(Note: the following article will involve a lot of reacting to small samples. Knowing that, interpret its findings as you wish.)
The Flyers are 2-4. That's dumb.
There are some encouraging signs, though. As of my writing this post, the team's 5-on-5 goal ratio is 10th-best in the league at 1.4 goals for per every goal against, and that number was even better before the 5-1 loss at Tampa where they let in 3 5-on-5 goals (really, 2, but I'll get to that in a second). And it's been shown in the past that 5-on-5 goal ratio and general success at even strength correlates fairly well with future expectations for winning. So in that sense we're in fairly good shape.
No, the obvious problem right now is this team's penalty kill. The Flyers' penalty kill, as of this writing, is sitting at 20 out of 29*, which is 69%. Only four teams are worse than that, and of those four, only one (Detroit) is close to having committed as many penalties as the Flyers have. (The Flyers have been shorthanded a league-high 29 times; the next-closest is 26, which is held by three teams. Detroit is in the next group at 25.) They've allowed nine* power play goals, worst in the league so far.
* NHL.com's main stats page lists the Flyers as having allowed eight power play goals, but another one of their pages lists them as having allowed nine, and the percentage they've given (69%) reflects the latter figure (20/29 = 69%). It's annoying, especially because eight is technically the right number. However, nine is realistically more accurate, since Stamkos' goal at the end of the TB game was scored literally the second after the power play ended, so we'll stick with that number.
First, let's illustrate a breakdown of the goals against the Flyers so far this season.
(Like I said, I'm counting Stamkos' goal as a 5v4, and will continue to for the duration of this post. Cheating a little bit, but for all intents and purposes I think the point is made either way.)
You can see what's going on pretty easily. The Flyers have allowed fewer even-strength goals (6, including 4v4) than they have power play goals, which is just ridiculous. It's also not sustainable: last year, even the league's most generous shorthanded unit (Columbus) allowed 2.64 goals at 5v5 for every goal it allowed at 5v4.
So yes, these numbers will calm down a bit (even in a shortened season) and ultimately the penalty kill will probably be OK. But it's early in the season, our team is losing, and we've gotta find something to complain about, so why not start here?
First, let's start with the habitual punching bags known as our goaltenders. Indeed, there's a problem here.
Those numbers are bad. Very bad. A couple of facts to put in context, then: first of all, the league average save percentage while shorthanded is .850, so that means the Flyers are allowing an extra goal per 9.3 shots compared to the league average. Were they at a league-average here, they'd have allowed about 3.7 less goals on the penalty kill. If we round up and say that they'd have saved 4 goals with league-average goaltending on the PK, they'd have possibly killed 24 of 29 penalties, placing them at a very much respectable 82.8% on the PK instead of the 69% they're at. Yikes.
Second, among the 54 goalies who have faced at least one shorthanded shot this year, Bryzgalov ranks 42nd and Leighton ranks 52nd (ahead only of two guys who each have faced one shot and allowed a goal on it). Not very good.
Now, the positives? It's been six games. These numbers are not going to continue to be this bad. That's pretty much common sense. Bryz and Leighton are both better than that, and even if they weren't, you'd expect an uptick eventually; last season, even the worst shorthanded goalies were pretty much all above .800, and even Bryz and Sergei Bobrovsky, with their continued struggles, were both hovering just over .840 with the man down. So those numbers will improve, and with them, the penalty kill will improve.
(Unrelated note: freaking shout-out to Bryz, who's rocking an incredibly encouraging and also probably unsustainable .963 SV% at evens right now.)
So we know the goalies haven't exactly been hot. What about the guys in front of him?
I don't quite know how to find team Corsi/Fenwick figures at 4v5 or 3v5, so this isn't totally thorough. But even before taking into account missed and blocked shots, at the very least, we can agree that less attempts at the goalie would be a good thing. So let's take a look at how the Flyers, so far, have been doing at that, relative to the rest of the league, by comparing the amount of power play shots on goal against to the amount of time each team has spent on the power play.
|Team||Time (in seconds) spent on PK||PK Shots Against||PK Seconds per Shot Against||Rank||PK Goals Against||PK Seconds per Goal Against||Rank||Difference|
First, a quick interpretation of that chart. the number in that fourth column is the average number of seconds between shots on goal. Meaning: the higher the number, the better. The column next to it is each team's rank (in which smaller is better), which is to mean that--for instance--the Flyers are 18th-best at supressing shots on goal on the penalty kill. Meaning: they're marginally worse than average in that regard. Certainly not horrible enough to justify a 69% PK rate.
The next three columns are the same, but with PK goals against instead of PK shots against. This is the actual results column. That's where the Flyers, at 28th in the league, are really struggling.
The last column is the difference in ranks between PK shots and PK goals against. Negative numbers suggest that a team has been unlucky (that its rank in shots against is better than its rank in goals against) and positive numbers suggest the opposite. As you can see, the Flyers have been a bit unlucky, though some other teams have been far moreso (such as Calgary, who has allowed 5 PP goals in 13 shots against).
Are those numbers likely to normalize over a full season? The average deviation from 0 for any given data difference there was 6.8. Let's compare that to last year's full-season data and check, using just the ranks.
|Team||Sec/SA Rank||Sec/GA Rank||Difference|
Hey, look! Crappy Flyers luck last year, too!
In any case, the average deviation for last year's teams was 6.47, which is barely off of this year's abbreviated-season mark. And you can clearly see some outliers there. So no, this is not a given to even out over the course of the year. As you could guess, there's a big, big part of this that lies simply on shooting/goaltending luck.
So, to sum up: the Flyers have actually been really good at even strength and 5-on-5, their PK has been slightly below-average but by no means bad at suppressing shots on goal, but its PK as a whole has been very poor due to some bad luck/bad PK goaltending percentages. I don't think any of the goals against on the PP have been particularly egregious from a goaltending standpoint, so while you may disagree, the Flyers' PK woes at this point boil down to a combination of three things: bad bounces off your own guys (like this or this or this or, a bit more indirectly, this), really bad defensive breakdowns that have allowed high-quality chances (see this), or really fantastic offense/shooting from the other team (see this or really any PPG from the Tampa game). Of those three categories, the first will likely calm down over time, the second will likely happen on occasion, and the third is pretty much inevitable at times no matter how good you are. And eventually, some bad goaltending gaffes/soft goals will probably cost us a few goals on the PK down the line.
If you do want something to worry about, try the fact that this year, the Flyers rank 18th in this metric in PK-shots-on-goal-against, while last year they ranked 4th in that category. Not an encouraging step down. (Miss you, Carle.)
But anyways. The key to the Flyers turning around their ghastly PK so far (and possibly their season in the process) might be nothing more than patience. Eventually pucks will stop going off of our guys and right into the net, and eventually Bryz and Leighton will be saving more on the PK than they were before. And when that happens, hopefully things get better, because it sure looks like the Flyers will be spending a lot of time on the PK again this year.