This season Pittsburgh Penguins set a franchise record for power-play efficiency. The scored at a remarkable 26.2 percent rate, which was also the best in the league. Prefatory comments about this playoff series of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are scattered with memories of 2012 and, of course, the Penguins dominance of the cross-state rival this season. Yes, the Penguins have more talent from top to bottom than Philadelphia. However, it isn’t always that simple. Pittsburgh’s ransacking of the Flyers this season stems from special teams.
A pair of powerplay goals from Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist helped contribute to an impressive 5-for-13 mark during the regular season against Philadelphia. Each of the goals came from below the faceoff dots, where Hornqvist makes his living.
Teams on the penalty kill that line up in a high/low formation often allow the man in front. It’s a formality. Flyers defenseman, Radko Gudas was in perfect position on this play, his body in the shooting lane and the stick in the passing lane toward the slot. However, Kessel found Hornqvist on Gudas’s unattended off-side. Evgeni Malkin created the decoy, disallowing Ivan Provorov to defend.
Philadelphia allowed clean entries to the offensive zone on numerous penalty-killing efforts, as well. None more notorious than the opening goal of the Jan. 2 affair. The Flyers were lackadaisical in the neutral zone and the Penguins completed crisp, one-touch passes and Sidney Crosby was able to enter the zone unscathed. The issue for the Flyers from that point was the miscommunication between Provorov and Andrew MacDonald, both crashing on Crosby and leaving Kessel wide-open at the wing. Perhaps the prettiest tally of the season:
Philadelphia must be disciplined in order to have a chance in this series. This is a big mismatch, the personnel on their penalty kill will have a very difficult time keeping up with the Penguins.
One of Pittsburgh’s perceived weaknesses coming into the playoffs is their penalty kill, however, they had success against Philadelphia this season. The Flyers were average on the man advantage during the regular season, ranking 15h in the NHL and posted better marks than only five of the teams vying for Lord Stanley.
Philadelphia was only 2-for-16 with the man advantage against Pittsburgh this season. One of which was with a 5-on-3. Not good. However, there are ways for the Flyers to make amends with those poor marks and it starts with the offensive ability of their defensemen, particularly Shayne Gostisbehere. Pittsburgh’s wingers have struggled defensively, and that cannot be the case against the one affectionately known as “The Ghost”.
Gostisbehere was a centerpiece to both Philadelphia powerplay markers during the season series. On November 27th, he finished off a low-high pass around the glove of Matt Murray with a two-man advantage.
More recently, Riley Sheahan was caught cheating on a play Gostisbehere created on March 25th. Gostisbehere saw Sheahan defend the point-to-point pass that created a clear shooting lane. Jordan Weal was able to bury the rebound from Murray’s right pad.
Powerplay opportunities don’t come as frequently this time of year and Philadelphia’s top unit is talented. If Pittsburgh can continue to kill penalties at an 87.5% rate, they’ll be fine.
The script doesn’t have to be completely flipped, but if it isn’t altered, Philadelphia’s season will end soon.