(Photo credit: Amy Irvin, 38 Photography)
President’s Trophy winners against a just-happy-to-be-here second wild card. If you were told on opening night, the Flyers would luck themselves into this playoff matchup back in October, you’d probably think the first round would be a massacre in favor of Washington.
This series, from an analytics perspective, is far closer than the records would appear.
HockeyViz’s Micah Blake McCurdy has a model that predicts playoff outcomes and so far his model has this series at a coinflip heading into tonight’s opener.
There are two main reasons why the Flyers and Capitals are so closely matched, goaltending and possession.
Using the goaltending chart, both Mason and Holtby have performed to roughly the same results over the last 25 games. While Holtby is a likely Vezina winner and possibly Hart nominee, Steve Mason actually kept pace with him over the last 25 games. Also, like Mason, in an attempt to get Holtby to the Wins record, Washington did not rest Holtby down the stretch either. He appeared in 66 games this season, and that includes missing some time with an injury mid-season. Mason, due to injuries as well, appeared in 54 games. At a .922 SV%, Holtby isn’t that far ahead of Mason’s .918. Since the start of the 2014 season, both goalies have posted nearly identical .922 SV%’s. And Mason spent a season behind a Craig Berube coached team that used Nick Grossmann-Andrew MacDonald as a top penalty killing pair.
The idea that Washington wins the goalie battle this series is easily debunked, the goalie matchup is even at worst, and given 5v5 performance, possibly even slightly favors the Flyers.
The above chart also shows that over the last 25 games of the season, the Flyers team got slightly better goaltending than the Capitals.
When it comes to unblocked shots, The Flyers were a more high event team at 5v5, gaining more unblocked shots for, but actually allowing the same level of unblocked shots against. This is another aspect of the game that favors the Flyers, 5v5 play. Washington had a huge special teams advantage and therefore, to win the series, the Flyers actually have to hope the referees swallow their whistles.
There’s no doubt that most people see this as a huge uphill climb for Philadelphia, but when you look at the underlying makeup of the team, it is far more closer than the records would indicate.