The Philadelphia Flyers are set to participate in a four-team round robin to determine seeding for the first round of the playoffs. Under this plan, they will play one game against each of the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. Any ties in the round-robin results will be settled by regular-season points percentage.
This plan actually benefits the Flyers. Had the first-round seeding merely been determined by regular-season points percentage, the Flyers would have received the fourth seed. Thanks to the round robin though, they now have a chance to snag the top seed.
In order to do so, they will need to sweep the round robin. That will be no easy task given the strength of their opponents. Though the Flyers held their own in the regular season, winning three of four against Washington, winning two of three against Boston and losing two close games to Tampa Bay, they will still have their work cut out for them. So let’s take a look at the top player from each of these teams who the Flyers will need to shut down.
The Bruins may have lost two of three to the Flyers in the regular season, but David Krejci was certainly not to blame. Krejci was one of only two Bruins forwards to finish with a positive plus/minus in both of the losses (the other was Danton Heinen who was traded to Anaheim in February).
Also, Krejci’s three combined points across these three games tied with Heinen, Charlie Coyle and Brad Marchand for the most among all Bruins. Krejci was responsible for two goals in the second game and added an assist in the final meeting.
Krejci has never garnered the same attention as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or David Pastrnak, but he has still been a consistent producer for the Bruins. In his 14-year NHL career, all of which has been spent in Boston, Krejci has tallied at least 50 points eight times. He was on pace to reach the mark for a ninth time this season, as he had recorded 13 goals and 30 assists for 43 points prior to the hiatus.
Nikita Kucherov was a menace for Flyers’ goalie Carter Hart during the regular season. In the first meeting between the Flyers and Lightning, a 1-0 Lightning victory, Kucherov recorded a team-high five shots on goal. He may not have tallied any points, but he still accounted for nearly 18% of the shots that Hart faced.
In the second game between these teams, Kucherov scored a goal and added an assist to lead the Lightning to a 5-3 victory. Both points came in the third period and helped Tampa Bay ice the game. Kucherov also tied for a team-high three shots on goal.
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Kucherov is just one season removed from winning the Hart Trophy by leading the NHL with 87 assists and 128 points. He was putting together another impressive campaign this season with 52 assists and 85 points prior to the stoppage of play. If the Flyers hope to defeat the Lightning for the first time this season, they will need to keep Kucherov off the score sheet.
The Flyers beat the Capitals three out of four times this season, with the only loss coming in a shootout back in November. A big reason why the Flyers were so successful was that they shut down Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovechkin failed to record a single point in any of the four games, while Kuznetsov and Backstrom both recorded just two points. There were not really any Flyer-killers on the Capitals this season for that matter, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll assign this section to T.J. Oshie.
Oshie was as good as any Capital versus the Flyers this season. He was a combined minus-one in those four games. That is not bad considering his team lost three times and got outscored 16-7 in regulation. For comparison, Ovechkin combined for a minus-four. The Feb. 8 game was the only time Oshie appeared on the score sheet, as he recorded a goal and an assist in the Flyers’ 7-2 victory. Still, Oshie was a presence in the Mar. 4 and Nov. 13 games by getting three shots on net both times.
After playing the first seven years of his career in St. Louis, Oshie has played the last five in Washington. There, he has emerged as a secondary threat to some of the Capitals’ big names, like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Oshie consistently hovers around the 50-point mark each season and was on pace to surpass that mark this season. He had already recorded 26 goals and 23 assists for 49 points prior to the NHL halting play.
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Ultimately, shutting down these players is just a starting point. If the Flyers hope to sweep the round robin, they will need to contain more than just these three players. Even if the Flyers cannot, they still have to be happy that they had the chance to move up from the four seed. Moreover, they ought to be happy that they have some playoff hockey ahead of themselves at all.