As I am sure you are aware, a common lament thrown at the Flyers from a tactical perspective was their tendency to prefer a ‘low to high’ system. Instead of emphasizing a final goal of working the puck towards the slot and behind the net, the Flyers emphasized shooting the puck by any means necessary, with this usually taking the form of shots from the point. For a while, this kind of worked! When Shayne Gostisbehere was originally called up in 2015-16 (yes he played two games in 2014-15 but that was two games, folks), his goals from the blue line helped propel the Flyers into a playoff spot. However, this failed to really lead to any long-term success. The strategy, in general, is more of a low-risk, low-reward move, and rarely leads to high danger scoring opportunities that are in any actuality, likely to result in goals. While the Flyers under Dave Hakstol would sometimes show signs of prioritizing working the puck down low, this would rarely last beyond a stretch of a game or two before they would revert back to the low to high strategy. With this in mind, let’s look at how the Flyers’ shot quality is looking through their first three games.
Below are three charts (one per game) of the areas in which the Flyers generated the most unblocked shot opportunities at 5-on-5 play. All of these charts are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:
Do you notice a trend? I do — the bright red/blue concentration of shots right in the slot! This looks to be the case in all three of the games the Flyers have played so far, except for the large concentration of shots from the right point in the Canucks game, which is the one anomaly. Even then, the Flyers still generated a large number of chances from in the slot and in high danger areas. This in turn has led to the Flyers dominating play to some degree in all three of their games. Even in the loss to Vancouver, the Flyers took charge of play at 5-on-5 after the Canucks’ second goal. The only thing preventing a Flyers’ win perhaps was the stellar goaltending of Jacob Markstrom, but shooting from higher danger areas and prioritizing working the puck down low leads to creating more opportunities to beat a hot goaltender. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t work but at least in any case the game plan was correct.
Unsurprisingly then, the best three Flyers in relative goals-for per 60 are none other than the trio of Oskar Lindblom (3.26), Travis Konecny (3.20), and Couturier (2.99). The trio positively drive play, and therefore shots on goal, and are in particular getting them in from the slot and in high danger areas. Let’s look at their individual shots against the Devils, for example:
All together, that’s ten shots on goal, all coming from in and around the slot, with two resulting in goals. That’s one fifth, or 20%, of their shots from high danger areas resulting in goals. That seems good because it is good! Sean Couturier, in particular, managed to generate six shots from the slot, and it would’ve been seven had he not had an attempt blocked. No wonder the Flyer faithful have been incredibly excited by this new line.
So far, the Flyers have ditched the low to high mentality, and have embraced working the puck to high danger areas. As a result, the team’s Corsi-For percentage stands at at average of 57.68% per game, which is stellar. We’ll look to see whether or not they can continue to dominate play as they have done. Of course, they aren’t going to be the best playing team in every game. Though, the fact that they haven’t looked outright bad so far is very encouraging, and is boosted by their change in style of play and their dropping of low to high as a main strategy.