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How do the Flyers score their goals?

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The Flyers' struggles in recent years have predominantly been at five-on-five. What needs to be better exactly? How are they scoring at five-on-five? What's working, and what isn't?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For several years now the Flyers have had some of the better power play and penalty killing units in the league. That was no different in 2013-2014 when they had the seventh ranked power play and the seventh ranked penalty kill. Where the Flyers seemed to struggle was during five-on-five play.

At his introductory press conference, Ron Hextall seemed to agree.

I think our 5-on-5 play has got to get better. Our special teams were pretty good this year, top 10 in the league I believe. 5-on-5 we've got to get better.

Their shot attempt differential when the score was close (read: neither team falling into a defensive shell to protect a lead and allowing the opponent to dictate play) was 23rd in the league at only 48.2%. For those that are less statistically inclined, that essentially indicates the Flyers were consistently outshot and did not possess the puck more than their opponents at five-on-five.

Earlier this past season a fanpost over at Pension Plan Puppets did a fascinating exercise related to the Maple Leafs' even strength scoring. They were curious as to how the Maple Leafs were scoring goals. Were they dumping the puck in deep, retrieving it and scoring? Scoring off the rush? Did they excel with a cycle game? PPP then developed nine different categories in which they could classify the Maple Leafs goals and watched each of those 30 goals (this was only in November) to see where they fell.

It was a fantastic piece of work and I, naturally, was very curious about how the Flyers scored. I had already planned to perform the same exercise this offseason, but it only became more important for me after Hextall's comments about needing to be better at five-on-five.

I was able to get a list of all 144 of the goals the Flyers scored at five-on-five this season. I then watched each and every one of them so I could try to answer the question "how do the Flyers score?". These are my findings.

The Method

I decided to use the same nine scoring categories that the PPP post used. I asked my BSH comrades for their take on if we should add or remove any at all but I ultimately decided to leave them the same. We could have easily come up with a dozen or more different "buckets" but at a certain point, you start to lose the point of the exercise.

So I kept the same nine categories (I did add an "Other" category) but with just slightly tweaked definitions for some. I found that over the course of an entire season there were SO many goals that just barely didn't fit in a certain category and therefore didn't have a home. For that reason, I "loosened" the definitions a bit on several.

  • I was slightly more generous in the definition of "cycle game goals", not necessarily requiring 10 seconds of cycling to count. I also don't consider cycling to be an entirely physical component. Supremely effective puck cycling could count for me here.
  • Some "goals off point shots" I actually considered to be more "throwing the puck on net", often as a method of just keeping the puck in, than an actual, purposeful, point shot. I used my discretion to distinguish where necessary.
  • "Goals created by a defenseman's pinch" does not need to be a physical thing in my book. An effective pinch to keep the puck in is all that matters to me.
  • I also added an "Other" category for strange goals that simply don't belong anywhere. Such as a goal that resulted from an opponent's clearing attempt that hit a ref and went to a Flyer. Or a goal that was the result of nothing other than a horrendous unforced turnover by the opponent. You get the idea.

So with that said, the ten categories are as follows (again, you can find PPP's original definitions, some of which I've kept exactly the same, here):

  1. "Dump-In Goals." i.e. When the Flyers throw the puck into the corner, give up possession, but then forecheck and ultimately retrieve it, and score.
  2. "Cycle Game Goals." i.e. An often physical, but not exclusively physical system, where our forwards move the puck back and forth along the boards, typically using their body to hold off defenders, before getting it out for a shot resulting in a goal.
  3. "Goals Off Point Shots." i.e. Goals scored directly [or from rebounds] off shots taken from the standard d-man's point position. Not including when D-men jump into the rush, or move down into the slot from the point, and not including desperation shots that are really more "throwing the puck on net" than a purposeful point shot.
  4. "Dirty Goals." i.e. Scored by banging and battling in close over pucks in the paint, often involving banging the goalies a bit, getting roughed up,. etc.
  5. "Goals From Throwing The Puck On Net." i.e. All long'ish shots from the perimeter, outside the blueline, throwing the puck at the net from the boards, etc
  6. "Goals Created By A Defenseman's Pinch." i.e. When the puck is in the other end and a d-man pinches down along the boards, either hitting an opponent, or to make a play on a neutral puck, that ultimately results in a goal.
  7. "Goals Off Face-Offs." i.e. Goals scored off a face-off in the other team's end. Within, say, 7 seconds - enough time for a single connected play to occur.
  8. "Goals Off Neutral Zone Turnovers." i.e. When we take the puck from them between the two bluelines and then score with less than 10 seconds in-zone.
  9. "Goals Off The Rush." i.e. Rushes which began back in the Flyers own defensive end, but which moved rapidly up-ice, and scored within 5 to 10 seconds of entering the opposing end. [As always, we're including rebounds here.]
  10. "Other." i.e. Strange goals that simply don't belong anywhere. Such as a goal that resulted from an opponent's clearing attempt that hit a ref and went to a Flyer. Or a goal that was the result of nothing other than a horrendous unforced turnover by the opponent. You get the idea.

