Flyers

NHL playoffs Flyers vs. Penguins: Previewing possible 1st-round matchup

NHL playoffs Flyers vs. Penguins: Previewing possible 1st-round matchup

Leading up to the Flyers' Aug. 2 round-robin opener — which officially commences the team's run at the 2020 Stanley Cup in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament — we're going to break down every possible first-round matchup for the club.

Today, we look at the fifth-seeded Penguins.

Flyers by the numbers

Goals per game: 3.29 (seventh overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.77 (tied for seventh fewest)
Power play percentage: 20.8 (14th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 81.8 (11th overall)

Penguins by the numbers

Goals per game: 3.20 (10th overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.84 (tied for 11th fewest)
Power play percentage: 19.9 (16th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 82.1 (tied for eighth overall)

How they could meet

If the Flyers remain the fourth seed after the round-robin tourney and the Penguins beat the 12th-seeded Canadiens in their best-of-five qualifying-round series.

Why matchup could be favorable for Flyers

If the Flyers draw a Metropolitan Division team in the first round, the familiarity could be beneficial. The Flyers went 16-4-4 with a plus-25 goal differential (90-65) against divisional opponents during the regular season.

In three meetings with Pittsburgh, the Flyers went 1-1-1 and were outscored 11-7. The Flyers, though, put up 30 shots per game in the regular-season series compared to the Penguins' 25.3. After being blasted by Pittsburgh, 7-1, in October, the Flyers dominated the Penguins, 3-0, in January before losing to them, 4-3, in overtime later that month.

Following the season's opening month, the Flyers got significantly better and more comfortable from November on with new pieces, a new head coach and a new system.

Albeit an exhibition game, the Flyers faced a full Pittsburgh group Tuesday and it resulted in another tight game — a 3-2 OT win for the Flyers.

A few other things to consider in the Flyers' favor:

• No. 1 goalie Carter Hart didn't start in any of the three games against the Penguins. The Flyers should like their chances with Hart getting a shot at Pittsburgh in a best-of-seven series.

• The Flyers feature a bona-fide one-two punch down the middle in Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, two centers with size, reach and defensive strengths that can help combat the Penguins' big names by making things difficult in all three zones.

Why matchup could be trouble for Flyers

Pittsburgh will be a scary team to face because it's seeing one of the biggest returns in this entire tournament: Jake Guentzel.

Guentzel (shoulder injury) played the Flyers only once during the regular season and missed 30 total games. The 25-year-old winger scored 40 goals last season and had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in six games against the Flyers during the 2018 playoffs.

The Penguins were ravaged by injuries in the 2019-20 regular season but still found a way to finish seventh among the league (three points behind the No. 6 Flyers) despite losing:

Brian Dumoulin for 41 games
Guentzel for 30 games
Sidney Crosby for 28 games
Patric Hornqvist for 17 games
Evgeni Malkin for 14 games
Bryan Rust for 14 games
Kris Letang for eight games

Crosby and the Penguins have often been a thorn in the Flyers' side, as well. Pittsburgh's three-time Stanley Cup champion center has knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs three times.

No doubt, a Flyers-Penguins series would be as competitive as any in the first round.

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Flyers sweep round robin, earn East's No. 1 seed in 2020 NHL playoffs

Flyers sweep round robin, earn East's No. 1 seed in 2020 NHL playoffs

BOX SCORE

Heading into the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, everyone is looking up at the Flyers.

For the first time since 2000, the Flyers will be the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the postseason after winning the round robin of the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

They punctuated their climb Saturday night with a 4-1 win over the Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel had a big game with two goals, while Joel Farabee and Tyler Pitlick tallied markers, as well.

After going 3-0-0 through the round robin, the top-seeded Flyers will face the 12th-seeded Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

Back in 2000, the year of the Flyers' five-overtime playoff classic with the Penguins, the team lost the Eastern Conference Final to the eventual champion Devils in seven games.

Twenty years later, it's the No. 1 seed again.

"We're excited here," Farabee said postgame in a video interview. "We're ready to go dancing."

• Just how impressive were the Flyers in the round robin? They swept the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning by a combined score of 11-3.

