Thursday, April 10, 2008

Flyers vs. Capitals: First Round Breakdown

On the eve of the opening game of the Flyers series against the Capitals, its time to take a closer look at this series. Most hockey analysts feel this series will be the best of any in the first round, with lots of hitting and scoring expected. So far, the resounding majority of hockey experts feel that the Capitals will take the series, although they all agree that the Flyers will not go down without a fight.

Offense: It's one flashy Capitals line against the deep scoring attack of the Flyers. The Capitals feature three players with 20 or more goals, and the Flyers have seven. Granted, Alexander Ovechkin's 65 goals dwarfs anything an individual Flyer put up this year, but the Flyers have a much more balanced approach. Ovechkin is special, and there is nothing the Flyers will be able to do to completely shut him down, but they hope to have Mike Richards and Jeff Carter blanketing him all over the ice every chance they can. If there is any way the Flyers can limit Ovechkin to a point per game player, the Flyers easily win this series. The Capitals do have other scoring threats, including possible rookie of the year Nicklas Backstrom and the suddenly rejuvenated Sergei Fedorov, but Ovechkin is the key to their attack.

The Flyers have three legitimate scoring lines, and it will be up to the Capitals to figure out how to stop all of them. The chemistry between Vaclav Prospal and Danny Briere has been special lately, so expect the Caps to send their shut-down line out to slow them down. That could open things up for scorers like Carter and Richards who will have a big advantage over the Capitals lesser players. Edge: Capitals, but not by as much as you think

Defense: These two teams are very similar along the blue line. Neither team is known for having shut-down defenders, but both have big, intimidating players on the back line. Both teams also feature high scoring puck-movers in Mike Green for Washington and Kimmo Timonen for Philly. There are also some injury factors, and both teams expect to be missing players at the beginning of the series. Basically, both teams are average defensively, but they do have forwards that help with the back check that helps eliminate some of the mistakes. Slight Edge: Flyers, their defense is slightly deeper and more experienced

Goaltending: Neither goaltender carries any significant playoff experience, with Cristobal Huet playing in only 6 playoff games and Martin Biron making his playoff debut. Huet is the hot goaltender right now as he nearly single-handedly carried the Capitals to the postseason. He was by far the best mid-season acquisition, and his impact on the team can't be understated. Huet has a 11-2 record with the Caps, and a minuscule goals against average of 1.63.

Biron has not been as consistent for the Flyers, although he was hot down the stretch, getting shut outs in the final two games of the season. Biron's lack of playoff experience is a downside, but he has at least been on several Buffalo teams that have made deep runs. The Flyers have the better back-up in Antero Niitymaki, but back-ups are useless in the playoffs. Edge: Capitals because hot goaltending wins in the playoffs

This series figures to be evenly matched, and could very likely go seven games. I am not buying all the talk that this series will be a "bloodbath", only people who are stuck in the mindset that all the Flyers do is beat people up would think that. The Flyers will be physical with the Capitals, but they won't go over the edge and take a bunch of stupid penalties because they know that would feed right into one of the big strengths of the Capitals, their power play. I still think the Flyers win in six games, winning games 5 and 6 after splitting the first four games. I think their depth will simply be too much for the Capitals to handle, and Alexander Ovechkin will get a rude welcome to the playoffs.

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