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Whose series is it, anyway?

Ask, and you shall receive...

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

So, it’s an off day after a tough Flyers loss, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my morning doing what I normally do in these situations*. I scrolled through Twitter and checked in with the takes.

*Okay, fine, you caught me. I’d be on Twitter anyway. I live on the internet. Leave me alone.

But anyway, one of the threads floating through the ether in the start of the week is that of “the big guns need to be better.” That we’ve now sat through three games and the Flyers’ top players have been either actively bad or effectively invisible. And this may be true. But it also may be that this statement is too sweeping, not fair to the work they’ve been doing. Maybe. We’re about to find out.

You could probably guess who we would be centering on for this one, but we’ll break it down, either way. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be considering Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere our “top players,” for their mix of veteran or leadership status and context in historical top line/pair deployment.

But before we have a look at their playoff numbers, let’s take a moment to take a step back and contextualize, recap some of their regular season numbers.

“Big Six” regular season

Player GP Goals Points CF% iCF/60 ixGF/60
Player GP Goals Points CF% iCF/60 ixGF/60
Giroux 82 34 102 52.97 11.07 0.5
Voracek 82 21 85 50.69 12.14 0.56
Couturier 82 31 76 53.35 11.68 0.8
Gostisbehere 78 13 65 51.35 11.79 0.64
Simmonds 75 24 46 47.56 11.54 0.21
Provorov 82 17 41 49.46 11.46 0.28

So, okay, these numbers probably aren’t all that surprising. Our Big Six all form the top seven in both goals and points scoring (with Travis Konecny sandwiched somewhere in the middle in both of these rankings), with advanced metrics suggesting that they were able to consistently drive play and positive results reasonably well. So here we are. These players had, on the whole, very solid regular seasons, and career years, even, in some cases. They picked up slack and veritably drug this team into the playoffs with their efforts and will. As such, we assumed that this momentum would carry into the postseason, as they sought both to make a splash against their regional nemesis and set the tone for the young guns without the experience from having been there already. But how’s that assumption holding up?

As we already alluded to, if you’re looking for an answer to that query to be swirling around social media, you’ll likely not be feeling very good about what you’re hearing. But maybe it’s not all bad news. Let’s first take a look at who’s scored goals and/or assists so far in the series.

Playoffs points getters

Player Goals Primary Assists Secondary Assists Total Points
Player Goals Primary Assists Secondary Assists Total Points
Couturier 1 1 1 3
Patrick 1 0 1 2
Voracek 0 1 1 2
Provorov 0 1 1 2
Gostisbehere 1 0 0 1
Sanheim 1 0 0 1
MacDonald 1 0 0 1
Konecny 1 0 0 1
Giroux 0 1 0 1
Simmonds 0 1 0 1
Lehtera 0 1 0 1
Raffl 0 0 1 1

Well would you look at that! The answer to “who’s picked up points so far in these three games?” is, uh, kind of everyone. That’s a bit of an overstatement, but we’ve still seen 12 of 18 players iced in these last three games pick up at least one point. Points getting hasn’t been extensive for the Flyers—which is part of the problem—but it remains well enough spread throughout the lineup, coming more or less from where we could expect.

So now that we have our context set, let’s take a deeper look at our Big Six, see how they’re doing in this series.

Big Six playoffs

Player Goals Points iHDCF iCF ixGF CF%
Player Goals Points iHDCF iCF ixGF CF%
Giroux 0 1 2 19 0.66 55.32
Voracek 0 2 3 13 0.51 45.56
Couturier 1 3 4 8 0.47 49.75
Gostisbehere 1 1 0 19 0.33 47.97
Simmonds 0 1 2 12 0.45 47.59
Provorov 1 2 1 8 0.2 52.85

This picture is a familiar one—just as in the regular season, these six players form the top seven in points scoring (this time with Nolan Patrick sandwiched in the middle, to break up what could have been a nice bit of neatness and continuity). The difference is that they lose their dominance in goal scoring, as only Couturier and Gostisbehere have been able to pick up one of those, and their advanced metrics have taken a bit of a dip. They’re not not exactly underwater in these metrics—each of the Big Six still sit in the top nine in CF% among the 18 total Flyers who have played in the series—but they aren’t exerting the same dominance that they had through much of the regular season. They’ve still recorded 10 of the Flyers’ 17 total points, to date, and continue to more or less carry the team in this department, but we still feel that dip elsewhere. And maybe that’s where we’re sensing the space, the window for them to be knocked off the top of the rankings.

So what about elsewhere in the lineup? It sure feels like the kids have been more active, are somehow doing more to lead the charge, right? How do their numbers compare to the Big Six?

Young Guns playoffs

Player Goals Points iHDCF iCF/60 ixGF CF%
Player Goals Points iHDCF iCF/60 ixGF CF%
Konecny 1 1 1 7 0.23 51.76
Patrick 1 2 3 7 0.4 42.21
Sanheim 1 1 3 8 0.55 50.81
Linblom 0 0 1 5 0.11 32.94

The answer: not exactly comparable. To be fair, they’ve still scored 23.52 percent of the Flyers’ points, which is not exactly something to write off. But despite some solid individual work (Patrick and Sanheims’ three individual HDCF, hello) and respectable expected results, the young players remain just about in line with our top players. So maybe it’s because we’re looking, maybe it’s because they’re scoring goals (50 percent of Flyers goals scored so far, to be exact) that it feels like they’ve somehow taken the big step forward to supplant their regular season leaders as team drivers in this series. But this isn’t quite the full story. Those we expect to be the top players still hold the edge in just about all of the metrics we’ve detailed above. The kids are holding their own, but they haven’t completely stolen the show, not yet, anyway.

And where does that leave us? Have we shaken the feeling that there’s something missing, that we just need a little more from the top players? Not quite? After watching career years unfold right before our very eyes, we wanted more still—electric playoff showings to really put an exclamation point on these unreal seasons. They haven’t been bad, to be sure, but considering what we’ve seen so far, we may be right to be a little underwhelmed.

So do the top guys need to be better? Yes. For sure. Of course we want to see them dominating, not just hanging with their depth players, especially in facing a team with such dynamic and dangerous top-end talent as Pittsburgh. But the underlying numbers remain good, the process solid, and it seems like they’re knocking at the door, and the results are soon to come.