2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Pens-Flyers Series a Special Teams Affair

James ConleyContributor IIIApril 9, 2012

Fans have been told to expect a bloodbath of a series. The checking will be heavy, but head coaches Dan Bylsma and Peter Laviolette aren't likely to descend into extracurriculars too often.
Fans have been told to expect a bloodbath of a series. The checking will be heavy, but head coaches Dan Bylsma and Peter Laviolette aren't likely to descend into extracurriculars too often.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's not uncommon for any Penguins-Flyers game to be decided by the play of their special teams units. 

Given their propensity for fighting, scrumming and racking up penalty minutes, five-on-five play can be something of a rarity for the intrastate rivals.

The teams gathered 235 PIM, six fighting majors, 72 minor penalties and six 10-minute misconduct penalties in six meetings this season.

Special teams weigh heavy in any playoff match-up, but it's sure to be a deciding factor in this series. A look at how the power play and penalty kill units fared for two of the East's top teams.

Power Play

Pittsburgh finished with the league's fifth-ranked power play unit, converting at 19.7 percent. That's a monumental leap over last year's unit which finished 25th overall and scored just once in 34 attempts in the seven-game Tampa series.

Their 57 power play goals were tied for second-most in the NHL. Philadelphia led the league with 66.

The Pens earned 289 power play opportunities in 82 games, seventh-most in the NHL (the Flyers, again, led with 335). Of those 289, 22 came in six games against the Flyers. The Pens gathered just three power play goals against Philadelphia (13.6 percent).

Conversely, the Flyers scored a power play goal in each meeting with the Pens this year, going 6-for-29 overall (20.6 percent).

Philadelphia finished with the same power play conversion percentage as the Pens at 19.7 percent, but given that they earned 46 more opportunities, scored nine more power play goals and doubled the Penguins in head-to-head man-advantage scoring, the Flyers carry a definite power play advantage heading into Wednesday's series opener.

Power Players: Keep an eye on Pittsburgh's James Neal and Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell. Neal led the league with 18 power play goals while Hartnell was second with 16. Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin finished first and second with 38 and 34 power play points, respectively.

Penalty Kill

These teams couldn't have finished much further apart in penalty kill success.

Pittsburgh set a franchise single-season record for penalty kill success at 87.7 percent in 2011-12. While the record bested their first-overall mark of 86.4 percent of a year ago, they still finished third following a strong performance by Montreal and New Jersey's modern-era record for penalty kill percentage (89.6 percent).

Meanwhile, Philadelphia struggled at 81.8 percent, 17th in the NHL.

The Flyers earned the most power play opportunities this year and matched it by granting the most power play opportunities against at 319 times shorthanded. Pittsburgh was shorthanded 269 times, 15th-fewest in the NHL.

Philadelphia allowed 58 power play goals against to Pittsburgh's 33. The Penguins were also a plus-1 in the shorthanded goals department, scoring 11 while allowing 10. Philadelphia scored six shorthanded markers while allowing nine, including the season's only 3-on-5 goal at the hands of Matt Cooke.

If there's anywhere the Flyers are feeling the loss of Mike Richards and others dealt last offseason, its in penalty killing. The Flyers scored 13 shorthanded goals to just five against in 2010-11.

Recalling the power play stats, Philadelphia holds the head-to-head advantage by allowing Pittsburgh just three power play goals while the Pens have surrendered six.

PK Specialists: Jordan Staal is among has been among the league's best penalty killers since entering the league in 2006-07 and averaged 2:38 shorthanded TOI this year while collecting five shorthanded points (3G, 2A). Flyers rookie Sean Couturier averages 2:41 shorthanded TOI per game and has two SH goals in his first season.

James is covering the Penguins 2012 Postseason run at Slew Footers, and you can insult him directly and immediately @Slew_James