PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23: Jeff Carter #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates his second period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 23, 2010 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
After Saturday's most satisfying win, the Hawks will need all the buzz and swagger on Sunday as they line up against what has been the NHL's best team this season. Though seeing the Orange streaking across the United Center ice will bring back fond memories for Hawks fans, that should dissapate right about the time one of their plethora of hulking, talented forwards runs a Hawk through the boards. So about 13 seconds in or so.
The Flyers are simply a machine these days. They roll three lines of talented forwards at you, and a fourth line full of energy and unpleasantness. There is no deeper defensive corps than the one you'll see tomorrow, as 1-6 are playing excellent hockey. They have four guys who have 40 points already this season. They can hurt you from everywhere. They have two goalies at the top of their game. There is no secret as to why they sit atop the NHL heap.
There are too many threats to count, but the line of Ville Leino-Daniel Briere-Scott Hartnell is the biggest. They gave the Hawks nightmares last spring, and they may be playing better now. Hartnell is a stone bitch of a player, who's size the Hawks just can't handle in front of the net. Leino is a gifted playmaker, and if you get caught up chasing him he'll find the open guy. Briere just slithers into the scoring areas unnoticed and profits from the space created by Hartnell's grit and Leino's creativity. It's the perfect combination.
Another one to watch out for is Claude Giroux. This guy has as good of hands as anyone in the league, and isn't small himself. He can dangle you into the ground. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook can't match up against everyone, so Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson will have to be better than they were against the Wings. Hammer especially is going to have to take an extra step or two to make the right play, instead of firing the puck in some direction in a panic. This will probably mean getting hit more, but it will also lead to the right play.
Worst of all, this is the kind of team the Hawks are going to struggle with, if the Flyers bring their "A" game. They have size everywhere. So the smallish Hawks d-men are probably going to get pounded. Look for the Flyers to keep things simple, at least early, dumping the puck in and punishing the Hawks d-men into turnovers and rushed decisions. On the backend, with their stable of slobbering, hefty defensemen the Hawks probably can't employ the same tactics. Also, their path to the net that Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky so easily exploited Saturday against the Wings will come with a lot more painful roadblocks. Still, the Flyers D isn't that quick, though by no means lumbering. If the Hawks can consistently beat them to pucks and get a cycle going and keep moving their feet, they could create some chances. In the defensive zone for the Hawks, they're going to have to make passes quickly out of it, because any mistake is going to be severly punished by any number of guys who can score.
That's the thing about the Flyers, they can play any game you want. If you want to grind it out and make it ugly, their size will fit right in. Their forwards can race up and down with you if you want to go that route as well. Honestly, the Hawks will probably apt for the latter, thinking their d-men can push the play better than the Flyers' can.
Philly has been saying all the right things about this game not meaning all that much, but I tend to doubt it. The Hawks will see an imposing, inspired opponent tomorrow, and they'd better play one of their best games to get out of it with two points.