The Pittsburgh Penguins are hardly a perfect team. They have holes throughout the roster, and some question marks in net as well.
That they are the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions and have a handful of ultra-talented players really papers over a lot of the problems they experienced this year. But perhaps nothing does so more than Game 1 of their series with the Flyers.
Coming in, you would of course look at not just that the Penguins swept their in-state rivals in what is now a five-game run, but how they did so. Over their five meetings since Nov. 27, three of which have happened since the start of March, the Penguins scored at least five goals in every game, and hold a 27-11 advantage in goals.
We all know this, of course. It’s been harped on plenty, and you didn’t need a blowout win in Game 1, humiliating for the Flyers though it may have been, to say Pittsburgh was the potentially heavy favorite assuming Matt Murray didn’t absolutely implode. Not to draw too many conclusions from a single playoff game, played in Pittsburgh, but now even a Murray implosion might not matter that much.
It’s not just that Brian Elliott was bad. He was putrid. That Malkin goal was the kind of goal you’d see someone get benched in a regular-season QMJHL game for, but he got to stay in not only for the start of the second period, but also for two additional goals.
Elliott shouldn’t have even been the starter in the first place, probably, because while it was a good bet in Calgary to go after a guy with a couple consecutive .920-plus seasons (albeit behind a Ken Hitchcock system) he was awful for the Flames and the Flyers bought in hoping for a bit of a rebound. It obviously never came, as Elliott went .909 in the regular season and spent a good chunk of the year on IR.
That Dave Hakstol went with him is maybe borderline-understandable because Michal Neuvirth was out — and do NOT look up Petr Mrazek’s stats since he got traded to Philly — but good lord, what a mess. And now Hakstol is making noise (as of this writing) that Elliott will get the nod again in Game 2. This is indefensible lineup-making, and Hakstol is likely to pay for it not only in goals against, but in any sort of psychic hold he might have with his bosses. Put another way, how does a GM continue to have confidence in a coach that watches Game 1’s goaltending performance and says, “That’s my guy next time out.”
But this was a much bigger meltdown for the Flyers than just in the nets, and that’s the real issue here. Because as bad as Elliott was — and just to really underscore it: Very Bad — the team in front of him played a pretty repugnant game as well.
They weren’t particularly good defensively, as you might expect, but they also didn’t get anything going offensively either. Obviously to score zero goals and allow seven is poor, but in terms of expected goals, which simply evaluates both shot quality and shot quantity simultaneously, the Flyers “should have” scored less than one goal at 5-on-5. Even after factoring in all the power plays they got — and they spent more than seven minutes on the man advantage — if the Flyers played that exact game 100 times, they would score an average of 1.2 goals in their games. Doesn’t matter how good your goaltending is most nights if you only give the guy one-ish goals worth of run support.
We know that the Flyers’ power play is basically useless with Claude Giroux off the ice, but it’s worse than that: In the regular season, they outscored opponents on the man advantage 48-5 with Giroux on the ice, and somehow the second unit got outscored 5-3 over an entire season when he was off. That certainly continued in Game 1, because the Flyers power play ended up conceding the Malkin goal with the second unit out there.
Giroux was, not surprisingly, one of the few bright spots for the team generating the most shot attempts, unblocked attempts, attempts on goal (he was the only player with more than one, somehow), drawing a penalty, going 7-for-9 at the dot, and so on. He was on the ice for about a quarter of the team’s expected goals for despite playing less than 18 minutes. And with all that said, even he got badly out-chanced.
If you were making a list of things that could possibly go wrong for the Flyers in this series, you would definitely list the forward depth not showing up. And it didn’t. You would definitely list the goaltending totally melting down. And it did. You would also say their patchy defensive corps just getting run out of the building, and for the most part it did.
Statistically, only Ivan Provorov was a positive defender on the team in terms of expected goals (and even then, only just), and he was still on the ice for three actual goals against, so copy and paste the shrug emoticon here.
Again, you don’t want to draw too many conclusions from one game, but these were extant problems before the postseason began and the Penguins, thanks to their forward depth and apparent lack of need for actual good defenders, might be uniquely positioned to dummy the Flyers.
Unfortunately for Hakstol and Co., he’s gonna need to come up with some real answers real fast, and he hasn’t been able to do it yet. Problematically, one can’t imagine there are too many answers in the Flyers room at all.
Not sure where that leaves this team for the rest of the series, but I guess the good news is if they play like that again the series won’t be all that long anyway.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.