The Philadelphia Flyers may be sitting at home, while the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights shock the hockey world and play for the Stanley Cup, but there’s plenty of lessons that can be learned from the final teams. Here’s looking at the traits that led the Caps and Knights to the Final and how the Flyers can adapt to them.
I’ve been of the mind that Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray is good, but not great. He’s excellent at making timely saves and does get a decent share of big ones, but I don’t think he’s a game-changer. In essence, I see him more as a goalie that won’t lose you games, but won’t win a lot on his own
If that was a trait the past two years from the Penguins, it’s certainly been bucked by the Capitals and Knights.
Mentioned earlier, Fleury is having maybe the best postseason of his career. He’s sporting an astounding .947 save percentage and has four shutouts.
Any playoff issues from his Penguins days seem to be over for Fleury and it’s paying off for the Knights, who have won seven one-goal decisions.
Braden Holtby struggled during the home stretch and was the backup for the first two playoff games. Luckily for the Capitals, they re-inserted Holtby by Game 3 against the Blue Jackets and haven’t looked back since. His save percentage isn’t as high as Fleury’s at .924, but it’s still a respectable number. Most importantly, though, the 28 year old didn’t allow a single goal in two elimination games against the Lightning.
For the Flyers, their best bet at a goalie of that caliber is Carter Hart. In the meantime — barring any trades — they’ll have to settle for Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon.
The Flyers really should have learned this lesson before the playoffs, but the Caps and Knights have hammered it even more.
Both teams use an aggressive penalty kill that attacks the player with the puck. The Flyers operate a completely opposite tactic that requires getting stick and bodies in passing and shooting lanes.
Philly hasn’t had a strong penalty kill in years and Vegas even has former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was a frequent penalty killer with the orange and black. Bellemare was lamented often in Philadelphia, but has been part of the success in Vegas.
But it goes beyond the penalty kill. Both teams use their speed immensely to attack and defend.
Knights coach Gerard Gallant lets his team play a free-wheeling style and doesn’t discipline often for mistakes. Hopefully, these are lessons the Flyers and other teams around the NHL pay attention to.
Cheap Depth Scoring & Contributions
Depth scoring has been critical since the playoffs were created and economical players have been needed since the salary cap was introduced. In this year’s playoffs, especially for the Capitals, that tradition has continued.
Washington has eight players making over $5 million a year. For the most part, they’re all earning their paychecks, but it’s the depth guys who are earning the most bang for their buck.
Brett Connolly, Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson make a combined $2.8 million and have contributed 18 points. To make matters even better, some of the goals and assists have come at crucial times.
On defense, Michal Kempny has averaged 17 minutes a night on a $900,000 salary and in net, Philipp Grubauer played an important role in the regular season while Braden Holtby struggled. He made just $1.5 million.
The Knights have their cheap players, but they’re an anomaly — like most things revolving Vegas. Jonathan Marchessault made $750,000 this year and William Karlsson $1 million. They’ve combined for 31 points this postseason. That Vegas fortune will never be duplicated again — or at least not until the next expansion draft.
For the Flyers, their cheap contributions will likely come from players on ELCs instead of veterans like the Capitals (more like the Penguins). The team will need to contend while Morgan Frost, Carter Hart and Philippe Myers are still young.
Grit Has a Place
I’m not going to turn into Brian Burke in this section, but it would be hard to argue that grit hasn’t been a factor in both team’s runs to the Final.
The Capitals have the always controversial Tom Wilson on their first line and Brooks Orpik on defense. If you watched Game 6 against Tampa Bay, you know that the Caps willingness to hit everything that moved played a part in the team coming back from the 3-2 series deficit. Washington finished with 39 hits in that game — 20 more than the Lightning.
Meanwhile, in Vegas, the Golden Knights employ Ryan Reaves on their fourth line, plus hulking blueliners Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb, who have racked up a combined 28 penalty minutes. And the Capitals aren’t the only ones increasing their hitting.
the Vegas Golden Knights averaged approximately 21 hits per game during the regular season.
in the postseason, they're at almost 40 per game.
— Goalie Blinnterference (@NHLBlinn) May 24, 2018
Now, I’m not advocating for players like Orpik, Wilson or Reaves on the Flyers, but the Capitals and Knights have proven that there are times when players like that can be effective. Finding the right blend of pugnacity and skill is crucial. Philly has done a good job of that with Wayne Simmonds, Radko Gudas and in the future, Sam Morin.