It's worth noting, as indicated in some of the definitions, rebounds are included in the categories. For example, a "point shot" goal doesn't need to go straight in off of a shot from the point. If it results in a rebound or a deflection that ends up in the net, it's a "point shot" goal.

Additionally, goals can fall into multiple categories and I marked them as such. For example, if the Flyers dump the puck in, retrieve it, and then cycle their butts off and score. I would mark it as both a "dump in goal" and a "cycle game goal". So when you add up my totals at the end and see that it's greater than the 144 five-on-five goals that the Flyers scored, that is why.

(Before we get to my findings, a disclaimer:

This was really hard. NHL Vault is great but sometimes the broadcast just misses the beginning of the play if it's coming out of commercial break or something. Also, for some reason the Flyers' 79th game wasn't available on vault, so I had to watch the highlights from NHL.com which provides far less context. I'm human and prone to error, and probably have biases.

I was originally trying to track the type of goal, the zone start, the zone entry type, the zone time, the type of shot, whether or not there was a rebound, and the defenseman's role in the goal. So every goal consisted of me saying out loud (to try to help me remember in one viewing) as I watched the play unfold "D-man breakout, carry in, 3:43, wrister from dot, 3:47." Then I'd try to mark it accordingly. At a certain point, I knew I was missing some of those more granular details and opted to move on as it was too big of an undertaking for 144 goals.

It's also easy for your eyes to miss a subtle defenseman's pinch, or maybe something that could be classified as a "dirty goal" when you're watching it unfold thinking "this is a rush goal" or "this is a cycle goal". Confirmation bias creeps in and the potential to miss something increases.

So what I'm getting at is, error is not only possible, but likely. But I hope that I'm accurate enough to at least provide some interesting observations for you all.)

The Findings

  1. "Dump-In Goals." - 38

    In the example below, the Flyers dump the puck in and Ottawa actually has possession very briefly. All three Flyers forwards forecheck and ultimately force a turnover which ends up on Vincent Lecavalier's stick in the high slot. He rips a slapper that ends up in the back of the net. 



  2. "Cycle Game Goals." - 9

    Here Scott Hartnell retrieves an errant puck that ended up in the corner. He shrugs off a defender and leaves the puck for Matt Read. Read skates behind the net with a defender on his back. Once he reaches the corner he plays the puck back behind the net for Hartnell to retrieve. This is where the video picks up and Hartnell cycles down to retrieve the puck and fights off two defenders in the corner. The puck ends up on Couturier's stick behind the net, who finds Read out in front for the goal. All in all it was nine seconds of puck protection and cycling between when Hartnell initially tracks down the puck and when Read scores.

    Cycle_goal_example_1_medium
    Cycle_goal_example_2_medium
    Cycle_goal_example_3_medium
    Cycle_goal_example_4_medium



  3. "Goals Off Point Shots." - 23

    Matt Read finds Nicklas Grossmann on the point. He lets a wrister go which is knocked down in front. The puck squirts over to Read who deposits it in the net.


  4. "Dirty Goals." - 7

    "Dirty goals" was a tough one for me. When I think of a "dirty goal", I think of Grossmann's goal against the Penguins. Unfortunately, that doesn't really happen very much. Almost all of the "dirty goals" I credited were accompanied by another category, and truthfully, many of the "dirty goal" designations were debatable. I also would not be surprised if I possibly missed some. It's easy to overlook when your brain is already considering it a rush goal, or a cycle goal, etc. 

    This one was classified as a "goal off the rush" as well as a "dirty goal". Meszaros skates the puck through the neutral zone and gains the zone. He then drives to the net with the puck. Meszaros, Giroux, and Raffl all go to the net, along with four Montreal defenders. Raffl manages to score on his backhand amidst the traffic.


