Drawing Up Wins: How Penalty Differential Is Helping Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers are enjoying their longest winning streak since 1995 after recording their first 1-0 overtime win in franchise history on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings. A lot of things have to go right to win almost 10 straight games, and they have for the Orange and Black. With three overtime wins, a shootout win, and overcoming third period deficits to win twice, the Flyers could have seen a lot of wins swing the other way during this streak.

The improved goaltending of Steve Mason and strong start to Anthony Stolarz’ NHL career has played a hand in the team’s recent success. The increase in save percentage to .934 at 5-on-5 along with a pretty high shooting percentage of 11.57 at 5-on-5 means the Flyers are riding a 104.95 PDO over the last nine games, so they are getting lucky. However, with key possession players out in Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and now Shayne Gostisbehere, the fact the team is winning games at all is pretty impressive. On top of the PDO, the Flyers’ penalty kill is also clicking at a higher rate (84.0%) during this streak than they did to start the season (80.9%). Jakub Voracek has posted 15 points during the streak, which doesn’t exactly hurt either. With all that being said, Philly’s Corsi For percentage has dropped during the streak (52.65 to 47.30), as well as their Expected Goals For percentage (48.01 to 43.95). Could something else be helping the Flyers during the streak other than the increase in save percentage and high PDO?

WINNING TERRITORIAL BATTLE

Despite the drop in some key 5-on-5 statistics, the Flyers are posting an Offensive Zone Start percentage of 38.64 and an Offensive Zone Finish percentage of 40.98 in all situations, both of which is good enough for second across the league since November 27th. For the first 22 games of the season, the Flyers were 11th in the league with a 35.50 OZS% and 10th in the league with a 37.28 OZF%. With a drop in both CF% and xGF% during the streak, one explanation for why the Flyers are starting and ending most plays in the offensive zone is their ability to draw penalties. Philadelphia leads the league with 53 drawn penalties since November 27th, which is 12 more than the Edmonton Oilers, who are second in the league with 41. The Flyers also lead the league with a +19 penalty differential since the 27th, as the Oilers are in a distant second again with a +9 differential.

The Flyers’ power play isn’t clicking at the same rate during the streak as it did for the first 22 games of the season, so why would the penalty differential matter? The power play percentage might have dropped a little, but they are averaging a power-play goal per game during the streak as opposed to their 0.86 power-play goals-per-game average before the streak started. That’s not too impactful, but the time spent on the power play each game is playing a role in the Flyers’ territorial battle. Philly had 122:53 of power-play time during the first 22 games for an average of 5:35 of man advantage time-per-game. During the winning streak, the Flyers have enjoyed 70:36 of power-play time, which leads the league and is 20:14 more than the second-place Oilers. It’s also an increase of power play time-per- game to 7:51.

On the other side of special teams, a drop in penalty kill time-on-ice per-game may also explain why the Flyers’ penalty-kill percentage is slightly up. Similar to the increase in power-play usage, the Flyers are averaging less time shorthanded per game during the streak and have seen their power-play goals against-per-game average drop from 0.59 in the first 22 games to 0.44 during the winning streak. After starting the season with an average of 3.09 times shorthanded a game and 5:11 time-on-ice shorthanded each game, the Flyers are averaging 2.78 penalty kills a game and 4:37 shorthanded time-on-ice per game during the winning streak. The increase in play at the team’s strength of the power play and the decrease in play of one the team’s weaknesses in the penalty kill is playing a role in the Orange and Black’s ability to find ways to win during this nine-game stretch.

CONCLUSION

The biggest difference from the Flyers first 22 games to the last nine is definitely goaltending. The improvement in goaltending leads to a higher PDO, which makes sense for a team in the middle of a nine-game winning streak. With a few key play drivers out of the lineup and a drop in two of the more important 5-on-5 metrics, a reason for the Flyers’ continued success could be their divide in penalties drawn versus penalties taken. The increase of power play time-per-game and decrease in shorthanded time-per-game has helped the Flyers as well, as it means more time has been spent on the offensive than the defensive.

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