The Flyers did not quality for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but just because they missed out doesn’t mean that they can’t learn a thing or two from the teams that did end up making the dance.
So far, eight teams have been eliminated and we have one takeaway from each team’s first-round failure that impacts the Flyers going forward as GM Chuck Fletcher and new coach Alain Vigneault look to put an end to the franchise’s lengthly Stanley Cup drought.
From the Penguins: Speed kills
The hallmark of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins teams was their speed, and the ability to turn a game because of it. But fast-forward two years and the Penguins have been eliminated by two teams that were simply quicker than them, allowing a suspect defense and goaltending to get exposed.
Evgeni Malkin wasn’t shy about his team lacking speed after being unceremoniously swept by the Islanders last week, and he was dead-on. Veterans like Patric Hornqvist, Jack Johnson, Erik Gudbranson, and Matt Cullen weighed down the Penguins in the series. The subtraction of Carl Hagelin in the middle of the season also robbed the Penguins of more of that trademark speed that made them such a transition force in their recent Cup runs.
The Flyers aren’t a slow team by any means, but adding a couple forwards who can play with some pace would help the Flyers’ transition game and allow them to keep defenseman more honest.
From the Maple Leafs: Don’t give the coach plodding veterans
One of the main concerns over the Flyers’ hire of Alain Vigneault has been the bench boss’ use of veterans during his run in New York with the Rangers. Fans and media alike saw far too much of Tanner Glass and Cody McLeod for their liking and that’s certainly a concern.
That same concern is currently a small tire fire in Toronto after the Maple Leafs again failed to get out of the first round with their 5-1 loss in game seven on Tuesday night in Boston. Instead of riding his horses in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock kept rolling all four lines despite badly needing a win to exorcise recent demons against their division rival.
Instead of double-shifting his big guns, Babcock kept trotting out Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown, and Andreas Johnsson down the stretch. Brown and Johnsson aren’t plodding veterans by any means, but Marleau hadn’t given the Leafs anything in months and had no business playing over 14 minutes in an elimination game.
From the Lightning: It’s a whole new season once playoffs start
Tampa blitzed through the regular season like a bat out of hell and set all sorts of records. That’s all well and good, but it the end they ended up being just another cautionary tale of past President’s Trophy winners.
Not only did the Lightning lose to the final team to make the dance in the East —the Blue Jackets— but they got their butts kicked. Columbus outscored the Lightning 19-8 in the four-game sweep and even spotted the Bolts a 3-0 lead in game one. The Blue Jackets also neutralized the Bolts’ excellent special teams, converting on 50% of their power plays and killing off 83% of Tampa’s power plays with all that talent on the ice.
The Flyers aren’t built like Tampa, and likely won’t have to worry about winning the President’s Trophy with like half a season left, but they should take note that it’s a whole different game once the playoffs start. They could also just, like, not win the regular season crown since that’s proven to be such a thorn in the side of teams come playoff time.
From the Golden Knights: FINISH THEM
Vegas let the Sharks hang around too long, and that cost them in their second Stanley Cup playoff run. Yes, they did it to themselves, and not a bad major penalty called by the zebras.
Armed with a 3-1 series lead, the Knights lost three-straight (Two in overtime) to fall to their division rivals. But not only did they lose three-straight, but they even managed to blow a 3-0 lead in the decisive game seven on the road. Welcome to postseason heartbreak, Vegas, you’re a real NHL team now.
Vegas’ 2019 playoff tale is a good lesson for other teams around the league, including the Flyers. You have to go for the jugular when you have the chance because there is too much parity in the league right now. The Knights were rolling into game five at the SAP Center coming off three-straight wins and outscoring the Sharks 16-6 in those games. They were flat in game five and that let San Jose right back into the series, and they took full advantage.
From the Predators: Fix the power play
So many people are rushing to ship Shayne Gostisbehere out the door, but I’ll show you a team who saw their whole playoff run turned upside down by a terrible power play.
After winning the Central Division with 100 points, the Predators were six-game fodder for the Stars in which Nashville went 0-for-15 on the man-advantage. That followed the Preds’ regular season, where they were the NHL’s worst power play at just 12.9%.
Nashville lost the special teams battle against the Stars, and a more effective power play would have closed the gap between the two teams. Given even a league average power play, the Predators would be perhaps the team moving on instead of the Stars.
Despite the heavy emphasis on 5-on-5 play during the playoffs, and rightly so, there’s still plenty of chances to go around on the man-advantage and you best capitalize when you get the chances or else you’ll be going home earlier than expected.
From the Jets: Don’t run into the hottest team going in
The Winnipeg/St. Louis series was one of the funnest of the opening round, and it was about an evenly played six-game series you’ll see. Both teams potted 16 goals, and five of the six games were decided by one goal. Problem for the Jets was that the Blues won four of those five such games, and went on to win the series in six games.
There wasn’t a ton to pick apart for the Jets in this series, given that both teams ended in the middle of the pack in terms of 5-on-5 play and special teams, but there was one glaring flaw with this iteration of the Jets: they ran into the red-hot Blues.
St. Louis went 30-10-5 in 2019, making for their early season slumber —and the firing of Mike Yeo— to head into the playoffs scorching hot. They narrowly missed winning the Central after spending multiple days at the very bottom of the NHL standings. That’s wild.
Almost every year we see a team go into the playoffs on a hot stretch and make some noise deep into the spring. It’s hard to avoid ending up playing a hot team, but there was nothing else to pick at here so just hope that you’re not the team headed for the buzzsaw once the dance starts.
Flames: Can’t get killed at 5-on-5
Calgary was a metrics darling during their resurgent regular season, winning the Pacific Division going away and earning the top seed and home-ice advantage out West. They did so on the back of their possession dominant play under first-year Flames coach Bill Peters.
After a regular season that saw the Flames outscore opponents by a whopping 25 goals at even strength, they managed just four goals at 5-on-5 in their five-game series loss to the Avalanche. Not only that, but they ended with the third-worst Corsi For percentage (44.26%) after a regular season number nearly a full 10% higher.
Colorado turned the tables on the Flames and coupled that with some stellar goaltending from Phillip Grubauer to fuel the upset. Earlier we talked about how important special teams are, but getting killed at 5-on-5 is another quick way to have a real bad time come playoffs.
From the Capitals: Get pucks on net
While matching up with the perennial possession darling Hurricanes did the Caps no favors, they spend the bulk of their seven-game series chasing the storm so to speak.
The Caps ended round one at the very bottom in terms of both Corsi For percentage and in terms of shot on goal per game. That’s a recipe for disaster normally, but the Caps’ sniper made up for it a bit but over the course of a long series the Hurricanes won out by generating many more chances.
Case in point being the overtime portions of their game seven win on the road. While the Caps were struggling to just generate attempts, the Canes scored the series clinched on a blind centering pass from game seven wizard Justin Williams.
Brock McGinn’s goal encapsulated the series in a nutshell, where the Hurricanes drove play and chances and got rewarded for it while the Caps were too busy looking for the perfect play too often.