The final piece of our preview puzzle. The Hawks have not seen a team with this much depth on the frontline since...well, last year's Conference final. The Preds barely had any forwards, the Canucks had the Sedins, a hurting Ryan Kesler and the three forwards that comprise Kyle Wellwood. The Sharks, once Ryane Clowe and his extra "e" were exposed and Devin Setoguchi playing as if he'd had a major case of sex legs, one line that got split up and taken out of their game. That simply won't happen here. The Flyers roll three lines that can hurt you, and it's time we had a closer look. After the jump in 3...2...1....
#12 / Left Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Feb 29, 1980
|2009 - Simon Gagne||58||17||23||40||-1||47||5||0||4||0||183||9.3|
#18 / Center / Philadelphia Flyers
Feb 11, 1985
|2009 - Mike Richards||82||31||31||62||-2||79||13||1||3||0||237||13.1|
#17 / Center / Philadelphia Flyers
Jan 01, 1985
|2009 - Jeff Carter||74||33||28||61||2||38||11||2||6||0||319||10.3|
Where our nightmares begin. Now, I should mention that this might not be the way Peter Laviolette decides to line these guys up. If Danny Briere struggles in the middle on the second line, he and Carter could switch putting Carter in his customary center spot. But this is how the lined up when Carter came back from injury, so we'll go with this for now. Thinking about these three guys for too long will make you vomit. Both Carter and Gagne have put up 45+ goals in a season, so Dan McNeil's contention in the Tribune today that the Flyers look like the Predators on paper is patently ridiculous. Carter especially has one of the quickest releases of anyone not named Ovechkin or Semin, and can easily pick the corners above the hunched shoulder of Antti Niemi if he's allowed space. Gagne is what Patrick Sharp would be as a winger if we pumped him full of HGH. He ghosts into scoring areas, has a lethal shot, and is a foot-in-the-ass penalty killer. Mike Richards is Jonathan Toews if Toews had had a bad childhood. He's a little more physical than Toews (he knocked Krejci out, though that did lead to a goal but did change that series), a little nastier, but maybe doesn't have quite the scoring touch, though his 82 points last year might speak against that. But this guy will eat your heart, Magua. He and Toews were linemates in the Olympics and you saw the utter havoc that wreaked. Another excellent PK'er, my joke all week has been that Toews and Richards will probably get in a straight-up knife fight at center ice by Game 2, such is both of their desires.
However, the one thing we can key on is that this line may also double as their best checking line. Giroux and Briere are not stellar in their own end, and Richards is. If Laviolette has to use Richards to counter one of the Hawks scorers, and thus reduce his time in the other end, the Hawks will benefit. But Keith and Seabrook will be seeing lots of these guys, and chances are they won't like the view. It's hard to imagine they'll keep these guys down for the whole series, because unlike the HTML line we just saw, they don't shirk from the occasion (well, Carter has been known to but doesn't look like it this year). Also, Gagne and Carter are coming off injuries, so they might not be totally healthy, but that hasn't mattered yet, and it might not.
#48 / Center / Philadelphia Flyers
Oct 06, 1977
|2009 - Danny Briere||75||26||27||53||-2||71||8||0||1||0||193||13.5|
#22 / Left Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Oct 06, 1983
|2009 - Ville Leino||55||6||5||11||-8||10||1||0||2||0||77||7.8|
#19 / Left Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Apr 18, 1982
|2009 - Scott Hartnell||81||14||30||44||-6||155||8||0||4||0||171||8.2|
Sadly, there isn't much of a drop-off here. While we can't be sure where Briere will line up, the Hawks will have to be aware of him. He loves to shoot high, which again makes me urpy. He's having a hell of a playoff, but he'll never appear in the same sentence with "gritty". Briere can be exposed in his own zone, especially if he's in the pivot. McClure and I are both convinced a couple of hard hits from Hammer and we may see the last of him, but we don't know that. He's lethal on the power play when he has more space, so the Hawks have to stay out of the box. Great around the net in scrambles too, so Niemi is going to have to keep those rebounds to a minimum. Ville Leino is yet another player I've motherfucked right across the wire. I couldn't stop laughing at how the next hall of famer in line for the Wings totally flamed out and was traded for the box of pucks that is O.K. Tollefson. He wouldn't even be in the lineup had it not been for the raft of injuries the Flyers suffered, but he carved out his own spot. He's got 12 points in only 13 games. But again, toilet-paper soft. The Hawks can hit this guy and make him less effective. The problem with that is Scott Hartnell floating around. For the two years previous to this one, Hartnell was a total stone bitch. Big, nasty, scoring touch, determined. But he's had his struggles this year. But he still worries me, and we all remember the way he complete horsedicked Sopel to tie the game in March. He's capable of that. But he's also capable of mental meltdowns and wearing out a path to the box. Still, he'll get his looks at the undersized Campbell and Hammer, and he could cause problems if he's got his head on straight and brings back that granite-cunt form.
#28 / Right Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Jan 12, 1988
|2009 - Claude Giroux||82||16||31||47||-9||23||8||0||2||0||145||11.0|
James van Riemsdyk
#21 / Left Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
May 04, 1989
|2009 - James van Riemsdyk||78||15||20||35||-1||30||4||0||6||0||173||8.7|
#45 / Right Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Apr 13, 1978
|2009 - Arron Asham||72||10||14||24||-2||126||0||0||2||0||91||11.0|
The line that's been giving me the most creeps, for the depth they provide. Claude Giroux is simply a stud, and headed for very big things. As I said on the podcast last night, if the Versteeg-at-center experiment had gone as well as possible, and even more so, he'd be Claude Giroux. Just sick hands, moves, everything. He's going to beat one of our guys clean at some point. Van Riemsdyk very well could have been a Hawk had the ping pong balls dropped they way they were supposed to, and there were many fans who wanted Tallon to take him anyway (you know who you are). A big body who only got to the league full time this year, James is still pretty raw. But he can move, so if the Hawks try to match his size with Sopel that could see him in the trail technique. Arron Asham is the Flyer who you will most likely hate the most by the time this series is over. Dude looks like someone who'd unabashedly hit on your girlfriend at the bar in front of you (while the rest of the Flyers are vomiting in the alley behind). He will annoy, incite, provoke, my way your way anything goes tonight. But he's got some scoring touch, so basically he's Burish if Burish could hit a bull in the ass with a snow shovel. In my opinion, the key for Coach Q is to get Sharp and Hossa out against these guys as much as possible, as they can be exploited in their end. But give Giroux space in yours, and you're asking for it. Giroux has also had a torrid time in the faceoff dot, so keep an eye on that.
In fact, other than Blair Betts on the fourth line none of the Flyers are lighting it up at draws. Neither are the Hawks, but they just finished playing the two best faceoff teams around. If the Hawks can dominate there, it will help a lot and keep Flyer forwards in an area they do not excel.
Past the top 9, Blair Betts, Ian Laperriere, and Darrel Powe have been skating on the 4th line. While they won't see the ice much, they do get more than the 4th lines of the teams we just saw. Betts in a nails little player, and Laperriere could start a fight in an empty room (though he's wearing a full shield these days after taking not one but two shots to the face. Made him prettier though).
All of these guys forecheck as if their balls were on fire, so the Hawks are going to have to be real tight with the puck as turnovers in the defensive 3rd are going to go in the net, for real this time. But all their great two-way players are on the top line, so if the Hawks can keep that line from going nuts, they could find some joy against the rest. But it will not be easy.