“It was the best of the times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’ famous quote from his book A Tale of Two Cities summarizes well the experience of the Flyers so far this season.
After a tremendous start in Europe and a 2-0 beginning to the season, it looked like the Flyers were responding well to new coach Alain Vigneault’s system. Not only did the team look dominant, underlying numbers and analytics showed what we were seeing was not just an illusion. However, over the next three game, the Flyers showed another side of themselves. A side, unfortunately, with which Flyers’ fans are all too familiar, especially with this core group. So which “city” are the Flyers so far? Are they a good playoff team (like they seemed to show in the first two games of the season) or a non-playoff team (as they seemed to show over the next three games), or are they somewhere in-between? Let’s take a look at the two “cities” portrayed by the Flyers so far.
It was the best of times…
With a new coach comes a new system. In the case of the Flyers, this has come in the way of a more diverse offensive system. The Flyers are shooting from all over the map and using players at all positions to create a plethora of scoring opportunities. This is something the Carolina Hurricanes have done for years now, and it finally paid off strategically last year. This season, the Hurricanes are one of the top NHL teams and this is a reason why. High volume and diverse shooting leads to increased high danger scoring chances and opportunities. This has increased in Vigneault’s system. Defenders are jumping into the play and generating shot opportunities. Travis Konecny is having a high level of success playing in Vigneault’s system, putting up over a point-per-game while still maintaining excellent possession stats and two-way play.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flyers have a 56 CF% (corsi for percentage) at 5 on 5. This means that the Flyers are possession monsters so far this season, an excellent sign considering this has been a problem in the past. In fact, the Flyers are leading the league in this percentage. Any CF% over 55% is considered elite, so the Flyers are right there, even currently ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes. Even if results are not showing up yet in terms of wins, if the Flyers continue leading league-wide in this statistic, their win percentage (and subsequent “goal luck”) should increase.
The Flyers also have the least number of shots against in the league, meaning they clearly also tightened up defensively and are also frequently in the drivers’ seat as it pertains to driving play and possession.
Between a new system, increased CF %, a better defensive game, and the play of a dominant Travis Konecny, the Flyers have the base to be continually competitive and in the running for a playoff position.
It was the worst of times…
However, even with some positive elements so far, the Flyers still had an early three game losing streak and have shown flashes of the erroneous style of play that has plagued them the last few seasons. Old habits die hard, but nonetheless, there are some concerning aspects of play so far for the Flyers.
First, the Flyers have an extremely low team shooting percentage. According to moneypuck.com, the Flyers are currently shooting only 6.61%, the third lowest league wide. While it is likely this number will increase to a more league average, which is around 9%, it still speaks to a few concerns. While less than 3% might not seem like much, that is actually a significant goal difference in a league where goal scoring is not extremely high. Giroux and Voracek have had slow starts to the season, and one can hope that once they begin producing, the team overall shot percentage will increase. This low number, though early in the season, is still a little concerning, especially because of the lack of offense from players in their 30’s who may be in an offensive regression.
Second, Flyers’ goaltending still seems to be an issue. While Carter Hart is still the hope of the future, he has not been the hope of the present thus far. The Flyers currently have the worst team save percentage of any team in the league, sporting a combined 84.88% percentage. With a league average save percentage of 91%, it is easy to imagine the Flyers already higher in the standings with just average goaltending.
Goaltending advanced analytics are always changing and are currently being reexamined by many within the analytics community, so placing poor save percentage blame solely on Hart and Elliott seems like a stretch at best. However, since the Flyers are out-shooting their opponents on the regular and controlling play, it is clear the Flyers are missing timely saves from their duo. Overall, goaltending continues to be a deficiency for the Flyers. Hopefully time will help Hart grow into the position and that Elliott can provide, at minimum, average goaltending for the Flyers to stay in the playoff hunt.
Which “Time” Is It?
The Flyers season so far has given us a plethora of positive and negative results. However, their streaky play has led to a difficulty determining exactly what type of team the Flyers are. Unfortunately, as the Flyers continue to learn a new system, new players learn chemistry with their new teammates, and goaltending continues to strive and find its way, it may be a while before we see what team the Flyers’ truly are. However, the Flyers underlying numbers so far are showing us they are making progress systemically. If this continues, and goaltending can progress to the mean even slightly, then the Flyers will remain in the playoff picture. Fans can hope that the “best of times” we saw at the beginning of the season will continue.