Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
This past weekend I decided to go back and take a look at all of the even-strength goals that were scored against the Flyers this season. There are always going to be assumptions throughout the course of season about how opposing teams are scoring goals against your team. I was interested seeing how true those assumptions may be and also try to see if any interesting tendencies arose as they were trying to defend.
For this post I really want to focus on overall tendencies of how the team is giving up goals rather than assigning blame to specific players. When I started this project, I did note which players may have had a direct impact on the goal against. However, I started to worry that there may be too much noise that happens within the course of a shift to really be able to solely blame one player. I also want to avoid the chance that people, and myself, may put too much emphasis on one play leading to a goal against rather than the looking at the bigger picture; Braydon Coburn was all too familiar with this problem.
As I was watching the goals the Flyers gave up this season and gathering data, I made the decision to exclude goals scored directly following a penalty kill. The green section of the chart focuses on how opposing teams started their offensive attack, orange is how they entered the zone, and blue shows how many of those goals where a result of extended zone time. Goals that were scored off of the faceoff were captured under the cycle column.
At quick glance, most of the goals scored against the Flyers were a result of the opposition starting a breakout from their end of the ice. I will say, most of the breakouts were done so with pressure coming from the Flyers forecheck, not surprising but still worth mentioning. There was something about the Flyers forecheck that stuck out in my mind as I was watching this. They seemed to change their forechecking approach a few months into the season. Obviously, I only had the chance to look at a handful of these breakout sequences since I’m only watching a portion of these games; I still want to point out some of the patterns I started to notice.
Forecheck #1 is something I noticed the Flyers doing during the first few months of the season. It first caught my eye during the game against Dallas. I made a point to go back and see how many of the opposition’s breakouts faced this type of forecheck by the Flyers. They certainly appeared to continue to use this method for a short period of time after that game. Eventually, they seemed to move away from this style as the season went on.
Forecheck #2 appeared to become their main strategy as the season progressed. This particular system really caught my eye during a game against Vancouver in March but after tracking this data I noticed they started using this much earlier in the season. They sent one player into the offensive zone to pressure the puck carrier while the remaining forwards set up shop in the neutral zone. The orange boxes denote a section of the neutral zone that player was responsible for while shadowing the opposition looking to give their teammate options. There were quite a few times where the players were caught flatfooted, or even accidentally bumped into each other as they left their space to close off the center ice option. Regardless of whether or not the players had trouble executing this system, if in fact this is what Berube wanted them to do, they were often exposed and vulnerable against teams who were good at stretching the ice. Unless their positioning was spot-on they were forced to deal with opponents attacking the line with control and speed. I made some notes regarding when the goals against were a result of a breakaway and most of them occurred in the latter half of the season. There weren’t a lot of them so it may be random noise, but I thought it was still interesting nonetheless.
I was surprised that there wasn’t a greater disparity between total goals scored on the rush vs the cycle. Although maybe it doesn’t seem so crazy if all you can remember from the Flyers season is watching them try to escape their defensive zone unscathed. Now, there were a couple things the Flyers did in their own end that drove me absolutely crazy: getting completely mesmerized by the puck and collapsing into their goaltender.
Man, did this happen a lot. The Flyers would actively work to try and keep opposing players to the outside once they entered the zone. The problem is, that they allow the opposition to dictate play in their zone. They didn’t apply a lot pressure on the puck carrier so while they were kept to the outside the opposition was still able to make plays and create good chances. It happened quite often that the players started to focus on the puck too much and play chase. Soon you have multiple players getting drawn to the puck carrier, which leads to nothing but trouble.
As I watching the game on Tuesday night between the Lightning and the Rangers, I wondered if they had tendencies to collapse in their respective zones. I didn’t happen to notice them doing this during the course of the game, at least not in the way the Flyers do. They generally start off with good intentions and some halfway decent structure in the defensive zone. Once the puck carrier tries to penetrate their set-up, they start to collapse and back in towards the goal. I have to assume on some level, that Berube wanted them to collapse a bit in order to attempt to block shots and cut off high level shot attempts but the players took it to an extreme on quite a few occasions. There were numerous times they even ending up in the blue paint with Mason or Emery. Overall, I’m not convinced it was a style that worked since defensmen often lost position on players hanging out around the net which allowed them to score on rebound attempts. It was just sort of odd and frustrating to watch at times.
It’s hard to say how much of these problems will be corrected in this upcoming season even with a new coach. Unless they dump some of their anchors they may still have to utilize a system that will compensate for the lack of speed on the blueline. At the very least, hopefully we can see some better structure in the defensive zone. Next week we’ll take a look at how the Flyers scored their goals.
Award for worst shift of the year:
Hands down the Flyers’ worst shift leading to a goal against happened during their game against Montreal in October. If you have a GameCenter Live/Vault subscriptions it’s worth checking out the awfulness in it’s entirety. Montreal spends about 1:40 in the Flyers’ zone which features about seven failed clear attempts. Congratulations Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Vinny Lecavalier, Luke Schenn, and Michale Del Zotto!