How Do The Philadelphia Flyers Stack Up Against The Chicago Blackhawks?

May 26th, 2010 3 Comments

The consensus pick in this years Stanley Cup Finals seems to be that the Chicago Blackhawks will make quick work of the Philadelphia Flyers with many prognosticators predicting the Hawks will take the series in five or six games.

A quick look at the regular season standings reveals that the Hawks finished 24 points ahead of the Flyers, scored nearly a half a goal more per game and gave up about 0.30 goals more per game than the Hawks did.

On special teams, the Flyers owned the superior power play with the Hawks emerging form the regular season with the better penalty kill.

The Western Conference is widely believed to be the tougher Conference to play in, which only furthers Chicago’s numbers, which were amongst the very best in the NHL.

If we have learned anything this playoff season it’s that the regular season, for the most part, has meant “diddly” come playoff time.

Goaltenders, such as Michael Leighton, Antti Niemi and Jaroslav Halak, that were vying for jobs just a few months ago are suddenly playing with confidence, shutting the door on opposing offenses with apparent ease.

Scorers that struggled in the regular season, such as Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Ville Leino are now top performers, while defensemen such as Niklas Hjalmarsson and Kimmo Timonen (who struggled as well this season) are suddenly huge difference makers for their respective teams.

Yes, hockey fans, the playoffs are a completely different animal than that of the regular season and for that reason the Stanley Cup Final between the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks will be closer than many of you think.

Here’s why

Coaching:

Chicago: Joel Quenneville

Philadelphia: Peter Laviolette

Both Quenneville and Laviolette are well respected bench bosses in NHL circles. Laviolette won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and has demonstrated his strong ability to lead and to get players to buy into a system throughout the playoffs.

Quenneville won a Stanley Cup as an assistant coach with the 1996 edition of the Colorado Avalanche, but is yet to taste victory as a head coach.

Both Laviolette and Quenneville have done a great job of preparing their teams for the playoffs, especially Laviolette who has had to deal with key injuries to Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Brian Boucher and others throughout the playoffs.

While it would be easy to pick Laviolette as the better coach, I am apt to say that coaching is a saw-off, with Quenneville getting points for his experience, regular season accomplishments and ability to keep a young roster focused at the task at hand.

Verdict: EVEN

 

Defensemen:

When you look at the Flyers and Blackhawks rosters one can see that they are very different…or are they? Let’s look at the defense first…

Defensively both teams boast impressive rosters. The Flyers top four of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn provide the Flyers with a tremendous mix of both offensive and defensive skills, with a good dose of physical play to boot.

Chicago has proven to be every bit as good as the Flyers defensively this off-season with the likes of Norris Trophy favorite Duncan Keith leading the way with a supporting cast that features Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjarlmarsson and Brian Campbell.

I know I may get a fair bit of flack for stating this, but, while close, I gotta give the edge on defense to the Flyers. Chris Pronger has been the most dominant defenseman of the off-season, while Timmonen, Carle and Coburn have been damn near flawless.

The Flyers have shutout their opponents on four occasions, no easy task.

The shutouts, defensive play, offensive contributions and experience factor, led me to give the Flyers the slightest of edge on defense.

Verdict: Edge FLYERS

 

Forwards:

No question about it, both of these teams have been firing on all cylinders during the playoffs. Contributions from both key players and unsung hero’s have combined to make both the Flyers and the Hawks formidable opponents throughout the playoffs.

Both teams have plenty of skill with Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa leading the way for Chi-town, while the likes of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux leading the way for the Orange and Black.

In the grit department Chicago Blackhawks mega-pest Dustin Byfuglien has established himself as public enemy number one in each of the series the Hawks have played, with Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer and John Madden also contributing.

The Flyers boast one of the tougher set of gritty players to play against in Ian Laperriere, Arron Asham and Daniel Carcillo.

Offensively Byfuglien has been a real force for the Hawks and, by my estimation, serves as a great distraction for opposing defensemen and goaltenders alike.

It is Byfuglien’s key contributions and unique ability to throw off the competition (often resulting in teams focusing on him too much) and the speed and skill level at which the Hawks top forwards play that made me give the Blackhawks the nod in the forward department.

Both teams are deep (the Flyers may even be a little deeper than the Hawks) but the overall Blackhawks group is just that much better than that of the Flyers.

Verdict: Advantage Blackhawks

 

Goaltending:

Heading into the playoffs both the Blackhawks and Flyers were thought to have huge question marks in between the pipes.

Blackhawks netminder Antti Niemi came into the playoffs with zero playoff experience, leading some to predict that he would be replaced at some point by Cristobel Huet.

All Niemi has done since being given the reins is register an impressive 12-4 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

Comparatively, the Flyers have had to adjust to losing veteran Brian Boucher (who came into the playoffs with a career 11-8 playoff record) to injury.

Boucher, who had been dominant in compiling a record of 6-4 before getting injured, gave way to oft-traveled Michael Leighton, who has been nothing short of spectacular in these playoffs, posting a 6-1 record to go along with a scorching 1.45 goals against average, .948 save percentage and three shutouts.

No question, as good as Niemi has been (and he has been spectacular) Leighton has been dominant. Three shutouts in seven games, just one loss, the amazing save percentage and goals against…all this coming off an injury himself and dealing with the pressure of having to be in must-win situations throughout the Boston series, well, Leighton gets the nod in the goaltending department.

Verdict: Advantage Flyers

 

Special Teams:

The Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers owned the 16th (17.7%) and third (21.4%) ranked power play units during the regular season. On the penalty kill the Hawks ranked fifth overall (85.3%) with the Flyers coming in at 11th (83.0%) overall during the regular season.

Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, both the Blackhawks and Flyers have been dominant on special teams. The Hawks get the nod on the power play 22.6 percent to the Flyers 22.6 percent while the Flyers get the nod on the penalty kill 87.0 percent to the Hawks 86.6%.

Let’s face it, if we went by the numbers alone there really isn’t much to choose between these two teams. That said, I think the Hawks power play is just a little more intimidating and, for that reason, I am giving a very slight nod to the Blackhawks on special teams.

Verdict: Advantage Blackhawks

 

The Final Verdict:

Good luck predicting this series! Despite the perceived advantage of the Blackhawks the Flyers hung in there in every category against the Blackhawks, proving once and for all that this Stanley Cup Final will be a lot closer than many suspect.

Can the Flyers pull off the “upset” victory over the Blackhawks? The statistics say “yes”. Will the Flyers veteran leadership and grit outlast the Blackhawks energy and inexperienced roster? Only time will tell.

I have gone against the flyers all playoff long and, as it turns out, it seems to have worked out for Flyers fans!

So, never one to change a good thing up when it’s working, I will select the Chicago Blackhawks as this years Stanley Cup Champion, defeating the Flyers in a highly contested six games series with as many as three of those games headed to overtime.

I also predict a low-scoring series, with few penalties and an abundance of great hits and big physical sacrifices by both teams.

Buckle up; this is going to be a great series, perhaps one of the best in recent memory!

To read more of my NHL news and notes check out my website at www.theslapshot.com

Until next time,

Peace!

3 Comments

  1. Mitch Gerstein says:

    As a longtime Flyers season ticket holder I am disappointed with the Game 6 Finals loss however the 23 games of which 10 were in Philly was awesome. It was interesting to now read your preview of the Finals matchup!! Very insightful and accurate predict of the matchups, overall Finals series, and outcome.

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Thanks for the comment…I too was disappointed for the Flyers and their fans. IMO They deserved a better outcome, but the Hawks were just “that good”.

    Peace!

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