Monday, April 07, 2008

Breaking Down the First Round: Offense

We've got a bit of time on our hands thanks to the fact that we'll have to wait until Friday for our series to start. I guess it's been four long years...we can wait another day or two, right?

So to kill a bit of time and sort out this matchup we'll be breaking down the various pieces that go into building a championship team and comparing the Caps to the Flyers, a different piece every day. It all leads up to the big event on Friday when the Flyers travel to DC for Game 1 - which will oddly coincide with the first ever Cheap Seats Playoff Gameday Preview Extravaganza!

Up first...Offensive Firepower.

Caps' Leading Scorers:

The Big Guns - Ovechkin, Semin, Green
The Hidden Treasures - Laich, Kozlov
The Dishers - Backstrom, Poti, Fedorov

Flyers' Leading Scorers:

The Big Guns - Briere, Prospal, Knuble
The Hidden Treasures - Upshall, Umberger
The Dishers - Richards, Timonen, Jones

Biscuits in the Basket: When it comes to a balanced attack, the Flyers seem to have found a magic formula. They have seven players with 20+ goals and no one player with more than 33; assists are equally close and even more widespread. For the Caps, the addition of secondary scoring beyond just the top line has been a slow one but in recent weeks it's picked up and it's been a big reason for their winning ways of late. Still, the bulk of the goal-scoring is carried out by Ovechkin, the bulk of the assists coming from Backstrom. Advantage: Flyers

Facing Off: The Caps continue to assert their dominance in the faceoff circle under the capable hands of centers Boyd Gordon and Dave Steckel, and have gotten even better with the shrewd addition of veteran center Sergei Fedorov. During the regular season they cracked the top 10, sitting 8th overall with a 51.2% success rate; of the teams bound for the playoffs they're 4th, trailing only Detroit, the Rangers and Ottawa. Meanwhile the Flyers were just under 50% effective in the regular season, good enough for 20th in the league and 11th of the 16 playoff teams. Advantage: Capitals

Shooting Gallery: Washington's tendency to pelt opposition goaltenders with a high volume of shots was aided immensely by Ovechkin's league-leading 446 shots on goal, but the team in general still ranked 6th in the league. Their average of 31 shots per game edges out the Flyers' average shot output of 28.8 shots per game, ranked 16th in the league during the regular season. Advantage: Capitals

Score First, Score Often: Both teams are clicking right along, scoring just under 3 goals per game with the Flyers holding the slightest of margins at 2.99 G/G versus the Caps at 2.90. However, the Caps have a better record when scoring first, managing to hold the lead in 70% of those games as compared to the Flyers, who blow it a little more to win only 67%. Advantage: Even

Winning a Period at a Time: It's always easier to play with a lead, and the Caps have become notorious for jumping out early - they were the fifth best first period team this season with 75 early markers, ten more than 15th place Philadelphia. It's in the second period, however, where the Flyers were not only prolific but dominant. Their 93 goals in the middle frame tied the Avalanche as best in the league, while the Caps sat at 15th with 78. And in the tiebreaker period, the third? Philly picked up 84 goals (good enough for 7th), the Caps, 78. Advantage: Flyers (slightly)

O from the D: The big offensive weapon on the Flyers blueline is All-Star Kimmo Timonen; for the Caps, it's Should-Have-Been-All-Star Mike Green. Greenie is certainly the bigger offensive threat than any one of the Flyers defensemen, though, with his mobility and slickness that lets him literally skate circles around the other team's D. His 18 goals are twice as many as any of the Flyers; after him, though, there's a significant dropoff and the stats get a little closer.

Both the Caps and Flyers have gotten at least a goal from every blueliner logging significant ice time this season (read: more than 30 games); both get significant assist totals out of their defensive corps, as well, with the Flyers edging the Caps at 115 assists from the blue line compared to 114 for DC. Advantage: Capitals by a Green hair

Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, these are two tremendously explosive offensive teams - which should make for quite a workout for the boys in net and along the blueline on both sides of the ice. Over the course of the regular season the Flyers scored 245 goals, besting the Caps by just 7. While Philly scored by committee, the Caps depended on a steady diet of Ovechkin with a side order of secondary scoring to help him out.

For the Flyers, this even scoring touch is both good and bad. On the one hand, they can roll a number of offensive threats out at any given time, and you always have to be watching for the late guy in. Their forwards are fast and opportunistic, pouncing on turnovers to create a quick odd-man rush before the defense can recover. On the other hand, however, they have no one legitimate superstar scoring threat. They have a lot of 20-30 goal scorers but no one consistent offensive threat to explode when it's most needed.

The way the Caps score, it's the complete opposite. Ovechkin's 65 goals and 47 assists accounted for almost half of the total offense this year - which again, has good and bad aspects. Bad news first. Shut down Ovechkin, Kozlov and Backstrom and you seriously cripple the Caps' offense. Good news? Many have tried to shut down that line...and many have failed, hence the 65 goals and 47 assists from Ovechkin alone. Plus you do have guys like Green, Laich, Semin and Fedorov to pick up the slack.

Overall advantage: None. These teams can both shoot the puck, and this one will come down to defense and goaltending.

More on that tomorrow.

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