Advantages for the Capitals:
- Goal Scoring Depth: The Capitals had 8 players score 15 or more goals this season (Ovechkin-50, Oshie-26, Williams-22, Backstrom-20, Chimera-20, Kuznetsov-20, Burakovsky-17, and Johansson-17) while the Flyers only had 4 (Simmonds-32, Schenn-26, Giroux-22, and Gostisbehere-16).
- Special Teams: Despite being very cold to end the season the Capitals still finished the year with the fifth best PP in the league (21.9%) and the second best PK (85.2%). By combining those two numbers you get a Special Teams Score (STS) of 107.1, only Anaheim has a higher total (110.3) than the Caps. The Flyers have the 18th ranked STS with a score of 99.4 (18.9% PP and 80.5% PK).
- Playoff Experience Behind the Bench: Barry Trotz has coached in 64 playoff games in his career while his opponent behind the Flyers bench, Dave Hakstol, will be coaching his first NHL playoff game on Thursday.
- Recent 5v5 Play: The Flyers have the edge over the Capitals when it comes to 5v5 play over the last 25 games. They have a better GF% and SACF% than the Caps during that stretch of play (via Corsica).
- Goaltending: As crazy as it sounds considering just how many games Braden Holtby has won this year neither team has a clear cut advantage between the pipes. Mason has been the better goaltender recently but Holtby has had good playoff showings in the past and has had some real stretches of brilliance this season.
- Physicality and Aggressiveness: Both the Flyers and Capitals pride themselves on playing a heavy and aggressive game. The Flyers ranked 5th in the NHL in hits this year while the Capitals came in 11th. Hitting just to hit has its benefits ,especially in a prolonged series, but the real goal of a hit is to gain possession of the puck. Despite the hit advantage the Flyers ranked 25th in the league in terms of takeaways while the Capitals ranked 9th, so it's possible the Capitals are better at picking their spots than their opponents.
The key for the Capitals will be shutting down the Flyers' top tier players. The Flyers simply don't have the depth to compete with the Caps if their top line players are unable to score. But no matter how well the Caps play defensively the Flyers are still going to get some chances and that's where Braden Holtby will have to step up. Holtby doesn't have to steal this series, and he may not even need to steal a game, but he will have to play well consistently if the Capitals are to advance comfortably.
When taking a wider view of the season the Capitals have to be the favorites but when you look only at the last 25 games the Flyers certainly look like they could be handful for a Caps team that's been coasting for much of the last couple months. This match-up is really going to be an interesting look at whether entering the playoffs hot is more important than a strong overall regular season.
Statistics Are From Games Played Prior to 4/11 - NHL.com and Corsica