Stanley Cup Finals Preview - Flyers' Defensemen
Moving along in our series preview, we now make our way to the Flyers' defensemen- a group as deep as the Hawks blueliners, but with differing strengths and weaknesses...and one giant six-and-a-half foot problem for Blackhawks forwards. Get some knowledge dropped on yourself after the jump...
#20 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Oct 10, 1974
|2009 - Chris Pronger||82||10||45||55||22||79||5||0||2||0||175||5.7|
#25 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Sep 25, 1984
|2009 - Matt Carle||80||6||29||35||19||16||2||0||1||0||137||4.4|
All talk of the Flyers' blueline begins and ends with Chris Pronger. The instantaneous-as-soon-as-he's-eligible Hall of Famer and former Norris and Hart trophy winner has done exactly what he was brought to Philly to do, which is to terrorize eastern conference forwards, log heavy minutes, and contribute substantially offensively. While his quickness is starting to slip in his mid thirties, there are still very few defensemen in the game right now that affect play the way he does. He's ruthless physically, keys transitional offense with exceptional passes (if not necessarily skating the puck ahead), and has a bomb of a shot from the blue line. He has been partnered with Matt Carle, a young journeyman of an offensive defenseman who's had stops in San Jose and Tampa Bay prior to Philly. While not as imposing physically (and who the fuck is, really?) as Pronger, Carle is positionally sound in his own zone while having a fair amount of offensive polish, and his numbers clearly reflect that now having the benefit of playing along side that pituitary case.
While much of the press has been focusing on the matchup between the two behemoths of Pronger and Dustin Byfuglien (to whom Pronger is still giving up 40 lbs, by the way), to me, if I'm Peter Laviolette, I go ahead and let everyone, including the Blackhawks' coaching staff, think that's what's going to happen. While Byfuglien is definitely a bulldozer in front of opposing netminders when he feels like it, everything on that line gets funneled through Patrick Kane. Without 20 Cent, Buff doesn't get the chances he does, so don't be surprised if Pronger is sent out there to make Kane's life completely fucking miserable every shift rather than get into a slugfest with Byfuglien. Pronger specializes in bullying those smaller than he is (which is pretty much everybody), and if Mike Richards and Jonathan Toews are going to be in a stare down all series, if I were coaching, I'd be more than willing to let Carle be overmatched physically by Buff in exchange for Pronger perforating Kaner, limiting his time and space to even get the puck to the net where Byfuglien can be effective.
However, there are ways to get to this pair. As was mentioned, Carle isn't a hulking beast, and can be overmatched physically against Buff, and likely even Toews in one-on-one battles. Additionally, Pronger isn't as quick as he used to be, so if the Flyers continue to play the uptempo game that Laviolette likes, Hawk forwards should be able to get to the outside on him, and can negate his huge reach by a chip-and-chase game at the Flyer line...just as long as they get to that puck before he does.
#44 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Mar 18, 1975
|2009 - Kimmo Timonen||82||6||33||39||-2||50||1||2||1||0||121||5.0|
#5 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Feb 27, 1985
|2009 - Braydon Coburn||81||5||14||19||-6||54||1||0||0||0||122||4.1|
Things don't drop off much from there with the Flyers' second pair, comprising of another giant and an Olympian. The Flyers acquired Braydon Coburn from the Thrashers for Alexei Zhitnik two years ago, and it's one of the primary reasons Don Waddell isn't their GM anymore. Coburn is only an inch shorter than Pronger, and clocks in at the same listed weight of 220 lbs. However, Coburn doesn't use his physical stature in nearly the same way Pronger does, relying on his range and reach to cover defenders, as he moves exceptionally well for a big man, though many believe he could be far more physical. Similarly, his partner Kimmo Timonen is a positionally sound defender and very quick, but severely undersized and relatively uninterested in much physical play either in the corners or in front of the net. And unlike Dan Boyle or Brian Rafalski, for an undersized d-man, Timonen does indeed have a clue in his own end, at least positionally despite his physical limitations. At the other end of the ice, while Coburn has still yet to totally figure out what his role is offensively, Timonen is one of the smoothest power play quarterbacks in the league, and won't hesitate for a second to sneak in down low, either at even strength or with the advantage. And both can log very heavy minutes in all situations, with Coburn averaging 24 minutes and Timonen averaging 26.
While one could look at those regular season numbers and think that the pair could be there for the taking with the minuses they carried, both are significantly on the plus side of the ledger to this point, with Coburn at a +7, and Timonen at a +6. However, to this point, the Flyers as a defensive group have yet to face a team as deep as the Hawks here in the playoffs, and these two could be the statistical beneficiaries of playing against teams that were only one line deep. In the finals, this pair figure to see a lot of Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Troy Brouwer - three players never known to shy away from physical contact or play down low, which could lead one to believe that the Hawks' second line will give the pair all they can handle.
#2 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Mar 11, 1983
|2009 - Lukas Krajicek||50||1||2||3||-14||35||0||0||0||0||42||2.4|
#77 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Mar 17, 1987
|2009 - Ryan Parent||48||1||2||3||-14||20||0||0||0||0||27||3.7|
Things drop off drastically for the Flyers' third pair of Krajicek and Parent. Laviolette has been severely limiting their minutes, and he's able to do so because of the stamina of his top two pairs. While neither is a total goatfuck when on the ice, they're both fairly inconsistent and have all of the typical shortcomings that you'd find in a 5th and 6th defensemen. Expect to see them only when the other four need a breather, in a penalty killing situation where Parent is most effective, or once the series shifts to Philadelphia where Laviolette can get them out for the occasional shift against Eager and Burish.