I called this a statement game this morning, and Martin Biron and his fellow Philadelphia Flyers delivered a firm response this afternoon.
Staying out of the box, taking advantage of the power plays given them, and maintaining a confident structure under the duress of the talented Penguins’ onslaught, the Flyers showed their capabilities today.
They are prepared to play smart, disciplined, and opportunistic hockey.
Biron handily won the goaltending duel with Marc-Andre Fleury. He squelched rebounds and did an excellent job managing the puck outside his own crease. I was particularly worried when Biron came out to execute a poke check, flashing back to the last game between these two opponents.
But he quietly and cleanly handled the puck to avert harm. What a contrast to Fleury, who allowed two goals on the first 10 shots he saw.
Particularly impressive was the effort from all six defensemen. The broadcast team commented on the use of Andrew Alberts and Randy Jones against the Malkin line early in the game, noting that Alberts isn’t known as a particularly effective shutdown D. Perhaps that should be remedied.
Based on some statistics assembled by James Mirtle, Alberts pulls numbers similar to Marc Staal, Robyn Regehr, and Kevin Bieksa. You don’t have to be a Nik Lidstrom to contribute positively to your team.
All in all, it was a great win for the Flyers. They now solidly hold fourth place in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand on Pittsburgh and sit three points ahead of sixth-place Carolina. Not a bad position to be in when facing the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night.
We hockey bloggers liberally toss out terms like “must-win” and “statement game” at this point in the season, but few games truly reflect the meaning of those words like today’s contest between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The two teams are currently tied in the Eastern Conference standings, holding the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. It is doubtful either team will catch the division-leading New Jersey Devils, and barring a disastrous collapse at the end of the season, it is unlikely either team will be caught by the cluster below them.
The table is set for a Pennsylvania first-round matchup.
Which means whoever wins today’s game will take one step closer to home ice advantage for the first round—and just imagine what a Game Seven between the Flyers and Pens would look like in either city.
Here’s the test for Philadelphia. With a win—regardless of in regulation or overtime—the Flyers control their own destiny. They would prevent the Pens from gaining any ground in the standings while still having games in hand on Pittsburgh.
It’s not a guarantee of finishing fourth, but it would definitely help nudge us towards a Game Seven at the Wachovia Center instead of the Igloo.
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