Leading up to the Flyers’ Aug. 2 round-robin opener – which officially commences the team’s run at the 2020 Stanley Cup in the NHL’s return-to-play 24-team tournament – we’re going to break down every possible first-round matchup for the club.
Today, we look at the fifth-seeded Penguins.
Flyers by the numbers
Goals per game: 3.29 (seventh overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.77 (tied for seventh fewest)
Power play percentage: 20.8 (14th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 81.8 (11th overall)
Penguins by the numbers
Goals per game: 3.20 (10th overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.84 (tied for 11th fewest)
Power play percentage: 19.9 (16th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 82.1 (tied for eighth overall)
How they could meet
If the Flyers remain the fourth seed after the round-robin tourney and the Penguins beat the 12th-seeded Canadiens in their best-of-five qualifying-round series.
Why matchup could be favorable for Flyers
If the Flyers draw a Metropolitan Division team in the first round, the familiarity could be beneficial. The Flyers went 16-4-4 with a plus-25 goal differential (90-65) against divisional opponents during the regular season.
In three meetings with Pittsburgh, the Flyers went 1-1-1 and were outscored 11-7. The Flyers, though, put up 30 shots per game in the regular-season series compared to the Penguins’ 25.3. After being blasted by Pittsburgh, 7-1, in October, the Flyers dominated the Penguins, 3-0, in January before losing to them, 4-3, in overtime later that month.
Following the season’s opening month, the Flyers got significantly better and more comfortable from November on with new pieces, a new head coach and a new system.
NHL's most points since Nov. 1:
1. Bruins – 80
2. Flyers – 78
2. Lightning – 78
4. Blues – 77
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) July 15, 2020
Albeit an exhibition game, the Flyers faced a full Pittsburgh group Tuesday and it resulted in another tight game – a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers.
A few other things to consider in the Flyers’ favor:
• No. 1 goalie Carter Hart didn’t start in any of the three games against the Penguins. The Flyers should like their chances with Hart getting a shot at Pittsburgh in a best-of-seven series.
• The Flyers feature a bona-fide one-two punch down the middle in Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, two centers with size, reach and defensive strengths that can help combat the Penguins’ big names by making things difficult in all three zones.
Why matchup could be trouble for Flyers
Pittsburgh will be a scary team to face because it’s seeing one of the biggest returns in this entire tournament: Jake Guentzel.
Guentzel (shoulder injury) played the Flyers only once during the regular season and missed 30 total games. The 25-year-old winger scored 40 goals last season and had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in six games against the Flyers during the 2018 playoffs.
The Penguins were ravaged by injuries in the 2019-20 regular season but still found a way to finish seventh among the league (three points behind the No. 6 Flyers) despite losing:
Brian Dumoulin for 41 games
Guentzel for 30 games
Sidney Crosby for 28 games
Patric Hornqvist for 17 games
Evgeni Malkin for 14 games
Bryan Rust for 14 games
Kris Letang for eight games
Crosby and the Penguins have often been a thorn in the Flyers’ side, as well. Pittsburgh’s three-time Stanley Cup champion center has knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs three times.
No doubt, a Flyers-Penguins series would be as competitive as any in the first round.
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