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May 1, 2010
NHL Playoffs, Second Round
Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

by Richard Pollock

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Boston vs. Philadelphia

Few analysts, if any at all, had both the Bruins and Flyers making the second round of the playoffs. Moreover, few, if any, analysts had the Bruins not only winning round one over Ryan Miller and the Sabres, but hosting a round two series. Well, that is what transpired over the first two weeks of the playoffs, and now either the Bruins or Flyers will find themselves going to the Conference finals.

Boston and Philadelphia Offenses

Boston Offense GVT: -30.7 (Rank: 30th in NHL)

Philadelphia Offense GVT: +7.3 (Rank: 8th in NHL)

Boston Even Strength Offense GVT: -26.5 (Rank: 30th in NHL)

Philadelphia Even Strength Offense GVT: -3.8 (Rank: 15th in NHL)

For a team that could not generate any offense during the regular season (the Bruins ranked 30th in the NHL goals scored this season with 2.39 goals per game), the Bruins did improve slightly on that offense in the first round with 2.67 goals per game. For as poor as the team's offensive output was this season, the Bruins generated a fair amount of shots on goal (31.7 shots per game, 7th in the NHL). Sure the B's were not going sustain last season's shooting percentages into 2009-10, but to have such a poor shooting percentage this season was not expected. Either way, the Bruins are now in the second round without averaging over 2.70 goals per game over the first 88 games of the season.

While the Bruins are not the Capitals on offense, there are still a number of players that Philadelphia will key on. First and foremost, the Bruins will have Marc Savard back in the lineup for the first game of the second round on Saturday afternoon. Savard had a difficult season in dealing with injuries but is back when it matters most. The Ottawa native is the team's best set-up man and was an important part of the Bruins' power play. Savard only played 41 games this season, yet he amazingly led the Bruins in power play points with 17. If the Bruins' wingers can convert--a big problem for the team this season-- as the result of his passing skills, then Savard becomes a huge addition.

The Bruins are strong down the middle, with Savard specializing on the power play, and David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron taking care of business at even strength. Bergeron, who patrols the middle and is very solid defensively, led the Bruins with an 11.8 relative Corsi. Krejci, on the other hand, is counted on primarily for the creation of offensive opportunities and really seemed to regain his 2008-09 form at the Olympics. With a renewed sense of confidence, the 24 year old finished second on the team in even strength offense with 1.77 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time (not great, but still second on this low scoring team).

Down the wings, the Bruins have a mixture of size in Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic, veteran leadership in Mark Recchi, speed in Daniel Paille and Marco Sturm, and get a lethal shot from the 30 year old Michael Ryder.

Milan Lucic is a physical force, as he was third on the Bruins with 141 hits this season--yet he only played 50 games. The physical left winger has looked more confident in the postseason which is important since the team allowed more goals against while Lucic was on the ice at even strength this season than they scored.

In Blake Wheeler, the Bruins have a sophomore forward who can be streaky but does not lack for skill. He posted a poor 1.9 GVT this season but had a relative Corsi better than Marc Savard, Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic. Wheeler needs to limit his penalties, 22 minor penalties this season, but has the ability to be a big factor in round two.

Mark Recchi has defied many old hockey beliefs, especially the one that says players after the age of 40 are hardly effective. With great sense, Recchi has become a terrific power play player; Claude Julien could tell as Recchi led Bruins forward in power play ice time in round one.

Daniel Paille has been a nice addition to the Bruins, with his slick hands, great spped, and his ability to play a big role on the penalty kill with Steve Begin. Throw in Ryder's shot and Satan's hands and the Bruins could post offensive totals more along the lines of round one than the regular season.

Much has been made about the Flyers' losses of Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne to injury. Well, Carter is unlikely to return in the playoffs--unless the Flyers make a big run deeper into the postseason--but Gagne could return late in the second round. Having said that, the analysis of this series will be made under the assumption that Gagne won't play against Boston.

