Flyers Post Mortem Part 2: What went wrong during the season?
The Flyers made a bit of dubious history this season.
They became the first team, since the playoffs were expanded to include 16 teams in 1980, to finish in the top five in both specialty teams categories and still miss the playoffs.
Think about that for a second.
The third best power play in the league (21.6 percent) and the fifth best penalty kill in the league (85.9 percent) – and no playoffs.
As a matter of fact, the Flyers were the 74th team in the expansion era (since 1967) to finish top five in both categories. Only twice before has a team missed the postseason, and both occurred at a time when only eight teams made the playoffs in the entire league.
Those teams were the 1971-72 Detroit Red Wings, who missed the playoffs in a 14-team league, and the 1968-69 Minnesota North Stars, who missed out in a 12-team league.
Oh, and of those 74 teams that have done it, 13 have gone on to win a Stanley Cup.
It tells you that special teams success is usually indicative of a very good team.
So then why are we here, on the dawn of the playoffs, giving a post mortem for a team who was this prolific when there were unbalanced numbers on the ice?
Because when the team played 5-on-5 hockey – as they did 78 percent of the time – they were subpar.
In the never-ending war between traditionalists and advanced metric supporters in hockey, I am a centrist, who leans a little to the side of the guys in pocket protectors.
I say that because I am a firm believer that advanced statistical analysis is a good thing, and is a very useful tool in helping to study why things are the way they are in sports – including hockey.
However, I don’t feel that they always tell the full story, as too many extremists want you to believe.
That said, when looking at the Flyers in 5-on-5 situations (feel free to look up their Corsi, Fenwick, Corsi Rel, Corsi Rel QOC, etc. numbers on your own here) it’s quite clear that the stats, in this case, are very telling.
While the Flyers scored 87 goals, or an average of 2.3 per game while 5-on-5, which ranked in the middle third of the league (18th to be precise), they allowed 105 goals in the same situations, sixth worst in the league.
Meanwhile, the differential there (minus-18) was fourth-worst in the league ahead of only Colorado, Calgary and Florida.
Congruently, the Flyers also faced far more attempted shots than thy produced during 5-on-5 play, suggesting that their puck possession time wasn’t great, that they lost more 50/50 puck battles and they turned the puck over more frequently.
Voracek was the best of the quartet, however he ranked 138th overall in the league among players who played at least 20 games.
“Some games, we looked good 5-on-5,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Some other games, we didn't look that good... I just think that through the course of the season there were different obstacles that we were overcoming.
“And ultimately there were obstacles we couldn't overcome. I think there were some games that we needed to play better than we did. And we didn't. So, yeah, I would say that 5-on-5 at times let us down.”
Looking further into the numbers, it’s easy to blame it on the Flyers defense. If you compare individual Corsi numbers (On-ice attempted shot differential) of defensemen who played in at least 10 of their team’s games, only four Flyers defenseman ranked in the top 180 (assuming six starters on each of 30 teams).
Everyone else ranked lower, including Andrej Meszaros (240th) who was next-to-last in the NHL.
But, as Laviolette was quick to point out, it wasn’t always the way the team played defense, or even in their own end, but rather the carelessness in puck possession.
“I don't think a lot of our problems were necessarily off of D-zone coverage,” Laviolette said. “They came more off of turnovers or off the rush.
“We needed to do a better job of taking care of the puck in certain areas -- breakouts and through the neutral zone. The D-zone coverage, I thought, was good.”
The Flyers were credited with 382 giveaways this season, or about eight per game. However, they only had 255 takeaways, averaging about 5.3 per game. That total was third fewest in the NHL.
The differential of minus-127 was fifth worst in the NHL.
All of these statistics mounted up against the Flyers, and caused them to miss the playoffs. And it was completely unexpected as well. The Flyers have long been a strong 5-on-5 team. Just not this season. Just not for these 48 games. And as a result, they’re sitting the 16-team playoff tournament out.
“You look at last year, that was our strength -- the past few years, 5-on-5,” Briere said. “It’s definitely something that went on there. We gave up way too many goals 5-on-5.
“I remember last year the penalty kill was struggling at times but our 5-on-5 play was so good that when we got in the second half of the season, when there were less penalties being called, we were able to kind of take over. This year, it just hurt us more and more when there weren’t as many power plays. We weren’t able to get back in the games. I don’t know exactly why what happened there [happened], but it’s an area that definitely needs a huge improvement.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37