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Past success is definitely a defining factor toward filling out a tournament bracket. Specifically, track record can most definitely plays a part toward eager office workers picking a potential Cinderella during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, track record is not the sole factor toward picking a team. The mantra of “what have you done for me lately” also rings loudly when picking a particular team over the other.
While COVID-19 put the NHL season on pause March 12, the last 10 games for two Stanley Cup Playoff teams in the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers showed different results.
Before looking at their past 10 games, let’s look at the overall season for both teams. The Islanders, at the pause, were 35-23-10 and fifth in the Metropolitan Division. Their 189 goals scored was 24th in the league, while their average goals per game of 2.78 was 22nd. They allowed 190 goals scored (sixth out of 31 teams) for an average goal against per game of 2.79 (ninth). Forwards Mathew Barzal (60 points and 18 goals), Brock Nelson (54 points and 26 goals), Anders Lee and Josh Bailey (43 points each, 19 and 14 goals, respectively) were the go-to skaters on offense, as their point and goal totals were top-four and top-six on their team, respectively. The duo of Semyon Varlamov (2.62 GAA and .914 save percentage (SV%) in 45 games played) and Thomas Greiss (2.74 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games played) supplemented the steady gourmet of rock-solid goaltending.
The Flyers, meanwhile, were 41-21-7 at the pause and were second in the Metropolitan Division. They were tied for the seventh-most goals scored (227 with Boston) and averaged 3.29 goals per game, also seventh in the league. Their top skaters on offense came from forwards Travis Konecny (61 points and 24 goals), Sean Couturier (59 points and 22 goals), Jakub Voracek (56 points and 12 goals) and Claude Giroux (53 points and 21 goals). The quartet would be the top four skaters on the team in points and among the top eight in goals scored. In the goal-preventing department, the tandem of Carter Hart (2.42 GAA and .914 SV% in 43 games played) and Brian Elliott (2.87 GAA and .899 SV% in 31 games played) drove in the majority of the goaltending production for Philadelphia, as the Flyers’ 196 goals allowed was eighth in the league. Their 2.77 goals allowed per game tied them with Tampa Bay for seventh in the league.
At a glance, Philadelphia takes the edge over New York in practically every category, save secondary goaltending when comparing Greiss to Elliott. However, that slight difference could sway old-school hockey minds toward New York. Consistent goaltending wins championships, so the saying goes.
However, when circling back to the last 10 games for both teams, the pendulum heavily sways toward Philadelphia.
Philadelphia went 9-1-0 in their last ten games before the pause. During that 10-game span, the Flyers’ averaged close to four goals per game (3.90) and allowed less than two per game (1.90). The combination of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek and Giroux combined to collect 42 points and score 16 of the 39 goals scored. When looking at the goaltending, Hart went 7-1 with a 1.76 GAA and a .941 SV%, while Elliott went 2-0 with a 2.42 GAA and .914 SV%.
Any team can go on a hot streak, sure, but the Flyers’ streak was not any run-of-the-mill stretch.
After all, eight out of the 10 teams they faced were playoff teams when factoring in the expanded Stanley Cup Playoff format (Columbus twice, Winnipeg, New York Rangers twice, Washington, Carolina and Boston). Their only loss in the span came against Boston, which was the last game Philadelphia played in.
The streak even goes beyond the teams played. Philadelphia simply played better than they did before the stretch; in the Flyers’ 59 games before the stretch, they only averaged 3.2 goals per game and allowed 2.92. While it was serviceable, it was not nearly as dominant as the stretch afterward.
Let’s now look at New York.
In their 10 games before the pause, the Islanders’ went 2-4-4, with their sole victories coming in two of their first three games. The team averaged 2.50 goals a game and allowed 3.30. Barzal, Nelson, Lee and Bailey were only able to string together 37 points combined in that span. Forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau, New York’s big-ticket trade acquisition acquired from Ottawa during the 10-game stretch, only combined for two points off of two goals in seven games. To make matters worse, their goaltending sputtered, as both Varlamov and Greiss collected a 3.00+ plus GAA and sub-.900 SV%; Varlamov had a 3.01 GAA and .894 SV%, while Greiss had a 3.72 GAA and .875 SV%.
While the argument could be made that their schedule was extremely tough, that idea would quickly be thrown out of the Empire State Building, as they faced three non-playoff teams (Detroit, San Jose and Ottawa). In fact, New York’s only two victories came against current NHL Draft lottery teams (Detroit and San Jose). The rest of the stretch included games against Colorado, the Rangers, St. Louis, Boston, Montreal, Carolina and Vancouver. Against this competition (along with the game against Ottawa), the Islanders’ were only able to collect one point or nothing at all.
Without steady goaltending (which allowed 2.71 goals a game before the stretch), New York could not pick up the slack with a heavy barrage of offense (which averaged 2.83 goals a game before the stretch). While they do possess a trump card in head coach Barry Trotz, the 57-year-old can only mask the offensive woes so much. If the goaltending continues to get overworked, New York is in trouble.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, has shown more balance and has cranked it up to a new level. While their goaltending was serviceable before the stretch, it has now become one of the better units in the entirety of the NHL. When combined with an elite offense, it is no wonder how Philadelphia ended up as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference at the season’s pause.
New York will play the Florida Panthers in the Qualifying Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Philadelphia will battle it out round-robin-style with Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington to determine overall seeding in the corresponding rounds after. While looking at track record would show dependable goaltending for New York, the past 10 games have taken a hit and has exposed the offense, which could then negatively affect the goaltending as the postseason gets underway.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, possesses the personnel, the tools and the excellent success over the last 10 games to make eager NHL fans wonder if they are that Cinderella team this year.