Flyers vs. Rangers: How the teams matched lines and pairings in Game 1

"Can you, like, stop following me?" - Bruce Bennett

With the one obvious outlier, there doesn't seem to be much of a trend to how the Flyers and Rangers matched their lines in Game 1, which may be something that needs to change quickly.

On Thursday before Game 1, we talked twice about an important matchup in this series:  Claude Giroux vs. the Rangers' best defenseman, Ryan McDonagh.

We'll probably have more thoughts on that specific matchup between now and Sunday's game, but how did that go from a pure ice-time and shot differential perspective? And how did some of the other on-ice matchups go?

Let's take a look at that, using each team's four centers and three of their defensemen as a proxy as to how the lines matched up. We'll start with the forward lines. (All head-to-head ice time is courtesy of Extra Skater; shot numbers pulled from nhl.com.)

How the forward lines matched up

F1 / Stepan (13.0) F2 / Richards (14.2) F3 / Brassard (12.2) F4 / D. Moore (7.9)
F1 / Giroux (14.4) 5.7 (+5/-7) 2.6 (+3/-2) 1.8 (+0/-1) 4.1 (+3/-4)
F2 / B. Schenn (11.1) 1.8 (+2/-2) 3.9 (+4/-10) 4.6 (+5/-3) 0.8 (+2/-1)
F3 / Couturier (14.2) 4.6 (+4/-4) 5.3 (+3/-5) 3.7 (+3/-5) 0.5 (+0/-0)
F4 / Lecavalier (6.7) 0.6 (+0/-1) 2.3 (+2/-0) 1.3 (+0/-1) 2.5 (+1/-6)

How to read this chart: Claude Giroux, the Flyers' first-line center, played 14.4 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. He and Derek Stepan (the Rangers' first-line center, who played 13.0 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time) were on the ice together for 5.7 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, during which the Flyers got five shot attempts and the Rangers got seven. Note that these numbers are not adjusted for zone starts.

So there's not much of a pattern at all there, actually -- which, if you do think that Berube was trying to match the lines up, is maybe part of the problem. No one Flyers forward spent even half of his ice time against any one Rangers forward.

No one Flyers forward spent even half of his ice time against any one Rangers forward.

In particular, Sean Couturier -- the guy who the Flyers use in matchups as much as anyone -- saw his ice time scattered a bit, and he spent more ice time against Brad Richards' second line than he did the top line of Rick Nash/Derek Stepan/Martin St. Louis. Maybe that was necessitated by the fact that Richards had a good game, but the Nash line was also all over the place, and given that Couturier and his gang played them to a draw in their limited minutes, you have to think that's a matchup the Flyers wanted to see more often than they did.

Granted, you could also look at this chart and say that if the Rangers were trying to get matchups to go their way, they weren't successful at it either. Maybe so. (That's an argument that becomes weaker when you get to the next section, but we'll hold off on that for now.)

Regardless, the Flyers are justifiably the underdogs in this series, and if they want to make up for the overall talent differential between them and their opponents, they've got to do a better job of getting the matchups they're looking for. They didn't yesterday.

Flyers forwards vs. the Rangers defense

Those are the forward lines. What about the defense? As mentioned, we talked a lot about the Giroux/McDonagh matchup. As much as we thought the concerns about the need to dump it in with McDonagh were a bit overblown, we'd probably have preferred that the Flyers get their best forward away from the best defenseman on the ice. Did it happen?

D1 / McDonagh (16.7) D2 / Staal (17.9) D3 / J. Moore (12.6)
F1 / Giroux (14.4) 9.1 (+6/-10) 3.9 (+4/-3) 1.6 (+1/-1)
F2 / B. Schenn (11.1) 4.1 (+7/-3) 5.6 (+6/-8) 1.1 (+0/-5)
F3 / Couturier (14.2) 2.6 (+3/-3) 4.8 (+0/-7) 6.8 (+7/-4)
F4 / Lecavalier (6.7) 1.0 (+1/-0) 2.6 (+0/-3) 3.0 (+2/-5)

It most certainly did not happen. McDonagh shadowed Giroux for well over half of his five-on-five ice time, and won the territorial battle by a decent margin -- as you can also see by the fact that neither Giroux nor Jakub Voracek had a single shot on goal yesterday.

That said, it didn't end up being McDonagh's pairing that was causing the problems for the Flyers -- no, that was the Marc Staal and Anton Stralman unit. While not matched up against anyone in particular, you can see there that those guys just completely took it to the Flyers any time they were out against anyone other than Giroux. McDonagh gets all the attention for the Rangers, but that second pair has pushed play in the right direction for the Rangers all year long. So maybe the Flyers need to pay a little more attention to that pairing.

Flyers D vs. NYR's forwards

Finally, we'll take a quick look at how the Flyers' defensemen matched up with the Rangers' forwards, to see if there was any type of trend there.

F1 / Stepan (13.0) F2 / Richards (14.2) F3 / Brassard (12.2) F4 / D. Moore (7.9)
D1 / Timonen (11.8) 3.6 (+2/-5) 2.6 (+3/-2) 3.4 (+1/-6) 2.2 (+2/-3)
D2 / Streit (18.2) 5.1 (+3/-4) 6.0 (+4/-7) 3.8 (+3/-0) 3.3 (+2/-2)
D3 / L. Schenn (16.0) 4.0 (+6/-4) 4.7 (+5/-8) 3.9 (+4/-4) 3.4 (+2/-8)

Not much of one, no. Ice time was fairly scattered, with every pairing spending at least two minutes out against every Rangers center.

The interesting thing that pops out to me here, though? The first pairing's ice time. The announcers made a point last night of talking about how much Kimmo Timonen was "laboring", and his low ice time figure backs that up, but he doesn't get a ton of ice time for the Flyers at 5-on-5 anymore anyways, so that's not that odd. The weird thing there was that Timonen's typical partner, Braydon Coburn -- the guy who routinely leads the Flyers in ice time -- only got 14.7 minutes at 5-on-5, a good two minutes below his season average.

Normally, you'd think those two (or at least Coburn) would be getting a lot of minutes against the other team's top line, but that wasn't the case: both the Mark Streit/Nicklas Grossmann pairing and the Luke Schenn/Andrew MacDonald pairing played a bit more against the Stepan line and the Richards line than Coburn and Timonen did.

My first reaction would be "they just didn't worry much about matching up their defensive pairings with the other team's forwards", which may be the case. My second reaction was "Coburn and Timonen just didn't have a good game yesterday and their ice time reflects that", which may better explain it.

But after a season of fairly evident trends in how the Flyers have used their defense, seeing them deviate so far from that with the guy who's been their ice-time leader for most of the year is a bit peculiar. We'll be watching to see what the Flyers do with Coburn in Game 2.

***

All in all, there aren't many eye-opening numbers above, and the only real noticeable one is the one that we were all hoping we wouldn't see (Giroux and McDonagh, naturally). Berube's done a good job matching up lines when he's had to this year, but Alain Vigneault has a long history of getting the matchups he wants, dating back to his time in Vancouver -- and that's going to make this series that much more difficult to win for the Flyers.

We know it's tough to make this work, especially with a team as deep as the Rangers, with a coach as good as Vigneault, and on the road without last change. But dictating the matchups could go a long way towards winning Game 2, so they've gotta try.

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