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Flyers-Capitals Preview

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I thought about working on an in-depth analysis of the Flyers’ roster as a preview to the upcoming series.  But then I realized that everyone is over-thinking the do’s and don’ts of playoff hockey at present.  From experience levels to ability to stats – it’s almost hashed to death.

The playoffs rarely reflect regular-season statistics or results.  Success happens when stars elevate themselves to new heights and role players find ways to distinguish themselves.  So instead of reassessing the major movers and shakers for each squad, I’d like to a highlight one or two lesser-known factors that could spell the difference between saving time on that morning shave and starting summer vacation in April.

Scottie Upshall has received mention from hockey pundits lately because he scored against both the Devils and the Penguins after John Stevens benched him a week ago.  My advice: ignore the comments.  Upshall’s most significant contribution to the Flyers comes through his pairing with Jeff Carter.  I have trouble discerning whether Upshall’s speed frees Carter to attempt creative offensive plays or Upshall’s active yapping spurs Carter emotionally to step up.  All I know is that Carter skates with more spark in his step when Upshall is his winger. 

Unfortunately, Upshall tends to be sloppy defensively, often taking himself out of position by hitting anything in sight.  Mistakes in your own end usually result in center ice faceoffs during the postseason.  Upshall must be solid on both sides of the puck to be effective against the Capitals.

Lasse Kukkonen barely cracked the lineup for much of the season until Hatcher broke his ankle while blocking a shot.  Since then Kukkonen has been highly involved in the game whenever Stevens puts him on the ice.  Beyond shot blocking (4th with 111 shots in 53 games), the Swede began asserting himself physically and even became entangled with Sidney Crosby last week in Pittsburgh.  Though not a particularly offensive-minded d-man, Kukkonen jumped into rushes several times.  He’s also seeing time on the penalty kill.  It’s a big jump from the coach’s doghouse to special teams opportunities.  Team defense will be vital if the Flyers want to advance. 

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