Pretty darn good tune-up for the Flyers as the real deal begins next week. They've always been a confident team, particularly from January on, but this was a measuring-stick round-robin tourney and they turned heads.

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (noon ET).

1. Flyers — 3-0-0, six points
2. Lightning — 2-1-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

• NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones mentioned at intermission how the Flyers come at their opponents in waves. Their depth was excellent through the round robin and will be arguably their biggest difference-maker in a playoff run.

In the round robin, Claude Giroux went scoreless, James van Riemsdyk went scoreless in two games, Jakub Voracek had an assist in two games, Sean Couturier had a few assists, Travis Konecny (two assists) didn't have to score a goal, Kevin Hayes (four assists) didn't have to score a goal, and the Flyers convincingly earned the No. 1 seed.

• Carter Hart, who turns 22 years old next Thursday, looks primed for the first round.

The Bruins had an NHL-most 100 points during the regular season. The Lightning scored an NHL-best 3.47 goals per game. Hart totaled 57 saves on 59 shots in matchups with those clubs.

• In 2018-19, Aube-Kubel got his first taste of the NHL ... hardly. Called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, Aube-Kubel went scoreless in a nine-game stint with the big club, playing only 5:35 minutes per night.

“It’s pretty hard, especially when you spend some 15 minutes without playing, 10 minutes without playing, so it’s really hard for the legs," Aube-Kubel said in February about the limited minutes last season. "When you’re out there, you’re just so stressed about not making a mistake that you don’t really show anything.

“Last year, I didn’t really get a good chance to show what I could do. I’m glad this year … even in my first game, I got put in a good situation with good players and it worked out for me.”

In 2019-20, the Flyers eventually summoned Aube-Kubel in mid-December. The new coaching staff has done a solid job of giving him opportunity but also constantly keeping him motivated. It's resulted in a hungry, hard-working, forechecking winger who gave the Flyers a monstrous boost against the Lightning with the club's first two goals.

In a game against the loaded Lightning, the 24-year-old Aube-Kubel was one of the best players on the ice. During training camp last month, he mentioned how his style of play suits the playoffs. It sure looked like it Saturday. The Flyers would love that type of effort and jolt throughout the playoffs.

• It appears the Flyers avoided what would have been a costly injury right before the first round.

Travis Sanheim left the game 22 seconds into the second period after taking a hit from Blake Coleman. It looked Sanheim was nursing his wrist or arm after the check as he went up the tunnel.

Fortunately for the Flyers, Sanheim returned later in the period.

• An injury scare like that creates a reminder of the Flyers' young, promising stable of blueliners. Playing his first round-robin game, Shayne Gostisbehere reminded everyone of his game.

If Gostisbehere is the Flyers' seventh defenseman, he did everything to potentially shake that status moving forward. Gostisbehere, who has had to undergo arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees in 2020, had a good camp and said he has felt "10 times better" compared to during the regular season.

Against Tampa Bay, he looked like his mobile, confident, making-things-happen self from the blue line, recording two assists and a plus-2 rating. Gostisbehere made a sharp play to help create Aube-Kubel's first goal and showed his vision to assist Farabee's goal, which was a big one as it extended the Flyers' lead to 3-1 in the middle frame.

"That was a hard pass from Ghost, it takes a special skill set to be able to one-time that," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said postgame in a video interview. "Great play by Ghost but also great shot by Joel."

The 27-year-old offensive-minded defenseman displayed good instincts defensively, as well.

A performance like that will have Vigneault thinking, that's for sure. The sixth and final spot on defense will come down to Robert Hagg and Gostisbehere. Hagg likely has the slight edge for now, but Gostisbehere has drawn much closer and should be called upon if the Flyers don't have a positive start to the first round.

With Voracek out (undisclosed issue), Farabee jumped to the first line. Given he opened the tournament fighting for a spot in the lineup and likely the bottom six, this was a golden opportunity for the 20-year-old rookie winger.

He took advantage of it pretty well, scoring a goal and tallying an assist. His game allows him to scale the lineup but he truly stands out when he's with talented players. Good stuff from him and he's pushing for a bigger role, especially depending on the statuses of Voracek and Michael Raffl (undisclosed injury), who missed the final two games of the round robin.

