The Penguins, the Playoffs, and You (or: "Boy are We Glad We're Not Playing the Rangers in the First Round")
We're feeling very wordy today, so we'd like to start this post with an eloquent little quip, something that really sets the tone for the quality of writing you can expect from us moving forward:
Screw you, Rangers.
Yesterday marked two full days since Sunday's WWE event at the Consol Energy Center, yet there was still a ton of fresh news about the festivities coming out well into the day (take that, 24 hour news cycle!).
Craig Berube delivered a verbal beatdown of Crosby and Malkin (presumably while punching some ****), Mike Milbury apologized for being the first member of the national media to ever discuss Crosby in a negative light, and the Penguins fanbase called us some names and hit us with some sick "your mom" jokes (probably).
Pictured: Rational sports media figure ... ?
We were riding high, still totally pumped about the game Sunday, with one caller on a local sports talk radio show going as far to say that the Flyers would beat the Rangers last night and go on to win the Cup.
And then the Rangers came to town and went all Rangers on us.
But this isn't about the Rangers. Sure, the Flyers went 0-for-6 against them in the regular season, but last night's game was essentially meaningless beyond that. It barely counted in the standings, and it didn't really effect the Flyers' playoff seeding one way or another (4th and 5th place is essentially the same thing). We still want to talk about the Penguins, because the Flyers will be seeing a whole lot of them, real soon. So we're going to talk about that some more, damnit.
We're going to take another angle on the whole Pittsburgh incident, though. A radical angle. A hockey angle. Yes, the Hartsymania and the silly Brayden Schenn crosschecks and the general media circus surrounding Sunday's game was awesome, and it sure as hell got us fired up for a 7 game series with the Pens, but the actual on-ice, hockey angle was kind of ... lost in the shuffle.
A few weeks ago, it became evident that the Flyers were essentially locked into the 4 or 5 seed, and that they'd be playing either the Rangers or the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. On March 16, we asked our Facebook followers who they'd rather play in that first series. Opinion was pretty much split, but a surprising number of people said they'd rather see the Rangers, despite the fact that the Flyers had not won a game against them all season (and as we would see, would not. Ugh).
A lot of that probably had to do with the fact that, on March 16, the Penguins were coming off their tenth straight win (5-2 over the Rangers, no less), were about to get Sidney Crosby back, and looked generally unstoppable. And even though Pittsburgh cooled off quite a bit shortly thereafter (coinciding nicely with Scott Hartnell's buzzer-beater OT goal), they still seemed every bit as scary coming into Sunday's matchup.
It'd be easy to say that Sunday changed all that, that the Flyers stood up for themselves and told Crosby and the boys that they weren't gonna roll over for nobody (or something probably way more intimidating and possibly more grammatically correct), and plenty of sports news outlets, especially the radio shows, played that angle up considerably.
But the real story is that the Penguins might actually have been the Flyers' ideal playoff opponent already.
Check it out:
- Ilya Bryzgalov looked rusty while giving up 5 goals to New York last night, and didn't get a lot of help from his team. But he was exceptional before the foot injury, and he's been historically good against the Penguins. In 7 career games against Pittsburgh, Bryzgalov is 4-1-1 with a .930 SV% and a 2.08 GAA. Yes, the sample size is incredibly small, but those totals are his fifth- and sixth-best, respectively, against any team in the league.
- Just this season, Bryz went 2-0 in three starts against the Pens, putting up a .913 SV% and a 2.60 GAA. He got shelled in one start (3 goals on 13 shots), but turned in arguably his best performance of the season in his most recent outing against Pittsburgh (38 saves on 40 shots in that OT win).
- The Flyers are 5-0 in Consol Energy Center
- There's this prevailing sentiment that the Penguins are super hot right now, but they're actually 5-5 in their last ten games—a far cry from the 11-0 run they were on right before that.
- During that win streak, the Pens scored 45 goals and gave up 17 (17!). In their last 10, they've scored 44 goals and allowed 40. That's more like it. Their offense is still dominant, but their defense and goaltending has been lost in the woods, to borrow the phrase. Which brings us to ...
Marc-Andre Fleury, the key to this whole thing, the ***** in the Penguins' armor (which we can say because this isn't a Jeremy Lin article and we're not ESPN, and because it's an innocuous phrase). We all fondly remember him as the guy with the 8-3 record, .929 SV% and 2.04 GAA in two playoff series against the Flyers. The guy the Flyers just can't figure out. The guy who looks like an elf from Lord of the Rings.
But Fleury's overall playoff numbers are actually mediocre at best (.910 SV%, 2.52 GAA) and his last two postseasons have been fairly awful. Even in 2008-09, when the Pens won the Cup, Fleury managed just a .908 SV% and a 2.61 GAA.
What's more, his career numbers against the Flyers, not counting the playoffs, are actually pretty bad: In 38 games played against Philadelphia (2nd most against any opponent), Fleury's got a .901 SV% and a 2.83 GAA, both of which are his sixth-worst totals. On top of all that, he's not having a spectacular season. Good, yes (.913, 2.37). Spectacular, no.
The point of all this is, Malkin and Crosby are still going to score approximately a gazillion points per game against the Flyers. That's a given. But Pittsburgh isn't playing great defensive hockey, or even okay defensive hockey right now, and "score a ton of goals and, like, kind of play some defense" isn't exactly a sound playoff strategy.
We hate to indulge in "ifs" around here, but if Bryzgalov regains his preinjury form and Nick Grossmann returns from his injury in a timely fashion, the Flyers will absolutely enter the playoffs with a better goaltending situation and defensive corps' than Pittsburgh, and only a marginally weaker offense (3.30 goals per game for the Penguins; 3.20 for the Flyers).
Yes, Fleury is a threat to steal a playoff series at any time (especially against the Flyers), but his overall playoff trends and regular season numbers this year don't suggest that he'll be anything more than average.
Failing that, at least we can fall back on that whole "statement game" thing from Sunday, and hope that it really did give the Flyers a confidence boost and a whole lot of pent up rage to take out on the Penguins.
Either way, at least they won't have to play against Henrik Lundqvist in the first round.
Screw you, Rangers.
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