Job 1 for the Philadelphia Flyers this season was to improve their defensive game.
Last year, the club struggled to keep the puck out of its own net. Philadelphia finished last in goals against (3.52 goals per game), second-last on the penalty kill (73.1% success rate) and seventh-worst in goal differential (minus-38).
Through 10 games this year, the early results are positive. Philadelphia is tied with the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues for the fourth-fewest goals allowed (2.40 goals per game). The penalty kill is in the middle of the pack (15th, 82.9% success rate). And the Flyers’ plus-seven goal differential is seventh-best in the league.
Success While Shorthanded
The Flyers have built their 6-2-2 record without second-line center Kevin Hayes, who’s recovering from offseason abdominal surgery. Top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis also played just three games before being sidelined with an undisclosed issue — perhaps a groin problem.
Both Hayes and Ellis participated in Tuesday’s morning practice, ahead of Wednesday night’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Afterward, Alain Vigneault said that both players are “progressing nicely.” He’s hopeful that Ellis will return to the lineup this week and said it’s possible that the 30-year-old could be eased in on the third pairing as early as Wednesday.
Vigneault also said that Hayes is at least another week away from seeing his first game action of the year.
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) November 6, 2021
Rasmus Ristolainen also seems to be settling in with his new teammates. The big Finn has shown game-by-game improvement, and his willingness to throw a big hit sets him apart on a Flyers roster that isn’t known for its toughness. Despite missing the first two games of the regular season with an injury of his own, Ristolainen’s 26 hits are already tops on his team.
Ep 12: Biting, Montreal, COVID, and Penguins Sale Updateby Full Press Coverage on December 1, 2021 at 5:52 pm
Mike, Jim, and Chris […]
Keeping Pace in the Metro
Last week, the Flyers took three of four possible points, on the road, in their first two games of the season against Metropolitan Division rivals. On Thursday, they came from behind to force overtime before falling to Pittsburgh. Saturday night, they contained the Washington Capitals for a 2-1 win. That game was arguably the team’s most complete effort of the year so far.
On Saturday, Martin Jones also improved his record as a Flyer to 3-0-0. He now boasts a .950 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average. That should make it easy for Alain Vigneault to give Jones another start this weekend. The Flyers will go back-to-back on the road, with games in Carolina on Friday night and in Dallas on Saturday.
Despite the good results, the Flyers are only keeping pace so far in their very strong division. Metro teams are performing well in non-divisional games — a trend that continued on Monday when the Rangers took down the Florida Panthers and the Capitals beat Buffalo. Despite a .700 points percentage, Philadelphia is tied with Columbus for fourth spot in the Metro standings. Even last-place Pittsburgh has a .500 record at 4-3-3.
On the bright side, the Flyers are now back to a promising pattern that was a hallmark of their solid 2019-20 season. They have yet to record back-to-back losses so far this year.
Possession Numbers Far From Rosy
Digging a little further into the advanced stats, though, we can see some warning signs.
PDO is a statistic that basically represents how lucky a team has been. The higher the number, the luckier the team — 100 is average. Through 10 games, the Flyers’ PDO of 103.6 at 5-on-5 is second-best in the league, behind only the 9-1-0 Carolina Hurricanes at 104.9. Statistically, that suggests bad luck will come at some point, which could impact the Flyers’ results.
Expected goals is a stat that’s meant to give a general impression of how dangerous a team is, relative to its opponents. Anything above 50% suggests that a team is dominating. But despite the Flyers’ early success, their expected goals rate is just 47.25% at 5-on-5 so far, ranking them 24th in the league. Their rate of producing scoring chances is even lower — 27th, at 45.33%. High-danger scoring chances are lower still, ranking 30th at 43.58%.
In short, the Flyers are giving up more good scoring opportunities at even strength than they’re getting. And special teams have been a wash so far — six power-play goals scored and six goals allowed on the penalty kill.
With that in mind, it looks like the main reason the Flyers have a winning record so far this season is their terrific goaltending. With just 24 goals allowed in 10 games, they’re tied for third-fewest in the league, and their 14 goals allowed at 5-on-5 are also third-fewest.
And even though Carter Hart‘s record so far is a moderate 3-2-2, his 4.88 goals saved above average so far this season is fifth-best in the league. That’s a big hint that he’s back on his game after a tough 2020-21 season. Last year, Hart finished dead last in that category, at -17.01, and then-backup Brian Elliott was third-worst at -13.19.
Speaking about his goaltenders, “Both our guys right now are on top of their game,” Vigneault said. “Which, I think, just breeds confidence through the rest of the lineup.”
The Road Ahead
Other than the Canadian road trip, the Flyers’ schedule has been pretty reasonable through the first month of the season.
That remains true for the rest of November, where they’ll play six games at home and five on the road. Saturday’s trip to Dallas is the only game outside the Eastern time zone, but there are some tough opponents on the agenda.
Philadelphia will see the Florida Panthers for the first time on Nov. 24 in Sunrise. They’ll also play two games this month against both the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. And they’ll host two of Canada’s top squads in Toronto and Calgary.
The Leafs were winners of five straight before falling to Los Angeles on Monday. And the Flyers will be looking to avenge their 4-0 road loss to the Flames when they close out that season series next week, on Nov. 16 at Wells Fargo Center.