The reason to love the Flyers going forward is the same reason why they can only go so far this spring.
Their rookies have scored 62 goals, helping them to the NHLs third-best team goal total and probably its most relentless shift-after-shift attack. These kids are good, fast, and perhaps just as important in a capped NHL will work cheaply over the next several seasons. With or without Chris Pronger, this nucleus can bring Philadelphia a long awaited Cup sometime over the next few springs.
For this one, though, we have our doubts. As sustaining as has been the play of Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood through four months of substandard goaltending and one of the leagues higher totals of man-games lost, a year from now these kids likely will be telling us there was no way their first NHL regular season could fully prepare them for their first playoff.
We wouldnt be in this situation if wasnt for the way those guys contributed through the course of the year, insisted Peter Laviolette Monday. I have absolutely no doubt that they are going to play a good hockey game for us.
From Ken Morrow to Patrick Roy to Jaromir Jagr to Laviolettes own Cam Ward in Carolina, the history of Stanley Cup winners is filled with rookie heroes. So perhaps there is strength in the numbers or in having only one first-year player Schenn playing on one of the first two lines Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Like Scott Hartnell said Monday, every team is only as good as its first line. But we have seen enough first lines choke from the scrutiny of game plans, fans and media to also believe that the only thing more important than a first line in the playoffs is scoring support from a second and third line. And going against a Pittsburgh team without a rookie, the first step of four for these Flyers, is going to be slippery.
Considering the entire NHL playoff experiences of Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek were one-time one-and-dones for Los Angeles and Columbus, the team resume doesnt report too many battle tests. The Flyers have exactly five forwards who have ever won a playoff series, going up against a team with 11 players who have won a Stanley Cup.
The Flyers have three: Jagr 20 years ago with Pittsburgh, Max Talbot with the 2009 Penguins and Ilya Bryzgalov, who played four playoff games for the 2007 Ducks. Thats a massive difference in experience that likely will overcome whatever doubts the Penguins sustained in substantially losing the season series to the Flyers, or the failure to beat them in a meaningful game at CONSOL Energy Center in the two years since it opened.
To a man, the Flyers marched in front of the microphones to announce the need for discipline against the team of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Obviously, this is the dominant talking point by Laviolette and his assistants. The Penguins, likewise, may feel they have nothing to fear but the Flyers potent power play, so indeed may the smartest team win. Pittsburgh has not played as carefully since Crosbys return, and of course, Philadelphia has a punchers chance.
The Flyers can get after you over the course of a game more than any team in the league, said an opposing coach. But I dont see the structure I see with most of the top teams.
Too many outnumbered breaks, too many guys left alone in the defensive zone. I dont know if you can win in the playoffs that way.
The defensive play got better over the last month with the acquisition of Nick Grossmann, his badly needed physicality and shot blocking working hand-in-hand with an improved Bryzgalov. The vise will have to crank one full rotation tighter to beat Pittsburgh, Boston or the Rangers, much more mature teams than the ones the Flyers beat on their 2010 Final run.
This series is going to be decided by decisions at the blue lines. And the Penguins have a much longer track record for making good ones.