Editor’s note: this was written counting stats up to but not including this weekend’s action
Sometimes as a writer, you go into a story with a preconceived notion, do some research, the research confirms your notion, and you write the article. Other times, you go into a story with an idea, do some research, and nothing matches what you originally thought.
This article is largely the latter.
The way the 2010 Flyers made the playoffs makes them a natural comparison to this year’s Flyers; both teams needed to keep fighting into the end of the year with nothing guaranteed. The 2010 Flyers ended the year 41-35-6 on 88 points, good for the No. 7 seed in the East. They had a coach who had been there less than a year (Peter Laviolette took over when Paul Holmgren had seen enough of John Stevens after 25 games).
The 2016 Flyers also have a coach in Dave Hakstol who has been there less than a year. The team is slightly better in goals allowed (twelfth in the league) but much worse in scoring than the 2010 team (21st overall), and yet they’re sitting on 89 points with six games left. How is this possible?
In order to fully understand how this year’s Flyers have gotten more points than the 2010 Flyers, we have to break the season down into games with and without our favorite Calder nominee, Shayne Gostisbehere.
In the 18 games without Gostisbehere the team posted a line of 0.94 PPG (7-8-3), 2.00 goals a game, 2.77 goals allowed, 29.6 shots taken, 33.2 shots allowed compared to 58 games with Gostisbehere the team posted a much better line of 1.24 PPG (31-17-10), 2.74 goals a game, 2.46 goals allowed, 31.1 shots taken, 30.2 shots allowed.
To more fully explore his possible impact, we ran three scenarios: one where Ghost didn’t play a game in the NHL this year, one where Ghost played what he’ll likely play this year (64 games), and one where he played the whole year with the team. We then compared where the projected numbers put the Flyers in terms of league rankings. Here’s what we found:
Without Ghost, the Flyers would have been last in goals scored and shots allowed a game. They would have finished with 77 points, having ranked 20th in fewest goals allowed and 19th in shots for a game. This model is a raw projection and doesn’t factor for humanistic things like the slow start Steve Mason has had the last couple years. The Flyers would have likely finished with more than 77 points, but not by much.
Projecting the rest of the year for the Flyers with Ghost playing 64 games, they finish with 96 points, they rank 21st in scoring and 12th in fewest goals allowed. They finish 24th in fewest shots allowed and 6th in total shots taken.
With Ghost for the whole season, the Flyers project out to 102 points for the season. They would be tenth in the league in scoring, tenth in fewest goals allowed, fifth in total shots taken, and 18th in fewest shots allowed.
As the above scenarios lay out (and as your eyes have told you), the Flyers are a completely different team with Ghost. Let’s compare the 82-game projection to the 2010 team:
The 2010 Flyers ended with 88 points (41-35-6), tenth in goals for, fourteenth in goals against, eighth in shots taken, fifth in fewest shots allowed compared to the 2016 Flyers: 102 points, tenth in goals for, tenth in goals against, fifth in shots taken, 18th in fewest shots allowed
The 2016 Flyers have the edge in league rankings for fewer goals allowed and more shots taken, but allowed more shots to be taken. Part of the reason this year’s team hasn’t scored more goals is they’re plain unlucky: the league average shooting percentage is 8.9% and the Flyers team shooting percentage is 8.3%. Now, 0.6% difference may not sound like a lot, but when applied to 2337 shots it comes out to 14 more goals than they’ve scored up to this point. In a game in which one goal is often the difference, that’s a heavy correction.
Along with Ghost helping them play like a top-10 team, another thing the 2016 team has on the 2010 team is goaltending. Mason (49 games, .919 SV, 2.49 GAA) and Michal Neuvirth (31 games, .925 SV, 2.28 GAA) have both been superb. Only Brian Boucher (33 games, .899 SV, 2.76) started more than 30 games for the 2010 team. Ray Emery (29 games, .905 SV, 2.64 GAA) and Michael Leighton (27 games, .918 SV, 2.48 GAA) ended up forming some kind of wobbly tripod that collapsed at the absolute worst moment. So even though the 2016 version will face nearly 200 more shots than the 2010 team, it has better goaltending to stop those shots.
Offensively, the 2010 Flyers had 10 players with 30 or more points: Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne, Kimmo Timonen, James van Riemsdyk, Matt Carle, and our captain now, Claude Giroux. The 2016 team has seven who are either at 30 points or more or within touching distance: Giroux, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier, and Michael Raffl with 28 points. However, the 2016 team has 12 people who have anywhere from 10 to 30 points, whereas the 2010 team was more top-heavy and only had six.
Defensively, four of the six defensemen who played more than half of the games had a CF over 50% for the 2010 team. Five of seven defensemen who have played at least half the games for the 2016 have a CF of over 50%; only Mark Streit (48.9%) and Nick Schultz (46%) are below that mark. However, the 2016 has two defensemen (Andrew MacDonald at 48% and Luke Schenn at 45.7%) who have played a quarter of the year and were below that mark. The 2010 team only had one defenseman (Danny Syvret at 47.8%) who matches that standard.
There are a lot of similarities to the teams: both teams got scoring from a wide variety of sources, and both teams got solid defensive play. The 2010 team had better top-end scoring and a better top defenseman (more on that in a minute) but the 2016 team has much better goaltending. There’s no better or worse here it appears, just different.
One last thing…
The 2016 team has a magical defenseman in Gostisbehere, but the 2010 team had a pretty good blue liner in Chris Pronger. Let’s take a look at their seasons put together.
Shayne Gostisbehere has played 58 games and has scored 16 goals to go along with 26 assists, 42 points, CF 50.5%, and C/60 1.2, while during the 2009-2010 season, Chris Pronger played 82 games and scored 10 goals, and added 45 assists, 55 points, CF 53.7%, and C/60 8.3.
This tells us that Pronger was as good as Ghost offensively and was his defensive superior, which coincides with what we know and saw with our eyes. Still, it’s fun to look at, and Ghost still has room to grow.