Philadelphia Flyers: Complete Breakdown of Round 1 vs Buffalo Sabres
The Flyers finished second in the Eastern Conference after leading for 57 consecutive days. The past five weeks of hockey has been pretty dreadful, as the Flyers have lost 14 out of their final 21 games.
The Sabres on the other hand are smoking hot and they have been since January 1 going 28-11-6. Buffalo finished the regular season going 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and had only one regulation loss in it's final 13 games.
The two teams seem like they are heading in two different directions, and that may be the reason why some of the largest sports stations and websites in America are picking against the Orange and Black.
Can the Flyers just "flip the switch" like we have heard them say for weeks? Is it really that simple? Or can they salvage a season that not too long ago seemed so promising?
Should Flyers fans be worried that the second seed has only won 17 of 32 playoff series since the current format was adopted since 1994?
Let's look at both teams and see how they grade out, and Flyer's fans minds may be put as ease.
Both teams can generate a lot of speed through the neutral zone and have players that can put the puck in the net.
The Flyers have three lines that can be the "go-to" line on any given night.The Sabres have an excellent top-line with three other lines who put in the effort and work to be successful.
Let's see who gets the advantage in the scoring department.
The Flyers have an impressive seven 20-goal scorers on this roster and are even deeper than last year when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Giroux- 25 Goals
Carter- 36 Goals
Briere- 34 Goals
Hartnell- 24 Goals
Richards- 23 Goals
Van Riemsdyk- 21 Goals
Versteeg- 21 Goals
While the San Jose Sharks can boast seven 20 goal scorers, no other team in the league has nine players with over 15 goals.
Leino- 19 Goals
Zherdev- 16 Goals
Line Combinations (most likely)
- Carter, Giroux, Zherdev
- JVR, Richards, Versteeg
- Leino, Briere, Hartnell
- Powe, Betts, Carcillo
Even with the Flyer's inconsistencies towards the end of the season, they still won the Atlantic Division and their firepower was a huge reason why.
They are playoff battle tested and will certainly test Ryan Miller throughout this series.
Buffalo went 2-2 against the Flyers this season, including a 4-3 overtime victory Friday, April 8, in the Sabres' home finale. As mentioned in the opening slide, they have been the hottest team in the league since January 1.
Buffalo quite simply does not have the scoring power that the Fly Guys possess. Here is a breakdown of the Sabres top seven goal scorers from the regular season.
Vanek- 32 Goals
Stafford- 31 Goals
Pominville- 22 Goals
Ennis- 20 Goals
Gerbe- 16 Goals
Connolly- 13 Goals
Leopold- 13 Goals
Vanek and Stafford are obviously the keys here. Ennis and Pominville can skate well and distribute the puck tremendously, but Vanek and Stafford are the players who will put it in the net.
If Pronger is unable to return, look for Timonen and Coburn to matchup against the Vanek line, and Meszaros and Carle to take the Ennis line.
Coburn and Timonen were tremendous during last seasons magical playoff run. They will need to show the same kind of passion and intensity if they want to shut down the Sabres top-line.
Line Combinations (most likely)
- Pominville, Connolly, Vanek
- Gerbe, Gaustad, Mancari
- Ennis, Boyes, Stafford
- Niedermayer, Ellis, McCormick
The Sabres have a very quick team that can cause some problems for the Flyers defensemen.
Edge Goes To? Flyers Forwards
The Flyers top seven goal scorers have combined for an impressive 184 goals this season. They have guys that can fill up the stat sheet from three different lines.
The Sabres top seven goal scorers combined for 164 goals. That is a difference of twenty goals through the course of the season.
Not to mention that Ville Leino and Nikolay Zherdev have posted 19 and 16 goals respectively.
If the Flyers put in the work in the dirty areas and play to their potential, they clearly have the edge in skill when it comes to the forwards.
If the Flyers are able to shut-down Vanek and Stafford, they have a great chance of shutting down the Buffalo Sabres. Which line on the Flyers do you load up on?
Carter, Giroux and Zherdev may have the most skill, but the Briere line showed last post-season just how lethal they can be.
Skill advantage to the Flyers forwards.
Flyers fans have worried whether or not Chris Pronger will be back in time for Game 1 of the playoffs. Instead of receiving an answer, they have received Green Eggs and Ham references.
Even without Pronger, the Flyers still have four defensemen who are battle-tested and can do the job.Take a look at their top four D-men's plus-minus numbers this season:
- Matt Carle: plus-30
- Andrej Meszaros: plus- 30
- Braydon Coburn: plus-5
- Kimmo Timonen: plus-11
That's not even including Pronger and Sean O'Donnell who were both plus players this season as well.
The Flyers were built to win in the postseason because of their defense. They went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season with four defensemen carrying the load. They were scrapping for their playoff lives in March and April (to the last day of the season actually) and may have gotten a little worn down against the Blackhawks.
