Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flyers vs Sabres Playoff Preview

I’ve ice skated a few times in my life.  In those few experiences I quickly discovered that I’d be better off strapping the skates to my rear end because that is where I spent most of my time.  With that lack of ability, playing ice hockey never crossed my mind.  It’s a sport that I’m better off watching, then trying to play for my own personal safety and the safety of others.  Watching tended to be more fun and so the Flyers occupied my television ever since I was a kid.  Last year's finals loss to Chicago was a heartbreaker but there’s hope again for this season as long as the Flyers can turn the switch to ‘WIN” now that the playoffs are here.

The Flyers and Sabres have some history in the playoffs.  When the Flyers last won the Stanley Cup in 1975 it was with a series win over the Sabres.  The two teams have met a total of 8 times in the playoffs including the 1975 cup finals, with the overall series record going to the Flyers 5-3.  Don’t get overly excited though the Sabres have won 3 of the last 4 series since 1998, the last of which was in 2006 in the conference quarterfinals.

The Sabres come to town starting on Thursday and they enter the playoffs as one of the NHL’s hottest teams.  They have won 29 of 36 games and have gone 9-1-2 in their last 12.  The Flyers are the polar opposite of the Sabres, only winning 7 of their last 21 games and in the process giving up the number 1 seed in the playoffs which seemed to be a virtual lock a little over a month ago.

Other than the winning and losing over the last month the Flyers and Sabres are pretty evenly matched.  The Sabres power play has a lot to do with their success; they’re 9th best in the league with a 19.4% success rate.  The Flyers score 16.6% of the time on the power play which is good for 19th in the league.  The Flyers average more goals per game then the Sabres at 3.13 which is 3rd in the NHL compared to 2.99 which is 9th.  The edge also goes to the Flyers in average goals against at 2.6 good for 11th in the league, where as the Sabres allow 2.81 good for 16th.  The penalty kill for both teams is virtually identical, the Sabres kill 83% and the Flyers kill 82.7%. 

A lot of the Flyers downhill slide the last month of the season can be attributed to the injury to leading defenseman Chris Pronger.  Pronger was injured in the third period of a February 24th game against the Islanders when he took a shot off of his right hand.  X-rays were negative and Flyers GM Paul Holmgren stated Pronger was “OK” and that the injury was not serious.  Pronger tried to play in the next four games, all Flyers losses, but the hand didn’t feel right.  An MRI was done and then a CT scan found the fracture.  Pronger had surgery on the hand and was expected to miss 3-4 weeks, it has now been slightly over 5.  If the Flyers are going to make another run they will need their leader.  Although Pronger didn’t skate at practice on Monday, I would expect him to be back for Thursday’s game…or maybe I should say I hope. 

Even if Pronger comes back, a question remains when it comes to the goaltending.  The Sabres are set with Ryan Miller; he started 66 games this season with a 34-22-8 record.  He averages 2.59 goals against with a .916 save average.  The Flyers on the other hand are going with two goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher.  Bobrovsky played in 54 games this season and ended with a 28-13-8 record.  He averages the same as Miller in goals against at 2.59 and has a .915 save percentage.  Boucher played in 34 games this season and came away with an 18-10-4 record.  He has a slightly better average in goals against at 2.42 coupled with a save percentage of .916.  Both are very good goalies, but I think it would serve the team better to pick one and stick with him.  Andy Reid didn’t start Michael Vick one week then start Kevin Kolb the next.  It doesn’t work, the Flyers need to know who their goaltender is and rally around him.  Peter Laviolette doesn’t seem to think that way and well he’s the one coaching and I'm the one writing.  If this ends badly though the fans and media will point the finger at this decision and they won't look too kindly upon it. 

Prediction time:  The Flyers need to remember that just because the Sabres are seeded 7th and almost missed the playoffs altogether they shouldn't be overlooked.  The Flyers were in a similar position last season and they made a run to the finals.  The Flyers are built to make another run and if Pronger can comeback in time for some ice time then they should be okay.  Even without Pronger the Flyers should win this series, they are the better team.  My prediction: Although the sexy pick is to go with a Sabres upset, I'm not that sexy, just ask my wife; Flyers win the series in six 4-2.

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