The Philadelphia Flyers continue their tough home-stretch leading into the playoffs with another matinee battle against the Boston Bruins. To best the beastly Bruins and halt this three game skid the Flyers will, as always, have to play sound hockey that is true to Craig Berube‘s defensive, opportunistic system. But, to gain an added edge, the Flyers will have to win two important match-ups down the middle, and will have to bring down defense!
Match-up 1: David Krejci vs. Sean Couturier
Simplifying this match-up to a center versus center really waters down the importance that Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Michael Raffl will have as the Flyers’ primary checking line in tomorrow’s game. As always, the newly punned ‘Wolf on Broad Street,’ Sean Couturier will be matched up against the opposition’s top scoring line. What is different about Couturier’s job tomorrow is that Krejci does not fit the usual mold of players that Couturier is tasked with smoldering. Malkin, Backes, and Kopitar, some of Couturier’s more recent targets, are all big, physical, scoring forwards who Couturier had to mirror for the majority of the game. What shines every time Couturier guards Penguins’ star Evgeni Malkin is that the big man is being tailed by the lankier, scruffier Couturier. David Krejci, on the other hand, is a small, slippery skater more along the lines of Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Claude Giroux. Krejci is a scrawny, 6’0″ play-maker who is going to look to set up Milan Lucic or Jarome Iginla. The 6’4″ Couturier has a real opportunity in this game. He did not play poorly last game; as Krejci was zipping around the Flyers’ defensive zone, looking for the open man, Couturier was dogging him, just as he would Malkin or Backes. I say that Couturier has a real opportunity because Krejci is a player who could really be pushed around. Couturier has shown that he has an edge; look at any highlights of him marking Malkin. In Saturday’s matinee, the Flyers’ would benefit greatly if Couturier bullied, bumped, and bruised the smaller Krejci. Read and Raffl will have their hands full with any of the Bruins capable defensmen, and Coburn, Grossmann, or whomever is tasked with slowing down power forwards Lucic and Iginla will fighting every inch of ice that these two scrappy scorers, but if Couturier can assert himself as the alpha male down the middle and make Krejci not want to touch the puck, the Bruins’ top line will collapse.
Match-up 2: Patrice Bergeron vs. Claude Giroux
This will be a chess match. Claude Giroux made it into the NHL because he played great defense in the minors and before; his offensive dominance didn’t blossom until he proved himself as a worthy defender. The guy who will be taking every draw opposite of Giroux dominates in the NHL because of his defensive game. We Flyers fans love to talk about the number that Couturier did to Malkin in the playoffs of 2012 and in every game since then. There is no doubting that Couturier played fantastic, but Patrice Bergeron sets the golden standard for defensive hockey in the NHL from a forward. Bergeron set Malkin straight in the 2013 playoffs, keeping him to ZERO points through the four game sweep and engaging in a memorable fight with the disgruntled star. A big question for tomorrow’s matinee will be how Claude Giroux handles the defensive pressure that Bergeron will bring to every shift? Giroux, over the past five games, has taken a number of penalties, of which not many were what you want to see from your star forward. Giroux will need to keep his anger in check against Bergeron because if Giroux loses his cool, it could very quickly result in a dumb penalty or a quick goal; Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith have put up some great numbers as a unit. The key to this match-up will all come down to Giroux: will he buckle under the pressure and take penalties and allow goals, or will he play sound defense and take adavantage of the few opportunities this Bruins’ defensive juggernaut will surrender?
Take Down the Tower
I will never forget the January 22, 2012 Flyers-Bruins game that I went to. I will never forget this game because I sat right behind Tim Thomas in the first and third periods and marvelled at two things. 1 was how Thomas could expand his whole body and eat any shot. The other was that for the parts of 31 minutes and 45 seconds he was playing defense in the zone I was sitting behind, Zdeno Chara cast a shadow that could almost reach the blue line. The guy is big. Really big. And scary. Even as a fan I was terrified, despite hearing about how he is a teddy bear outside of the hockey rink. I couldn’t even comprehend how someone so massive, with such a large wingspan, could be even competed with in the defensive zone. And then came along the Blackhawks in last years’ Stanley Cup Finals. Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, and a number of other Blackhawks were quoted during the finals, stating that Chara isn’t so mean, all you have to do was chip the puck in on him and hit him, he’s nothing we have to worry about. Yes, in the next game Chara was mean and sat Bickell down in front of a packed stadium. But he was shut down. Chara was easily maneuvered around and scored on by the quicker Chicago forwards because they would chip the puck and either zip around him or crunch him into the boards. This is what the Flyers have to do to take down the Tower on the Bruins’ defense. The Flyers for the most part did this last week. If you were watching, Scott Hartnell had a beautiful hit on Chara that sent the big man down. This needs to happen again. The Bruins’ D-core is depleted. They are without Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg. If the Flyers want to take another step towards defeating the top team in the Eastern Conference, they will need to play Zdeno Chara the right way.
If the Flyers can win their match-ups down the middle and play against Zdeno Chara correctly, they will have a great chance to beat the best team in the Eastern Conference. These are the games you want to win: big games, against top competition, right before the playoffs. The Flyers want to make a statement as the continue their push for the playoffs and the elusive Lord Stanley. Go Flyers!