Before last night’s Philadelphia Flyers-Buffalo Sabres match-up, I thought the Flyers were the deeper team.
But after watching them actually play the game, they seem pretty evenly matched. Buffalo wound up winning, but it could have just as easily been Philadelphia.
A lot of that was because you had two strong goalies putting on great games. Goalie Ryan Miller compensates for any depth lacked by the Sabres. And goalie Sergei Bobrovsky kept the Flyers in the game, even as they looked for offense (and ultimately couldn’t find it).
But you see where the Flyers are missing Chris Pronger, who’s not expected back until game 3 or 4.
Pronger’s a monster in both zones, able to keep the crease clear in front of his goalie, but also a legitimate threat from the point in the offensive zone, which forces him to be covered by an opponent.
Pronger, whatever you think of the ethics of his style of play, is great in transition, making him tough to play against. If he’s not taking down an opponent, he’s drawing them to him with his shot, which creates space. And last night, the Flyers didn’t see much space.
The Flyers went into this series knowing they weren’t going to beat Miller cleanly, but instead needed to create chaos in front of him. You need two things to do that effectively: bodies in front of the goalie and shots from the point. Those two actions make it very tough for goalies to gain control of rebounds. And those are also two things Pronger does well.
The Flyers are obviously a deep, talented team. Their playoff fate doesn’t necessarily rest purely on the shoulders of Pronger. But Pronger’s style of play happens to match-up very well with what the Flyers need to do to get to Ryan Miller.
Miller made 35 saves last night. Only six of those came from Flyers defenseman. And half of those six came from defenseman Andrej Meszaros.
If the Flyers want to get Miller scrambling, the rest of the Flyers defense needs to find their inner Pronger, or at least hold Buffalo off long enough for the real thing to return.