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Through two games, what hasn’t gone according to plan?

It’s a 1-1 series, but not one that feels particularly good. What has happened so far that we weren’t expecting?

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A 1-1 series through two games is not, by any stretch, the end of the world. Truthfully, it’s not even really out of the ordinary. Without checking this, I’m going to guess that more series are tied 1-1 after two games than they are at a 2-0 advantage for either team. Unless you had the Flyers in a sweep in this series, you shouldn’t feel like we’re really in the danger zone yet.

Even so, you could forgive a Flyers fan for feeling like this series hasn’t gone quite according to plan after their team bulldozed the NHL in late February, early March, and the round robin. They had a solid showing but still needed to survive a second-period onslaught from Montreal and get a superb showing from their then-21, now-22-year-old goalie to get a one-goal win in Game 1, and Game 2 was over before they even got a shot on goal. Even if the Flyers aren’t your typical one-seed, this is not exactly how a 1-vs.-8 series is supposed to go.

While we don’t want to overreact too much to two games that haven’t quite gone according to plan, playoff series are short, and we’re at least 28.57 percent of the way through this one already. So let’s talk about four things so far that maybe haven’t quite gone as we had hoped, things that are contributing to the Canadiens flatly looking like the better team so far, and what the outlook is for them going forward. (Numbers mentioned below are all courtesy of Natural Stat Trick unless noted otherwise.)

Special Teams

What we thought: That the Flyers, despite a poor run on the power play against Montreal in the regular season, had a pretty substantial edge in special teams over the Canadiens, who had a below-average penalty kill and a power play that wasn’t great to start with and got worse over the course of the season.

What we got: Montreal has three goals in seven tries on the power play across these two games. The Flyers have one power play goal in eight tries.

Will it continue: Of all the unexpected problems the Flyers have faced, this is the one that’s probably of least concern. Yes, the Habs have done well to score on the power play, but they’ve also surely had some good fortune there, and they’ve tallied roughly one expected goal (0.95, to be exact) in their 11:37 of PP time. Unless the Canadiens can force the Flyers’ defensemen to continue having Luke Schenn syndrome on the PK, they’re probably going to cool down there. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ power play hasn’t been great, but they’ve had some chances (2.11 xG in their 16:37 on the PP), and the power play’s work was maybe the only thing in Game 2 that wasn’t a total disaster, even though they didn’t score. That should turn, though it feels like less of a given when you consider ...

Carey Price

What we thought: That he was good? Price’s regular season was very uneven, and entering the playoffs it looked like the Canadiens were going to need him to find his old form if they wanted to make any progress. Then he almost single-handedly pulled the Habs to a series win over the Penguins, and suddenly he loomed over this series as a guy who once again looked like one of the best goalies in the NHL.

What we got: He’s been good. Price has stopped 59 of the 61 shots the Flyers have put on net so far, and the Flyers have just two real-life goals against 5.52 expected goals.

Will it continue: Probably, but to what extent and what end? It’s not like Price has been a total wizard or anything (other than That Save on Scott Laughton) but it’s also not like he’s really changed the series in any big way ... yet. In Game 1 he was pretty good but was outplayed by Carter Hart, and while he was once again strong in Game 2, I’m pretty sure the Canadiens could have won that game with me in net. It feels unlikely Price is going to fall back to his substandard levels of the regular season, but it still remains to be seen just how good he’s going to be the rest of the way. There’s a big difference between Price being a good goalie (the Flyers can beat a good goalie) and replicating what he did against Pittsburgh last round (which would be a huge problem for any team).

Top Forwards

What we expected: That the Flyers’ top-end talent (particularly the top line, led by Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux) would be able to get the better of its matchups against a Canadiens team that was deep but didn’t quite have the horses up front to stack up.

What we got: Something less than that. Giroux and Couturier were actually solid in Game 1 — both had positive on-ice numbers at 5-on-5, Couturier led the team in individual scoring chances, and Giroux had an assist on Jakub Voracek’s power play goal. But Game 2 was a disaster for both of them, the likes of which we don’t really see much nowadays. Only Joel Farabee and Nate Thompson had worse Expected Goals For percentages among forwards at 5-on-5 than Giroux (23.16%) and Couturier (26.16%), and they didn’t generate much of anything on their own at evens or on the power play.

Will it continue: It feels hard to speak with much confidence here because we just ... don’t see games like that from Sean Couturier very much? And it’s probably just a one-off thing? Still, the matchups here are worth discussing. In Game 1, Couturier got similar amounts of time against the Shea Weber/Ben Chiarot pairing (against whom he did well) and the Jeff Petry/Brett Kulak pairing (in which he did less well):

(A quick note on how to read the above chart, courtesy of Hockeyviz with some additional lines drawn on it by me: bigger box = more time with the two players playing against each other. More blue in the box = Flyers player controlled play better. More red in the box = Habs player controlled play better. Cool? Cool. Now back to your regularly-scheduled panicking.)

But in Game 2, the Flyers’ top line saw a lot more of Chiarot/Weber than anyone else — and this time around the former Flyers legend (and Chiarot) got the best of his former (on-paper) teammates:

Weber had a similar hard-match on Couturier in the teams’ matchup in January (though Giroux was on a different line in that game), and fared pretty well against him then as well. It is possible the Canadiens think they’ve stumbled upon something with Weber’s pairing against Couturier’s top line. And if they’re right? That has the potential to be an issue, given that Montreal now has fake-home ice and will have last change in Games 3 and 4. It also seems worth noting that in Game 1 the top line seemed to struggle when up against Montreal’s top line of Paul Byron, Philip Danault, and Artturi Lehkonen, and if there’s anything real to that, you have to think Kirk Muller is going to get those five out against the Flyers’ two best forwards as much as he can.

One should certainly willing to give a guy who is a top-5 two-way center in the NHL more than one bad game before believing there’s a problem here, but again, these series move pretty quickly, and if Couturier’s line isn’t getting the better of whoever they’re facing, the Flyers aren’t moving on unless Carter Hart is a superhuman. Gonna need to see some more from these guys tonight.

Forward Depth

What we thought: That the Flyers’ strong depth up front would allow them to fight roughly to a draw with, or maybe even get the better of, a Montreal forward group that has similarly good depth up front.

What we got: Not that. Definitely not that. The depth matchups, particularly in the middle-6, are all slanted towards the Canadiens so far. Nick Suzuki and Brendan Gallagher’s line has largely got the better of Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny’s, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin have been better than basically everyone they’ve been on the ice with. The Flyers aren’t really getting the better of the run of play until Montreal’s fourth line shows up, and if you need Dale Weise on the ice for the other team in order to succeed, you’re not having a great time.

Will it continue: Of the developments that we’ve discussed here, this is the one that’s most concerning. The Canadiens have been a team with at least competence throughout its forward lineup for much of the season, and that was before Kotkaniemi woke up and turned into what he’s been so far in the postseason. Hayes and Konecny certainly have more to give than they’ve given through two games, and they may just need to play Suzuki and Gallagher to a draw, but what if they keep getting outplayed? And Kotkaniemi and Drouin against anyone in the bottom-6 right now looks like a mismatch — JVR’s struggles have been discussed a fair bit already, Derek Grant hasn’t done much of note in this series other than get threatened to be punched in the face by Carey Price, and no one else has really made their presence felt. If there are lineup changes coming in Game 3 (and it seems quite likely there will be), they’re being made with this problem in mind.