Leading the way for Philadelphia is two-way center Mike Richards. Richards has taken his game to a new level in the playoffs and tabulated 8 points in 5 games against the Devils. Not only can Richards put points on the boards but he can play in every situation--including his ability to create offense while on the penalty kill. Boston has a lot of good forwards, but Richards is better than all of them.

Daniel Briere (9.2 GVT), Claude Giroux (8.1 GVT), James van Riemsdyk (5.4 GVT) and Scott Hartnell (5.1 GVT) will all be counted on to increase their scoring load with the absence of Carter and Gagne.

Briere has the capability of being a spark plug on offense with his speed, great hands and good vision. The former 24th overall pick in 1996 was only on the ice for +2 goals at even strength, so if he shores up the defensive game and keeps his emotions in check he could be one of the keys for the Broadstreet crew.

Briere will have more responsibility offensively and so will one of the best young players in the NHL--Claude Giroux. Giroux didn't jump in the points category as many thought he would this season, but he still has plenty of skill. When the right winger is on the ice, the Flyers outshoot their opponents by 3.3 shots per 60 minutes. He will get all the opportunity in the world this series to prove his talent.

James van Riemsdyk will be in a similar situation to Giroux. The American youngster was brought along slowly this year but has the talent to be a serious force in this series. JVR had the most favorable zone rating on the Flyers (58.8) this season, so expect him to be put into offensive situations to succeed. However, without Gagne and Carter, JVR will have some defensive responsibilities playing against other top six forwards.

Scott Hartnell may have be a very physical player, but that shouldn't hide the high amount of minor penalties he takes. Hartnell had the second best Corsi relative to quality of teammates on Philadelphia but overall had a bit of a letdown this season. The former Predators winger will need to clamp down on the power play, consistently go to the net and limit his penalties to be a difference maker this series.

Arron Asham, Daniel Carcillo, Blair Betts add more to the table than some think. Asham actually scored at over a 2.00 point clip per 60 minutes of even strength ice time this season. Carcillo is ranked fourth on the team in terms of Corsi relative to the quality of competition and has earned quite the reputation for himself this playoffs. Toss in Blair Betts and his penalty killing prowess and this group should do its best to make up for the unfortunate injury loss of Ian Lapperriere.

Advantage: Philadelphia Flyers

Boston and Philadelphia Defenses

Boston Defense GVT: +11.7 (Rank: 5th in NHL)

Philadelphia Defense GVT: +5.9 (Rank: 12th in NHL)

Boston Even Strength Defense GVT: +5.6 (Rank: 10th in NHL)

Philadelphia Even Strength Defense GVT: +7.1 (Rank: 6th in NHL)

The Bruins' team defense is awfully good, largely in part to Coach Julien's system, but is also a product of having Zdeno Chara on the team. The Slovakian defender was not as good in 2009-10 as he was the season prior, but he still logs big minutes against the opposition's best offensive players (third highest quality of competition on team--first for defensemen), and has the highest defenseman Corsi relative to competition on the team. Joining Chara on the back-end is the emerging Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk is a punishing hitter and led the Bruins in defensemen hits in the first round. Not only is he physical, but he logged the second most even strength minutes on the team in round one and sees big minutes on the penalty kill and some time on the power play. Boychuk is emerging right before our eyes. After Chara and Boychuk, the Bruins rely on the fleet-footed Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick. Wideman and Hunwick don't get to face the opposing team's best players, but they are still relied upon for playing significant minutes and they both move the puck in an efficient manner. Hunwick has come into his own on the offensive side of the puck and will be better with time. The Bruins also count on Andrew Ference, but the team certainly does miss the presence of Dennis Seidenberg on the back-end.

The Flyers defense is an intimidating group. Chris Pronger was the team MVP this season, as he was the main reason why the team's defensive GVT transformed from a weakness to a strength. Paired with Matt Carle, the Flyers duo were both in the top six for Philadelphia in terms of Relative Corsi. Pronger was on the ice for 2.59 goals for per game, as opposed to being on the ice for only 1.96 goals against. That 1.96 ratio was the best on the Flyers defense. Add in Kimmo Timonen (10.4 GVT) and Braydon Coburn (4.2 GVT), and the Flyers have quite a formidable top four. All four can move the puck, and Carle and Coburn are both very fluid skaters. Pronger has been better than Chara this year and the Flyers defense as a whole holds an advantage over the Bruins.

