When a team clinches the second wild card position in their respective conference, it is almost a guarantee that they will experience the most challenging matchup in the first round. The Philadelphia Flyers had what it took this season to make the playoffs but unfortunately, they could not get out of that dreaded second wild card spot. As a result, the Flyers are playing a best of seven series with the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals.
Before this series officially got under way, there was a lot of chatter about how this series could be a lot more evenly matched than people expect. Some even went as far enough to say that the underdog Flyers would upset the Capitals and move on to the second round. Then on Thursday night, the round one matchup between Washington and Philadelphia began and all of the dreamers, including myself, were brought back to reality.
After decisive victories on both Thursday and Saturday, the Capitals own a 2-0 lead in the series that is now moving to the Wells Fargo Center for the next two games.
The beauty of playing a seven-game series is that even though Philadelphia finds themselves in a hole, they are not completely doomed just yet. There is still time for the Flyers to turn this series around and make it interesting. However, there is no denying that some serious alterations to the team’s play need to happen immediately.
Here are some ways Philadelphia can prevent their ship from sinking any further and get back into this series against the Washington Capitals.
A Little Help From His Friends
So let’s forget about that embarrassing center-ice goal scored by Jason Chimera in the second period of last night’s game for just one second. If you are able to do that, you can recognize that Flyers’ goaltender, Steve Mason, is having himself a pretty impressive series to this point. He has made some pretty miraculous saves against the best offensive team in the Eastern Conference and has prevented these past two games from getting ugly early.
The big issue is the Flyers have been unable to provide Mason with any sort of offensive support. In the past 120 minutes of hockey, Philadelphia has only managed to put the puck in the net once. Of course, stellar play by both Braden Holtby and the Capitals defense have played a role in this offensive drought. Unfortunately, this excuse is not going to get the Flyers any closer to the second round.
Philadelphia needs to start scoring goals and they have to count on the likes of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn to do so. Normally, I would add Jakub Voracek to this list but seeing that he has scored the Flyers lone goal in the series, I will save calling him out for another time.
Taking an Early Lead
The Washington Capitals are the kind of team that only gets better as the game goes on. For this reason, the Flyers need to strike early and often. Of course, this would involve scoring goals, which has proven to be a difficult task, but Philadelphia needs to start ending the first period with a lead. Entering the second and third periods ahead will provide some cushion. This task is much easier said than done and will only happen if the Flyers’ offense demonstrates the ability to score.
Stay Out of the Penalty Box
Playing a disciplined style of hockey is a difficult task for the Flyers to accomplish. They play with their emotions on their sleeve which normally results in the team taking some bad penalties. If Philadelphia wants to make this series interesting, they need to stop giving the Capitals powerplay opportunities.
Philadelphia has put Washington on the man-advantage eight times in two games and the Capitals are having no problem making the Flyers pay for doing so. The Caps have scored three of their six goals in this series while on the powerplay. Eliminate those opportunities and the Flyers will shorten the height of the mountain they have to climb to come away with a victory.
Take Advantage of Opportunities Given
The Flyers have also seen their fair share of power play opportunities throughout the first two games of this series. In fact, they have been on at least a one-man advantage as many times as their opponents. Unfortunately, they have not been able to capitalize on a single opportunity given to them.
The ability to take advantage of favorable circumstances is what separates winners from losers. If the Flyers cannot get their special teams moving in the right direction, round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is going to be much shorter than the team would prefer.