I’ve always felt that five-on-five play is a good indicator of a team’s true talent. Strip away the special teams and you’re left with a true representation of the team. (Not to take away the importance of special teams. Some teams can ride them deep into the playoffs.) Our Nick D recently suggested I take a look at the Flyers five-on-five play and compare it to the past few Flyers teams to see they stack up. I’ve written about the topic a couple times over the past year or so, so I wanted to take it a bit further now that we have a larger sample in 2013-2014.
I started with the 2010-2011 Flyers team, which is the last season of the Richards and Carter era. That team led the league in scoring. From there we saw the team get exposed by New Jersey in the second round in 2011-2012; and then we had last season’s mini-disaster in the lockout-shortened season.
I took a look at four metrics: goals for and against per 60 minutes, and corsi for and against (which is just all shot attempts: shots, blocked shots, and missed shots) per 60 minutes. I included the league-rank in parentheses.
It’s been a steady decline from the Richards and Carter era and heading into this season in every area. They’re scoring less, getting scored on more, attempting less shots, and allowing more attempts at even strength. Last season, while the goals and shot attempts for were middle of the pack, the goals against and shot attempts against at even-strength were near the bottom of the barrel.
Looking at this season, through 26 games it’s no shock that the Flyers are quite poor when it comes to scoring goals, but quite good with respect to allowing them (thank you goalies). What is a bit interesting is that contrary to what you may expect based on the goals for and against numbers, the shot attempts, both for and against, are quite high. You would think that if the Flyers were generating so many shot attempts they would score more than 1.67 goals per game at even strength. And you would think that with the Flyers allowing the 21st most shot attempts against per game that they would allow more than 1.84 goals per game against.
That implies a bit of bad luck with respect to shooting the puck, and a bit of good luck with respect to saving them. Both shooting percentage and save percentage are heavily driven by luck. If a team is shooting nearly 10% for a stretch, it’s inevitable that that will come crashing back down to earth at some point. PDO is a statistic that essentially measures luck; it is the sum of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage and it regresses heavily to 1000. The Flyers currently sit at 1001 which to me indicates, while their shooting has been unlucky, their goaltending has been lucky to the point where they’ve essentially counteracted each other.
I wanted to take a closer look within the Flyers 26 games this season. Obviously, Peter Laviolette was fired after three games and the team was tasked with learning Craig Berube’s system on the fly. Their first real chance to really dive into the “chalk talk” with Chief was after their October 17 game against Pittsburgh. They had a full week off between games.
Since that layoff, the team has gone 11-5-2. I wanted to recalculate the same metrics used above for these most recent 18 games. (However, I had to resort to traditional shots for and against, as opposed to shot attempts.)
As you can see, goal scoring is dramatically up, shots for are up, and while shots against are down slightly, goals against have increased (which jives with our discussion about luck earlier).
The Flyers are certainly trending in the right direction with their five-on-five play; and their record of late would seem to indicate that. I’m still not certain if the team is good enough to make themselves a strong playoff contender, but it’s looking more promising than it did at the beginning of November.