The Philadelphia Flyers are good at special teams. Ranked sixth in the league at both penalty killing percentage and power play percentage, they are a formidable opponent whenever the ice is tilted in one direction. But what if we were to tell you that the specialty units are actually better than the statistics would imply?
Cue Jonathan Willis, writer at SBN's Edmonton hub The Copper & Blue and at The Score, who has compiled some interesting data that shows why the traditional penalty kill and power play percentage stats lie. The hockey world, uses goals for on the PP and goals against on the PK when figuring out these percentages. It's a simple process, really -- take the number of power play attempts, and if you score on 20% of them, you have a power play percentage of 20%. Same goes for the penalty kill -- if you prevent the other team from scoring 80% of the time, you have a PK percentage of 80%.
But Willis proves why that isn't a smart formula. Why, you ask? It doesn't take shorthanded goals into account.
... the league focuses on goals scored when measuring success, rather than goal differential. The [Dallas] Stars only allowed four short-handed goals against, the second-best number in the league. How much of a difference does it make if we adjust to count short-handed goals? To find out, I decided to compare how the NHL currently tracks power play percentage versus how the list would look if they used goal differential.
It makes a hell of a difference. According to his numbers when adjusting power play percentage, the Stars improved five spots, from 27th to 22nd. When using the same adjustments on the Flyers, the power play improves from sixth in the league to second, leap-frogging Boston, Anaheim, Washington, and San Jose. That's what happens when you only allow one shorthanded goal in a season.
On the kill, the Flyers are the most dangerous offensive team in the league -- we know all about those 16 shorties they tallied last season. Instead of ignoring those, though, adjust the numbers to include them. Once ranked sixth in the league in penalty killing with a percentage of 83.0%, the Flyers bump up three spots to number three in the league at 87.0%.
We see that the Philadelphia Flyers are significantly better than the league rates them – the product of a league-leading 16 short-handed goals. I don’t know for sure but I would guess that the coaching staff there focuses on goal differential for both units rather than goals for on the powerplay and goals against short-handed.
The team took time during practice last season to increase offensive awareness on the penalty kill and it paid off with those 16 shorthanded goals. They were crucial to the Flyers success on special teams last year, and as Willis points out, it's quite egregious to ignore them in the major stats that evaluate special teams play. Mike Richards and his seven shorthanded goals wouldn't appreciate that very much.
Update: Overall Special Teams efficiency ranks the Flyers Number 1 in the NHL with a 109.2 combined rating. From Jonathan Willis:
100 in this case represents league-average, and based on the numbers whoever has a coaching vacancy next should look at hiring away whoever runs the Philadelphia Flyers special teams.