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Pennsylvania rivals collide on NHL on NBC

Saturday, 03.15.2008 / 9:00 AM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By John McGourty - Staff Writer

Bryan Trottier has won seven Stanley Cups throughout his career, two of those he won while playing for Pittsburgh.
Going into the weekend, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in a tough race with the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead, while also battling the Devils, Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators for the Eastern Conference lead.

The Philadelphia Flyers sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are struggling to hold onto a playoff berth after leading the division as recently as six weeks ago. A 10-game winless streak, largely due to a slew of injuries, threatened to jeopardize their season, but they have been playing better recently.

Sunday at noon ET, the two will face off on the NHL on NBC. enlisted the help of New York Islanders Executive Director of Player Personnel Bryan Trottier to break down the game. Trottier has won seven Stanley Cups in his illustrious career, six as a player -- four with the Islanders from 1980-83, two with the Penguins in 1991-92 -- and another as assistant coach of the 2001 Colorado Avalanche.

Trottier centered one of the greatest lines in hockey history with the Islanders, with Clark Gillies on his left wing and sharpshooter Mike Bossy on the right. Trottier won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1976; the Art Ross and Hart trophies in 1979 and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup MVP in 1980. Trottier's intelligence matched his athletic skills and he was regarded for many years as the best all-around player in the game. Late in his career, he joined the Penguins as a defensive specialist and faceoff ace.

Trottier retired in 1994 as the sixth-leading scorer in NHL history and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997, his first year of eligibility.

Here is Trottier's scouting report:

These kids are all right -- What I see from watching them play a lot is that both teams have some very exciting kids, (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin in Pittsburgh, of course, but also an impressive young group in Philadelphia, led by Jeff Carter.

With Philadelphia, the first thing I see is a lot of speed and the second is a new generation of hungry hockey players. I think we're going to end up seeing a wonderful hockey game.

I follow both these teams a lot and I'm convinced we're going to see a better brand of hockey because of the youthful enthusiasm, plus what they are capable of generating with second effort and skill. There's a little bit of inexperience on both sides, but that also makes for exciting hockey.

And remember, this is still the big Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania state rivalry. Neither team wants to lose for that reason. It's like the East vs. the West and there's always a little extra energy in the building because of that.

I saw the Flyers recently on Long Island and Jeff Carter had a big night. He was the difference in that game.

Look at what R.J. Umberger has done against Pittsburgh this year, five goals and five assists. He has 10 points against Pittsburgh in five games, while he has 12 goals and 36 assists for 48 points in 69 games this season.

The Flyers also have been getting good offense from Daniel Briere recently. You know that's something Pittsburgh will be concentrating on.

When Philadelphia looks at what they have to face in the Pittsburgh attack, it's like looking in the mirror. The teams are strong in the same areas and weak in the same areas. Pittsburgh has young, hungry, eager, fast talent who will make a second effort and pay a physical price. They show grit and score goals around the net. If you are a hockey fan, you will enjoy this brand of hockey. You never know when you're going to see the next breakaway, someone sneaking in with stealth, or third, fourth and fifth efforts. It makes an exciting game for all of us.

This is interesting: Both teams tend to get outshot, by fairly large margins, but both are among the higher-scoring teams in the League.

Watch the masked men --
The biggest thing for both these teams is their goaltending. I'm guessing Philadelphia will go with Marty Biron, who is 4-1 against Pittsburgh this season. Antero Niittymaki hasn't played against the Penguins.

Pittsburgh could go with either Marc-Andre Fleury or Ty Conklin. All three -- Fleury, Conklin and Biron -- are very good, but can be excellent in any given game. With either of these teams, if they get good goaltending, they're in the game. So the question is, who is going to be great in this particular game?</p>

"O" from the "D" -- Both teams have defensemen who can support the attack and both have their major power-play guys healthy, Kimmo Timonen for Philadelphia and Sergei Gonchar for Pittsburgh. Timonen lugs the puck up ice, settles it down and moves it around in the offensive zone.

They will bang some bodies. It won't be a soft game. I'm looking at this game as having a huge transition factor. There will be turnovers and opportunities generated off them. I expect to see a lot of 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s, often with a defenseman following the play. When the defense follows up, they jump into the attack. That's the NHL brand now. All the coaches encourage it. Backside pressure is so important nowadays and the defenseman can come down into the circle and take advantage.

I'm going to be watching to see how successful those teams are in generating the attack from the backside.

Pittsburgh's defense plays a similar style. It's almost like the whole NHL is looking to do the same thing. The winner is whoever is quicker on the attack and better on transition. Create a turnover and get the puck going north as quickly as possible. Player skill level is increasing in the NHL all the time on defense.

Special game -- Both teams need to come out ready to fire. The winner very well could be the team that shakes off the cobwebs first. If I'm the coach, I'm telling my players to come here focused and ready to jump right into the attack. The team that is sharpest earliest will be the more effective team.

Most likely, it will come down to special teams, and both teams are among the NHL's best on the power play. When killing penalties, they will need their goalies to come up huge. On the power plays, they'll have to figure out ways to overcome the defenses, not just with shots but with second and third chances.

Quote of the Day

It's a big milestone for me and I'm happy to help my team with lots of good teammates. It's fun.

— Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, who on Wednesday became the ninth Russian-born player, and ninth Red Wings player, to score 300 NHL goals
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