This season Peter Laviolette has been able to roll three lines of D-men consistently and all will benefit from that this postseason.
Line combinations- (until Pronger returns)
- Coburn, Timonen
- Carle, Meszaros
- O'Donnell, Boynton/ Syvret
The Sabres are led by the 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year, Tyler Myers. The guy is an absolute beast at 6'8" and can skate extremely well. He has the ability to skate the puck out of the zone which leads to instant offense.
The problem is that he has been on the ice for a ton of goals this season as well. Let's take a look at the Sabres' plus-minus numbers this season:
- Myers: 0 (That's right, he wasn't a plus or minus, he broke even.)
- Montador: plus-16
- Weber: plus-13
- Sekera: plus-11
- Morrison: minus-2
- Leopold: minus-11
- Gragnani: 0
- Butler: plus-8
Three out of the Sabres top six defensemen were either a push (Myers) or a minus for the season (Morrison and Leopold.)That led to them looking elsewhere (Gragnani
This may or not be a direct cause of poor defensive play, but the plus-minus numbers do not lie when it comes to D-men.
A defensemen's job is to protect the net and stop the puck from going into it, and many of the Sabres D are on the ice way too often when a goal is scored.
- Myers, Butler
- Montador, Gragnani
- Weber, Morrisonn
Edge To? Flyers Defense
Even without Pronger (their real leader and captain) the edge has to go to the Flyers. Coburn, Timonen, Meszaros and Carle are as good as any foursome in the NHL today.
Myers obviously has all of the physical tools to be one of the most dominating D-man in the game, but does he have the mental make-up at this point in his career?
The Flyers do not lose a beat from one D-group to another, while the Sabres definitely are not as solid from one through five.
The Flyers were built around their defense (not their goalie) and it is time for the heart of this team to shine starting Thursday night.
While Bob has played tremendously for the Flyers this season, there really is no comparison between Bob (Bouch) and Ryan Miller.
Incredibly, the Flyers have not had a shutout this season.
At least the young guns have fared well in recent history in net.
Flyers fans know all too well how successful Antii Niemi was in last year's playoffs. In his first NHL playoffs, Niemi went 16-6 with a 2.63 GAA and .910 SV percentage.
In 39 regular-season games last year, Niemi went 26-7 with a 2.24 GAA.
Through 37 regular-season games, Bobrovsky's record was 23-9 with a 2.44 GAA. Pretty similar. Now those numbers dipped a bit towards the end of the season. but Bob has shown excellent flexibility and ability to bounce back from a shaky start.
There are no shootouts in the postseason as well. Yeah! Go Flyers!
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner has again carried the load for the Buffalo Sabres. He showed in last years Olympic's that he has the heart, determination and skill to win games that his team does not deserve to win.
He started a ridiculous 66 games this season, going 34-22-8 with a solid 2.59 GAA. His save percentage was .916. The guy is a beast and Flyers fans would love for him to play in Philly.
Maybe we can get lucky against him and shoot a slapper off of the old collarbone (joking)? He has the respect of all American hockey fans with his performance against Canada last year. Hopefully he will not be as dominant in this series as he was in the Olympics.
Edge To? Sabres Goalie
Duh. This is not to say that Bob does not have the potential to have a tremendous series. This is giving credit where credit is due.
Ryan Miller is one of the best goalies in the game. Bob is not there...yet.
The guy has been here a little over a year and he already has a cult-following. People bow to Peter the Great.
His time-outs have already become legendary in Philadelphia. His passion and honesty to the fans have been exactly what Flyers fans have been yearning for for years.
The Flyers came back from being down three to zero in a seven game series and down three to zero in game seven last season under Laviolette.
The players believe in him and for good reason; Laviolette is a Stanley Cup winner. He knows what it takes to win a Cup and that experience will be key for the Flyers again this postseason.
Career regular season record: 319-231-51
Career playoff record: 34-26
Lindy Ruff seemingly has been the coach of the Sabres forever. He was there when the Flyers had John LeClair and Eric Lindros and he will be there for Mike Richards and Claude Giroux.
He has coached the Sabres since 1997 and has amassed a 526-390-78 record during an amazing 1,066 games with him at the helm.
He is 54-40 in the playoffs throughout his career.
He is intense and intelligent. His experience will definitely help the younger players on the Sabres. He reminds me a little bit of the Flyers coach....
Edge To? Both Coaches
This one is a push. Ruff and Laviolette are both proven coaches in the NHL. Laviolette gets extra credit for the Stanley Cup win and Ruff gets credit for the longevity factor.
Both coaches are men that can inspire their teams to play, we know that much.
Can Laviolette get the team that chased the President's Trophy throughout the year to play like champions once more?
Can Ruff keep his team playing at such a high-level, or are they just happy that they made the playoffs?
Both teams are lucky to have their respective coaches, as they are some of the best in the buisness.