Advantage: Philadelphia Flyers

Boston and Philadelphia Goaltending

Boston Goaltending GVT: +17.6 (Rank: 5th in NHL)

Philadelphia Goaltending GVT: -6.7 (Rank: 21st in NHL)

Boston Even Strength Goaltending GVT: +12.4 (Rank: 8th in NHL)

Philadelphia Even Strength Goaltending GVT: -6.9 (Rank: 21st in NHL)

The Bruins may give up some to the Flyers on the back-end, but the Bruins hold the edge in between the pipes. Leafs fans cringe when they see the name Tuukka Rask. He could have been their goaltender of the future but instead he has turned into a terrific netminder for the rival Bruins. This season, Rask not only led the NHL in save percentage at .931, but he also led the entire NHL in G.A.A. with a measly 1.97 total. So, even if the Flyers had the second best netminder in the NHL this season--according to the basic stats--they're still not better than Boston in between the pipes.

Instead, the Flyers are going to ride veteran journeyman Brian Boucher as far as they can. This season, Boucher posted a below average .899 save percentage to go along with a 2.76 goals against average.

In terms of even strength save percentage, Rask was second in the NHL behind Tomas Vokoun with a .937 percentage; whereas, Boucher posted a .911 percentage. To put that in perspective, Boucher was tied with Steve Mason in even strength save percentage this season.

Advantage: Boston Bruins

Boston and Philadelphia Special Teams, Discipline, Face-offs and Shootouts

Boston Power Play GVT: -2.7 (Rank: 18th in NHL)

Philadelphia Power Play GVT: +8.9 (Rank: 3rd in NHL)

Boston Penalty Kill GVT: +12.9 (Rank: 3rd in NHL)

Philadelphia Penalty Kill GVT: +3.0 (Rank: 14th in NHL)

Boston Discipline GVT: -2.3 (Rank: 24th in NHL)

Philadelphia Discipline GVT: -2.0 (Rank: 22nd in NHL)

Boston Shootout GVT: +0.0 (Rank: T-14th in NHL)

Philadelphia Shootout GVT: +0.0 (Rank: T-14th in NHL)

We could go on and on about each squad's special teams units, but there is little correlation between regular season special teams play and playoff special teams play. So, while the Bruins ranked 23rd in the NHL in power play percentage and 3rd in penalty killing, the Flyers ranked 3rd in the NHL in power play percentage and 11th in penalty killing. Taking into account Savard's presence full time and the Carter and Gagne injuries, and both special teams groups look fairly close.

The B's ranked 11th in the NHL in penalty minutes taken, which is fairly impressive considering the Flyers are a proverbial penalty taking machine. Philly only finished ahead of Tampa Bay when it came to taking penalties; hence, the advantage is with Boston.

The Bruins are a very proficient face-off team, with Patrice Bergeron leading the way at 58% for the season, Steve Begin sitting at 54.3% for the season and David Krejci at 50.7%. Marc Savard is the only significant face-off taker to sit below 50% on the season.

Philadelphia's best face-off taker is Jeff Carter, which is a huge issue considering his absence from the series because ofh is injury. After Carter, the Flyers' leading face-off man is Blair Betts with 50.9% and Mike Richards with a 50.7% clip. After that, everyone is below 50%, so the Flyers give up some on draws.

As there is only overtime in the playoffs, let's eliminate any extra shootout points each team earned over the course of the season. The Bruins had 10 shootout wins and the Flyers only had 4. So, take away a six point spread between the two teams over the course of the season and the Flyers actually finish ahead.

Advantage: Even

Prediction

This series is about as tight as it gets. You can be sure this series between two historic Eastern Conference teams will be physical and not lacking for a little hatred.

Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers in 7 games.

Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.

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