92.63% — the combined team-level save percentages of the two teams that the Flyers will play tonight and tomorrow.
Via hockey-reference.com, the Chicago Blackhawks enter tonight’s game having stopped 92.46 percent of all shots that they’ve faced so far this season (excluding empty-net goals against). That’s the third-best mark in the NHL. And if that wasn’t enough, the St. Louis Blues, the Flyers’ opponent on Thursday, have stopped 92.81 percent of all shots they’ve faced, which is second-best in the league so far. (Only the L.A. Kings, at a ridiculous 93.99 percent, are faring better in net than the Blues are.)
Chances are, the Flyers will be getting each of these teams’ number-one goalies, and beating those guys will be no small task. Chicago’s Corey Crawford (tonight’s confirmed starter) has been outstanding for a few years now and is strong yet again this year, posting a .935 save percentage through his first 10 games of the season. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Jake Allen is faring pretty well for himself, as he’s stopped 92.1 percent of all shots he’s faced in the first 10 games of his own season.
We’ve seen the Flyers try to push towards the high-danger areas of the ice more in the first month of this season than we did at basically any point last season. After an attack that was heavy on point shots last season — one in which the team’s shot-attempt rates tended to outpace its expected-goal rates — the Flyers seem to be making more of an effort to get shots from the slot and to make plays that get the puck there.
But absent a whole lot of high-end talent, that’s not something that a team’s going to be able to do every night. Take Monday night’s loss to Arizona, for example. How many times, in the first 40 minutes of that game, did you find yourself wanting to throw your remote at your television because the Flyers tried to force the puck to a man in a dangerous area in front, only to see that pass either get swallowed up by a Coyotes defender or miss its intended target? That’s the downside of passing up the easy shot for a chance at a tough one: sometimes those passing lanes just aren’t going to be there, and if you keep taking those risks unsuccessfully it could start to get ugly (to the tune of “13 shots on goal in two periods against an 0-11 team”).
Against a team that has received truly horrendous goaltending so far this season, the way that the Coyotes have, it’s fair to ask whether the Flyers maybe should have done a bit more “letting it rip”, because with some teams and some goalies it makes sense to take those chances.
Tonight and tomorrow, though, the Flyers are walking into the homes of two of the stingiest goaltenders in the NHL this season. Guys like Crawford and Allen just don’t give up easy goals. Via corsica.hockey, Crawford is yet to give up a single “low-danger” goal this entire season, while Allen has given up three, two of which came at 5-on-5.
All of which is to say that the Flyers may be well-served to, once again, take some cracks at making that extra pass to the slot, no matter how well it may (or, y’know, may not) have gone the last time out. And that starts tonight against Chicago. Against a goalie who’s been near-impossible to crack and a Blackhawks defense that otherwise has some question marks, it’s worth a shot.