Phil Sheridan: Home-ice advantage? Who cares?

Ilya Bryzgalov prevents a goal by New Jersey's Alexei Ponikarovsky in Game 2 at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers need to win on the road Thursday to regain the series lead.
Ilya Bryzgalov prevents a goal by New Jersey's Alexei Ponikarovsky in Game 2 at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers need to win on the road Thursday to regain the series lead. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 04, 2012

By winning Game 2 Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the New Jersey Devils officially snatched home-ice advantage away from the Flyers.

Oh, well.

There was a time, not so long ago, that would have seemed ominous. There would be stories about the Flyers' need to go to Newark and get the home advantage back as quickly as possible. It would seem puzzling that the Flyers could have been beaten in Philadelphia, with the emotional support provided by a packed house of orange-clad crazies.

No more. Blame climate change, if you want, but home-ice advantage has melted away to nothing.

"You know, I don't have an answer for it," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "If you ask teams where they'd rather play, they'd probably say in their building. I don't really have an answer. I can't explain it. I don't know the percentages of home games that are won."

Going into Wednesday's games, the home team was exactly .500 in the second round. That isn't conclusive of anything, considering how early in the round it is. But all of those home games were played by the higher-seeded and therefore theoretically superior teams.

The Flyers and Rangers split. Phoenix won both. St. Louis lost both.

But if you count the first and second rounds entering Wednesday, the numbers are almost shocking. Home teams won 22 games and lost 34. That's a winning percentage of .393. And again: The teams with better regular-season records - the better teams - played more home games.

Only four of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason had winning home records going into Wednesday. The Flyers were one of them, having gone 2-1 at the WFC against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the Flyers took control of that series by going to Pittsburgh and staging two come-from-behind wins in Games 1 and 2. Their record was as good on the road as it was at home.

And let's be honest: The Flyers have played eight postseason games. They have been very good in five of them, pretty good in one, and absolutely terrible in two. The two clunkers - Game 4 against the Penguins and Game 2 against the Devils - were at home.

Except for maybe baseball, in which the home team gets the last at-bat, there is a more concrete edge to the home team in hockey than in any other sport. The visiting team has to name its lineup first, allowing the home coach to set up the matchups he prefers. Over the course of a seven-game series, with all the adjustments and counter measures, the ability to dictate matchups is a big thing.

On faceoffs, the visiting player has to put his stick on the ice first. The home player gets a slight edge in terms of positioning and timing - not that it helped the Flyers much Tuesday.

So what gives?

Most of the arenas around the NHL are virtually indistinguishable from each other. They are bigger, but fans are not on top of the action the way they were in older rinks. Meanwhile, the higher prices and club-suite culture have changed the environment. Some passionate fans simply can't afford to go to the games. The more you've paid for a ticket, the quicker you may be to express displeasure when the home team doesn't perform up to snuff.

The Flyers were booed at the end of the first period of Game 1 and again after the first period of Game 2. As players on other Philadelphia teams have acknowledged, booing from the home crowd isn't just dispiriting for the home team. It energizes the opponent.

Flip that around and you can see the upside of playing on the road. The hostile environment gets the competitive juices going. Think of Scott Hartnell doing his Hulk Hogan impersonation to mock one of the Penguins' best-known fans.

"When you're on the road," Laviolette said, "it's usually the first five minutes of a game that works against you a little bit. After the first five minutes, it usually just settles into hockey. Whoever can play the best game can either quiet a building or get a building going."

After their 10-3 stinker in Game 4 against the Penguins, the Flyers lost Game 5 in Pittsburgh. But they played a far superior game. If they are able to bounce back as well from Tuesday's 4-1 loss, they should be fine in this series.

"We're not going to win 16 games in a row," Claude Giroux said. "In the playoffs, it's teams that can put games behind them and go forward from there and motivate themselves to be better next game. We're a team like that."

They also are a team that has been just as good on the road all season. If they can win just one in Newark, they will reclaim home-ice advantage. Who knows? They could win the series anyway.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

 

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