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Fun With Numbers: Radko Gudas’ usage, the Flyers’ pace, and hitting the net

As other defensemen have taken on more responsibility, a mainstay of the Flyers’ defense has seen his role shrink. What does it mean?

Kate Frese / SBNation

We’re just under two weeks into the NHL season, which means that while we’re still probably not far enough into the year to actually try and draw many meaningful conclusions from early trends that we see, we’re probably far enough in that we can pretend, right?

With that, let’s take a look at three numbers pertaining to the Flyers’ first five games, discussing what they mean and how much they matter.

15:36Radko Gudas’ average ice time per game so far this season, courtesy of’s numbers.

If that doesn’t sound like a lot, that’s because it isn’t. 15:36 per game is sixth among Flyers defensemen this season in ice time per game; only Travis Sanheim’s 11:55 per contest so far is less. By comparison, Gudas played 19:51 per game in his first year with the Flyers, and 19:18 last season.

Why’s Gudas finding himself on the ice less often? Some of it could be a matter of his defensive partner. While the Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg partnerships have held steady through the first five games of the season, Gudas has spent time with both Brandon Manning and Travis Sanheim. The team has never been afraid to give Manning minutes befitting of a third-pair defenseman, and Sanheim — if his own average ice time per game wasn’t enough of a hint — clearly still hasn’t quite earned the full trust of the coaching staff just yet.

Particularly of note here is who seems to have stepped ahead of Gudas in the pecking order, and that’s rookie Robert Hagg. While his being paired with Gostisbehere certainly helps him get on the ice a fair bit (Ghost is actually leading the Flyers in 5-on-5 ice time so far this season), Hagg has done a lot to impress the coaches here, and his 16:56 of even-strength ice time per game is more time than Gudas is receiving across all game states.

We noted this past offseason that Gudas’ role this season was an unknown, and it was always possible that he was one who may end up seeing some ice time taken away as young guys emerge a bit (emphasis mine):

It’s possible that, while guys like Morin, Hagg, or Sanheim get their feet under them, Gudas is asked to do even more than he has been in recent years. On the other hand, if any of those guys really get out to a hot start to their NHL careers, it wouldn’t at all be surprising if any increase in responsibility given to them comes at the expense of Gudas’ ice time. Radko Gudas could realistically serve almost any role on the Flyers’ defense this season, from top-pair/top-PK guy to veteran mentor to third-pair support piece. The wide range of potential outcomes is what makes the task of guessing what to expect from him so difficult.

Right now, things are trending more towards “third-pair support piece”. But on the other hand, it’s also possible that as the team starts to trust Sanheim more, Gudas’ ice time climbs as a result. (It’s also possible that the team throws its current pairings in a blender before too long, of course, and that could change the picture up here as well.)

If that doesn’t happen, though, should the Flyers be willing to tweak their pairings a bit — even if just for a few shifts a game — to get the burly Czech blueliner a bit more ice time? Gudas’ possession numbers, which have been routinely fantastic since he became a Flyer, are outstanding again so far this season, obvious small sample caveats acknowledged. And numbers aside, we know that the Flyers like and value Gudas. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have protected him over MacDonald (who they also like and value) in the expansion draft last June. The sudden shift away from him is a bit curious, even if on the surface it can seemingly be explained as a matter of circumstance.

Kate Frese / SBNation

It’ll be interesting to see how Gudas’ role changes throughout the season. At some point between now and April, Samuel Morin is probably going to be playing on this team, and someone’s going to find himself out of a regular lineup role for it. Do the team’s early actions suggest that may be Gudas? I still think that, when push comes to shove, the team will blink and move MacDonald out of the lineup before they do that with Radko, but I’m certainly less sure about that than I was at the start of the season.

24th — the Flyers’ rank among the NHL’s 31 teams in 5-on-5 pace this season, which we’ll define as total shot attempts (including blocked shots) by both teams per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. At 110.56 total attempts for and against per 60 (via, through Sunday’s games), only seven teams have seen fewer total shot attempts in their games at even strength.

