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The Flyers’ recent penalty kill struggles have a simple explanation

Hint: it’s an issue that the Flyers have faced all year long.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most prevalent narratives surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers entering their Wednesday night tilt with the rival Pittsburgh Penguins has been the struggles of the penalty kill. After allowing Brandon Dubinsky to score the game-winner on Monday via a power play to push the Flyers even further out of a playoff spot, the knives were out this week from the media.

[Konecny] accepted the blame for the Flyers' 5-3 loss Monday night to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a game in which the power play went 1 for 8 and the equally-bad penalty kill allowed its seventh goal in the last 15 chances. [CSNPhilly]

In the meantime, the penalty kill, coached by Ian Laperriere, has been even worse. The Flyers have allowed seven power-play goals in 15 chances over the last five games. Overall, the PK has dropped to 23rd in the 30-team NHL, having killed just 79.5 percent. []

The Flyers have allowed at least one power-play goal against in each of the last five games and seven goals in 15 opportunities in that time frame.

“Obviously, we got to do a little bit better,” coach Dave Hakstol said, “but no it’s not a change in personnel.” [Courier-Post]

To be clear, it’s not as if this is an unfair narrative. Killing just eight out of 15 penalties over any stretch of the season is unacceptable for an NHL team, particularly one that is in desperate need of wins at the moment in order to make a long-shot playoff push. In addition to the team’s scuttling power play, the Flyers’ recent inability to prevent goals against on the PK has been a major contributor to their damaging swoon.

But when these slumps occur, it’s interesting to determine the root cause, at least by the numbers. And hilariously enough, the Flyers’ statistics in recent weeks during 4v5 situations aren’t uniformly bad. In fact, there’s just one big issue killing them right now, and it’s overshadowed legitimately strong results in every other area linked with effective penalty killing. Here’s a look at where the Flyers rank across the NHL in a number of penalty kill metrics over the past ten games.

  • Allowed the least overall shot attempts per 60 minutes in the NHL (66.42)
  • Allowed the least unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes in the NHL (46.29)
  • Allowed the second-least shots on goal per 60 minutes in the NHL (32.2)
  • Allowed the least Expected Goals per 60 minutes in the NHL (3.13)

Evaluating these numbers, it’s not unfair to say that since late February, no NHL team has done a better job of preventing shots — both total and quality chances — than the Flyers. If that’s true, then why are they giving up so many goals?

Oh, right. The missing bullet point.

  • Posted the lowest save percentage in the NHL (75%)

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia goaltenders have struggled this year, but on February 15th, their performance at 4v5 was one of the few situations where they looked close-to-passable, posting a 86.45% save percentage in the first 57 games of the year. But over the last ten, that’s fallen off a cliff as well.

This isn’t totally letting the penalty killers off the hook, of course. There have been some pretty horrific one-off breakdowns by the forwards (Mitch Marner’s goal last Thursday comes to mind) and utter abandonments of the slot area by the defense (Dubinsky’s tally this week) leading to uncontested screens in front.

The Flyers are essentially dealing with the same issue that plagued them at 5v5 over the first few months of the season. They aren’t giving up a lot of shots, but when they do, it’s poor defensive coverage making shots more difficult than they should be, combined with a total inability by the goaltenders to make a tough save.

Basically, it’s yet another shining example of the sad story of the 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers — they do just enough right to give fans hope, but still find a way to make all of that work pointless by failing at pivotal details.

All statistics from