As we have moved through the season, I've had an eye toward the playoffs with my Flyers and have noticed a few shortcomings which I felt would prevent them from being able to get out of the conference to challenge for the Stanley Cup to be real contenders; not pretenders as they are now.
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Don't get me wrong. Coming off of a season where the home team couldn't even achieve a meager 60 points, the Philly squad had a remarkable '07-'08 season as they made the ECF before bowing out to our cross state rivals. Now, it's time to face the Pens again and we are still not ready for prime time.
I say we're not ready because the match ups that are most important in the NHL Playoffs still favor the Pens. Let's start in goal where Marc-Andre Fleury is better than Martin Biron. One can say the numbers are comparable or that the performance Biron gave in last years playoffs was the equal to that of Fleury, but for me - and in the opinion of most experts that I've read/heard- Biron is not as accomplished, nor is he capable of reaching the heights we've seen from Fleury in the latter's brief career.
Down the middle, none of the Flyer centers are able to match up with the Pens trio of Crosby/Malkin/Staal over the course of a seven game series. Carter and Richards would have the edge over most top pivots in the league, but not here. This advantage will prove to be particularly in evidence when the top Flyer duo are forced to kill penalties to an extent that they may be winded during crunch time. Yet another edge the Pens have is there ability to utilize their bottom six in such roles to a greater extent. To his credit, Flyer coach John Stevens has made an effort to utilize more of his "plumbers" including Powe and most likely, call up Jared Ross. Still, look for Carter and Richards to pull the lion's share of PK duty along with Gagne, Knuble and Giroux. I consider this over reliance on our skill players to be a disadvantage
The Flyers appear to have an edge on defence with more talented, swifter puck movers, but this crew has been guilty of frequent breakdowns and failed clears to such an extent that the more pedestrian core of the Pens has to be considered the steadier one. The offense the Pens get from Gonchar alone is yet another area of advantage and the emerging role of Letang will also be a factor, especially on the PP. The injuries to the Flyers' Jones and Parent could also be a telling factor as well
The real advantage the Flyers have appears to be on the wing and in overall scoring depth, but will these be enough? Considering how both clubs finished the season and the elite skill level the Pens possess, my answer is no. I'll be happy to eat my words, but objectively speaking, I'll say: Pens in six.
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