The surprising Montreal Canadiens will face the Philadelphia Flyers, in the first round of the playoffs. These two teams have a rich playoff history against each other, going all the way back to the 1970s.
Much like my previous match-up article with the Pittsburgh Penguins, I will mark a win for the team with the advantage in each category of offense, defense, goaltending, power play (PP), and penalty kill (PK), and because its a best of seven series, I will add two other categories: coaching and depth.
Whichever team has the advantage in the most categories should win the series, but like in the last series, that isn’t always true. In the last matchup, I had Pittsburgh winning 3-2, and look how that turned out.
This category is going to be closer than most would think. The Canadiens scored an average of 2.5 goals per game, while the Flyers were had 2.79. The big difference will be shooting percentage, where the Flyers hold the advantage of 9.2% to the Canadiens with only 7.5%. The Flyers have depth at scoring as well with three 20-goal scorers this season in comparison to the Canadiens’ two.
As you can see by the graph the Canadiens actually hold the advantage in shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger shots. The issue is once again the shooting percentage. The Canadiens just can’t seem to put the puck in the net, which will cause issues in the series going forward. They managed to score 10 goals in 4 games against Pittsburgh, but the Penguins don’t have the goaltending that the Flyers do.
Flyers lead series 1-0
The defense for these teams in the regular season is almost too close to call, with the numbers almost identical: the Canadiens had a goals against average (GAA) of 2.45, while the Flyers had a 2.44 GAA. The save percentage (SV%) for both clubs was 91.7% for the Canadiens to 91.5% for the Flyers — once again pretty much identical.
As you can see from the chart, the shot attempts against per game are just about equal, with the Canadiens having slightly more with 52.8 to the Flyers’ 52.3. The scoring chances against are the exact same at 24.1, and the high-danger chances against are 10 for the Canadiens to 10.3 for the Flyers.
As you can see the Canadiens and Flyers defensively are almost identical during the regular season. Even in the playoffs, the Flyers held the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning to only three goals — one each — in their round-robin series. While the Canadiens, led by Shea Weber, held the high-powered Penguins to only eight goals in their four-game qualifying series.
This one is so close to call that if it wasn’t the playoffs, it would be a tie, but as we all know, there are no ties in the postseason. Based on the lineups and the play of the Canadiens’ defense, which is built better defensively than the Flyers, I’m giving an ever so slight — and maybe biased — advantage to the Canadiens.
Series tied 1-1
You would think this would be an easy category for the Canadiens considering they have Carey Price and he just dominated the Penguins. The problem is that the Flyers have a guy named Carter Hart, who is quickly emerging as the next great goaltender. (from ‘Flyers goalie Carter Hart: One year after arrival, he looks as good as advertised | Sam Carchidi,’ Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/20/2019) Hart’s numbers are really nothing to get too excited over — this season he had a 2.42 GAA and a .914 SV%, with 24 wins and one shutout. Compare that to Price this season — 2.79 GAA, .909 SV%, 27 wins, 4 shutouts — and Hart looks much better.
You also have to take into consideration that Hart stopped 57 of 59 shots — .966 SV% — in the two games he played in the round-robin against Boston and Tampa. Not to be outdone, Price was the main reason the Canadiens shut down Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, stopping 126 of 133 shots in 4 games to sport a .947 SV%. This again is tough to call, but I will go with experience and give this one to the Canadiens.
Canadiens lead series 2-1
Well, this is going to be very easy to determine because, simply put, the Canadiens’ PP is terrible, while the Flyers’ isn’t. It’s as simple as that — not much of a debate here because the numbers speak for themselves. The Canadiens once again have the advantage in scoring chances at 42.3 to 39.7, but the shooting percentage kills them once again at 12.1% while the Flyers are at 14.5%.
For me, there is not a debate here. The Canadiens’ PP has been so bad all season and even worse in the Qualifying Round, going 0-10. This category is hands down going to the Flyers.
Series tied 2-2
This one is also not very close based on the regular season. The Flyers hold the advantage by averaging 6.34 goals against/60 minutes to the Canadiens’ 7.59. The Flyers also hold a huge lead in shot attempts against with only 72.5 to the Canadiens’ 101.4, as well as a major lead in scoring chances, holding opponents to only 39.2 while the Habs are 50.1 chances/60 minutes.
These stats are also a little misleading, the Canadiens were one of the better teams on the PK after the Christmas break and they stymied the Penguins’ PP in the qualifying round. The Flyers hovered around the top 10 all season and finished 11th on the PK. In their round robin, they only allowed one PP goal out of 10 tries. To me, this one is closer than the numbers tell you. The Canadiens’ PK along with Price is a huge reason they are even playing the Flyers, and because of this, I’m giving the advantage to the Canadiens.
Canadiens lead series 3-2
This is going to be a category almost as easy as the PP one. At the trade deadline, the Canadiens traded away most of their quality depth. One depth player, in particular, was Nate Thompson, who funny enough was traded to the Flyers. The Flyers at the deadline traded for depth acquiring Thompson and Derek Grant.
So, its pretty simple to figure out who is going to win this category — the Canadiens traded away depth, thinking they were out of the playoffs while the Flyers added knowing they could make a good run. The Flyers are the clear winners here.
Series tied again 3-3
So, this battle is going to come down to the final category, coaching. Both teams have very good and successful head coaches. The canadiens have Claude Julien and the Flyers have — former Canadiens head coach — Alain Vigneault. The Flyers assistant coach is also a former Canadiens head coach — Michel Therrien — who was replaced by Julien as Canadiens coach.
Julien has been coaching in the NHL for 17 seasons, coaching the Canadiens twice, the New jersey Devils, and the Boston Bruins. He has 658 regular-season wins and 66 playoff wins, leading his team to the Stanley Cup Final twice and winning it in 2011. Vigneault also has coached for 17 seasons with 689 wins in the regular season and 71 in the playoffs. He’s led two teams to the Cup Final, but has failed to win.
Vigneault has had more wins in both the regular season and the playoffs but Julien has won the Cup, making this another one of those toss-up categories where either one could take it. To determine the winner here, I’m going to look at the bench and the experience of the assistants — when you do that, the Flyers come out on top. Therrien and Mike Yeo just have more experience behind the bench than Kirk Muller and Dom Ducharme, and that, added with Vigneault, I have to give the edge to the Flyers.
Flyers win series 4-3
This was a closer matchup when you look at the numbers than one would think. There are a few categories that could easily go either way such as PK, goaltending, defense, and coaching. However you look at it, the Canadiens versus Flyers series will be hard-fought, with both teams giving it their all. If you are a Canadiens fan, then you should just sit back and enjoy it because if you remember, they are not supposed to be there anyway.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.