2017-18 NHL Pace (Thru 10/15)

Rank Team CF/60 CA/60 Pace
Rank Team CF/60 CA/60 Pace
1 EDM 80.49 54.64 135.13
2 PIT 63.16 67.92 131.08
3 CGY 63.24 63.71 126.95
4 TOR 69.09 52.51 121.6
5 ARI 59.27 61.97 121.24
6 ANA 55.54 65.41 120.95
7 CHI 55.03 65.72 120.75
8 OTT 50.65 69.77 120.42
9 S.J 67.58 52.67 120.25
10 FLA 67.52 51.86 119.38
11 T.B 60.63 58.5 119.13
12 NYI 61.19 56.9 118.09
13 VGK 57.4 59.08 116.48
14 DET 57.49 58.01 115.5
15 NYR 54.31 60.82 115.13
16 L.A 58.98 55.69 114.67
17 DAL 64.97 49.49 114.46
18 N.J 53.35 60.44 113.79
19 CAR 64.48 48.04 112.52
20 COL 55.7 56.17 111.87
21 MTL 64.7 47.13 111.83
22 WSH 51.62 60.12 111.74
23 CBJ 61.05 49.56 110.61
24 PHI 54.38 56.18 110.56
25 WPG 50.58 59.89 110.47
26 NSH 56.53 53.54 110.07
27 MIN 49.23 60.42 109.65
28 STL 48.41 61.17 109.58
29 BOS 55.8 52.11 107.91
30 BUF 47.78 57.72 105.5
31 VAN 48.57 53.64 102.21

First of all, a quick note here that either paces as a whole are going to have to fall back soon or we’re truly in a different era of offense this season. So far this year, the NHL-average pace is 115.8 attempts per 60; in 2016-17, only two teams (Dallas and Toronto) were above that mark. Some regression is likely in store for the league here, but hopefully there’s more fun, high-event hockey coming for the league this season than in seasons past.

It’s interesting, however, that the Flyers are in the lowest quarter of the league’s pace rankings this season. Particularly considering where they’ve been relative to the rest of the league in Hakstol’s first two seasons in charge of the team.

Flyers Pace Ranks

Season Flyers Pace NHL-Average Pace Flyers' Rank
Season Flyers Pace NHL-Average Pace Flyers' Rank
2015-16 113.9 108.2 3rd
2016-17 112.7 110.0 8th
2017-18 110.6 115.8 24th

Does this matter? Maybe, maybe not. Playing a up-tempo style with lots of shots isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for winning, and it’s not like doing so led the Flyers to greatness under Hakstol in the past two seasons. Plus, again: five games. It’s entirely possible this is just a small sample-fueled coincidence and the team will be trading shots and chances with its opponents regularly before long.

Do the Flyers think that slowing things down a bit may be the best chance they have to win with their current roster? It’s too early to say that with certainty. Still, the sudden shift here is intriguing enough that we can file this one under “something to possibly revisit down the road”.

What’s curious about that number, though, is that it may not jive with some of what you’ve seen at a high-level. The Flyers have topped 30 shots on goal in each of their first five games. How can they be getting so many shots on goal if their pace is relatively slow? Some of it’s the power play, but that can’t be all of it, right?

It’s not — and that brings us to our third number.

59.9% — the percentage of Flyers shot attempts so far this season at 5-on-5 that have counted as shots on goal, also per Corsica. That’s the third-highest percentage of any team in the NHL, trailing only Ottawa and Florida.

If you think that’s an improvement from previous years, you’re not wrong:

Flyers Shots-On-Goal % Ranks

Season Flyers' % of Attempts On Net NHL-Average % of Attempts On Net Flyers' Rank
Season Flyers' % of Attempts On Net NHL-Average % of Attempts On Net Flyers' Rank
2015-16 50.84% 53.33% 28th
2016-17 50.88% 53.48% 29th
2017-18 59.91% 53.95% 3rd

Again, we’re early enough into the season that this is probably, at least to an extent, just a blip on the radar. Last year, the league-leader in this category was the Penguins, who hit the net on about 56.8 percent of their attempts. The Flyers will probably fall back a bit here in time.

But what should be interesting to see is if this is a sign of a different offensive zone plan of attack for the Flyers. Much has been made of the team’s tendency to rely on point shots over the past couple of seasons, as low-to-high play was a crucial part of the team’s offensive strategy. Long shots like those are going to have less of a chance at hitting the net, for multiple reasons, and it’d be interesting to see if this uptick is a result of less reliance on those kinds of plays.

Microstats tracker and game-watcher extraordinaire Corey Sznajder had an interesting note on this front following the Flyers’ beatdown of the Capitals on Saturday:

Again, it may be too early to really tell what’s just noise and what’s a true sign of things to come, and we’d need to take a deeper dive to really look at that. But it’s hard to imagine that getting more shots on net is a bad thing, at the very least.