After taking down Tampa Bay this past Saturday, the Flyers finished with the first seed in the Eastern Conference. They couldn’t have played much better against their conference foes, as they won all three games in dominating fashion. So far, Philadelphia has picked up where they left off when the season abruptly came to a close in the spring.
After bringing the intensity and grabbing the first seed, the orange and black now look to their first round series opponent, the Montreal Canadiens.
I don’t think anyone thought that the Canadiens would sneak into the playoffs against an offensively superior Penguins team, but here we are. Turns out the #5 vs. #12 seed series in the play-in round was a death matchup, but the Canadiens outplayed the Penguins and deserved to move on. With a regular season record of 31-31-9 making them the 24th best team in the NHL, they are the 8th seed in this year’s playoffs. 2020, what a year so far.
There are a few takeaways from that series that I think the Flyers will be focusing on. First, the performance of Carey Price. Throughout the series and especially in the series-clinching Game 4, Price looked really focused and his vision through traffic was excellent. Look at Price here, never loses track of the puck and has great movement across:
With other goalies emerging in the past few seasons such as Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, Price has been on a mediocre Canadiens team and basically out of the league spotlight. That has not changed the fact that Price’s positioning and calmness around the crease is still among the best in the NHL. The Flyers will need to utilize players like Sean Couturier and James Van Riemsdyk to provide good traffic and deflection opportunities.
This is a great series for a player like JVR to try and find his game, MTL will most likely try to make it physical and JVR can help the Flyers counter that. When he plays with that edge, he becomes way more dangerous to the opposition.
The Pens series also made evident that although MTL may not have the firepower or big names like other hockey clubs, they have a real solid core of defensemen. Canadiens captain Shea Weber and Jeff Petry lead the Montreal defensive unit. Another notable defenseman is Ben Chiarot, who had a strong series against Pittsburgh and was bullying Penguin forwards in front of his net and clearing space.
The Flyers are a much faster team than in prior years, with speedy forecheckers like Nicholas Aube-Kubel, Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton just to name a few. Having a strong forecheck opens up everything for a team, forcing a turnover can result in a goal at any moment. I believe that if the Flyers match the Canadiens physically and try not to let Weber or Petry have any easy shifts, the series could be a shorter rather than longer.
This matchup is interesting, as I believe in hockey playoffs literally anything can happen (see 2010 Flyers vs. Boston ECSF). I think the Flyers and Alain Vigneault are smart enough not to underestimate the Canadiens, but at the same time if they continue playing like they have been this series could go five games or possibly a straight sweep.
This could also be a great series to try and get the powerplay back online as well. Their PP looked good at times in round robin play, but in playoff hockey those powerplay opportunities can be really important.
Vigneault also announced earlier today that he has decided whether Shayne Gostisbehere or Robert Hagg will start. However, he’s not telling. Personally, I would like to see Ghost after how good he looked against Tampa Bay, he’s a good player to have shooting through traffic.
I would imagine Jake Voracek should be back on the first line tomorrow evening alongside captain Claude Giroux. The depth really shined in round robin play, so I will definitely have my eyes on the first line.
By no means am I worried about Giroux nor should anyone, he’s too good of a player, and everything else he does for this team besides scoring is key in what they do.
Game 1 is tomorrow night at 8:00 PM. Carter Hart looks to make his first playoff start a win. Lets Go Flyers!
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