I tend to fall more in line with writers that utilize advanced stats, and those writers tend to not be newspaper beat writers. I think they give themselves too much credit for writing bi-weekly "Former Flyer Returns To Philly" columns and regurgitating news that the team delivers directly to them. Personally, I'd much rather read literally anything that Charlie O'Connor has ever written.
That said, I'm a big hypocritical in that I follow most of the beat writers on Twitter anyway. And I saw this tweet from Sam Carchidi today and it got my brain-wheels spinning:
Let's go top-to-bottom and see how big the gap really is.VERY wide. https://t.co/t37gKLTB4l— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) January 28, 2016
Top Three Forwards
I'm not going to pretend to be able to judge actual talent, so I'll defer to Dave Hakstol and Barry Trotz and just base this on average time on ice per game.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie
Philadelphia: Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier
This is closer than it would be if Evgeny Kuznetsov killed penalties. I'm going to admit, begrudgingly, that Washington gets the slight edge here regardless because Ovi and Backstom are so dominant. But G and Jake aren't far behind, and if you wouldn't take Coots over Oshie then you are an idiot.
Top Two Defensemen
Again, I'm basing this on average time on ice and not on my personal feelings about the players.
Washington: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen
Philadelphia: Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas
Again, slight edge to Washington. This one's not quite as close as the previous category, but MDZ and Gudas are paid like a second- or third-pairing. Carlson and Niskanen combined cost more than $10 million. So, yeah, on the ice I'd probably rather have them, but there is a case to be made for the more affordable option. (That's 100% me being a homer.)
Washington: Braden Holtby
Philadelphia: Steve Mason, Michael Neuvirth
Tough to argue against the Vezina frontrunner, especially with Mason's health currently being a question mark.
The Rest Of The Defensemen
Washington: Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, Nate Schmidt, Dmitriy Orlov, Taylor Chorney
Philadelphia: Mark Streit, Evgeny Medvedev, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning
Am I crazy for thinking that group of Flyers d-men can combine into above-average second and third pairings? If you're Washington, are you looking to make a play for either Streit or Medvedev to bolster the blueline? Please?
Middle Six-ish Forwards
Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Mike Richards, Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich
Philadelphia: Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Chris Vandevelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan White, Sam Gagner, Scott Laughton, RJ Umberger
Kuznetsov alone means it's almost impossible for a non-playoff team to compete with Washington's middle six, but outside of him I think the Flyers are pretty comparable. Some skilled players, some energy guys, and one plug that is actually more talented than people think (Wilson was the 16th overall pick in 2012; White is 4th among Flyer forwards in overall goals per 60). I'm going to call this a push.
So overall, yeah, I guess the Capitals' roster is more skilled than the Flyers. But the talent gap is minimal. Philly should be able to ice four lines and three pairings that can compete with Washington; I think it's fair to argue that's exactly what happened last night.
However, the 24-point separation in the standings is a product of inconsistency. The Caps, it seems, always play almost as well as they possibly can. The Flyers... not so much.