When division opponents can boast that each of their six contests showcase arguably the best offensive force in the league going mano-a-mano with the biggest, meanest, toughest defensive force in the league, fans are going to eat their games up.
Even a Western Conference fan like myself is eager to see these teams match-up in the playoffs, so much so that the all-Pennsylvania rivalry is the basis for my extremely early Eastern Conference prediction.
Sidney Crosby vs Chris Pronger?
Mike Richards vs Sergei Gonchar?
Evgeni Malkin vs Matt Carle?
Jeff Carter vs Brooks Orpik?
Bill Guerin vs Kimmo Timonen?
Danny Briere vs Kris Letang?
Jordin Staal vs Braydon Coburn?
Simone Gagne vs Mark Eaten?
Ray Emery vs Marc-Andre Fleury?
(Hmmm, would Fleury take off his mask if Emery wanted to drop the gloves?)
Now hockey is hockey, which is not football. In hockey there aren't one player versus one player match-ups like an NFL wide-receiver versus a NFL cornerback.
The way the best sport in the world is played, each player on one team is going to find themselves going up against each player on the other team.
However, particular players definitely see more of certain players from the other squad and an example of this is the aforementioned "match-up" of Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger.
Chris Pronger is a Philadelphia Flyer to stop three particular players, two of which are Penguins. Pronger was brought to Philadelphia in order to stop Crosby, Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.
Personally, when I heard Pronger was moving East, my reaction was nothing but "YIPPPEEEE!!! HALLELUJAH!!! THANK THE LORD!!!"
As a follower of the San Jose Sharks, I have had enough of Chris Pronger. The 6' 6" 214 pound defenseman has given me too many headaches. He beat my team in the playoffs with three different squads. Whether he was a Blue, an Oiler or a Duck, the monster of a human being always brought me sadness.
But I can gladly say that he is no longer a thorn in the side of the Sharks, he is Pittsburgh's problem now.
Yet the defending Stanley Cup Champions have more than just Pronger to worry about, they have to game-plan for Matt Carle.
That's right, I said it. Matt Carle, the defenseman my beloved team shipped off to Tampa Bay after the youngster experienced a sophomore slump in the 2007-08 season. However, in return the Sharks received Dan Boyle. IE: I have no business complaining.
Although Carle is no Boyle, he has clearly regained the confidence in his offensive game that saw the now 25-year-old defenseman win the Hobey Baker award in college and post an incredible 42 points in his first full season in the NHL.
In seven games, Carle leads the Flyers in both points and plus/minus rating with nine points and a plus-6 plus/minus.
His offensive skills were always evident but as a young defenseman in San Jose Carle had struggled to adjust to the speed of NHL forwards. But now in his fourth full year, expect the former Shark to put up a 50 point season from the Flyer blue-line.
With essentially two new additions to Philadelphia's back-end this season, (as Carle was still adjusting to the Eastern Conference last year after a whirl-wind season saw him being traded twice in the span of three months) the Flyers now have the well-rounded group they have been looking to put together.
Finally the Flyers have defenders who have the ability to keep their opponents' skill players off the score-sheet.
Flyer forwards Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, and Simone Gagne are all back and ready to attack a Penguins team who currently owns what the Flyers have wanted back since 1975, the Stanley Cup.
But beating the Penguins last year proved difficult without a tough, physical and experienced defense.
Crosby, Malkin, Guerin, Staal and the rest of the Penguin forwards were easily able to maneuver their way through the Flyers zone in last year's Eastern Conference quarter-final match-up last season.
The Penguins managed 18 goals in the six game series last year, only two more than the Flyers offense was able to put across the goal-line.
What change will Chris Pronger bring the Flyers in the final out-come of a series against the Penguins? The ability to flip-flop those goal totals, allowing the Flyers to knock off the defending Stanley-Cup Champions.
Hopefully this match-up comes in the Eastern Conference Finals but in whichever round they end up going mano-a-mano, I'll take the Flyers in seven games.
Pronger, along with the extra physicality guys like Scott Hartnell, Ian Laperriere and Daniel Carcillo bring to the table a tenacity that will end up being too much for the Penguins.
The majority of the individual match-ups make these teams dead even on paper, but Pronger will make the difference for Philly.
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