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NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Reasons why the Flyers will lose to the Pens

Relax, reasons why they’ll win come out tomorrow

It doesn’t get much better than Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff hockey. When Flyers’ postseason action is usually at its most intense is when they are taking on the hockey club on the other side of the state. Everybody remembers the 2012 series for it’s insanity, but the meetings in the 2008 Eastern Conference Final and the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal weren’t exactly friendly encounters. A lot has changed since that last meeting in the postseason, but the hatred between the two clubs hasn’t quelled.

When it comes to this series, the Flyers are entering as huge underdogs (real shame no other Philly team has endured that recently). Looking at each clubs’ strengths and weaknesses, it doesn’t look to great for our guys. Today, I’m taking a look at why things probably won’t go the Flyers’ way over the next week or two.

Forward Depth
For the majority of the season series, Dave Hakstol has chosen to match the tandem of Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier with whoever their linemate was with Sidney Crosby and his two linemates (except for when he thought Filppula was a good idea). If he decides to let these lines go head-to-head for this series, that means the line of Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek (54.98 corsi for percentage, 54.13 scoring chances for percentage) will likely go up against the trio of Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Patric Hornqvist (57.41 corsi for percentage, 60.73 scoring chances for percentage).

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that these are the matchups Hakstol has decided to let play out and the Flyers actually come out on top of both of these matchups. That leaves the Flyers with Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds and Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read against Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Phil Kessel and Tom Kuhnhackl-Josh Jooris (or Riley Sheahan)-Zach Aston-Reese. The trio of Kuhnackl-Jooris-Aston-Reese isn’t anything to be scared of (45.45 corsi for percentage and 36.84 scoring chances for percentage in 25:15 of work), but Kessel has 41 5-on-5 points this season (only Giroux and Couturier have more on the Flyers) and Brassard has 32 (which would be good enough for fifth on the Flyers).

The trio of Sheary-Brassard-Kessel only have a 44.26 corsi for percentage in 60:34 this season, but Konecny-Filppula-Simmonds have a 0.7 lower corsi for percentage together and have a 41.05 scoring chances for percentage. It also doesn’t help that Konecny-Filppula-Simmonds aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts, as they have three of the five worst corsi against per 60 relatives (shot attempts allowed per 60 relative to teammates) among forwards on the team. Laughton-Lehtera-Read have a 64.96 corsi for percentage in 69:19 (NICE), but Lehtera doesn’t have anywhere near the speed to keep up with Sheary, Brassard, or Kessel. Brassard hasn’t played since March 27th and isn’t guaranteed to play in Game 1, which would work to the Flyers’ advantage as Riley Sheahan would probably slot in as third line center. However, Kessel’s offensive capabilities and Sheary’s speed would still be going up against one of the Orange and Black’s bottom-six lines.

Working off the basis that the Flyers’ top six cancels out or gets the better of the Penguins’ top six (which is a big assumption), the Orange and Black will still need one of the bottom two lines to stop a 90-point player and a center that had 46 points this season. Also, this is all under the assumption that Hakstol doesn’t get the urge to match the Filppula line against the Crosby line again or decide to do something else that isn’t optimal with the lineup available. Even if everything goes right up front with line matching, it still looks as though the Flyers don’t have the depth to match the Penguins’ firepower.

Pens Can Win in a Variety of Ways
What’s been a somewhat common refrain to describe the Flyers over the last few seasons is they lost a game because they didn’t play a full 60 minutes. For the Penguins, that’s not really a concern, as illustrated by their games against the Flyers this season. Philly had a slight advantage through 40 minutes in the teams’ first meeting before Pittsburgh took over the third period and overtime. The Flyers outshot the Pens in the first period of the second meeting before the Penguins rattled off four goals in a 3:51 span in the second period. In the most recent meeting the Flyers actually had the upper-hand in terms of possession, but the Pens capitalized on their opportunities and won in overtime.

On top of pulling out wins regardless of how many minutes they show up for, the Pens have shown they are able to beat the Flyers when playing at the Flyers’ pace. Of the 31 teams in the league, the Flyers are 30th with 112.8 overall shot attempts per 60 at 5-on-5 (ahead of only the Sabres’ 110.55) while the Penguins are 15th with 117.73. After the Flyers’ overtime loss to Pittsburgh back on November 27th, which was a game with 139.66 overall shot attempts per 60, the Orange and Black lost games (and allowed five goals against) where the pace of play was 109.68 events per 60, 108.88 events per 60, and 104.82. Three of the four games went the Flyers’ way in terms of pace, which is good thing, but they still couldn’t find a way to win those games. Those regular season meetings don’t factor in how much hard line matching occurs in the postseason and how Mike Sullivan is going to get the last change in four of these seven games in an attempt to get the matchups he wants to push the pace of the game to the Pens’ liking.

The Penalty Kill
The Penguins’ ability to convert on 26.2 percent of their power play opportunities this regular season was the highest conversion rate for any team since the Washington Capitals’ 26.8 in 2013. The Flyers’ penalty kill ended the season ranked 29th with a 75.8 percent kill rate. This matchup is going to suck.

The quintet of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, and Kris Letang all average over three minutes of the power play time per game, as they helped Pittsburgh record a 9.08 goals per 60 for the second highest rate of any power play in the league. The trio of Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel all finished in the top four of power play scoring across the league and will now get to go to work against a penalty kill that uses the tandems of Lehtera-Filppula and Andrew MacDonald-Brandon Manning.

The Orange and Black have struggled to limit power-play goals against all season long, even though they have seemingly gotten better at taking away time and space since Matt Read’s promotion. With at least one power-play goal against in each of the four meetings this season, the biggest problem the Flyers will most likely have in this series is handling the Pens’ power play, who converted on 38.46 percent of their man advantage opportunities against Philly this year.

It doesn’t look great, but there’s a reason why they play the games. Maybe Filppula can shut down Kessel and his line. Maybe Brian Elliott covers up a lot of the penalty kill’s vulnerability. Maybe they don’t, but this is Flyers-Pens baby. It’s about to go down no matter what. Let’s go good guys.

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