Sabres vs. Flyers Breakdown
Goalie: Miller vs. Bobrovsky. For the sake of this comparison we will leave Enroth and Boucher out of the conversation although it’s not crazy to think that either may see some time in net at some point. Looking at the season stats comparing the two it would appear to be pretty close:
|Goals Against Avg||2.59||2.59|
All things consider when looking at these stats I think you need to take into consideration how these two have played down the stretch. Miller had a fantastic March and finally seemed to help re-elevate his game back to 2010 form. Meanwhile Bobrovsky and the entire Flyers’ goalie situation will be under a microscope for the first couple of games. While the pressure is not square on the rookie’s shoulders, Buffalo would be wise to try and attack early and often to potentially rattle his confidence. Nonetheless, even with the above mentioned stats you have to give Miller the advantage. Miller has played in 40 career playoff games compared to Bobrovsky’s zero. In those 40 games Miller has a career 2.39 GAA and 91.7% save percentage and a 22-18 record. I’ll take his experience and hope the late season Ryan Miller shows up.
Defense: If Pronger comes back healthy that negates any hope the Sabres may have hoped in having the best defensemen on the ice. Pronger’s health and effectiveness need to be near 100% in order to get the most out of the Flyers defense.
|Buffalo Sabres||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Tyler Myers||Chris Pronger|
|Andrej Sekera||Kimmo Timonen|
|Steve Montador||Matt Carle|
|Chris Butler||Andrej Meszaros|
|Mike Weber||Braydon Coburn|
The Flyers defense has outscored the Sabres 168-153 (using the top six scoring defense) and are a combined +101 compared to the Sabres +37. This is the area of the Sabres game that they need to remain sound in game in and game out and not turn the puck over in their own zone and match Philly’s toughness. If Sekera can come back to be healthy where the top 4 defense can be Myers, Sekera, Butler and (hopefully solid playing) Montador the Sabres can compete. Myers needs to be a force in every game and will be looked to play a Pronger-esque series. Needless to say this group has their work cut out for them.
Advantage: Flyers although not nearly as big if Pronger isn’t healthy
Forwards: I break this down looking mostly at quantity vs. quality. I think many experts around the country will speak to the quality of talent that the Flyers possess and for those of us that have watched this Sabres team play all year know at least to some extent they will rely on at least 3 lines to give them production. Each team has two 30 goal scorers (Briere and Carter vs. Stafford and Vanek). Neither team has a player with more than 80 points, but both have 10 players with 30 or more points. The Flyers have four players with 60 or more points, including Briere. There has to be some belief that Briere is going to enjoy going against the Sabres and there’s reason to believe from our past that he’ll deliver.
Much like on defense where Myers needs to match or exceed Pronger, I believe that Vanek needs to be near the best player on the ice nightly. If he can continue with his play as he did down the stretch that will be the difference that the Sabres will need. I personally like how this group of forwards are playing right now for the Sabres although in order for them to have an advantage at these positions in this series they are going to need to get continue production from Gerbe, Ennis and most specifically, number 19 Mr. Connolly.
In all, I think that the Flyers will maintain a slight advantage heading into the series, but production from the Sabres third and fourth lines can help take control of this series.
Advantage: Flyers, Slightly
Special Teams: The Sabres have the 9th (19.4%) ranked power play compared to the Flyers 19th (16.6%) favors the Sabres significantly, but the greatest concern for fans should be that the Sabres have given up 13 shorthanded goals this year while scoring just two. Conversely, the Flyers have only allowed 5 shorthanded goals while scoring 13 (Richards and Giroux both have 3). The Sabres still maintain a slight edge on the man-advantage, but it needs to be astutely away of the Flyers in these situations and Miller is going to need to be a huge part of nullifying these opportunities.
While with the man down the Sabres and Flyers are near equals (13th and 15th) at 83% and 82.7% respectively. The Sabres have been extremely efficient in killing off their penalties down the stretch and that needs to continue. I think this is where Tim Connolly will need to make his presence felt on both the PK and PP. If he can be a difference maker at some point, the Sabres will have the advantage. Meanwhile, the Flyers will want Giroux and Carter to do the lion’s share of the work scoring while letting Briere and Mike Richards creating. The Sabres need to not have a repeat of their special teams performance from last year’s series with Boston. I like the Sabres performance down the stretch, especially on the kill to give them a slight advantage.
Coaching: Laviolette vs. Ruff. 319 career wins vs. 526 career wins. 34-26 playoff record vs. 54-40 playoff record. For the sake of brevity, this is a push and as much as it may begrudge me to say if forced to pick I may pick Laviolette on paper, but Ruff is the coach I want. He’s won 1 Stanley Cup and rode a hot spring to take the Flyers back to the Finals last year. Ruff has 1 Finals lost and 3 other conference finalist appearances. I still think Ruff is a terrific game to game manager and knows how to push his team, but unlike many where Buffalo would enjoy this as an advantage, this is just too close to call.
Sabres: Tim Connolly is the guy that the Sabres going to need to help elevate them to a team capable of winning multiple playoff series. He’s on the top line for the Sabres and on both first units of special teams. The Sabres first line has to at least match their level of play going forward and he needs to be at the top of his game on special teams. The Sabres need to maximize their PP unlike last year, but I think other players can help there and Connolly’s presence really needs to be on the PK to not let the Flyers PP unit get hot. Connolly staying healthy and playing well will bode well for the Sabres.
Flyers: Chris Pronger can be everything a Sabres fan dreams of Tyler Myers developing into. He’ll log 30 minutes in a game if needed and play on both special teams units. If he can be healthy and produce valuable close to 20 minutes a game for the Flyers it’ll be a tremendous upgrade.
What it all means: The Sabres are one of the hot upset picks. Based on their play since the turn of the calendar and the Flyers late season slump it is easy to see why many people like them to win. It becomes a whole new animal in NHL Playoff hockey and I think most importantly for the Sabres is that players like Gerbe, Ennis and Myers got a taste of it last season, and a taste for losing. If the Sabres are going to win this series it is going to need its best players to be their best players. Unsung heroes help you through stretches in the regular season, but in the playoffs it is your best players that need to carry you. That means Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Tyler Myers specifically are going to need to help carry the Sabres past the Flyers. It would be nice to see Stafford, Gerbe and Ennis continue their play, but the playoffs are a time where legends manifest themselves and it is the three aforementioned players that are going to drive the Sabres success this spring. If Pronger’s health remains questionable I like the Sabres in this series because of the Flyers goaltending concerns and the way that the Sabres lines are rolling. I also think Miller has heard the rumblings and will be at his best in the series.
This postseason feels like it has the potential to be the start of something special for the Sabres based on the youth this team has and the new ownership. It should be a good one.
Prediction: Sabres in six
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