Finally getting to see the Penguins and the Flyers face off after all the previewing and predicting blossomed inside me a few storylines to continue watching for in the upcoming opening round. This absolute bludgeoning by Pittsburgh put five, big thoughts in my head, and they’re leading the charge in what I’ll be paying attention to throughout the rest of the series. If stymied, corrected, and/or seen through, they’ll most likely be pertinent in a victory effort.
The Flyers are extremely slow off the puck
You know those early cartoons, where the antagonist character would be chasing the good guy, and suddenly, after dodging every single obstacle thrown at them by fate and getting just inches away from their target, they still ultimately end up getting stuck in tar or quick sand at the last second and the hero gets away? That was the Flyers every single time they were skating without the puck trying to regain possession. Just take a look at this sequence Andrew MacDonald for evidence:
I think this sequence by Andrew MacDonald sums up the Flyers night perfectly. pic.twitter.com/ZJ2uYliviN— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 12, 2018
On the initial entry, he fans on the puck, gets beat by a trailing Jake Guentzel, and then is caught flat-footed in front of Brian Elliott after watching another one of Sidney Crosby’s “home runs.”
Pittsburgh’s speed has always been a game-changing trait, something that most NHL teams can’t match up with, but the Penguins torched Philly at every turn — corralling pucks after lobs and dump ins, sprinting to loose pucks poke-checked away in all three zones, successfully circling the Flyers in their own defensive zone like a parade of sharks, ferocious forechecks, constant, tantalizing stick lifts, getting to rebounds faster to flip on net, and breakaways, breakaways, breakaways, just like this one:
Malkin... Beats everybody.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 11, 2018
The crowd (and his parents) go wild! pic.twitter.com/QgEPZPolPD
That’s Pittsburgh’s music. The Flyers were run out of the building, literally, and as a result, their shot-strength and velocity suffered from the point. Can’t score your typical goals from 40-feet away when you’re sucking air and nursing hitches in your side.
Pittsburgh’s bottom-six dominated, and Philly’s top-six were non-existent
As expected, depth became too tall of a task for Dave Hakstol to handle. The Penguins third and fourth lines were phenomenal all game, and being that deep in the playoffs is a must if you want to make it further than the first round. The pressure they put on the entire 200-sheet of ice was constant, persistent, and suffocating. It bodes well when you have juggernauts Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel slotted in on your third line, but the two guys who really stood out to me were 4C Riley Sheahan and rookie 4LW Zach Aston-Reese.
Aston-Reese, playing in his first NHL playoff game, was as starstruck as you could see a young guy on one of the biggest stages in hockey, and even with all the nerves undoubtedly churning in his stomach, he put up a solid defensive game and even got in on the action on the offensive side of things in front of the net. He's only going to get better. As for Sheahan, he made some sort of positive effect on almost every shift he had. Look for Mike Sullivan to give those two lines tons of minutes.
On the flip side...the Flyers top-six, to put it nicely, did not have a very good outing. Captain, and Hart trophy candidate, Claude Giroux, Selke candidate Sean Couturier, celebrated right winger, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds did next-to-nothing offensively the entire 60 minutes. Philly’s top scoring defensemen also failed to get anything going. Even Couturier himself was quoted in his post-game interview criticizing his and his teammate’s performance: “Their best players were better than ours.” The man’s not wrong.
The Penguins will feast on Philly’s dump, chase, & cycle to the point system
Pittsburgh’s hyper-aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck is merciless, and being that the Flyers run an improvised dump and chase tactic to set up their offense every time they gain the zone on controlled or uncontrolled entries, it’s easy for the Penguins to swallow up the puck, eliminate any clear paths to the next once the it’s cycled back up to the point, block the paths that do become somewhat clear, and/or totally stop the play altogether behind the cage before it can even get passed around and up to the blue line. Hakstol’s system didn't work on the Penguins defense in the regular season, and now with the playoffs hyping this team up even more, I don’t expect it to suddenly work now.
None of Hakstol’s matchups have a chance at stopping Sidney Crosby
There really isn’t much left can we say about “The Kid” other than — wow.
We knew coming into this series that Hakstol was going to deploy his top defensive pair of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, and he followed suit. We also knew he was going to assign the -Travis Sanheim-MacDonald pair to a different one of the Penguins lines — which ended up being the third line of Conor Sheary, Brassard, and Kessel. That left the final coupling of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas to try and take care of Evgeni Malkin’s line.
Well, Crosby had a hat trick, Malkin’s line had handful of points (two goals, two assists), and Brassard’s had a couple as well. That’s about all you need to know.
“Playoff Murray” is back in full form, Flyers goaltending struggles showed early
Matt Murray’s dominance in the postseason continues on its commanding tear with his third-straight playoff shutout, and we summed it up pretty extensively in just one tweet.
Matt Murray hasn’t given up a playoff goal since Game 4 against Nashville in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.— PensBurgh (@Pensburgh) April 12, 2018
For those of you wondering, that’s 206:52 of playoff time logged without a single goal past him when the Stanley Cup is on the line. He’s making serious history, and he’s only 23-years-old.
Regarding the Flyers, their nightmare carousel of goalies continued again Wednesday night. Elliott wasn’t the sole reason for the loss (bad defense was more so the perpetrator), but he sure didn’t help his team out. A soft, backhand goal to his blocker side by Malkin should’ve been easily turned aside, but somehow he let it go through. It’s hard to critique him too harshly though — the guy is just coming off core muscle surgery. Petr Mrazek relived him after Eliott failed to stop the Penguins fifth goal, but he really didn't do much better. Hakstol was asked about who he’s going to start in Game 2, and his confidence in Elliott hasn’t swayed; he’ll be between the pipes come Friday.
There’s still a lot of hockey yet to play, so it wouldn’t be wise to write this Philly team off just yet. Even though the Flyers lost 7-0, it doesn’t give the Penguins any more of a lead than it would if they won by just a goal in overtime. This series will at least go four games, and an embarrassed team is a team looking for revenge in its next opportunity. Look out for how Philadelphia responds tomorrow night.