March of the Penguins Begins with the Flyers
Now this is a series.
The Penguins are looking to become the first team since the 1982-83 New York Islanders to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. Philadelphia, meanwhile, hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1974-75.
This matchup has the best chance to turn into a blood-and-thunder show, and despite the long odds, the Flyers may have something to say before this thing is over.
Pittsburgh (-240) vs. Philadelphia (+200)
Wednesday, April 11: Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Friday, April 13: Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, April 15: Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET, NBC
Wednesday, April 18: Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Friday, April 20: Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, TBD
Sunday, April 22: Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, TBD
Tuesday, April 24: Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh, TBD
Injuries: Pittsburgh’s Derick Brassard is the only real key injury concern for either team heading into Game 1, but it looks like he will be good to go.
The Numbers Do The Talkin’: Pittsburgh’s star-studded offense lived up to its billing again this season producing 2.55 expected goals for (xGF) per 60 minutes (5v5, adjusted for score + venue) — fourth-highest in the NHL. They also boast a 52.3 Corsi For % (a barometer for possession that measures the amount of shot attempts for vs. shot attempts allowed, also known as CF%) and have been trending up over the last two months. Offensively, things look very good under the hood for the Pens, especially when you consider their poor shooting luck this season. That poor puck luck has started to turn, and that is very bad news for teams that aren’t Pittsburgh.
Furthermore, Pittsburgh is very good on special teams, while the Flyers are decidedly not. The Penguins have the top power play in the NHL while the Flyers’ penalty kill ranks 29th this season. The gap might not be that wide, as Philadelphia’s underlying numbers on the PK aren’t horrible, but it’s still a considerable advantage for the Pens.
On defense the edge sits with Philadelphia. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are one of the league’s best partnerships in the back thanks to their ability to control play. Behind them, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning are a decent enough second pair to make the argument that this defensive unit is better than Pittsburgh’s. — Michael Leboff
Goaltending: Neither Matt Murray nor Brian Elliott has covered himself in glory this season, so it’s fair to expect a lot of see-saw battles during this series. Elliott particularly struggled on the penalty kill, while Murray’s season was wonky due to injuries and a dip in form. If either of them morphs into a gamebreaker, it could be the difference. But it’s hard to give an edge to either team with the seasons these two netminders had. — Michael Leboff
Interesting Under Spot: The Pens and Flyers each average more than three goals per game. Since 2005, the under has gone 37-28-6 (57%) in high-total playoff games (6 or higher) when both teams average three or more goals. The total in Game 1 opened at 6. — John Ewing
Did You Know? Elliott has won his last seven starts — although he missed 25 games before playing in the final two games this season — dating back to January. The veteran goalie is 10-1 in his last 11 games in net. Weirdly enough, Elliott has lost seven playoff games in a row — playing for the Flames and Blues — dating back to 2016. — Evan Abrams
Player to Watch (Pittsburgh): In a series hardly lacking in star power, Justin Schultz could be an under-the-radar asset for the Penguins. Over Pittsburgh’s last 10 games, the Penguins have four players in the top 10 of the entire league for high-danger scoring chances (HDSC). The usual suspects (Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist) all make an appearance, but Schultz surprisingly comes in with the ninth-most HDSC in the league over that span. It remains to be seen if he will see any time on the first power-play unit, but if he does, Schultz could be a difference maker in this series. — Joe Holka
Player to Watch (Philadelphia): The Penguins have the best power play in the league at 26.2%, nearly 6.1 basis points above the league average, and a glaring weakness for Philadelphia has been on the penalty kill. Who can help narrow that gap? A team’s best penalty killer is always their goaltender. Brian Elliott has just two games under his belt since returning from his core muscle surgery that forced him to miss nearly two months. After allowing three (very stoppable) goals on 22 shots in his return, he did rebound with a 17-save shutout to close out the season. — Joe Holka
Why Pittsburgh Should Win: Depth. The Flyers don’t have it and the Penguins do. Philly has some serious star power, but the difference is going to be further down the roster where Pittsburgh has a big advantage. The Penguins have the luxury of being able to roll three separate lines anchored by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Derick Brassard, respectively. Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier is a great two-way center, but he can’t play 60 minutes. The Flyers may be able to hang with one or two of these lines, but they will likely be worn down over the slog of a seven-game series. — Michael Leboff
Why Philadelphia Can Win: The Penguins struggled with limiting scoring chances against this season, and while the Flyers don’t generate a ton of them normally, they should be able take advantage of a mediocre Penguins rearguard. With the talent the Flyers have, they will be able — at the very least — to hang with the Penguins, and their prospects would increase if they can find a way to slow the game down. Pittsburgh pushes the tempo much more than Philadelphia does, so if Dave Hakstol’s team can make this a mudfight in the neutral zone, things will be looking up for the Flyers. — Michael Leboff
Betting Value: The Penguins in 7 is the pick, but there’s no value in dropping -240 on what could be a bonkers series. To find value in that number you need to be convinced that Pittsburgh wins 71% of the time, and that doesn’t sit well. I’ve got it closer to 66/34 in favor of the Penguins, so there’s a little bit of value on the Flyers. — Michael Leboff
Leboff – Penguins in 7
Holka – Penguins in 7
Stuckey – Penguins in 7
All odds current as of Monday evening.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby battles for the puck with Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier. Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Stats provided by Corsica.Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.