  5. "Goals From Throwing The Puck On Net." - 14

    This example was both a "dump in goal" and a "goal from throwing the puck on net". The Flyers dump the puck in the Ottawa end. Ottawa wraps the puck around the boards where Timonen keeps it in, and deposits it back in the corner. Couturier retrieves the puck and from an almost impossible angle, perhaps even below the goalline, throws it on net where it somehow ends up in the back of it.


  6. "Goals Created By A Defenseman's Pinch." - 10

    The Flyers' goal of the year was made possible by a defenseman's pinch. Everyone remembers Giroux's no-look, top-shelf, backhand goal, but I doubt anyone remembers that Grossmann had a crucial pinch to allow it to happen.

    The puck is dumped in deep by Raffl. Columbus retrieves the puck and wraps it up the boards. Grossmann pinches to prevent a Columbus player from getting a clean and easy clear. He gets enough of him and the puck to keep the puck in the zone. Eventually, the puck makes its way to Voracek, where the video picks up. Streit rips a slapshot from the point that misses the net but it ends up on Giroux's stick at the bottom of the circle. The rest is history.

    This goal was classified as a "dump in goal", a "goal off a point shot", and a "goal created by a defenseman's pinch".

    Pinch_goal_example_1_medium
    Pinch_goal_example_2_medium

  7. "Goals Off Face-Offs." - 7

    This one is simple enough. Kris Newbury wins a faceoff back to Luke Schenn. He steps around a defender, cuts to the middle of the ice and lets a snapshot go that finds the back of the net. The whole thing took five seconds.


  8. "Goals Off Neutral Zone Turnovers." - 17

    James van Riemsdyk attemps a cross ice pass in the neutral zone. It gets deflected and Giroux recovers it and gains the zone with Voracek on a two on one. Giroux opts to take the shot and lets go a wicked wrister for the goal.


  9. "Goals Off The Rush." - 50

    Voracek picks up the puck in his own end of the ice. He skates it up the ice and gains the zone with possession. He finds Timonen across the ice with a backhand pass who scores. It took four seconds of zone time after gaining the zone to score.


  10. "Other." - 9

    Here's a strange one where a Buffalo clearing attempt goes off of the linesman and the Flyers then gain possession and ultimately score. It's these unorthodox goals, or simply the odd goal that just doesn't quite fit into any other category, that I would classify as "other".


Individual Player Findings

We can then take this data about how each five-on-five goal was scored and look at who was on the ice for those goals. I'm only going to dive into the player data for the categories that had a significant number of goals: dump-in goals, rush goals, and point shot goals. I eliminated any skater that wasn't on the ice for 20 or more five-on-five goals.

"Dump-In Goals."
  • Only two players were on the ice for more "dump-in goals" than "goals off the rush": Downie and Hartnell. This kind of jives with what you might expect given those players' playing styles. Hartnell may be a bit surprising but perhaps he didn't play with Giroux's line enough to overcome it.
  • The top five "dumpers" in pure "dump-in goal" totals were: Coburn (15), Hartnell (14), L. Schenn (13), Voracek (13), and Giroux (13).
  • The bottom five "dumpers" in pure "dump-in goal" totals were: Meszaros (2), Lecavalier (4), Gustafsson (7), Simmonds (8), and Raffl (8).
  • The top five most frequent "dumpers" (I divided the number of "dump-in goals" by the individual's total number of five-on-five goals on-ice) were: Downie (41.6%), Hartnell (31.1%), Timonen (30.5%), Coburn (30%), and Gustafsson (29.1%).
  • The top five least frequent "dumpers" (I divided the number of "dump-in goals" by the individual's total number of five-on-five goals) were: Meszaros (7.4%), Lecavalier (14.2%), Simmonds (20%), Streit (22.6%), and Giroux (22.8%).
  • Just because: Andrew MacDonald would have been the most frequent "dumper" if he had qualified. 62.5% of his on-ice five-on-five goals were "dump in goals". Granted, he was only on for 8 five-on-five goals.
"Goals Off Point Shots."
  • The top five "point shotters" in pure "point-shot goal" totals were: Grossmann (10), Streit (10), L. Schenn (8), and Hartnell, Raffl, and B.Schenn tied for fourth (7).
  • The bottom five "point shotters" in pure "point-shot goal" totals were: Timonen (2), Lecavalier (3), Gustafsson (4), and Simmonds, Voracek, Read, Couturier, Coburn, and Giroux tied for fourth (5).
  • The top five most frequent "point shotters" were: Grossmann (25%), Downie (25%), Raffl (23.3%), Meszaros (22.2%), and Streit (18.8%).
  • The top five least frequent "point shotters" were: Timonen (5.5%), Giroux (8.7%), Voracek (9.8%), Coburn (10%), and Lecavalier (10.7%).
"Goals Off The Rush."
  • The top five "rushers" in pure "goals off the rush" totals were: Giroux (22), Streit (20), Coburn (19), Voracek (19), and Couturier, L. Schenn, and Simmonds tied for fifth (16).
  • The bottom five "rushers" in pure "goals off the rush" totals were:  Downie (6), Gustafsson (8), Meszaros (9), Lecavalier (10), and Hartnell, B. Schenn, and Grossmann tied for fifth (12).
  • The top five most frequent "rushers" were: Raffl (43.3%), Couturier (42.1%), Read (41.6%), Simmonds (40%), and Timonen (38.8%).
  • The top five least frequent "rushers" were: Downie (25%), Hartnell (26.6%), B. Schenn (29.2%), Grossmann (30%), and Gustafsson and Meszaros tied for fifth (33.3%).
"Goals Off The Rush." plus "Goals Off Neutral Zone Turnovers."

For kicks, I wanted to try including "goals off neutral zone turnovers" in with "goals off the rush" as I feel they are quite similar and more of just a matter of where the rush starts.

  • The top five were: Giroux (30), Streit (28), Voracek (27), Coburn (25), and Simmonds (21).
  • The bottom five were:  Downie (6), Gustafsson (11), Meszaros (11), Raffl (14), and Lecavalier (16).
  • The top five most frequent were: Lecavaler (57.1%), Voracek (52.9%), Streit (52.8%), Giroux (52.6%), and Simmonds (52.5%).
  • The top five least frequent were: Downie (25%), Meszaros (40.7%), Hartnell (42.2%), L. Schenn (42.5%), and B. Schenn (43.9%).

What's it mean?

Truthfully, the distribution of goals was a bit more even than I expected. Part of me expected (perhaps for no reason) to see the Flyers heavily skewed in a particular direction; most likely either goals off the rush or dump in goals. While goals off the rush was the clear winner with 50, or 34.7% of all of the five-on-five goals, the dump in goals weren't too shabby with 38, or 26.3% of all goals.

If we compare that to what PPP found in their small 30 goal sample, they had 21 of 30 goals coming off the rush and only one from a dump in. The Leafs, based on that small sample, clearly have a strength. While the Flyers may have one as well, it doesn't appear to be as drastic.

If we look at it from a zone entry perspective, though, things do skew a bit more.

80 of the 144 goals were scored off of gaining the zone with possession, be it a carry in or a pass. That's 55.5%. That's more than double the number of goals scored than when dumping the puck.

The individual metrics seem to make sense based on common sense. The players you expect to dump a lot (Downie, Hartnell) did. The players you don't expect to (Giroux, Streit ... although Simmonds is a surprise), didn't.

The "point shot goals" seem to be heavily driven by one Mark Streit. That makes sense; and it also explains Grossmann's presence.

And the "goals off the rush" (including the neutral zone if you'd like), also pass the smell test given Giroux, Voracek, and Streit being so prominent.

As fun as this exercise was, and as interesting as the data is, we unfortunately don't have a baseline to compare it against. Yes, PPP did it for 30 goals, but that's not the best comparison for the Flyers' entire season. We don't know if the Flyers distribution of "dump-in goals" versus "goals scored off the rush" is above, below, or around league average.

I find it interesting that after the Hartnell trade we heard part of the reason for doing so was speed. You could argue that played in a factor in Hartnell's frequency to dump the puck. Both he and Downie, the two biggest culprits, are now gone.

Could that nudge the Flyers even more towards scoring off the rush? While it appears like they had moderate success dumping the puck, it's clear that scoring off the rush -- and to an even greater extent, making sure to gain the zone with possession -- was superior.

I'm interested to see how the Flyers' five-on-five scoring looks next season after the personnel changes and the apparent desire to improve in that area.