big saves in the final 10 minutes of the game as the Flyers desperately buzzed the net. It was a decent game by Bryzgalov, but advantage Fleury in Game 5. The Flyers need Bryz to be equally as good if not better in Game 6.

Stay Healthy – James Van Riemsdyk was back in the lineup after missing a good part of the season with various injuries, most recently a broken foot. JVR saw only 7:31 seconds of ice time in his first game back.

The big injury news was the loss of Nick Grossman. Grossman is a big, strong, experienced defenseman that has been a major part of the Flyers success. Grossman is listed as day-to-day with concussion like symptoms; however, he didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh. Grossman is day-to-day at this point.  Due to the injury to Grossman, Peter Laviolette had to make serious decisions on his defensive pairings. He went “all-in” with Carle, 29:40 seconds of ice time, Coburn, 29:11 second and Kimmo Timonen, 25:01 seconds. As a result of the “Big 3” playing almost half of the hockey game Eric Gustafsson, activated to replace Grossman, saw only 11:51 minutes of ice time while Andreas Lilja played just 7:09 seconds and Pavel Kubina 6:52 seconds. This was a huge risk by Laviolette, especially with the short turnaround between a Friday night game and a Sunday noon game. If Grossman can return for Sunday’s game the minutes can be spread out more. Tired players make mistakes and the Flyers cannot afford mistakes at this point in the series.

Staying out of the penalty box will be critical. The Flyers did a good job staying out of the penalty box. They were called for three minor penalties in the game. One of them resulted in a Pittsburgh goal. The Penguins were called for five minors that resulted in two Flyers goals. The referees, Paul Devorski and Dan O’Rourke, let the teams play on both ends of the ice. Both teams were very disciplined, for the most part, while playing tight defense in spite of some wide open offense. They also kept Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the score sheet. Malkin had 4 shots on goal in 21:14 seconds of ice time while Crosby had 2 shots in 20:05 second of work.

Special Teams remain critical to the playoffs. The Flyers had a slight advantage in Game 5 but couldn’t get one past Fleury on their only opportunity in the 3rd period in spite of several in-close opportunities. Briere had the best opportunity with a wide open top of the net but couldn’t get the puck over the pads of Fleury.

The biggest improvement the Flyers need to make in Game 6 is in their five-on-five play. The Flyers cannot wait for power play situations to score. For the second game in a row, the Flyers’ only offensive production came from the power play. They have not scored an even-strength goal in 139 minutes, 33 seconds. As Hartnell said following the game, “Five-on-five, we got badly outplayed, badly outscored, now we’ve got to regroup.”

Our prediction has been the Flyers in 6 games and we’re still on it. The series is now being played as playoff hockey that includes close, tight checking, discipline, good defense, good goaltending, some wide open offense and special teams. We stated in our “View from the Philly Pressbox” – Game 4 post the “The Flyers need to play well in Game 5 in Pittsburgh. Of course, we want them to win; however, what we need to do is play good, tough, discipline hockey as they have done in the first three games and there’s a good chance they could close out the series.” The Flyers did that. They will make the necessary adjustments and will win the series on Sunday.

I’d rather be ahead 3 games to 2 and coming home than trailing 3 game to 2 and going on the road. The Flyers are still in command of the series and will win.

 As Gene Hart would say” GOOD NIGHT and GOOD HOCKEY”

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