NHL Playoffs 2012: Things to Consider When Criticizing the Pittsburgh Penguins

Eric McKelvieSenior Writer IApril 23, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 22:  Evgeni Malkin #71 and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins look down after a goal by Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 22, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won the game 5-1 to eliminate the Penguins from the playoffs. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins, a favourite to win the Stanley Cup, have been eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Fans and the media are quick to criticize the Penguins and their stars for not getting the job done in the playoffs. While some of the criticism is justified, it’s important to acknowledge the play of the Philadelphia Flyers and remember how the NHL seeds its playoff teams.


Give the Flyers Credit

No one should be shocked by the Flyers series win.

They are one of the only teams in the NHL who can score as much as the Penguins.

The Penguins and Flyers finished first and second in scoring in the regular season and had almost identical power play percentages. The Flyers boast a lineup full of offensive talent; they just don’t have the household names the Penguins do.

Daniel Briere leads the NHL in post lockout playoff points with 104 in 103 games. While Claude Giroux is one of the best players in the league right now, finishing with 93 points in 77 games this season. He also leads all playoff scorers with 14 points.

Scott Hartnell is a physical force, but has also left his mark on the score sheet with five points in the playoffs. Jaromir Jagr is a savvy veteran who has six assists in the playoffs and adds depth to the power play. Max Talbot adds experience to the lineup having won the Cup with the Penguins, scoring the Penguins two goals in Game 7 of the 2009 final.

Finally, young players such as Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier add depth to the Flyers scoring.

The Flyers outplayed the Penguins in all aspects of the game.

Their best forwards were as good if not better, than Crosby and Malkin. Their special teams were far superior to that of the Penguins, highlighted by a power play that scored on 52 percent of its opportunities.

Goaltending was shaky at the best of times for both teams, but in the end Ilya Bryzgalov managed a better performance when it really mattered.

NHL Playoff Seeding Format

Before criticizing the Penguins specifically for not making it out of the first round, consider the NHL’s format for playoff seeding. Perhaps they deserved an easier first round opponent?

The NHL’s format rewards division winners with a guaranteed spot in the top three. The New York Rangers won the Atlantic and earned the top seed (109 points), while the division winning Boston Bruins (102 points) and Florida Panthers (94 points) took the second and third seeds.

This left the Penguins and Flyers to play in the first round as the fourth and fifth seeds, even though they had higher point totals then the other division winners.

The Penguins finished with 108 points, second most in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers weren’t far behind finishing with 103, good enough for third in the East. No format should allow for the second and third best teams in the conference to play in the first round.

Take the NBA’s playoff seeding format for example. It gives division winners a top four spot by reseeding them and the next best team, based on their point totals. Essentially, it offers talented teams who play in competitive divisions the opportunity to be rewarded for their efforts.

The NHL’s format does not, as it forces the Penguins and Flyers to play in the first round. Again, even though they amassed more points playing in a tougher division than the Bruins and Panthers did playing weaker divisional opponents.

This isn’t an excuse for the Penguins, but rather another explanation why this is hardly a big first round upset.

It’s a very small upset. It was a series that easily could have been played to determine the conference champion.

The Penguins had the second best record in the East and lost to the team with the third best record. A Philadelphia squad who happened to be the one team in the NHL who can match the Penguins offensively.

The NHL’s playoff seeding format has given us an amazing first-round series.

Unfortunately, it might compromise the level of play and excitement in the second and third rounds.