"You look at our lineup, we have such great depth," Farabee said postgame in a video interview. "Ghosty and I are sliding in, we've got guys sliding out, coming back in, it just goes to show how good of a team we are and how deep we are."

• The power play never really got going during the round robin as the Flyers finished 0 for 11 through the three games. That will have to be better over a course of a best-of-seven series.

• The Flyers caught some breaks throughout the round robin, but give them credit for taking advantage of those breaks.

They didn't face Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask in the 4-1 win over the Bruins. They didn't see James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist John Carlson in the 3-1 win over the Capitals.

Against the Lightning, they avoided Steven Stamkos (lower-body injury), who had 66 points in 57 games during the regular season. In the first period, Tampa Bay also lost stud defenseman Victor Hedman (undisclosed injury), who is also a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

These games weren't necessarily close, though, either — the Flyers did damage against three of the best clubs in the NHL.

• As the No. 1 seed in the first round, the Flyers face the 12th-seeded Canadiens, who upset the fifth-seeded Penguins in the best-of-five qualifying round, taking the series 3-1.

The Flyers went 2-1-0 against Montreal in the regular season, with a 3-2 overtime win Nov. 7, a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 30 and a 4-1 loss Jan. 16.

The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday. The Flyers' schedule is to be determined.

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Jakub Voracek

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Jakub Voracek

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the race to the Stanley Cup is on in the 24-team tournament. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October.

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall have graded players based on individual performances. 

Today, we finish the series by looking at Jakub Voracek. 

Destra

Voracek had a rather slow start to the season. With the winger as one of the top veterans on this team and a key leader, head coach Alain Vigneault expected more out of him and others in similar positions. When Vigneault was looking at Voracek’s line at the time, which also consisted of Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk, he made his expectations for them known. 

“All those guys, I love the person,” Vigneault said back in November. “I love Kevin Hayes as a person, James and Jake I’m starting to know, they’re great people. I need more from the hockey player. Two different distinctions, right? 

“It’s time. I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t told them. Obviously they feel pressure, but that’s why they’re paid the big bucks. You’ve got to deliver, you’ve got to produce, and we expect those guys to produce.”

Following that, in terms of production, Voracek had one heck of a season. He finished with 56 points, which was third best on the team, and his 44 assists earned him the top spot. This was his sixth consecutive season in which he finished with 40-plus assists — you can’t ask for much more consistency than that. 

In fact, he passed Hall of Famer Eric Lindros and Flyers Hall of Famer Rick MacLeish for sixth on the franchise’s all-time assist list. With just three more regular-season assists, he’ll also pass Hall of Famer Mark Recchi.

Voracek rightfully deserves a B+ for this season. 

Fordyce 

Voracek is another player for the Flyers who is extremely streaky. When he’s on a hot streak, he can pile up points at the same pace as anyone in the NHL. Voracek’s vision is the best part of his game and his 44 assists this season led the Flyers. In fact, Voracek was third on the team in points behind only Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier.

Voracek is a player at times who seems hesitant to shoot. You could even say he’s too unselfish sometimes (if there is such a thing) and, at times, passes up goal-scoring opportunities. If Voracek were to think shot first a little more, those numbers could look even better. When Voracek is an aggressive player, he’s one of the top wingers in the sport. He just needs a little more consistency.

B+ for Voracek. 

Hall

Voracek had a very good 2019-20 regular season.

There were some early growing pains under a new head coach and in a new system, but that's understandable. The Flyers as a whole took until November to get things going.

Since Nov. 1, Voracek had 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 58 games. And since Nov. 23, just after he moved to Couturier's line, Voracek recorded 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) and a plus-17 mark in 47 games.

In a system predicated on balance and depth, Voracek played 17:03 minutes per game, his fewest since 2011-12, his first season with the Flyers. As a result, the veteran was more effective in all three zones because he had greater help offensively and still finished with a team-best 44 assists to go along with a career-best plus-14 rating.

An A- for an underrated 2019-20 regular season from Voracek.

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