Because they've been better: Why Philadelphia has a realistic shot of beating Pittsburgh
This year, the NHL introduced a new marketing campaign called, ‘Because it’s the Cup,’ that is based around the concept that every player in the league will do anything to win the Stanley Cup Championship.
Well, it seems as though when analyzing the first round matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, experts league wide are using a similar philosophy when picking a winner:
Because it’s the Penguins.
Despite the fact that the majority of the statistics actually favor Philadelphia, many have picked Pittsburgh to win the series. All one has to do is go onto the NHL’s official website to see that.
When listening to explanations as to why they are the favorites, many are quick to point to Pittsburgh’s ability to outplay opponents at even strength, their dominating special teams play, phenomenal goaltending or star-studded lineup.
While all these things may be true, those rationales are the exact same reasons why the Flyers could beat the Penguins.
When looking at five-on-five for/against goal ratios, the two teams are similar; the Penguins (1.17) and the Flyers (1.13) are fifth and seventh in the league, respectively.
Upon analyzing goals per game, both teams are the top two teams in the entire league, averaging well over three goals per game.
When looking at the power play, both teams are tied for fifth with a 19.7% conversion rate.
The only noticeable gap comes on the penalty kill, where the third-ranked Penguins (87.8%) are significantly better than the 17th ranked Flyers (81.8%).
Other than that, the two teams size up comparably.
That is, of course, except for when they are playing each other.
The most surprising component about how favored the Penguins are is the fact that over the last two seasons the Flyers have absolutely dominated them (7-4-1 against the Penguins over that span).
In 2011-12, the Flyers went 4-2-0 against the team, converting successfully on 6-of-29 power play opportunities (the fifth best rate of any team that played at least four games against the Penguins) and killed off 19-of-22 penalties taken (the fourth best of any team).
Despite the fact that Pittsburgh is supposed to have one of the best special teams units in the entire league, the Flyers made special teams practically a non-factor throughout the entire year.
Even when comparing the goaltenders, Pittsburgh’s star net minder Marc-Andre Fluery matches up terribly against the Flyers.
In his last 11 games against Philadelphia he has posted a record of 2-7-1 with a 3.09 GAA and a .879 save percentage.
While Ilya Bryzgalov on the other hand, has a career record of 4-1-1 against the Penguins, in addition to a 2.08 GAA, .930 save percentage and one shutout.
Sure, some will say that the star power of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby give the Penguins that little extra something to push them over the top.
Of course, the Flyers have plenty of star power of their own, none more obvious than Claude Giroux.
While Malkin may end up winning the Hart Trophy for league MVP, you can almost guarantee that Giroux will be standing right next to him and Steven Stamkos as finalists.
There is no denying that Malkin had a huge year against the Flyers, scoring nine points (3-6) in six games played. But don’t forget that Giroux scored eight points (1-7) in five games against the Penguins this season.
Not to mention that the Flyers had three players (Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds) all register six or more points against Pittsburgh this season, in addition to three others who had five.
Yet for some reason none of these statistics seem to mean anything.
It’s as if the Penguins logo carries some kind of extra bit of motivation that is going to push the team to four victories over their cross-state rivals.
Ultimately, the picks of pundits will mean nothing as soon as the puck drops on Wednesday night.
When push comes to shove, the Flyers match up favorably against the Penguins and have a realistic shot of winning the series.
Because they’ve been better.
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