Friday, April 11, 2008

Go Time In Philadelphia

I am a little out of practice writing about the NHL play-offs. Searching through the blog, the last reference I can find to the NHL post-season is here- not too encouraging, right? Still, that post is a ringing summary of why the NHL is stuck on Versus with no return to relevance forthcoming.

Anyway, I will begin by saying I missed on the Flyers this year*. I had them as the fourth best team in the Atlantic (correct!)- but I doubted that’d be good enough to make the post-season in the NHL. However, the meltdown of the Southeast Division made the points the Flyers ceded in their tough division ultimately unimportant to the post-season picture. A perfunctory analysis tells you the Capital would not have overcome their start had they played in the Atlantic- and the Flyers would have 100 points had they grown fat in the Southeast.

Consequently, I am a little shocked that the line offers you +145 if you take the Flyers: wager $100 to win $145. Just crazy. Look, the Flyers are an imperfect outfit. Key guys- Gagne, Hatcher, the captain Jason Smith- are out or clearly banged up. Outside of their top pair of defensemen, they are a horror in their own end. For the umpteenth time, they enter the play-offs with a sort shrug about the character in the nets: like with Esche, Hextall, Vanbiesbrouck, the upside with Biron is competence, not brilliance.

But they do have four lines up front- real depth. The Flyers can play good special teams- and they are outright good with power play. They play an aggressive, bellicose, occasionally dirty style. Again, they can aspire to competence in the nets. Philadelphia will not be an easy out.

A lot of the breezy analysis references this Flyers’ chippy nature- suggesting they need to rein it in, stay out of the box. I don’t know about that. I think they may be well-served by taking a few “aggressive” penalties. If Alex Ovechkin doesn’t draw an obstruction foul or two we’re probably not clutching and grabbing him enough- that sort of thing. I realize it is my North American hockey bias- but I really believe in “testing” these star Euros in the play-offs. Playing to a little lower common denominator, murky dasher play, not worrying incessantly about the penalty box- let’s get unruly after every whistle!- probably helps Philadelphia here.

So, after a season of being semi-down on the Flyers, they catch a bit of luck here. Frankly, other than the quitters in Ottawa, who else would Philadelphia rather draw? It is bad karma for sure, but this is the series I wanted. People, I can wait on Marty forever.

Feels like a toss-up- and while I think Washington is a slightly better hockey team, I’m not sure if they’re better at cantankerous game of attrition and relentless physical assault the Flyers will try very hard to foist on them. Plus, the Caps penalty kill isn’t very good- and the Flyers really should cause some problems here. If the Flyers can get it to two games up, I like their chances.

The PDN preview is here.

* in my defense, I did get the Sixers sort of right. I thought they’d eek in the play-offs as an Atlanta Hawks style outfit.