With Montreal unexpectedly in the Stanley Cup Final, can we see Philadelphia do something similar?
Every fan base wants to be part of one and it’s human nature to want to cheer for one. It’s the age-old tale of an underdog. All the odds are against them in the trivial fight to be declared the champion, but they go on to win it all (or get close) in a monumental and emotional and compelling series of games that can last them through a handful of seasons — no matter what their management decides to do or who they trade away.
It is something that is so cherished and talked about even from neutral observers of any sport, just something so incredible and captivating that can be discussed beyond the normal fanatic circles.
With the Montreal Canadiens steeped deep in their own underdog run — slaying archrival giants, sweeping a bystander, and killing off one of the assumed contenders in quick fashion — it forces every fan to turn to their own team and point dramatically, saying “why can’t you do that???” in an emphatic tone. Especially when it comes to the damned Philadelphia Flyers, they are just on the edge of a cliff in terms of being a reasonable guess for the postseason and a similar run might just be their final kick at the proverbial can with this current core of top players. I’m not predicting a Claude Giroux or Sean Couturier trade next summer, but…
Nightmare aside, the Flyers have good players, but so does every team. It’s always tough to predict any series in the playoffs — hockey is an extremely random sport built upon defense and the ability to stifle any opposing offense, basically — but there are some declaring that the Canadiens have been always like this.
They are one team that is always expected to do so much more based on their underlying stats. So let’s see how the last three years of 5-on-5 play has treated these two former giants.
Sorted by Corsi-For percentage, Montreal has by far the better outcomes and just an overwhelming stability when it comes to their performances. Their roster has seen some transition, trading away Max Pacioretty, giving more responsibility to different defensemen like Brett Kulak or Ben Chiarot, the constant battle between game starts and Carey Price — the Canadiens have evolved their roster but have been able to keep feeding on a steady diet of outperforming the opposition.
Even the narrative of them not getting finishing talent is kind of false, since they have still been able to stay above the 50 percent mark in terms of goals for at 5-on-5. The power play ability was surely not able to help (across those three seasons, they sit 27th in terms of PP%) but that can’t really kill a team on its own.
Montreal has just been charging up like Wile E. Coyote, legs spinning in a circular blur, and instead of plowing face-first in the side of a cliff every single year, their numbers have carried them through a real-life tunnel.
On the flip side, the Flyers are really the anti-Canadiens. Even if they haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive years since 2012, the have been outperforming their metrics for quite some time and even during the good years, they’ve been an average team in terms of the overall league. Leaning heavily on the scoring abilities of Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, or Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia has been stuck in this weird limbo of expectations and production. We all know too well their recent history, so going over the disappointment is a cruel exercise.
One area that is talked about ad nauseum during the postseason is the dude that’s going to be in between the pipes for your team. Carey Price has gone from being a generational talent, winning an obscene amount of trophies during his 2014-15 season, to being just mediocre as of late.
And he’s kind of similar to a young kid that we’ve depended on for the last three years.
Although Carter Hart has by far the worst season between the two netminders — in terms of basically every number and especially Goals Saved Above Expected — they have been just a pair of mediocre goaltenders during every situation through the last three years.
Aside from Hart last season and Price’s 2018-19 campaign, they have been negative goaltenders taking into consideration where the shots they face are coming from on the ice. It’s not a perfect one-stop number, but it’s better than goals against average or some blanket defensive number like that. The position that can certainly determine your fate in the postseason (lol Penguins) is one dude that is riding high on his way to the Final and another youngster that just suffered a historically terrible season.
There is simply no way that Hart performs the exact same way in the future. It was public knowledge that he was unable to really get his head straight and as much as I sympathize with just not being mentally ready for your job for an extended period of time, it most likely won’t happen again. Not to mention that Hart is so young compared to the experience Price and comparing the two on the same level in terms of development is somewhat cruel. Our goaltender will get better, while Price will either stay the same or get worst. Suck it old man.
As much as you cannot really judge a team on paper and predict how their season is going to go outside of a projected spectrum, Montreal and Philadelphia are built fairly similarly. The Flyers certainly have the advantage when it comes to top forward talent — Giroux and Couturier alone does that — but they are missing a workhorse Shea Weber on the blue line and really have plans to rebuild the whole damn six positions this summer.
If they’re able to make some key adjustments in that area and Hart bounces back, mix in a little bit of system refinement to get those scoring chances lean in their favor, and baby, that’s a contender right there.
Even if that checklist basically exists in every front office and is extremely daunting, there is no real barrier for the Flyers to go on a similar run if they’re able to overcome some of the hurdles they placed in front of themselves. Teams that split even-strength scoring chances can certainly go farther than expected with the right amount of shooting and goaltending outperformance, but it will take a lot of changes for me to be confident in the Flyers making a deep run in any future postseason.
The current way they are built and the current system that head coach Alain Vigneault is having them play, gives me an incredible feeling of insecurity. While Montreal — no matter who the coach has been — reliably gets a higher number of quality scoring chances, the Flyers are depending on multiple forwards to score goals at unsustainable rates, as well as having a blue line that doesn’t look like they’re skating with bungee cords wrapped around their ankles.
Hell, maybe this will all change in one summer and we’ll have a great time next season, enjoying the Flyers being one of the top expected goal share teams in the league for some strange reason. I’ll be the first one to call them a juggernaut.
All stats used via Evolving Hockey