Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
Back in September, we explored some of the questions facing the Flyers and specifically the defensive unit. In looking at some rate stats from the past few seasons, we came to the conclusion that the Flyers would probably need to succeed by playing a fast paced brand of hockey under new coach Dave Hakstol. Eight games into the season, we’ve seen the Flyers do just that. The Flyers are currently 3rd in the league in shot attempt pace/60.
The following chart, from @DTMAboutHeart of Hockey Graphs, plots teams based on the number of goals that you’d expect them to score or surrender based on their play. (@DTMAboutHeart is a great Twitter follow, by the way)
You’ll see Philadelphia in the top right corner of the graph here, colored light blue for “fun and bad”. This definitely reinforces the idea that the Flyers have played a high-event style early on. Let’s talk about why that’s both a good and a bad thing. (Numbers referenced are even strength only data from War On Ice)
Taking into consideration the skill sets of the defensive players, we knew it would be imperative that the Flyers play a quick-paced offensive game this season. The first eight games have seen them creating both shot attempts and scoring chances at a higher rate than they did last season. The Flyers currently rank 9th in shot attempts per 60 minutes and 6th in scoring chances per 60 minutes. Based on the expected goals formula from the above chart, only a small handful of teams have generated the kind of offense that the Flyers have.
The defensive unit has played a big part in the offense thus far. While Radko Gudas certainly leaves a lot to be desired with his defensive game, he has at least contributed well offensively, leading the Flyers in both shot attempt for and scoring chance for rates. In fact, Gudas also has the largest scoring chance differential on the team (+16). Defensemen Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn and Yevgeni Medvedev all have positively affected the Flyers offensive rate stats as well. We all know this is a unit with limitations, but it does contain several offensively talented players. It’s good to see that they are at least contributing positively in that regard.
New addition Sam Gagner has also had a positive impact offensively. Amongst Philadelphia forwards, the 26 year old center only trails Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl in terms of shots for rates this season. He has been a welcome addition to a forward group that was really hurting for secondary scoring last year.
I speculated (not very boldly) before the season that shot suppression would be the biggest difficulty facing the Flyers this season. So far the Flyers have done very little to dispel these worries. Early on, Philadelphia sits at an undesirable 28th in both shot attempt and scoring chance suppression.
While the Flyers could obviously stand to do better, there are some reasons to be slightly optimistic. As it turns out, the Flyers defensemen have at least been passable when it comes to shot suppression. Without much in terms of statistics to back this up, I’d speculate that Evgeny Medvedev has a lot to do with this. He has spent a fair amount of time with Schenn and Gudas, both of whom have had a positive effect on suppression numbers thus far. Seeing the positive effect that Medvedev has had on a group that is still bottom three in the league really makes you thankful that they were able to pick him up.
The problems ailing the Flyers are actually ones that they grew familiar with as last season came to a close. First off, Nick Schultz has really struggled in the absence of Braydon Coburn. While I’ll concede that he’s taking on some extremely difficult minutes, teams have really taken it to the Flyers with him on the ice. Amongst players with over 100 minutes at 5v5, only three players have allowed a higher shot attempt against rate than Schultz. Only two have allowed more scoring chances. Playing with Schultz has also really limited the offensive capabilities of Mark Streit. There is nobody left on the defensive roster that can do what Braydon Coburn used to do, and it shows.
Forward depth has also hurt. The Flyers struggled with this mightily last year, and it appears to be hurting them again early on in 2015. While the Sean Couturier line has been able to suppress shots well, the bottom 6 has struggled mightily in that regard. Brayden Schenn has completely floundered in the defensive zone. The entire fourth line has struggled there as well. While the bottom 6 has been better over the past couple games, they’ve still got a long way to go.
After just 8 games, these numbers must obviously be taken with a grain of salt. However, if this trend continues, the Flyers will find themselves playing some of the highest-event hockey around this season. While these numbers indicate that there are some large improvements to be made defensively, they also seem to indicate this: The Flyers will be playing some exciting hockey this fall.