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The Flyers sucked in November; was it bad luck, or regression?

Hey it’s not all bad....

Nov 28, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers head coach Deve Hakstol and center Claude Giroux (28) behind the bench against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, I went over how the Flyers performed analytically in their first month of the 2017-2018 season. Heading into November, the main conclusion that I had made was the Flyers more or less are what they are. Has that story line changed over the past 13 games? Or do the analytics explain the torturous month of November for the orange and black?

5v5 goal scoring is not the problem

It just figures that as soon as the Flyers finally learn how to score - and at an efficient rate! - at 5v5, everything else takes a nose dive. Last month, Philadelphia ranked 10th in the league in 5v5 goals-for percentage, now they sit fourth in the NHL behind only St. Louis, Columbus, and the scorching hot Tampa Bay Lightning. What’s been the main cause of this rise? They’ve allowed the fewest 5v5 goals in the NHL at a mark of 36.

GF% NHL Rankings

Team GF GA G+/- GF%
Team GF GA G+/- GF%
STL 56 38 18 59.57
CBJ 55 40 15 57.89
T.B 53 41 12 56.38
PHI 46 36 10 56.1
WPG 50 40 10 55.56
NYI 57 46 11 55.34
TOR 63 51 12 55.26
CHI 49 42 7 53.85
N.J 50 43 7 53.76
L.A 44 39 5 53.01
VGK 49 44 5 52.69
WSH 47 45 2 51.09
CAR 48 46 2 51.06
VAN 40 39 1 50.63
BOS 42 41 1 50.6
ANA 46 45 1 50.55
CGY 41 41 0 50
NYR 50 51 -1 49.5
DAL 43 45 -2 48.86
NSH 39 41 -2 48.75
S.J 34 36 -2 48.57
DET 42 47 -5 47.19
COL 40 45 -5 47.06
FLA 48 54 -6 47.06
EDM 45 51 -6 46.88
OTT 42 48 -6 46.67
MIN 38 46 -8 45.24
MTL 40 51 -11 43.96
BUF 37 53 -16 41.11
ARI 39 63 -24 38.24
PIT 35 60 -25 36.84

Obviously, this is extremely encouraging for the Flyers regardless of what the record is. Having dependable 5v5 goal scoring is key for a good hockey team. The problem, however, is where that goal scoring is coming from. Or in this case, where it is not coming from.

Lack of scoring depth is huge concern

The top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek has been the most impressive part of this rendition of the Philadelphia Flyers. The trio hold the top three spots in 5v5 goal scoring, with Giroux and Couturier on the ice for 25, and Voracek only one goal behind in 24. The next highest Flyers forward has been on the ice for twelve 5v5 goals, Travis Konecny.

We know the middle six is a problem, hell at this rate every line but the top line has been a problem. But that puts it into perspective just how ineffective the other three lines have been this season.

Flyers forward GF% rankings

Player GF GA G+/- GF%
Player GF GA G+/- GF%
JAKUB.VORACEK 24 10 14 70.59
CLAUDE.GIROUX 25 13 12 65.79
SEAN.COUTURIER 25 13 12 65.79
NOLAN.PATRICK 6 4 2 60
TRAVIS.KONECNY 12 8 4 60
SCOTT.LAUGHTON 7 6 1 53.85
DALE.WEISE 3 3 0 50
MICHAEL.RAFFL 7 7 0 50
TAYLOR.LEIER 5 5 0 50
VALTTERI.FILPPULA 8 10 -2 44.44
JORDAN.WEAL 6 10 -4 37.5
WAYNE.SIMMONDS 6 11 -5 35.29
JORI.LEHTERA 3 6 -3 33.33

Flyers remain average in raw CF totals

At the end of October, the Flyers ranked 18th in raw CF% in the NHL with 49.20%. They saw an extremely small increase in November — going up to an even 50% at 1,082 corsi-for and -against — which ranks for 16th and 17th in the NHL respectively. The high point for the month came against the Vancouver Canucks in that brutal 5-2 loss on home ice. The low point, as expected, came in their last game of the month against the San Jose Sharks.

With 5v5 goal scoring thriving, was shot selection a factor in the nightmare that was November?

Shot selection not bad, but not great either

At the end of October I talked about how the Flyers were generating more chances from the home plate area and getting away from firing point shots mostly without a screen. This month, however, those old tendencies reared their ugly head a few times, primarily in the back-to-back shutout losses vs. Minnesota.

A seemingly constant theme this year has been: “take higher percentage shots, but do nothing about continually allowing high percentage shots”. Way too often the Flyers are allowing teams to be in the red right in front of the net or in the slot. Take a page out of Minnesota’s book and tighten up play in that area, force teams to the outside, and make them take point shots without screens. That has been a main issue of mine with the point shots the Flyers do take.

How many times are we going to see Brandon Manning take a weak wrist shot from the point with absolutely no forward in front of the net? Point shots are obviously not of the highest quality, but they can be effective if done properly and that is where the Flyers fail. A staple with previous teams has been get bodies to the front of the net and hope for a deflection. Well, Hakstol has the second part down but somehow not the first. There are minor tweaks that his system needs for it to be better, and this is one of them.

CF% leaders in October compared to November

Gainers, losers in raw CF%

Skater End of October End of November gain/loss
Skater End of October End of November gain/loss
JORI.LEHTERA 42.11 46.96 4.85
JORDAN.WEAL 43.44 48.26 4.82
BRANDON.MANNING 47.18 50.57 3.39
DALE.WEISE 43.2 45.48 2.28
NOLAN.PATRICK 39.78 41.79 2.01
WAYNE.SIMMONDS 42.19 43.95 1.76
TRAVIS.KONECNY 46.06 47.66 1.6
ROBERT.HAGG 45.03 46.58 1.55
TRAVIS.SANHEIM 52.86 54.32 1.46
VALTTERI.FILPPULA 45.97 47.43 1.46
RADKO.GUDAS 52.48 53.16 0.68
SHAYNE.GOSTISBEHERE 49.69 50.23 0.54
SEAN.COUTURIER 54.28 54.56 0.28
IVAN.PROVOROV 48.68 48.94 0.26
CLAUDE.GIROUX 53.41 53.52 0.11
TAYLOR.LEIER 54.25 54.13 -0.12
JAKUB.VORACEK 54.71 54.18 -0.53
MICHAEL.RAFFL 55.11 54.5 -0.61
SCOTT.LAUGHTON 54.37 52.32 -2.05
ANDREW.MACDONALD 48.13 45.54 -2.59

There were just five Flyers who’s raw CF% decreased from the end of October to the end of November, and despite Voracek being a part of those five, this is a good sign. Most of the Flyers roster has improved in driving play over the past month despite the obvious struggles to win games. Sean Couturier taking the team lead in CF% should come as a surprise to no one, as he’s finally putting together a Selke trophy winning season.

Positives:

  • Nolan Patrick drove play at a higher rate
  • Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim improved by over one percent
  • Jordan Weal saw a significant increase, moving up four spots from his ranking at the end of October

Negatives:

  • The Honey Bees line all saw decreases
  • Provorov saw little gain
  • MacDonald’s drop off

Conclusions

  • The Flyers are not as bad as the losing streak suggests
  • Metrics still suggest they’re an average team
  • Hakstol’s system needs changing (or just fire the coach I don’t know anymore)

Obviously, the Flyers are not as bad as this losing streak makes them look. It’s rare when any team is as bad as a losing streak like this suggests and, thankfully, this isn’t one of those times. I don’t know how to explain what is going on with this team, but I think it’s something analytics aren’t going to explain. Whether it’s the attitude of the players or simply the way the coach is leading his team, something beyond the numbers is happening with the Flyers.

The good news is, the numbers typically don’t lie and most of them are saying the Flyers are still a middle of the pack team with some obvious upside. Their rankings have essentially stayed exactly the same from where we last left off and that is neither a good or bad thing. It’s just...average.

I do believe Dave Hakstol’s system can work in the NHL with the right personnel. The problem, however, is that Hakstol gets in his own way. Playing Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera in the guts of a game because of “veteran leadership” or just because he think they’re good hockey players is inexcusable.

Benching Weise, Lehtera, and MacDonald does not all of a sudden deprive your team of leadership. Claude Giroux has been the captain of this team since 2013. Voracek, Simmonds, and Couturier have been here since 2012, these are your leaders. It is not as if Hak would be benching Chris Pronger in his prime here; these are below average hockey players who do not belong on an NHL roster, or at the very least do not belong in the role they currently have.