In advance of Sunday's opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, SB Nation New York will break down the matchup. This morning we'll break down the defense; we'll touch on the goaltending this afternoon.
The Philadelphia Flyers have one of the best offenses in the league, but the defensive battle between the two teams is an almost even battle.
Both teams have offensive skill along the blue line, with the Flyers trotting out names like Kimmo Timmonen and Matt Carle. Marek Zidlicky is the Devils main point producer, a midseason pick-up that gave New Jersey the puck-moving defenseman they searched for throughout the season.
Both teams are also willing to block shots and clog up the shooting lanes. Forwards won't have much room in the offensive zone, as the two stout defenses will provide plenty of challenges.
After losing Chris Pronger for the season, the Flyers blueline underwent some significant change. The team dressed 13 different defensemen during the regular season, and finished seventh in shots allowed. That's a great number considering the inconsistent pairings throughout the season.
In the absence of Pronger, several players stepped up. None were better than Timonen, who finished with the best Corsi rating among Flyers defensemen. His plus-10.34 rating was the highest by far, and showed the positive impact he had when out on the ice. It's not a surprise he finished the regular season with 43 points, which included 39 assists. He faced the toughest competition, and will be heavily relied on against New Jersey's top line.
Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn also finished with positive Corsi ratings. Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossman, who both were acquired during the season, were the only two with negative numbers.
Timmonen, Carle and Kubina will provide the offense for Philadelphia along the blueline. Despite Coburn's four assists, he's more of a physical force, and won't be shy to throw the body around.
New Jersey's blueline remained fairly stable throughout the regular season. The return of Bryce Salvador and a full season of Anton Volchenkov helped New Jersey finish second in the league in shots allowed. Those two have no fear, stepping in front of shots and playing physical along the boards. There were only minor changes, including switching rookie Adam Larsson with fellow first-year defensemen Peter Harrold. Mark Fayne and Andy Greene round out the defense, with both players contributing solid play in either zone.
Five of New Jersey's six regular defensemen (50 or more games played) posted positive Corsi ratings. Larsson, who hasn't played this postseason, led all blueliners in that category. Fayne and Greene, who faced the toughest competition according to the ratings, each finished with plus ratings. Even Volchenkov, who collected just 11 points during the regular season, finished with a plus-1.56 rating. The only defenseman who finished in the red was Salvador, who doesn't have the offensive skill to positively bump his Corsi rating towards the green.
The Devils don't have much offense from their blueline. Zidlicky isn't afraid to shoot, and is one of the best passers among the defenders. Others, like Fayne and Greene, pick and choose their spots to be aggressive. Even Volchenkov will hammer away from time to time. But the defense isn't going to take risks to start the offense.
The Flyers blueline has the numbers, but the Devils are sneaky good. While the numbers trend toward the Flyers, the actual skill is much closer. Expect these two bluelines to put up an even battle throughout the series.