Frank Seravalli: Flyers-Penguins a fight to the depth

Rookie Brayden Schenn had 18 points, but six came in last seven games.
Rookie Brayden Schenn had 18 points, but six came in last seven games. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: April 09, 2012

PITTSBURGH - When the puck drops on the Flyers' opening-round Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night, the Penguins' Sidney Crosby likely will be lined up across from Claude Giroux.

On the next shift, odds are that the Flyers will send Sean Couturier onto the ice to mark Evgeni Malkin, with the goal to make the likely Hart Trophy winner a nonfactor in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

That will leave the Flyers' two other lines the freedom to do damage.

The Flyers' secondary scoring will be one of the three keys to victory over the Penguins, along with Ilya Bryzgalov and the penalty kill.

We already know that the Flyers' top line - with Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr - can score. They combined for a ridiculous 84 goals, 130 assists and 214 points.

On the power play, Hartnell posted the league's second-most goals with 16 - second only to Pittsburgh's James Neal's 18. Giroux netted more points on the power play (38) than any other player in the NHL.

Banking your playoff hopes on one line, or one player, for scoring is a recipe for disaster.

"Your success depends on having balanced scoring and a balanced lineup," Hartnell said. "We've been disciplined, we've had great defense, and 'Bryz' has been playing awesome. But we've also been rolling lines.

"You can't rely on one guy to get two or three goals that way. You need everyone going. For us, that's what we're going to have to do. We need a shutdown line and then everyone else scoring."

The Penguins have scoring depth. See: Pascal Dupuis' 17-game scoring streak, which he extended on Saturday against the Flyers for the second time in a week. Chris Kunitz added career highs in points (61) and goals (26). Jordan Staal chipped in an even 25 goals and 25 assists.

The Flyers scored just 18 fewer goals than Pittsburgh this season. And they didn't have the benefit of a 50-goal scorer like Malkin, whose goal against the Flyers on Saturday made him the sixth Russian in NHL history to net 50 goals in one season.

The Flyers are well-equipped in their own right.

The regulars are obvious. Top playoff performer Danny Briere, whose health could be an issue, has 96 points in 97 career postseason games. Wayne Simmonds, after posting 28 goals in the regular season, will make Marc-Andre Fleury's life difficult in front of the net. Matt Read scored more goals (24) than any other rookie.

The biggest wild card, though, is Brayden Schenn. You could make the argument that he was actually the Flyers' best player throughout the final two or three weeks of the regular season - after finally passing Chris Pronger in scoring in mid-March. He's the player few are expecting big things from after a mostly disappointing rookie campaign.

Schenn, 20, finished with just 18 points, but six of them came in the final seven games. He will make his postseason debut in his first attempt, well before his older brother, Luke, who already has four full seasons under his belt with Toronto.

"You've got to ramp your game up for the playoffs," Schenn said. "For me, I've gotten an opportunity and I'm jut trying to make the most of it. I'm getting good minutes."

Schenn, widely regarded as the top prospect not playing in the NHL before this season, said he knows that Peter Laviolette is counting on him to produce.

"You need other guys to step up," Schenn said. "It's going to be a battle out there, there's a lot of bad blood and they've obviously got a lot of talent and skill players. You can't just rely on the star players on the team. That's what wins you hockey games, that's what wins you series. It's the depth of the team that helps you win. We're going to need that."

Still, the bulk of the Flyers' secondary scoring crop is made up of rookies. Yes, they've gotten a league-best 64 goals from first-year players this season, but one quarter of the 20 players in the Flyers' Game 1 lineup have never appeared in a playoff game. Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Zac Rinaldo have skated in a combined 18 postseason contests.

Hartnell says the naivete that produced a successful regular season will make them shine under the gleam of Lord Stanley's mug.

"You need everyone going," Hartnell said. "I've got a lot of confidence in these young guys, maybe their inexperience will help. They will go out there and have fun."

It's what we're all waiting to see.


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com or @DNFlyers on Twitter. Read his blog, Frequent Flyers, at www.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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