The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers are set to play in the playoffs for the first time since their famous 2012 series. The Flyers won that first-round series in six games. It was known for a lot of fights and bad hits every game. The games were often high scoring. This series should look a lot different as both teams have changed since then. Let’s take a look at a preview of this series.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers
A battle of high-end talent
If you like high-end talent, this is the series for you. Both teams have some of the top players in the league. Those players are in the midst of outstanding seasons. Claude Giroux bounced-back this season with his first 100 point season of his career, in the process making himself a prime Hart trophy candidate. He moved to the wing before the season and the adjustment works to perfection. Jakub Voracek had one of the sneakiest 85 point seasons in a long time and Sean Couturier really broke out as an offensive threat with 76 points. He’s a Selke trophy favorite and he’s likely to get the matchup against the Sidney Crosby line.
For Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin notched his first 90 point season since he won the Hart trophy in 2011-2012. He finished with 98 points and lead the team. He’s a dark horse for the Hart but likely won’t be named due to the respective seasons of Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, and Giroux. Not to mention Connor McDavid. Phil Kessel had his first ever 90 point season in the league and his first 30 goal season with the Penguins. He was their best player for parts of this season and will be playing with Derick Brassard when the playoffs start. He’s an outstanding playoff performer. He has 45 playoff points over the last two seasons with the Penguins.
Crosby has turned his season around after a slow start before finishing with 29 goals and 89 points. He has 93 points in 63 career games against the Flyers.
The high-end defenseman are up next as Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere make up one of the leagues most underrated pairings. With that comes the Kris Letang–Brian Dumoulin pairing. That has been steady all season. All four of these defensemen can move the puck efficiently up the ice. Gostisbehere had 65 points this season, making him a potential dark horse for a Norris trophy and Letang will be back in the playoffs after missing all of last years playoffs. Both of these teams stack up very well against each other which means we could see some very high scoring games.
Goaltending is crucial in every playoff series but in this one, it’s going to be massive. Both teams didn’t have considerably great 5V5 save percentages but the Flyers come out a little ahead. Pittsburgh was at 91.0% which is at the bottom of the league and Philadelphia’s was 92.4%, good for 14th. Matt Murray went through a lot this season. With his injuries and of course his father passing away. These likely affected his play but the Penguins will need him to be at his best if they want to go far. Murray has been outstanding for the Penguins in the playoffs, posting a career .928 save percentage. He just seems to play his best games when the stakes are the highest.
For Philadelphia, Brian Elliott will be in net after coming back from a long-term injury. He only appeared in 43 games this season. He returned for the final two games of the regular season for the team. He’ll surely want to bounce back after last years playoff performance while starting for the Calgary Flames. He had a .880 save percentage as the Flames got swept. He just never looked comfortable. Philadelphia will need him to be much better than that if they want to try and take the upset in this series.
Can the Penguins power play be stopped?
The Penguins had the best power play percentage in the league this season at 26.2%. They kept the number one ranking power play from the beginning of the season all the way up to the end. The Penguins expected goals for on the power play was 8.28 which was fifth overall in the league. Philadelphia’s penalty kill this season was dreadful as it was 75.8%. That was good for 29th in the league. It’s a big problem when going up against the Pens NHL best power play.
During the regular season, the Penguins power play unit went 5/16 in four games against Philadelphia. The Flyers penalty kill is going to have to be much better than what they showed in the regular season. Even with the officials swallowing their whistles in the playoffs, the Penguins know how to take advantage of a power play when they get one. They have shown everyone how well they can during the last couple of years. Keeping the game at 5V5 as often as they can is a must for the Flyers.
This series is going to be high-scoring but it won’t be a bloodbath like it was in 2012. The difference between these two teams is depth and the Penguins have more of it than the Flyers. That will be the deciding factor for the Penguins to win this series and move on to the second round.
Penguins in six