The 2018 NHL postseason is underway and a Philadelphia Flyers team that started the year struggling finds themselves in a heated series against their interstate rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The only problem: we do not know which Philadelphia Flyers team is going to show up. Through the first three games there have been two completely different teams. In their two losses the Flyers have looked weak, played sloppy and appeared to have no answer for Pittsburgh’s vicious attack. In their game two victory over the Penguins the Flyers looked energized, motivated and confident that they belong in the playoffs.
The most obvious key to the Flyers success in this series is containing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. In their two losses, the Flyers have been toasted by the trio. Crosby has the ability to take over the game and single handedly bury Philadelphia. In the Penguins two wins Crosby scored a combined four goals and seven points. Crosby’s first period goal in Sunday’s Game 3 set the tone for Pittsburgh, but in Game 1 Crosby did not strike until the game was already over. Letang had dished an assist and Malkin scored a goal helping the Penguins jump out to a 4-0 lead before Crosby scored a point. That leads to the next concern which is goaltending.
Goaltending has been an issue for the Flyers all season. This continues into the postseason. Brian Elliott had a really good game in Game 2. He looked confident and agile. The problem is that he shows absolutely no consistency. In Game 1, Elliott was roasted by the ferocious Pittsburgh offensive attack. He gave up five goals before being pulled. No one expected the Flyers to shut out the Penguins in the series, but there was hope that the goaltending could keep them in the game for longer than one period. Game 3 was the same story with Elliott looking questionable as if he was not confident that he belongs on the same ice as the two-time defending champs. To be successful in the remainder of this series and have any chance of advancing to the next round, Elliott needs to step up his game and stop giving up long rebounds, allowing for second chances when he is down and out of his stance.
Claude Giroux is the captain of the team but there are many rising young stars who grew up before our eyes this season. While it has been exciting to watch them mature, when it comes to the postseason the Flyers need their veterans and their captain to step up and show the youngins how it is done. Giroux has a poor plus/minus rating in the two losses and has yet to score a goal in the series. Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek have also failed to score a goal through the first three games. This needs to change.
The most important aspect of the game that the Flyers need to improve is the sloppy play. In the first three games they have committed 18 penalties. Luckily, the Penguins have committed an equally abysmal 16 penalties. The difference is that Pittsburgh has a better power play attack than the Flyers. The Penguins have only scored two more power play goals than Philadelphia, so the damage is not as bad as it could be. If they keep committing these penalties, Pittsburgh will capitalize more often and the series will sway in the Penguins favor.
The good news is that the Flyers are only down one game in the series and have shown signs of an effective offense. The bad news is that they were blown out in two of the first three games and have displayed sloppy play with penalties and poor goalkeeping. The ugly news is that we are going to have to wait on a game-by-game basis to see which team shows up each night. Hopefully the Flyers of Game 2 is the team that shows up for the remainder of the series.