Surprisingly, not much separated the Philadelphia Flyers and this year’s Stanley Cup Finals teams, the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, during the regular season.
We know – insert eye roll here. However, take a look for yourself.
The Flyers finished with 98 points, which was just seven points less than the Capitals, who own a 3-1 series lead and can win their first Cup in franchise history on Thursday night with a victory. In the last week of February, the Flyers were actually ahead of the Caps in the standings and won three of four meetings against them.
The Golden Knights, an expansion team playing in its inaugural season, shocked the hockey world as they won the Pacific Division title with 109 points. Even still, the Flyers split the season series with them, 1-1.
Now, to say there was not much of a difference between the Flyers and the Eastern and Western conference champions in the playoffs would be foolish.
It’s easy to identify several deficiencies with the team. So let’s take a look at the three most glaring areas where the Flyers, who were eliminated by the Penguins in the first round, must drastically improve if they want to play at this time of the year next season or in the near future.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who won two cups with Pittsburgh, has struggled in the Stanley Cup finals. However, the veteran goalie allowed just 27 goals through 15 games in the first three playoff series for the Knights.
Meanwhile, Brayden Holtby has a postseason-best 2.13 goals against average and has been the main factor in Washington’s three straight wins in the finals. As we all know, the position was, to put it mildly, a nightmare for the Flyers.
Star players stepping up
The Golden Knights’ top three scorers from the regular season, William Karlsson, John Marchessault, and Reilly Smith have 55 points in 19 games. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom lead the Caps with 79 points in 23 games.
Conversely, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds were woefully invisible as they combined for one goal and seven assists in six games against the Penguins. Your superstars need to shine and carry their team at this time of the year.
Washington coach Barry Trotz has been an NHL coach for the last 20 years and qualified for the playoffs 11 times. Vegas’ Gerard Gallant, a finalist for the coach of the year award, is in his seventh season as a head coach. Both veterans have implemented excellent game plans, pushed the right buttons on personnel decisions, and made in-game adjustments that have led to victories.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, in just his third season and second playoff appearance, could not win on home ice, made some puzzling line changes, overused injured players, and the team was maddeningly inconsistent – none of which is a recipe for success.