Coming in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no one thought the Philadelphia Flyers would encounter this much trouble while taking on Presidents’ Trophy winners. The team knew it would be a tall task, but no one could have predicted these first three games to become an absolute disaster.
Game 1 was bad, the team lost Sean Couturier and managed a measly 8 shots after the first period. And then things started to collapse left and right.
And not all of it is because the Capitals are playing that well.
There it is, I said it. The Capitals aren’t necessarily overwhelmingly winning this series, the Flyers are, however, overwhelmingly losing this series.
That’s not to say there’s no effort from the Orange and Black, because there certainly is, but there have been countless bad decisions game in and game out that have inevitably led to heartbreaking goals. That will put even the best teams out of the playoffs quicker than you can imagine.
The difference? The Capitals aren’t making these mistakes, and they’re taking every opportunity the Flyers are handing them and making the most of it. That’s why the Flyers found themselves in an 0-3 hole after game 3.
Goaltending Gone Awry
It’s hard to place blame on any one player when the team has been outscored 12-2 over two games, but Steve Mason has not given the Flyers a chance to win these games. That shouldn’t be a blame that’s placed on him though.
Mason carried the load for the Flyers down the stretch, starting 17 of the Flyers last 19 games, and whether you like it or not, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Flyers net minder has probably hit his limit. He probably should have been yanked from game 3 after Evgeny Kuznetsov netted a goal that probably never should have found its way on to his stick in the first place. It happened off of a bad bounce, but it was a puck that Mason saw all the way, and should have gloved down with no problem.
That goal came just two minutes into the third period, and as I mentioned above, was one of those ‘dagger in the throat’ type goals that can really deflate a team. And it did.
The Flyers had outshot the Caps 23-14 until that point in the game. After that goal, the team completely collapsed like a house of cards. The whole thing can’t be blamed on Mason, but there is a point in the playoffs where your goalie has to keep you in the game. The goaltender at the other end of the ice has done that since game 1, stopping almost everything that has come his way, routine or not.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Caps goalie, Braden Holtby.
There was a lot to be contested with the Caps goalie over the regular season. Was he the real deal? Or was he benefitting from the best team in the NHL playing in front of him.
That should be clear now, Holtby is the real deal.
He has stopped 91 of the 93 shots that have been directed his way. The Caps were severely out shot in game 2, and also out shot in game 3, yet Holtby has stood tall, made the saves that needed to be made, and then more on top of that.
Once again, another huge difference in the series.
Mason has not made the routine saves when his team needed it most, Holtby on the other hand, has, and that has been a huge juncture in games 2 and 3. It’s not necessarily indicative of the goaltender Mason is, but more a testament to how worn out the Flyers top is.
Special Teams Nightmare
If there is one single thing that will cause the Flyers to be swept out of the playoffs, it will no doubt be their failure to kill penalties and their failure to find the back of the net on the power play.
Through the first three games of the series, the Flyers are now 0-for-13 on the power play. That’s not a typo, they are zero for thirteen. What’s even worse? These power plays have come at huge points in the game, and the team is lifeless, there has been no sustained pressure, and minimal shots on the power play.
The Flyers started out the series against the Capitals in Washington with three power plays in the first period alone, the Flyers did absolutely nothing with these. Then what happened? Brandon Manning took a very avoidable delay of game penalty, and the Caps proceeded to score. Then, in the dwindling minutes of the game, with the Flyers about to get another power play, Wayne Simmonds negated that by dropping the gloves with Tom Wilson. Another avoidable penalty that cost the Flyers a man-advantage at a crucial point in the game. The Capitals scored just a few minutes later to seal the deal in game 1.
Aside from the power play being non-existent, if you’re the Flyers, you can not under any circumstance take penalties that aren’t absolutely necessary to take. A team like the Capitals will make you pay, and they have.
Through the first three games of the series, the Capitals are far and away the most efficient team on the man-advantage at 47.1% (8 for 17), they’re also tied for most power play opportunities, and were an insane 5 for 9 in game 3.
That isn’t a result of bad officiating, that’s a result of a team that has lost their cool against a Capitals team that has sat back, taken hits, and not retaliated.
The most frustrating part for Flyer fans and players has to be the fact that if the Capitals have just four even-strength goals the whole series. So as you can see, this series has been pretty even at even-strength. What makes that even worse was that two of those even strength goals were goals that Mason should have easily stopped (Ovechkin game 3, Chimera game 2), when you factor that in, it really shows you just how much special teams are the difference in this series.
If the Flyers would have been somewhat marginal (~20%) on the power play, and have avoided unnecessary penalties, they would no doubt be in the series and hanging right with the Capitals. Instead, they now find themselves down 3-0 to a Caps team that is firing on all cylinders, and a Flyer team that is struggling to do anything productive.
Special teams are the difference in the playoffs, and the Capitals have taken it to the Flyers.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.