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SanFilippo: Flyers fans better start rooting for Senators

VOORHEES, N.J. — Barring an epic collapse – which should never be considered out of the question — the Flyers will make the playoffs.

Situated as the No. 6 seed, they have a five-point lead on the ninth-seeded New York Rangers and have two games in hand on their rival, so unless they get infected by a case of Mets-itis, the Flyers will be playing hockey well into the month of April.

But will those April showers bring May playoffs? The answer depends on what team they play.

He’s right. It has absolutely no bearing on how well the Flyers play.

We’ve talked about the Web site playoffstatus.com in this space before. It’s a useful tool when determining playoff odds in any of the four major sports. It uses mathematical formulas to determine the odds of a team making the playoffs or missing them entirely and then the probability of seeding.

According to that site, before games commenced Monday, the Flyers had a 96 percent chance of making the postseason. But where will they finish?

I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s a 96-percent chance that they finish somewhere between 1st and 8th in the East. I think I know where this is heading…

Again, following the math, they have less than a one-percent chance of finishing as one of the top three seeds and only a five percent chance of finishing No. 4. (Which means they’ll be starting the playoffs on the road again).

The most likely finish for the Flyers seems to be where they are right now – No. 6 (41 percent chance). Next most likely is the No. 5 seed (29 percent), followed by No. 7 (15 percent) and No. 8 (6 percent).

… I was right.

That means they are most likely to face the winner of the Northeast Division in the opening round of the playoffs.

For the Flyers, that’s probably their best chance at advancing, because while they would certainly give Washington or Pittsburgh a hard, well-played series, the Flyers aren’t on the same playing field with the Eastern powers.

If they make it to five, a matchup with New Jersey also would be tough. The difference between the teams is in goal.

And depth on the blueline. And New Jersey plays a tight, defensive style as a collective. And Jersey has two dynamic game-breaking talents in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Saying that the difference between these two teams is limited to goaltending is akin to saying that the only difference between the cities of Calgary and Toronto is the height of their respective towers.

While Michael Leighton deserves his chance at doing something special by the way he’s played since coming to Philadelphia, Marty Brodeur is the best goalie in the NHL. Ever.

Anthony SanFilippo writes like the Cheechoo Train song guy talks.

It’s fair to say the Flyers would be significant underdogs against any of those three possibilities in the opening round. That leaves two other potential first-round opponents, the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Senators.

For a writer who prides himself on numbers, SanFilippo does a great job overlooking the fact that New Jersey is only 5 points back of Pittsburgh while holding two games in hand. Or maybe he’s just exhibiting some avoidance behaviour because Philadelphia isn’t on Pittsburgh’s playing field.

The Senators are a good team, there’s no denying that, but are probably the best first-round possibility for the Flyers. That’s because they are a smoke and mirrors team, scoring fewer goals than the league average and allowing more than the league average.

Prior to the Olympic break, Ottawa had 174 goals. Two less less than the Flyers and good enough for ninth highest total in the NHL. And they did so while enduring significant injuries or lost games to Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno and their best offensive defencemen, Filip Kuba and Erik Karlsson. The statistic isn’t truly representative of this team’s offensive potential.

They have a dreadful power play and a so-so penalty kill.

For the record, Ottawa has the 7th best penalty kill percentage in the League. SanFilippo would know this if he spent half his time researching playoff possibilities and less time researching potential playoff opponents.

Ottawa’s lack of power play production can be attributable to two things: One, there hasn’t been a viable threat to shoot from the blueline and two, Alexei Kovalev hasn’t matched his power play production from his past two seasons in Montreal. (Ed. note: In 2007-08, Kovalev registered 47 power play points and in 2008-09, 32 points. This year, he has 13.) While we’re still waiting for Kovalev to put up points with the man advantage, at least Bryan Murray attempted to remedy a weakness at the trade deadline by acquiring Matt Cullen to run the PP from the point.

Like the Flyers, their stars aren’t really stars. Daniel Alfredsson and Alex Kovalev are closer to 40 than 30, and they’re the team’s offensive studs.

Daniel Alfredsson should sue you for slander.

Mike Fisher is an underrated Selke Award candidate but Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek aren’t as good as advertised.

Mike Fisher’s defensive reputation precedes him, but the true irony here is that he’s not even the best defensive forward on the team. That distinction belongs to their not really star Daniel Alfredsson. Besides the point, I’ve seen Jason Spezza advertised. He’s better than how he’s portrayed in those Jubillee Jeweler commercials.

A true measure of a team’s worth isn’t how many of its players can be photographed with a porn star. No, one only has to look at statistics like, Ottawa has 10 of 12 forwards who are on pace to post double digit goal totals this season.

Defensively, Chris Philips is underrated, but the rest of that group is suspect at best. Filip Kuba has some offensive skill, but doesn’t instill fear to opposing forwards in the Sens’ end. Alexander Volchenkov is a solid stay-at-home rearguard, but when you count on Chris Campoli and Matt Carkner for big minutes … yikes!

I’m sure Bryan Murray’s going to bring this paragraph to the attention of Jay Grossman when renegotiating Anton Volchenkov’s contract extension. Well, Anthony ThhhanFilippo thinkthhhh that beyond Phillipthhh, the blueline ithhh thhhuthhhpect at bethhht.

I want to try my hand at writing and construing thoughts like a published journalist … Ahem … Defensively, Chris Pronger is good. He’s slow and his gap control might be going the way of his front teeth, but he’s still good. Hell, he’s still talented enough to have Matt Carle benefit vicariously through his play. Timmo Kimonen is overpaid for his offensive skill and doesn’t instill fear to opposing forwards in the Sens’ end. Braydon Coburn is a solid stay-at-home rearguard, but when you count on Lukas Krajicek and Ryan Parent for big minutes … yikes!

Then there’s the goaltending, which is equally as unproven in the postseason as Leighton. The tandem of Brian Elliot and Pascal Leclaire have been among the worst in the NHL team-wise, and don’t look to be world beaters the rest of the way.

Elliott was also a recent back-to-back winner of the NHL’s first star of the week and I’m pretty sure that he won the Molson Cup for the month of February. He’s kind of a big deal around here. Also, to their credit, neither of Elliott or Leclaire were acquired this season via waivers.

The Flyers would win this series rather easily, and it’s the one matchup in which they would have the advantage.

Let me get this straight. You think that the Senators, a well-coached team that has persevered through significant injuries, a team that will likely finish in the top four of the Eastern Conference, a team that re-upped at the trade deadline, and who by your own admission, are a good team whose success you can’t figure out? And your desire is to play them in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs? Good luck. If you think that Ottawa is fretting playing against the most penalized team in the NHL, guess again.

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