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The Two O’Clock Number: 80%

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The Flyers’ problems in net this year have started and ended with their goalies’ performance on the penalty kill.

Smile, Brian: you’re on the penalty kill!!
Kate Frese / SB Nation

80 percent — the Flyers’ save percentage this season while down a man on the penalty kill (specifically, in 4-on-5 situations). As of this writing, that’s the third-worst mark in the NHL; only Edmonton (78.69 percent) and Arizona (75 percent) have fared worse.

On the surface, the Flyers’ goalies have struggled some in the early going of this season. While save percentages for the NHL at large are down this season (through Saturday’s games, the league-average save percentage in the 2017-18 season on non-empty net shots was 90.90 percent, down from 91.35 percent last season), the Flyers rank 20th among the NHL’s 31 teams in save percentage, having stopped 90.66 percent of all shots their goalies have faced.

But the interesting thing about that substandard performance is that it’s fueled almost entirely by special teams game-states. At 5-on-5, Flyers goalies actually have done pretty well to start the season; per Corsica, they’ve stopped 93.25 percent of 5-on-5 shots that they’ve faced. That’s good for the seventh-best mark in the league. But it’s been on the penalty kill (and, actually, the power play, but let’s focus on the penalty kill for now) where Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott are seeing their numbers take a hit.

Is this a matter of the Flyers’ penalty killers doing a shoddy job, giving their opponents easy goals that the goalies just can’t stop? At a high-level, that doesn’t seem to quite be the case. On the 4-on-5 penalty kill, the Flyers have allowed 6.28 Expected Goals per 60 minutes of ice time, the seventh-best rate in the league. But they’ve allowed 9.9 actual goals per 60, the fifth-worst rate in the league.

In other words, based on the shots that the Flyers are allowing on the penalty kill, you wouldn’t think the goalies would be letting in as many goals as they have been. But here we are.

Are the goalies due for some positive regression here on the penalty kill? There’s reason to think so. In particular, Elliott has allowed a goal on a brutal rate of one out of every four shots he’s faced on the PK, but that’s unlikely to continue — he’s stopped between 87 and 91 percent of all shots he’s faced at 4-on-5 in the past three seasons, and long-run he should gravitate back towards that average, even if he doesn’t get all the way there.

In short, if you’re looking for an area where the Flyers’ goalies need to do better, it’s on the penalty kill. They do that, and a penalty-killing group that’s shown some promise becomes even more formidable.

All statistics in this piece through Saturday’s NHL games. Overall save percentage numbers via hockey-reference.com; all other statistics via Corsica.hockey.