This year's Flyers: sorting fact from fiction

Let's play a game of true or false, shall we?

The Flyers power play is awful.

True. Probably truer than you even realize. Most people look at conversion percent, where the Flyers' #20 rank is a bit below average. But conversion percentage includes a ton of shooting percentage luck -- it takes much more than a season for random variation to even out on the relatively small number of shots that occur on the power play. So shots on goal is a much better measure of how the team is really performing, and the Flyers are 28th in getting shots on net. That is not only terrible; it is unfathomable for a team that was fourth in power play shots last year and is fifth in even strength shots this year. Something is just flat-out broken.

The Flyers penalty kill is pretty good.

False. This unit is not "pretty good"; it's dominant. Again, the standard PK% metric has the Flyers a pedestrian 15th. But the Flyers lead the league in preventing shots during the penalty kill. They even do well at shorthanded goals, ranking #3 in the league. The Flyers are just rocking on the PK.

For the graphically-oriented, here's a table comparing the conventional special teams ranks to the more accurate ranks based on shot rate:

Situation Conversion rank SOG/60 rank
Power play           20th        28th
Penalty kill           15th         1st

More after the jump.

The Flyers have played like crap lately.

Yes and no. If "lately" means the last 15 games (games 66-80), then yes, they've been legitimately below average over that stretch by record, goals, shots, and most other measures.

But many people were questioning them before that, and even though it's hard to believe with the benefit of hindsight, they really were playing well and getting unlucky over their previous 20 games (games 46-65). The chart below shows that their Corsi (percent of shots directed at the net) was very solid over that stretch, and trending upwards.


The people who were concerned about the team then weren't seeing true issues in controlling play; they were getting fooled by the fact that the Flyers faced some hot goalies. The Flyers were winning the shot battle, but the opponents had a completely unsustainable .936 even strength save percentage (ESS%) over that 20-game stretch.

I'm tired of arguing about those previous 20 games; they don't matter anyway. The way the Flyers have played over the last 15 games, they have no chance in the playoffs.

False. As the blue line in the plot below (from Behind the Net) below shows, predictions for the playoffs based on goal differential over the last 15 games are barely better than flipping a coin to make your picks. Fifteen games is just too small a sample size to be useful.

In fact, let's call this double-false. The previous 20 games do matter, because adding them in more than doubles the sample size and gets us to the point where the luck evens out a little. As a result, the goal differential in the last 35 games (blue line below) looks quite useful for making preductions, about as useful as the first 70 games (brown curve). This is presumably because trades and injuries make the recent games more important.

So how do we feel about that 35-game sample; do they have a chance? The numbers don't look good -- they've scored only half the goals over that period, which really isn't very good for a playoff team. In other words, we need Pronger to return and get the team playing like they were before he got hurt and we need them to stop getting unlucky with their shots (regress to the mean).


The Flyers play like crap when they're ahead.

We haven't heard this one as much lately, since they haven't been getting as many leads. It's another "yes and no" answer. Look back at the green curve in the first chart. Early on in the season they were much better than the ~44-45% that we'd expect (remember, teams take a lot more shots when they're trailing). But their play with a lead has been steadily declining since then and has not been good over the last half of the season -- much worse than you'd expect from a team that played so well when tied or trailing.

Bobrovsky and Boucher are falling apart.

Completely false. Take a look at this table:

Player Dates ESS%
Team overall Whole season .923
Bobrovsky Feb 13-present .923
Boucher Feb 13-present .923

For those not accustomed to thinking in ESS%, the league average is .918 and the Flyers' .923 for the year ranks them 9th. Oh, and Leighton was at .904 last year and is .908 for his career. So stop it with the "Leighton can't be any worse" talk already, will you?

Only if you stop it with the ESS%. Who cares whether the goals they give up are at even strength or on special teams?

I'm sorry, you didn't phrase that in the proper format. But this isn't a game show, so I'll answer anyway. Overall save percentage gets strongly influenced by how many penalties the player's team takes and how things happen to go in the relatively small number number of power play shots, so ESS% is usually a better measure of a goalie's play. But if you insist on looking at the PK, the Flyers are .878 in PK save% for the year and Bobrovsky is .888 since Feb 13. The decline we see is not on the goalies' shoulders.

Aha, you didn't mention Boucher; you must be covering something up.

False. It's just that it's such a crazy anomaly that I wanted it to have its own line. Since Feb 13, Boosh has faced astonishingly few PK shots (only 1.8 per game), but is letting almost half of them in (.563 PKSv%). But if we're clinging to 16 PK shots against the backup goalie over an 8-week span as evidence of a goalie meltdown, then I'm not too worried.

Any more questions? Fire away in the comments.

Thanks to Geoff for providing the recent goalie data.

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