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Penguins-Flyers may come down to a battle of special teams

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Both the Pens and the Flyers own poor penalty kill units, but Pittsburgh has a huge advantage on the powerplay.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest and most negative storylines surrounding the Penguins this season was their glaringly poor effort and lack of success on the penalty kill. Many are quick to blame the removal of Ian Cole and his PK skills, but Pittsburgh truly wasn’t great at killing penalties even when he was still on the team. The PK unit has improved slightly in the latter half of the season, but is still only successful 80% of the time — good for 17th in the NHL.

It also goes to mention that the goaltending behind the penalty kill has also been lackluster. It’s tough to critique Matt Murray too harshly given the amount of games he’s missed this year, but it’s still worth mentioning he’s 23rd in the league in save percentage at a lowly .869 and has allowed 29 powerplay goals against.

Goaltending in the Metro hasn’t been as strong in comparisons to seasons past, and even the best teams in the east are putting up bad numbers on the PK. But what’s usually the biggest indicator of a team moving on in the postseason is the success they have on both ends of their special teams units, and that’s a huge key to victory during this time of year.

This brings us to the Penguins first round matchup with the Flyers.

We all know these two clubs are nothing like the teams they were back in 2012 and earlier, and a re-ignition in the Keystone state’s rivalry won’t come at the fists of either roster. These teams are a part of the future — using their skills more than they’re brandishing knuckles, and it’s most likely going to come down to which of the two will convert more regularly and timely when their special teams units are out on the ice.

The biggest blemish the Flyers have is their abysmal penalty kill. Philly is currently the third worst team in the NHL (29th for those wondering) on the PK, sporting only a 75.8% kill percentage. Petr Mrazek (.824) and Brian Elliott (.812), the Flyers two goaltenders, are 39th and 40th in the league in powerplay save percentage respectively.

It’s true that Elliott missed a ton of time due to a surgery that benched him for more than a month, and Mrazek was picked up around the deadline from the Red Wings and is rather new, but these numbers are pretty horrible. The PPSV% also don’t include Philly’s third-string guy, Alex Lyon, who’s currently down in the AHL with Lehigh Valley, and Michal Neuvirth, who just can’t seem to stay healthy. Lyon only played 11 games with the Flyers before getting sent back down, but his SV% at even strength is still not the best at .905. And Neuvirth only managed to play in 22 games this season, which is a shame because he seems to be the most consistent goalie Philly has when he’s healthy.

All of this bodes extremely well for the Penguins. They still own the top powerplay in the league, converting at an incredible 26.2%. It’s also important to note that Pittsburgh has home-ice advantage, where the team boasts a 30-9-2 record, more penalties called against their opposition, and an even slightly better PP percentage. On the road, it’s just a bit lower at 25.4%, but it’s still best in the NHL.

Pittsburgh also has two guys in the top-ten in powerplay goals scored. One is Patric Hornqvist, who should change his nickname to “Mr. Powerplay.” He’s third-best in the NHL with 15 total powerplay tallies, just behind huge names like Patrik Laine and Alex Ovechkin. The other is Evgeni Malkin, who’s having an unreal year, with 14 PPG to his own credit.

The man-advantage will be one of the biggest deciding factors in this series, and the Penguins will absolutely push those sorts of situations every night. Numbers don’t lie, so let’s hope the referees don’t decide to swallow their whistles come Game 1.