The Philadelphia Flyers are an enigma. Less than four weeks into the season, they are simultaneously one of the best teams in the league by their record and one of the worst teams in the league if you look at their underlying metrics.
It has been a frustrating few weeks to say the least, but at the end of the day the Flyers have been winning games. Even without reigning Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier, or Philippe Myers, or Shayne Gostisbehere, or a real sense of team defense, the Flyers are getting it done.
Is it sustainable? Well, that’s an interesting question. They are better than they’ve shown as they’ve played worse than their record. But at the end of the day, the record is what matters and what the team can fall back on. There are going to be ups and downs throughout a season in terms of both luck and performance.
So, what are the Philadelphia Flyers? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
It’s simple. The Philadelphia Flyers have to be most impressed by and happy with their record early in the season. They have 18 points in 13 games for a .692 point percentage. That would have them on a 113-point pace in a full 82-game season and has them on a 77-point pace for this 56-game season.
It hasn’t always been pretty or deserved, but the Flyers are tied with the Bruins for the most wins and points in the East Division and are the clear cut leaders with eight ROW (regulation or overtime wins). Granted, the Bruins have two games in hand on them, but it’s still quite impressive. In fact, only the Toronto Maple Leafs have more wins (10), points (18), and ROW (10) than the Flyers.
One of the reasons that the Flyers have one of the best records in the league is their forwards scoring clutch goals. They can score goals in bunches and several of their forwards have had great starts.
Through 13 games, five players have at least 11 points: James van Riemsdyk (18), Joel Farabee (12), Jakub Voracek (12), Kevin Hayes (11), and Claude Giroux (11). Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny also have nine and eight points, respectively. Those guys are getting the job done and I don’t think anyone expected JVR to be leading the Flyers in points and goals (seven) at this point in the season.
In fact, JVR has the fourth-most points in the NHL, behind only the dynamic duo in Edmonton, and Mitch Marner. His seven goals also tie him for the seventh-most in the league through Monday night’s games.
The Flyers are winning, and that’s always a good thing, but there is reason for concern.
Well, where do I get started?
While the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the best teams in the league in terms of their record, watching their games has shown a different story. If you hadn’t watched a Flyers game this season and guessed their record based on fan and social media reactions, you would think they are near the bottom of the division with the general manager and head coach on the hot seat.
They’ve been winning, but it’s not sustainable.
The Flyers are one of the worst teams in the league when looking at the underlying metrics. At 5-on-5 play, they have the worst Corsi For (44.55%) and Shots For (41.04%) percents in the league, with the fourth-worst Expected Goals For (45.34%).
Corsi For (CF%) measures how many shot attempts (shots on goal, shots that miss the net, and shots that are blocked) a team takes compared to their opposition. The Flyers have 44 shots attempts for every 56 shot attempts their opponent has.
Expected Goals For (xGF%) is similar to Corsi For, but takes into account the quality of the shot attempt. Shot attempts that are closer to the net and in more dangerous areas are worth more.
They haven’t been able to drive play, so how are they winning? Let’s take a gander over at their shooting percentage: an NHL-best 13.56% at 5-on-5 play.
There are two potential reasons for this: the Flyers have the best shooters in the history of the league or luck. I’m going to assume it’s luck. The Flyers were the fourth-best team in the league in SH% last season with 9.21, but that’s still quite a ways away from 13.56%.
This 13.56 shooting percentage combined with a .9204 save percentage at 5-on-5 play gives the Flyers a league-high 1.056 PDO. PDO is essentially a measure of luck, with teams expected to regress to the mean of 1.00. As the Flyers get less lucky on their shots, their PDO (and perhaps their winning percentage) will decrease.
Powerless Power Play
Not only are the Flyers one of the worst teams at 5-on-5, but they also aren’t doing themselves any favors on special teams.
They have the fourth-worst penalty kill rate (70.5%) in the league. And while their hot start buoys their power-play rate to 21.4% (14th in the NHL), they are 2 for 18 in their last six games. The lackluster power play was on full display on Sunday when they barely got set up in the zone during a four-minute power play. Their power-play units on Sunday afternoon also appeared to be picked out of a hat.
The Flyers’ process hasn’t been very sound this season at even strength or on special teams. They’re still winning, but they are going to have to sort things out if they want to sustain it.
One of the best things about this season is despite them playing poorly and having a great record, we still do not know the true potential of this team. Are they built to make a playoff run like last season; perhaps an even deeper run? Did the offseason loss of Matt Niskanen set them back? Will their youth continue to progress and take over?
We still do not know what this team is capable of. Their ideal lineup has not been on the ice together for even a single game yet.
First, it was Gostisbehere missing the start of the season. Then, Couturier and Myers got hurt in the second and third games of the season. Finally, when the Selke winner returned, Travis Sanheim had to enter COVID protocol. There have been bits and pieces of them together, but a fully-healthy Couturier can change a lot. He is a stabilizing force on the top line and that has a trickledown effect on the rest of the lineup.
The Philadelphia Flyers currently are an over-achieving team based on their underlying metrics and early-season injuries, and that’s scary. If they are able to put it all together for the rest of the season – or even just parts of it – the Bruins better watch their backs. The Flyers were just 15 and 28 seconds away from sweeping them this week and taking over first place, afterall.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick