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Philadelphia Flyers Microstat Observations, through Nov. 19: Part 2

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Let's try to make sense of the microstat data from this week, and what it tells us about the performance of both the team and individual players.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Microstat Tracking is a new feature that attempts to quantify the performance of the Philadelphia Flyers in the offensive, neutral and defensive zones. All statistics are manually tracked by Charlie O'Connor. Part 1 consists of the raw data; Part 2 will include Charlie's thoughts on interesting trends in the metrics.

  • The general consensus surrounding Shayne Gostisbehere in the preseason was that his offensive game was NHL-ready; he simply needed to improve in the defensive zone in terms of coverage and winning puck battles. No one mentioned his neutral zone play, probably because it is very difficult to track and also partially dependent upon the preferred systems of coaches. Luckily for the Flyers, Gostisbehere has stood out thus far for his aggressive play in the middle of the ice. He explained to BSH last week that he prides himself on defending his blue line and forcing uncontrolled zone entries by the opposition, and the numbers back that up. Through his first three games, he led the team with a 15.38% controlled entry percentage when specifically targeted by an opposing forward. Even better, his on-ice statistics show that teams are primarily playing dump-and-chase hockey against Gostisbehere, even when he hasn't been the direct target of the entry. Only 16.67% of the total opposition entries have been carry-ins while Ghost has been on the ice. As Gostisbehere himself put it last week - if he's making teams dump the puck in, they're temporarily giving up possession of the puck, which is a good thing for the Flyers.
  • Whenever the hot take idea of trading Sean Couturier comes up in fan discussions, it's usually accompanied by the assumption that center Scott Laughton could take over Couturier's role as the team's top defensive option down the middle. After all, Laughton came with glowing scouting reports from juniors regarding his defensive acumen and effort level. Unfortunately, it hasn't shown up in the numbers thus far this year. Laughton has been the team's worst overall forward in terms of zone exits - last in successful exit percentage, third from the bottom in controlled exit percentage, and next-to-last in turnover percentage. It's the turnovers that have been most concerning. Laughton's decision making while clearing the zone has been suspect, and on many occasions, he'll simply toss the puck to an open spot in the defensive zone and assume that his teammate will win a race to the puck. It's a risky strategy. That's not to say that Laughton won't improve in this area moving forward - he's still adjusting to the NHL pace and does appear to have solid puck skills. But he's nowhere near ready to take regular shifts against the Alexander Ovechkins and Joe Thorntons of the hockey world, like Couturier has over the past weeks.
  • It was a mistake on my part last week to order the zone exit charts by "Successful Exit Percentage" rather than "Controlled Exit Percentage," for no bigger reason than it made Sam Gagner look much better in the defensive zone than he actually has been thus far in 2015-16. Getting the puck out of the zone is important, but it's far more valuable to engineer a breakout with possession, as those exits are more likely to lead to subsequent zone entries for the team. Gagner still leads the Flyers in successful exit percentage, but so many of those exits are without possession of the puck. He ranks way down in 10th in that category. In addition, via the eye test, it doesn't seem like Gagner has been very effective in defensive zone puck battles either. That's not to say Gagner isn't doing some good things - he's chased down loose pucks well and uncontrolled exits are better than the alternative (not leaving the zone at all). But he has a number of things to work on before he shakes the "offense-only" reputation that has stuck to him.
  • Dave Hakstol has received some criticism from statistically-inclined fans in recent weeks, primarily due to his repeated scratching of defenseman Evgeny Medvedev. But if you're looking for reason to trust Hakstol's player evaluation capabilities, look no further than his usage of Michael Del Zotto. Known as a scoring blueliner, Del Zotto only has three points in 20 games this season. But Hakstol has identified Del Zotto as his best all-around defenseman despite the absence of point production, giving him the ice time of a No. 1 (23:22 minutes per game). The advanced and microstats back up his evaluation. Del Zotto hasn't dominated in one area, but his stats are just solid across the board - his controlled entry allowed percentage is sub-50%, his controlled exit percentage is tops among defensemen who have played in all games this year, and he has the lowest turnover percentage on the blueline. Even without the point production, Del Zotto has impressed this season, and his coach clearly noticed.
  • All season long, the Flyers have pushed to win the raw zone entries battle, often at the expense of working to generate a high number of controlled entries. That's what made the San Jose game so surprising. Philadelphia posted a 45.60% Entry For percentage, but dominated at even strength because so many of their entries came with possession (32 controlled entries). San Jose, on the other hand, almost exclusively played dump and chase hockey, and only carried the puck in 18 times throughout the night. The result was far more productive entries for the Flyers, in a game that they should have won.
  • Matt Read has been criticized this year for his lack of offensive production, and the argument is that it's just a continuation of his poor 2014-15 season. But the underlying numbers paint an entirely different picture. Read leads the team in Zone Entry For percentage at 54.59%, and there isn't a dramatic gap between his on-ice controlled entry for and against totals (39.94% For, 43.32% Against). You'd like to see the Flyers enter the zone with possession more with Read on the ice, but the raw entries advantage that Read provides does help to make up for a lower percentage of controlled entries. When tracking these games, I see a faster, smarter Matt Read and not the injured, unsure player that we saw last season. The numbers are bearing that out.
  • Back on November 6th, I wrote an article highlighting Brandon Manning's biggest weakness thus far in his NHL career - poor play with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone. At the time, Manning's possession statistics were very poor (44.22% Corsi For) and he was a regular healthy scratch option for coach Dave Hakstol. But since November 6th, Manning's underlying numbers have gone through the roof. In his last six games, he's posted a 58.2% Corsi For and an 8.6% Corsi Relative to his teammates at even strength. Part of this is due to being paired with the exciting Shayne Gostisbehere, but it's also because Manning has seemingly addressed his previous weakness. The recent exit data is staggering. Between 11/7 and 11/19, Manning posted a 26.19% Controlled Exit percentage (second on defense to Del Zotto) and a blueline-low 4.76% Turnover percentage. Compare that to his statistics through nine games (16.80% Controlled Exit, 16.80% Turnover Rate), and it's clear that Manning worked to address the issue. It may be a small sample, but Manning's improvement in his own zone combined with his generally solid neutral zone play helps to explain his newfound lineup security and strong possession statistics.