One Flyers rookie said he’s been waiting his whole life to play in an NHL playoff game. Needless to say, this is one experience none of us will forget.
This Flyers have the youngest group of defensemen among the East’s top teams. What will it mean to have no one in the stands? Former NHL d-man Chris Therien said there are positives and negatives to playing in an empty arena.
— Ed Barkowitz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There’s plenty of grit and experience in the defensive groups among the Eastern Conference’s top teams. Except, that is, for the Flyers.
Only two of the Flyers’ top seven defensemen — Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun — have ever won a playoff series. Phil Myers has never played a playoff game. Robert Hagg has played just two. The only playoff experience for Myers, Hagg, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere is the first-round loss to Pittsburgh two years ago.
Braun, who has played in 84 postseason games in his 10-year career, said the other day that his first playoff game was miserable. He was a 24-year-old rookie filling in for an injured teammate as San Jose took on Los Angeles in Game 2 of a 2011 first-round game.
“[That] first experience probably didn’t go as well as I hoped,” Braun recalled of a 4-0 Sharks loss. “I was a little panicked with the puck. I didn’t make the simple plays that I needed to make. I was one and done on that playoff run my first year.”
Braun was scratched for the remainder of the postseason as the Sharks made it to the conference finals.
But if there was ever a postseason to try to make a deep run with a young defense corps, this is it. There will be no more travel. No extraneous headaches such as ticket requests. Empty stands are also a benefit.
“The younger guys,” Braun continued, “they shouldn’t have a problem. … Those away crowds and the extra pressure won’t be there.”
Therien, now an NBC Sports Philadelphia analyst, played in 104 playoff games as a defenseman in his 11-year career. He said the empty arenas will be a double-edged sword.
“Any time you’re on the ice and you’re thinking about just the game itself and no other distractions, I think it’s going to be easier — especially making a play,” Therien explained. “But you’re going to have to make sure you’re playing playoff hockey, feeling that intensity. You’re going to have to create that yourself and understand while you are playing that ‘holy [smoke], this is a playoff game.’ I don’t want to hear that there’s never been anything like it. These are the circumstances.”
Five of Boston’s top six defensemen have played at least 20 games. For Tampa, Pittsburgh and Washington, that number is four. The Flyers have two: Niskanen and Braun. Provorov, Gostisbehere, Sanheim, Myers and Hagg have played in 18 postseason games combined in their careers. Braun played in 20 last season for San Jose.
Bring it on, Myers says.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’m happy that I’m going to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs,” he said. “I think the intensity is going to be as high as it’s ever been for me during a hockey game. I’ll be ready.”
Career playoff games for the primary defensemen of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Players are listed according to recent pairings:
Boston: Zdeno Chara (182), Charlie McAvoy (41), Torey Krug (62), Brandon Carlo (24), Matt Grzelcyk (31), Jeremy Lauzon (0).
Tampa Bay: Victor Hedman (84), Zach Bogosian (0), Mikhail Sergachev (21), Kevin Shattenkirk (60), Ryan McDonagh (117), Erik Cernak (4).
Washington: John Carlson (107), Brendan Dillon (62), Dmitri Orlov (55), Nick Jensen (7), Michal Kempney (25), Jonas Siegenthaler (4).
Flyers: Ivan Provorov (6), Matt Niskanen (125), Travis Sanheim (4), Phil Myers (0), Justin Braun (84), Robert Hagg (2).
Pittsburgh: Kris Letang (132), Brian Dumoulin (70), Marcus Pettersson (8), John Marino (0), Justin Schultz (52), Jack Johnson (26).
Really intrigued by the Flyers’ bringing 20-year-old defenseman Egor Zamula to Toronto. He’ll be in the lineup on Tuesday and, given that the vibe is they’re going to treat the round-robin games almost like exhibitions, I’m starting to wonder if he could play in one of those.
The Flyers’ final two RR games will be on Thursday and Saturday, Aug 6 and 8. With just one day off in between, what will the lineups look like? Still not sure I want Oskar Lindblom to play until next season, but love the fact that he’s going to be with the team, as well.
Because of capacity limits, I got to see only one of the training-camp practices. So I’m also looking forward to see if Joel Farabee can grab a spot in the playoff lineup. It’s going to be interesting to see how coach Alain Vigneault handles his 12th forward and sixth defenseman when the real playoffs start on Aug. 11.