Saturday, April 25, 2009
It's funny: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Jordan Staal, Danny Briere, Chris Kunitz, Scott Hartnell, Sergei Gonchar, and Kimmo Timonen are all in this series, but they haven't really mattered thus far. They've played fantastic and have performed feats of valor and have inspired awe, but they've done so at a fairly equal pace. The only people that have mattered in this series have been Martin Biron and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Both men have played exceedingly well, with Fleury's breath-taking athleticism overshadowing Biron's more subtle grace. Fleury has bested Biron three times while Biron has been the victor twice. It's an interesting contrast between the two: Fleury, the 1st overall pick with all the tools; Biron, the former first-rounder that has battled through adversity to achieve his potential right at the end of his prime. Both represent the unfortunate realities that face every goaltender, the reality that the position is impossible to master and that you can only hope for a fleeting moment of clarity at the right time. Both appear to have achieved that clarity right now, during the playoffs.
Guys like Martin Brodeur and Dominick Hasek aren't unique because they have exceptional physical gifts or that they can make impossible saves; they're unique because they can make those impossible saves all the time. Goaltending is the most difficult mental position in the world because all you do is think. You think about the last save, the last goal, that girl in the stands, your players, their players, the refs, everything. Every once in a while, though, you achieve that moment of clarity where you can think of absolutely nothing at all. That's when you're at your best and that's when you can achieve greatness. Then, you know, a goal gets scored on your low right side and you start concentrating on blocking that hole and then a goal gets scored high glove and you're completely lost, but still. You had that clarity. Both Fleury and Biron have that clarity now.
The question is, who can reach nirvana tonight?
Sunday, April 19, 2009
-Danny Carcillo will do one thing that's completely retarded.
-Jeff Carter will get a goal.
-Evgeni Malkin will tally an assist and then get chased by angry villagers back to his castle.
-Martin Biron will make at least one Philadelphian scream, "Whatsa matta with yous, guy?"
-My brother will call me to talk about this game and say, "He's a Philly cheesesteak kinda guy," at least once. He's an idiot.
-Sidney Crosby will breathe through his teeth when giving an interview and piss people off.
-My Ducks fan roommate will walk by the TV and say, "Is that Dan Bylsma?" I'll reply, "Yep," and he'll say, "He fucking sucked."
-A Thrashers fan will watch Braydon Coburn drive the puck up the ice and flip it to a forward for a great scoring opportunity; that fan will then set himself on fire. No, not himself, Alexei Zhitnik. He'll set Alexei Zhitnik on fire.
-Marc-Andre Fleury will play well once again (Isn't it weird that he even looks like a poor man's Roberto Luongo?)
-The Flyers will match up Jeff Carter with Malkin's line and Richards with Crosby's and it will prove fairly effective; Danny Briere's line will match up with Jordan Staal's and play even
-The Flyers will win, 3-2
Update: I guess I should have predicted that this game would be fun as fuck, because that would definitely have come true. Jesus.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
#1 Bill Guerin
#2 Marc-Andre Fleury
#3 Braydon Coburn
Game 1- PHI 9, PIT 5
Game2- PHI 6, PIT 4
The story of this game was penalties. In game 1, the Flyers were whistled for 8 minor infractions. Even though they managed to kill off 7 of those penalties, the accumulated fatigue those penalty kills caused their best players most certainly had an impact on the game. Last night, the Flyers were much more disciplined and were able to shut down Malkin and Crosby without taking any poor penalties. The result was a much more even game, one in which the Flyers, not the Penguins, often looked like the more dynamic team. When Darroll Powe scored in the beginning of the third, I assumed the game was over.
Unfortunately, the Flyer's struggles with penalties reared its ugly head*, when Jeff Carter was unjustly whistled for a hooking penalty. Jordan Staal actually grabbed Carter's stick and pulled it into his body, but the ref saw a stick in someone's side and automatically blew the whistle. (You ever notice that refs always call penalties right around the 5 minute mark when a team is down by one? It's like they don't want to truly decide the outcome of the game in the last minute, but still want to give the losing team one last chance to tie it.) A shot from the blue line bounced off Evgeni Malkin and the game was tied.
In overtime, penalties once again reared their ugly head. Defenseman Hal Gill got a pretty weak call for cross-checking in the extra period, a call that was balanced out by an even weaker cross-checking call on Mike Knuble. An unfortunate slash that broke a stick guaranteed a penalty for young Claude Giroux and Bill Guerin was able to take advantage on a 5-on-3. Martin Biron played pretty well last night but both Guerin goals were soft and the gap between him and Marc-Andre Fleury is starting to get glaring.
The Flyers ultimately take too many penalties and last night was instructive for 2 reasons: one, it showed how costly penalties are for them, and two, it showed just how good they can be when they don't commit penalties. The Flyers are a very good offensive team with defensemen that can activate and make a difference for their team; their penalties only disrupt that. I think the Flyers are probably better 5-on-5 than the Penguins because they have so much depth at forward and can afford to rest their top players a bit more, but that's not going to matter unless the Flyers can play a completely clean game. Right now, I don't think they can do that.
Friday, April 17, 2009
The centers in this series are really the key to the whole thing. The Flyers generally use Mike Richards against another team's top line while Jeff Carter takes advantage of the fact that other teams don't have the offensive depth that the Flyers do. That strategy, however, doesn't really work against the Penguins because 1) Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are too good to be stopped by Mike Richards, and 2) Jordan Staal's line can severely hinder Jeff Carter. In Game 1, Bylsma generally rotated Crosby and Malkin while inserting Staal whenever Carter was on the ice. The strategy worked well: Crosby and Malkin both had a goal and an assist while playing only 17 minutes a game, while Jeff Carter was held scoreless (albeit with 8 shots on goal).
Of course, this will probably only work at home, because the Penguins have the option of last change. The Penguins kind of remind me of the Arizona Diamondbacks back in 2001; they don't have the most depth or range of skill, but they do have Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and that might be enough. The Flyers better hope Danny Briere does something tonight or this thing might be over soon.
(Oh yeah, I'm covering this series for James. Woooooooooooooooooooo)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
1. What will the Pens need to do to beat the Flyers?
Win, but I think I'll elaborate for you a bit. Pitt has to stick to its game plan and not adapt for the Flyers' sake. The Penguins didn't go on a ridiculously hot win-streak for nothing. They have to keep with what works - aggressive forecheck, a lot of shots and keeping able-bodied forwards in front of the net.
2. What would need to happen for the Flyers to win?
Lose. In all honesty the Pens need to stay strong on the PP and not allow guys like Mike Richards to pester them when THEY have the man advantage. He is dangerous on the PK and needs to be contained and/or avoided all together. Pitt also can't afford to take stupid penalties that in turn allows Philly to put their PP out there. Way too many guns in the Philly lineup.
3. Fan Favorite
While some may be split over a favoritism for Malkin or Crosby, a lot of people would agree one guy is the all-time fan favorite. Max Talbot grows a pretty wicked playoff beard and has the personality to go with it. He's your prototypical "locker room guy" and all around character.
4. Your team's Goat-to-Be
Hard to say right now because it's not really known what Miroslav Satan's role will be in the playoffs. If he's starting on the third or fourth line I think a lot of people will have their doubts. He wasn't demoted to the minors for nothing and will really have to put in a supreme effort if he wants to shed that image.
5. Top storyline
Godard vs. Cote was the regular season storyline, but I guess a carryover into the postseason all depends whether the teams will actually dress their enforcers. Outside of that it's definitely a Crosby vs. Richards, Biron vs. Fleury, Philly fans vs. Pittsburgh fans sort of series. Bound to be intense.