Even though every game of the Buffalo Sabres-Philadelphia Flyers series has been decided by a goal* so far, there’s been a lot more hand-wringing on Philly’s side. Then again, there’s also been much more unrest. The Flyers are dealing with major injuries (Chris Pronger and Jeff Carter) and instability in net, as all three of their goalies appeared in this five-game series so far.
* Excluding one empty net goal, naturally.
While I think it’s important to reemphasize that razor-thin line between victory and defeat, the bottom line is that this team is on the brink of elimination with Buffalo up 3-2 in the series. Yet while people gravitate toward an issue that’s out of the team’s control (injuries) and one that is perennially unpredictable (goaltending), there is one correctable issue that could mean their doom.
The Flyers’ power play has been far from dangerous, which can be a fatal flaw in games that have been this tight.
As Jim Jackson discusses in his five thoughts for CSN Philly, the Flyers’ man advantage has been a major disadvantage. They haven’t scored a goal in their last 10 opportunities and only converted on two of 26 overall in the last five games. Playoff competition often brings even powerful groups down a few notches, but how can the Flyers expect to win when they’re only converting about eight percent of their chances?
Jackson points out just how often the Flyers end up with a loss when their power play is unproductive.
And if you want a barometer for the Flyers and their chances of winning, look no further than the power play. Including the playoffs, they are 8 for 133 with the man advantage in the 38 games they have lost this season. That’s a six percent success rate.
Not very surprisingly, Philadelphia is 0-for-13 in their three postseason losses and 2-for-13 (including a still-putrid 1 out of 10 in Game 2) in their two postseason wins. In their 49 wins combining the 2010-11 season with the playoffs, the Flyers PP scored 43 goals. That’s still not amazing – and honestly it never was, being that their power play only scored 49 goals this season, tying them with four other teams for 17th place – but it still reveals a startling contrast that makes a goal on the power play seem like a harbinger of success.
Of course, making the power play better is easier said than done. Much like the case of improving their goaltending, injuries stand in the way of some progress in this area. After all, Pronger’s defensive presence would make any of their three potential starting goalies look better.
The same can be said about Pronger’s hard slap shot from the point along with Carter’s elite finishing ability; those two factors would improve their man advantage as much as any change in strategy.
That being said, excuses – even reasonable ones – aren’t often welcome around this time of a year. The Flyers’ problems might bleed into each other, but finding a way on the power play might just stop the bleeding.
Power play success or failure might end up being the difference in this closely fought series.