Why home ice means nothing

The Flyers are battling with the Penguins for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

PITTSBURGH -- Across the Commonwealth, Danny Briere was stuffed on his shootout attempt on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center in the Flyers’ one last attempt to salvage an extra point in preparation for Sunday’s battle with the Penguins.

It seemed like an awfully big point, one that would have given the Flyers a chance to overtake Pittsburgh for 4th place in the East.

Or, was it?

Since the Flyers fell in the shootout, they will now leave the Consol Energy Center on Sunday in 5th place in the Eastern Conference - regardless of the result.

The Flyers, stuck with 99 points, could have topped Pittsburgh in the standings this weekend since they hold both of the first two tiebreakers against Pittsburgh, which are regulation plus overtime wins (41) and head-to-head record (3-1-0).

After Saturday’s game:
4. Pittsburgh: 4 GR, 102 points
5. Philadelphia: 4 GR, 99 points

For weeks, the stories have been repeatedly written about the Flyers trying to catch the Penguins and Rangers in the race to Game No. 82.

Other than the matchup, which Briere was saying on Thursday in Toronto that it would be foolish to pick either way, the seedings mean little. There is less than a 5 percent chance the Flyers play anyone other than the Penguins in the first round, according to PlayoffStatus.com.

So, inevitably, the focus has been on a push for home-ice advantage in the first round, a seemingly pivotal part of any playoff series.

"Everyone has been scoreboard watching and looking at the standings every night," Wayne Simmonds said. "You want to get home rink advantage. That's the key. We want to play in front of our fans, obviously. Especially playoff time, fans can make the difference - it's like having an extra player on the ice. It's huge."

Sadly, no “advantage” actually exists. It's all perceived. In fact, a home-ice “advantage” is one of the most over-written and unsubstantiated cliches in pro sports today. And the statistics back that up.

Maybe that's the reason Peter Laviolette said he hasn't made it a topic in his meetings with the team.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, there have been 90 series played to determine the 6 Stanley Cup victors. Teams separated by 10 or fewer points in the regular season standings have met 53 times.

The team with home-ice “advantage” is just 27-26 (.509) in those series.

Even when home-ice is really supposed to matter, in a Game 7, the home team is just 12-12 (.500) in those Game 7’s.

Since 2006, the Flyers have started a series on the road 8 times. They are 4-4 in those rounds.

Granted, this trend - of the road team having a nearly equal chance - isn’t the norm throughout the course of NHL history. The NHL first began playing best-of-seven series in 1939. The lower-seeded team is just 194-358 (.351). In all professional sports, the team starting a best-of-seven series on the road has .324 (363-758) win percentage.

And it's not even true in all sports. For instance, as one astute reader pointed out, only 5 teams in the NBA have a winning road record during the regular season. There are 14 winning road teams in the NHL this year.

All-time, the statistics represent the historical data: The Flyers are 9-15 (.375) in series that start on the road and the Penguins are 17-8 (.680) in series that start at home. To flip-flop it, the Flyers are 27-13 (.675) in a series when Game 1 is at home and the Penguins are 9-9 (.500) starting on the road.

But 6 years worth of playoff series since the NHL became a league full of parity is a large enough sample size to see the new trend.

In my opinion, there is something to starting on the road. In a 2-2-1-1-1 travel setup, the road team is fighting to win home-ice back. The home team is battling through the first two games just to keep it. Plus, there is considerably less pressure starting in an opponent’s building.

And the Flyers’ recent history also lends itself to starting on the road - especially against Pittsburgh. With two regular season games left there, they are unbeaten (4-0-0) in their only games played at Consol Energy Center, since they skated in the building's first-ever game on Oct. 7, 2010. 

Pittsburgh was 11-3 against the Flyers at Mellon Arena to close it out, which is left to nothing more than a pile of rubble across the street now.

In fact, the Flyers’ overall road record this season (24-12-3), which has them tied with Vancouver for road wins, might even suggest they are better prepared to start in Pittsburgh. 

So, armed with all of those statistics, the Flyers would be better served by focusing first on getting healthy and then heading into the playoffs with a head of stream, rather than catching the Penguins. Then again, if they play well enough, one would seem to take care of the other.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers