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How good are the Flyers in offensive and defensive games this season?

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Hakstol wants his team to play a defensive-minded game, but a case could be made that the team should lean more towards the offensive.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

On this week’s episode of BSH Radio, the crew talked about whether the Philadelphia Flyers’ inability to produce at even strength has more to do with coaching or the overall skill of the team. With concerns over lack of scoring against teams that focus on defense first, or low-event hockey, it’s fair to ask if the Orange and Black would perform better by attempting to play high-event hockey over low-event hockey.

To determine this, guidelines to determine the team’s success in games with high-event hockey (when teams consistently trade chances) and low-event hockey (teams tighten up defensively) had to be defined. Entering Wednesday night’s action, the range of total shot attempts (for and against) per 60 at 5-on-5 play went from the Chicago Blackhawks’ high pace of 126.69 events per hour to the Buffalo Sabres’ low pace of 109.09 per hour.

When it comes to pace of play, the Flyers ranked 27th in the league entering Wednesday’s games, with 111.16 events per hour ahead of only the Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Buffalo.

Since the top nine teams in terms of pace average 119 events per 60 or higher, it’s fair to say Flyers’ games that produced 119 events per 60 or higher as high-event hockey games. At the other end, the bottom nine teams averaged under 115 events per 60, which will be the cutoff for low-event Flyers’ games.

With these guidelines in place, it’s not surprising to see Philly has endured a lot of low-event hockey games to start the season. Of their 34 games this season, 24 Flyers games have been low-event hockey:

Flyers’ games with under 115 events/60:
11-16-17, PHI@WPG, 3-2 SOL: 89.56 events/60 (50.75 for, 38.81 against), 50.6 xGF% (1.32 xGF, 1.29 xGA)
11-14-17, PHI@MIN, 3-0 loss: 94.52 events/60 (57.89 for, 36.63 against), 56.69 xGF% (2.07 xGF, 1.58 xGA)
12-18-17, LAK@PHI, 4-1 loss: 97.3 events/60 (48.65 for, 48.65 against), 36.56 xGF% (1.36 xGF, 2.35 xGA)
11-11-17, MIN@PHI, 1-0 loss: 97.35 events/60 (53.58 for, 43.77 against), 49.61 xGF% (1.72 xGF, 1.74 xGA)
10-24-17, ANA@PHI, 6-2 loss: 101.04 events/60 (49.08 for, 51.96 against), 46.67 xGF% (1.87 xGF, 2.13 xGA)
12-16-17, DAL@PHI, 2-1 win: 101.39 events/60 (50.05 for, 51.34 against), 61.83 xGF% (1.89 xGF, 1.17 xGA)
12-14-17, BUF@PHI, 2-1 win: 101.6 events/60 (53.11 for, 48.49 against), 56.68 xGF% (1.88 xGF, 1.44 xGA)
10-30-17, ARI@PHI, 4-3 OTL: 102.76 events/60 (54.27 for, 48.49 against), 43.76 xGF% (1.66 xGF, 2.14 xGA)
11-2-17, PHI@STL, 2-0 win: 104.35 events/60 (42.24 for, 62.11 against), 48.73 xGF% (2.41 xGF, 2.54 xGA)
10-28-17, PHI@TOR, 4-2 win: 105.85 events/60 (49.32 for, 56.53 against), 39.72 xGF% (1.75 xGF, 2.66 xGA)
12-7-17, PHI@VAN, 4-1 win: 106.23 events/60 (35.91 for, 70.32 against), 42.63 xGF% (2.17 xGF, 2.92 xGA)
10-7-17, PHI@ANA, 3-2 win: 106.41 events/60 (53.9 for, 52.51 against), 44.77 xGF% (1.69 xGF, 2.09 xGA)
10-14-17, WSH@PHI, 8-2 win: 107.28 events/60 (58.62 for, 48.66 against), 70.31 xGF% (3 xGF, 1.27 xGA)
12-12-17, TOR@PHI, 4-2 win: 107.3 events/60 (61.16 for, 46.14 against), 58.53 xGF% (2.16 xGF, 1.53 xGA)
11-28-17, SJS@PHI, 3-1 loss: 107.34 events/60 (36.23 for, 71.11 against), 33.86 xGF% (1.82 xGF, 3.55 xGA)
10-10-17, PHI@NSH, 6-5 loss: 108.12 events/60 (44.52 for, 63.6 against), 31.25 xGF% (1.78 xGF, 3.91 xGA)
12-6-17, PHI@EDM, 4-2 win: 108.36 events/60 (52.73 for, 55.36 against), 45.71 xGF% (1.85 xGF, 2.19 xGA)
11-4-17, COL@PHI, 5-4 SOL: 108.97 events/60 (62.27 for, 46.7 against), 65.92 xGF% (2.32 xGF, 1.2 xGA)
11-1-17, PHI@CHI, 3-0 loss: 109.05 events/60 (59.84 for, 49.21 against), 44.54 xGF% (2.3 xGF, 2.86 xGA)
10-26-17, PHI@OTT, 5-4 loss: 110.83 events/60 (64.97 for, 45.86 against), 69.04 xGF% (3.39 xGF, 1.52 xGA)
11-18-17, CGY@PHI, 5-4 OTL: 113.04 events/60 (63.89 for, 49.15 against), 57.55 xGF% (2.71 xGF, 2 xGA)
12-2-17, BOS@PHI, 3-0 loss: 113.4 events/60 (53.11 for, 60.29 against), 38.45 xGF% (1.33 xGF, 2.13 xGA)
10-19-17, NSH@PHI, 1-0 loss: 113.75 events/60 (48.75 for, 65 against), 63.11 xGF% (1.89 xGF, 1.11 xGA)
12-20-17, DET@PHI, 4-3 win: 113.95 events/60 (69.95 for, 44 against), 57.11 xGF% (2.69 xGF, 2.02 xGA)

That’s 70.59 percent of the team’s games this season. In those 24 games, Philadelphia is 10-10-4 for a 41.67 winning percentage and a 50 points percentage. The Flyers posted higher Corsi-for-per-60 rates in 12 of these games, going 5-3-4 in those tilts, and a higher expected goals for rate in 11 of them, going 5-3-3 in such games. They are 5-5-1 this season against the other eight teams that average under 115 events per 60.

When it comes to high-event hockey, only eight (23.53%) of the team’s contests this season have resulted in high-event hockey:

Flyers’ games with over 119 events/60
11-27-17, PHI@PIT, 5-4 OTL: 139.66 events/60 (56.95 for, 82.71 against), 44.29 xGF% (3.06 xGF, 3.85 xGA),
11-21-17 ,VAN@PHI, 5-2 loss: 137.11 events/60 (88.5 for, 48.61 against), 45.76 xGF% (2.06 xGF, 2.44 xGA)
11-9-17, CHI@PHI, 3-1 win: 129.33 events/60 (54.11 for, 75.22 against), 51.04 xGF% (3 xGF, 2.87 xGA)
11-22-17, PHI@NYI, 4-3 OTL: 128.48 events/60 (58.18 for, 70.3 against), 62.06 xGF% (4.14 xGF, 2.53 xGA)
10-17-17, FLA@PHI, 5-1 win: 126.88 events/60 (53.11 for, 73.77 against), 45.58 xGF% (2.24 xGF, 2.67 xGA)
10-4-17, PHI@SJS, 5-3 win: 122.1 events/60 (59.08 for, 63.02 against), 53.88 xGF% (3.16 xGF, 2.71 xGA)
10-5-17, PHI@LAK, 2-0 loss: 119.75 events/60 (61.37 for, 58.38 against), 52.2 xGF% (2.89 xGF, 2.64 xGA)
11-24-17, NYI@PHI, 5-4 OTL: 119.69 events/60 (62.19 for, 57.5 against), 44.4 xGF% (2.02 xGF, 2.53 xGA)

The Flyers are 3-2-3 in these games for a 37.5 winning percentage and a 56.25 points percentage. Although they are 0-2-1 in the three of these high-event games where they posted a better Corsi for per 60 than their opponent, Philly is 2-1-1 in the four high-event games where they produced the better expected goals for percentage.

The team also hasn’t played in one of these types of games since their 5-4 overtime loss to The Pittsburgh Hockey Club on November 27th (season high 139.66 events-per-60 rate) going 7-3-0 since their road loss late last month. When it comes to playing against high-event hockey teams, the Flyers are 7-2-2 in nine games against the teams averaging 119 events per 60 or more.

It’s also worth pointing out that of those eight games that could be considered high event, four took place in the midst of that 10-game losing streak, where it felt as though the Flyers would have lost no matter how they approached each contest. In the four games of high-event hockey outside The Losing Streak, Philadelphia is 3-1-0 with their lone loss being the 2-0 defeat in Los Angeles.

Talent to compete?

It seems as though teams with more high-end talent push towards playing high-event hockey. Just looking at the events-per-60 rates from this season, five of the top eight teams (Chicago, Edmonton Oilers, The Pittsburgh Hockey Club, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs) are teams with some of the best players in the league. I’m not going to say the Flyers high-end players can match these teams’ high-end talent, but they do have two of the better players in the league in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Dynamic players like Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny could keep up with the best players on opposing teams, while two-way monsters Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov probably wouldn’t miss a beat either. Pushing towards a more end-to-end game also wouldn’t hurt speedy or smooth skating players like Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier, Jordan Weal, or Travis Sanheim.

What these teams also have (or had last year, but lack this year) is superb goaltending that can cover up chances that may be going the other way. According to Corsica.hockey, 30 goalies have played 700 minutes at 5-on-5 this season. Among those goalies, Andrei Vasilevskiy is first with a .941 save percentage, Corey Crawford is second .939, and Frederik Andersen is 11th with .929. Last year, Cam Talbot led goalies in 5-on-5 ice time and finished seventh with a .929 save percentage among the 20 goalies who played 2,500 minutes, while Pittsburgh finished ninth as a team with a .926 save percentage 5-on-5 save percentage.

This season, Elliott is fourth among those 30 aforementioned goalies with a .935 save percentage at 5-on-5. His numbers during the end of that losing streak may have not been pretty, but the Flyers do tend to break even, if not better, in terms of 5-on-5 goal differential when they play high-event hockey. Of those eight high-event hockey games this season, the Orange and Black have only posted a negative goal differential once at 5-on-5, which was once again that 2-0 loss on the road to the Kings (with Michal Neuvirth in net).

Dave Hakstol is obviously not going to flip the script and instill a high-flying offensive system tomorrow, but the team isn’t lacking so much skill or reliable goaltending that it couldn’t open things up just a little bit. To the point the gang made on the podcast, this team wouldn’t hurt itself by letting the skilled skaters actually show off their skills and trade chances with the opposition at times.