Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Long March Destined For Disappointment

Well, after a harrowing, disappointing regular season, the Flyers catch a break in the opening round of the play-offs. They perhaps deserve it- the last two seasons they’ve opened with Pittsburgh and Washington. Still, the true Flyers’ fan has trouble accepting any series with the New Jersey Devils is a lucky break- even if New Jersey is in the same “disappointing” category.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Flyers and Devils series is not exactly easy to decipher. Both teams have underachieved. Picked by some as the best team in the east, the Flyers have been a .500 team since the get go (41 wins in 82 games).They fought tooth and nail with the Rangers over the weekend to even get in the play-offs- and I don’t know anyone who thinks the Rangers are “good”. The Devils have been worse than .500 over the last forty games or so (18 wins in the last 41 games- ugh) as their defense and goaltender wore down.

So like a lot of teams where the sum is less than the apparent parts, the teams are hard to figure out. For example, both teams have missed on their key veteran pick-up. Chris Pronger was brought here to go toe-to-toe with Crosby and Ovechkin. Surely, he can do that better than most. Unfortunately, it turns out Pronger really doesn’t bring much more than “a good player” to match-ups versus the more routine forwards. He is more gangly than strong, not very quick. He doesn’t move the puck all that well. As we all saw in the Olympics, he is a nice player rather than elite- helped playing with the lead rather than having to force the play up ice.

By the same token, New Jersey is trying to fold Ilya Kovalchuk- a great scorer but merely okay in other facets- into a system that demands competence in many areas (like defense? Ilya is an amazing career "-75" despite scoring 338 career goals) that greatness in the offense zone. I mean, who on the Devils is a good line mate fit for Kovalchuk?

Add in a few merely overrated players and this series has a lot of “what are you going to get from who?” Mike Richards was a +36 total the last two years- and simply cannot be a season long “-2” playing on the top line (and a flat zero in the two key games versus the Rangers) and be considered an elite player.

Ultimately, I just think this rivalry has moved past the Brodeur hex. The Flyers no longer fear the guy- going twenty-five minutes without scoring isn’t going to mess with their heads and sticks. If anything, Brodeur is now a division opponent where familiarity breds contempt: everyone has beaten the guy, that team, repeatedly this year (five wins in six tries for Philadelphia).

Plus, the Flyers seem to have more ways to get to three goals again and again than New Jersey (better forwards, much better power play). And the Devils' big slide over the second half can be traced to their increasingly "less than average" defense- so the Flyers are probably better on the blueline too. Only the fact the Flyers are probably on their third goalie option gives the Devils hope.

But again, Brodeur isn’t the same guy. Flyers upset New Jersey in six.

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