If Flyers Get Chris Pronger Back for Game 5, Who Should Sit?

BUFFALO, NY - APRIL 18: Rob Niedermayer #20 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against Danny Syvret #26 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HSBC Arena at HSBC Arena on April 18, 2011 in Buffalo, New York. Philadelphia won 4-2 and leads the series 2 games to 1. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Looking at who should sit between Sean O`Donnell and Danny Syvret if Chris Pronger returns to the lineup.

With the Flyers and Sabres tied in their first round series at two games apiece, the Chris Pronger speculation has ratcheted up. Frank Seravalli of the Daily News writes that Pronger would be able to be a serviceable defenseman for the team right now despite not being able to take slap shots.

This speculation could be easily dismissed as yet another "when will Pronger return?" story if not for the fact that Pronger, in Seravalli's words, "can now make a strong enough first outlet pass out of the Flyers’ zone." With Jeff Carter getting tests done on his knee and reportedly being out for Game 5, Pronger may decide he's ready to return in a tied series.

There's certainly room for debate on whether or not Pronger should play, let alone whether a 70% Pronger is better than a 100% Sean O`Donnell or Danny Syvret. But between O`Donnell and Syvret, who should sit? Admittedly, we are huge fans of Syvret here, but there are reasons behind that. On-ice reasons.

So far in the Sabres series, here is how the two compare at 5-on-5:

Player GF GA Sh% Sv% Fen% Corsi% D-Zone N-I DZ O-Zone OZ% NI OZ%
O`Donnell 1 2 6.25% 0.923 0.410 0.417 14 9 9 0.391 0.500
Syvret 0 3 0.00% 0.885 0.432 0.501 8 8 9 0.529 0.529
TEAM 6 5 6.90% 0.940 0.547 0.541 52 42 52 0.500 0.553

From left to right: Flyers goals, goals against, on-ice shooting percentage, on-ice save percentage, Fenwick percentage, Corsi percentage, on-ice defensive zone starts, non-icing defensive zone starts, offensive zone starts, offensive zone percentage, non-icing offensive zone percentage.

The first thing you notice is the difference in goals scored while both players were on the ice. O`Donnell is simply a minus-1 while Syvret is a minus-3. But as you move along from left to right, you notice that Syvret is the victim of really, really poor goaltending. In fact, no goalie who faced 100 even-strength shots this year stopped as few as those behind Syvret have. In other words, pucks won't continue winding up behind the Flyers' goalies while Syvret is on the ice.

Then you see the Fenwick and Corsi percentages, which aren't particularly good when compared with the team. But Syvret is clearly outperforming Sean O`Donnell in puck possession and shot attempts. The reason can be found in the offensive zone start percentages, where O`Donnell is repeatedly beginning his shifts in his own zone. The problem with that, though, is that O`Donnell has those difficult situations as a result of the team's on-ice play and not his coaches' decisions.

Against conventional wisdom, the coaches view O`Donnell and Syvret as equally capable in their own end. Similar results in the offensive zone. The problem comes when you look at their ice time: 14:12 per game for O`Donnell and 9:06 for Syvret. Despite Syvret controlling the play better, he's not getting as much as time.

There are two things O`Donnell has going for him though. First is his experience. Second his is ability to play on the penalty kill. The question arises, however, whether experience trumps results. If that were true, Syvret wouldn't even be playing over Nick Boynton right now. Second, O`Donnell is fourth on the team in short-handed ice time per game this post-season. When Pronger returns, O`Donnell will be fifth. If you play Syvret instead of O`Donnell, Matt Carle simply remains as the 5th option on the penalty kill. 

With the coaches trusting Syvret in his own zone as much as O`Donnell, and with Syvret controlling the play better than O`Donnell, if Pronger plays, O`Donnell should sit.

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