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Have the Flyers played as well as the numbers suggest they have?

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Well, no, not really. But also maybe somewhat?

Heather Barry - SB Nation NHL ©

The Flyers currently sit atop the league in expected goals-for percent, and are second in Corsi-For percent at 5-on-5. And more than anything else, that’s frustrating. It’s frustrating because that team shouldn’t be 2-3-1. That team shouldn’t be losers of their last four and having some feeling like they’re watching the same old Flyers again.

But, they are. So what gives?

Uneven shot totals

If you’ve been keeping up with the Flyers, you already know that this team has been outshooting their opponents by pretty large margins as of late. I mean, in their last two games alone the Flyers have fired 149 shots towards the net and only allowed 76. Yet they left with zero out of a four possible standings points and only managed to score four goals, two of which came once the game was already out of reach versus Edmonton. Hardly the result you’d expect if you’re “dominating” the territorial battle.

And expect might the key word here. In anything, a percent is just that — a percent. A chance of something happening. If you were to roll a six-sided die, with numbers one through four all resulting in the Flyers making the playoffs, you’d have a 66.67% chance of rolling a playoff number. The odds are in your favor, but there’s still a one-in-three chance that you’ll roll a non-playoff number. And if you would, that doesn’t mean that the original odds were wrong, it just means that more unlikely outcome happened.

Take the Flyers game versus the Oilers last Wednesday. Per Corsica (whose statistics we’ll be using throughout this entire piece) Philadelphia had an expected goal total of 6.86, while Edmonton finished with 2.22 across all game situations. The shots that occurred in that game led to that expected final score. But what actually happened was a lot closer to the opposite. Like rolling a five or a six on that die, the less likely outcome happened. Remember, that game wasn’t even out of hand until Connor McDavid decided it was time for him to score, which he can just do at will sometimes. In a span of around four minutes the game went from a manageable one goal deficit, to a 5-1 blowout.

It’s frustrating, but that’s the type of effort that will lead to a Flyers win more often than not. However, that has not been the case for all of their loses.

Has the quality really been there?

The Flyers sitting second in expected goals-for per 60 minutes suggests that the quality is indeed there, but let’s take a closer look.

Quantity still plays a role in expected goal totals. Every shot is worth something, after all, and by finding the average of each shot that the Flyers take, we can see if a lot of nothing is adding up to something, or if the quality chances really have been there. As the season goes on things like this will level out, but early on one good (or bad) game can really skew the totals when the sample size is so small.

Last season the average non-adjusted shot value at 5-on-5 was 0.042, and the Flyers’ average was ... 0.042. Because, as always, the Flyers are distressingly average. The Carolina Hurricanes (0.048) and the Vegas Golden Knights (0.046) come out on top, while the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks (0.039) owned the lowest average.

In the Flyers’ six games this season, the results vary.

5v5 Average Shot xG Value

Opponent CF xGF Average Shot Value
Opponent CF xGF Average Shot Value
Dallas 50 1.55 0.031
Edmonton 55 3.76 0.068
Calgary 29 0.92 0.032
Vancouver 51 1.76 0.035
New Jersey 48 2.58 0.054
Chicago 56 2.30 0.041

Two games really pop out as great outings for the Flyers; The home opener versus New Jersey, and the Edmonton game. The shot-to-expected goal ratio versus Chicago was about average, and the other three games were well below average. The worst of the bunch being their most recent game against the Dallas Stars.

So, maybe there’s something here. Maybe two strong games are boosting the Flyers’ totals, while some “empty-calorie” shots, if you will, helped mask just how bad their game versus the Stars was from a statistical standpoint. Because of this, their offense is probably being a bit overrated right now by shot quality models. They haven’t been bad, but they haven’t been that good, either.

One thing that is clear though is that this team is not going to continue to shoot at 5% for long. The goals are coming, it’s just a matter of when.

On the flip side, their shot and chance suppression really has been good, up until their last game, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

5v5 Average Shot xG Value Against

Opponent CA xGA Average Shot Value
Opponent CA xGA Average Shot Value
Dallas 34 1.97 0.058
Edmonton 30 1.40 0.047
Calgary 47 1.12 0.024
Vancouver 40 1.70 0.043
New Jersey 33 1.04 0.032
Chicago 41 1.45 0.035

That’s a season average of 0.039 — a figure that only the Minnesota Wild bested last season. While that’s obviously a positive, it also probably won’t last. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really expect the 2019-20 Flyers to be a defensive juggernaut. That being said, it’s nice to see a few early games where they were able to play that role.

It really can’t be stressed enough just how weird things can get when we’re working with a small sample size. Maybe the real Flyers are the team that showed up against Edmonton and New Jersey, or maybe the real Flyers are the team that had lousy performances in Calgary and against Dallas. Or, most likely, they’re somewhere in the middle. I guess only time will tell.