Friday, April 11, 2008

Breaking Down the First Round: Intangibles

We've talked about the things you can measure, the stats and numbers and things that come in neat, pretty packages. But what about those qualities that every playoff team needs that you can't necessarily quantify with digits? It's often these little things that set the contenders apart from the teams that get swept...although they're often harder to pin down. Time to break down Intangibles:

Follow the Leader: It's in the postseason that the true leaders in a locker room often emerge, but going into the playoffs with a solid leadership core will also be important. As young as the Caps are, they have this area pretty well covered.

You have captain Chris Clark who could be returning from injury any day and whose steady hand and calming influence has been huge for this team these last few years. You have Olie Kolzig, wise veteran and backstopper in a Stanley Cup Final, a leader on and off the ice. You have Sergei Fedorov, living legend and future hall-of-famer; he speaks, you listen, end of story. Then there are guys like Matt Bradley, Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Poti...guys in various stages of their career who lead by example and are willing to provide a face and a voice for the team when needed.

As for the Flyers, they've got one of the best leaders in the league in Jason Smith and Mike Richards seems to be stepping up...but beyond that there have been questions among both fans and the media about how much leadership there is in that room. There are some veterans, sure, guys who have been to the show and guys who have won at all different levels - it just seems like people are questioning how active those veterans have been down the stretch. To be fair, of course, I know very little about how the Flyers operate and I've never personally been behind the locker room doors so...if any Flyers fans are kicking around here, feel free to enlighten me. Advantage: Capitals

Learning the Ropes: It's been said many times - playoff experience cannot be underestimated once you get into the show. And for all the talk about the Caps having an inexperienced postseason lineup, the Flyers' roster isn't exactly teeming with playoff vets either. Neither goaltender has much playoff experience (in fact Biron has none; Huet has a whole 6 games). Neither coach has been in the NHL playoffs, although both have led their teams to Calder Cup championships in recent years. Each team has Stanley Cup champs on their roster - although I'll take Fedorov over Hatcher any day.

But when it comes down to it, the Caps have 15 players playing their first playoff game tonight, the Flyers have 9. Rookie coaches, semi-rookie superstars, AHL championships... Advantage: Even (or maybe I'll give a slight edge to the Caps...because I can).

Let's Get Physical: Much has been made about how tough the Flyers are to play, how they are the reincarnation of the Broad Street Bullies, blah blah blah. Yes, they're physical. Yes, they ran into some disciplinary "issues" early in the season. Yes...it's Philly. But just as the Flyers are not a team of goons, the Caps are not exactly a team to be taken lightly - and it's something that hasn't been brought up enough.

Everyone talks about Ovechkin and Backstrom being targeted by the Flyers, and they probably will be - the Flyers would be smart to target them (cleanly, by the way...cleanly). In Ovechkin's case, though, he isn't shy about hitting or being hit. In fact, he seems to derive energy from physical play and actually ends up targeting those sent out to target him. As for Backstrom, he may not be the biggest or strongest guy out there but nothing in the way he plays suggests to me that he ever shies away from the rough stuff. We've seen him go into the corners with guys much bigger than him and come out with the puck; we've also seen him do that and fall down, so it obviously depends on the day.

And then the rest. Bradley, Brashear, Laich, Gordon, Laing, Steckel, Erskine, Morrisonn, Jurcina, Poti...any of them seem like softies? The Flyers have more fighting majors...the Caps have more controlled physicality. Advantage: Capitals, just for the controlled part alone

Momentum: Flyers fans would have me remind you that while the Caps were winning their last 7, Philly went 7-1-1 in their last nine against "tougher" opponents. That's...great. However, it isn't just the final seven games for the Caps - it was the final seven in a row that was part of winning eleven of their last twelve that was part of winning fourteen of their last eighteen that was part of going 37-17-1 since Thanksgiving. It took them until the final day of their season to get into the playoffs because of the hole they'd dug, but the Caps have consistently and calmly been one of the best teams in the league since late November. Advantage: Capitals

Consistency: Fail to show up one night in the playoffs and it can be devastating. Fail to bounce back from a bad night...and it can be season-ending. The Flyers have suffered from inconsistency all year long, putting together small winning streaks only to have things derailed by a losing streak - it's why they had to struggle to make the postseason in the first place, after spending part of the early months holding down the top spot in the Atlantic. They even went on a lengthy 10-game losing streak just two months ago, and even dropped games to teams in the "weak" Southeast division - Florida, Tampa and yes, the Caps.

Meanwhile after Boudreau took over the helm the Caps practically eliminated losing streaks altogether and didn't lose back to back games in regulation until "the lost weekend" against Boston and the Pens. It was supposed to derail their season - they responded by winning eleven of their last twelve games. Advantage: Capitals

Bottom Line
So many of these things are hard to predict based on regular season alone, and that's exactly what these are - predictions. Who knows what leaders will emerge, how physical this series will be, which veterans will prove the most beneficial. It's the beauty of the playoffs, the unknowns. On any given night there can be an unsung hero or a surprise outcome. In the end I like the Caps in this one only because there is something truly special going on here that I just don't see in a Philly team that is very talented in their own right.

If the little things win the day, the Caps have those little things and more in spades.

Overall Advantage
: Caps all the way, baby!


3 comments:

dmg said...

Check out Mike Vogel's recent post about the physical play (comes from a reader of his blog I believe:

There is a lot of talk - on your show yesterday and around the NHL world - about the physicality of the Flyers team…and the intimidation factor. So I decided to trudge over to NHL.com’s stat engine and see just how big a hit machine the orange and black are. Though stats on hits are not always entirely accurate, the truth is really revealing. The top six Caps hitters dominate the Flyers top 6. And as a team, we out-hit them 930 to 633…nearly 300 more hits.

Ovechkin leads the way with 220…more than 70 more hits than Jason Smith, Philly’s top gun. In fact, we have three players that have more hits than their top guy. I think the issue with Philly being perceived as physical has more to do with the rash of cheap shots and isuspensions from early in the season. Based on the NHL’s stats – it’s Philly who should be watching out for us…not the other way around.

Peace,

Danny

1 Alexander Ovechkin: 220
2 Matt Cook: 198
3 Milan Jurcina: 151
4 Donald Brashear: 133
5 Matt Bradley: 126
6 John Erskine: 102

1 Jason Smith: 142
2 Scott Hartnell: 110
3 Mike Richards: 110
4 Derian Hatcher:106
5 Scottie Upshall: 86
6 Braydon Coburn: 79

I'd give the edge to the Caps

CapsChick said...

Yeah, I saw that - I actually linked to it in my last "breaking down" post so I figured I'd skip it this time, but yes...amazingly we are the harder hitting team! Ha, so take that Philly ;)

Chris & Sarah said...

The thing I've seen with Backstrom is that he doesn't shy away from taking a hit, but you still have to be able to make contact with him in the first place.

His hockey sense isn't just limited to getting the puck to Ovie or whoever is open, but he can see the opposition coming at him and is able to move and shift at the last second to make the guy miss.

There's a lot of truth in the Comcast commercial where he's getting his peripheral vision checked out.