clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Two O’Clock Number: 0

The Flyers need to get the better of the Canadiens on special teams — and they should be able to.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers
Hi, Dale.
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

0 — the number of teams remaining in the NHL playoffs that have been worse on special teams this year than the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers’ first-round opponent.

The Canadiens, as we’ve discussed here before, were actually a pretty strong team when it came to controlling the run of play at 5-on-5 this season. Most team-level possession metrics had them as a top-5 squad in the NHL. So how did they end up as the 24th team in the standings, the literal last team to make it into the tournament?

Well, they don’t have a ton of elite finishers, and much had been made of Carey Price’s relative down-year (though that conversation has gone very, very quiet following Price’s outstanding performance against the currently-out-of-the-postseason Pittsburgh Penguins). But there’s also the matter of special teams. Montreal’s haven’t been good, and this may be an area that the Flyers can take advantage.

The Canadiens were pretty solidly below-average this year both on the power play and on the penalty kill. If you compare their offensive performance on the PP to their defensive performance on the PK, few teams performed worse than them. Both in terms of actual goals allowed and underlying performance (by way of expected goals), the negative difference between the Canadiens’ penalty kill and their power play was one of the largest in the league — and of the few teams worse than them, none are still in the playoffs.

(Notes: The below table is sortable. All statistics are per 60 minutes of ice time, and any references to the power play and the penalty kill are at 5-on-4 and 4-on-5 only. All data here and in this post is courtesy of the twins over at Evolving-Hockey and includes games from the round robin and play-in round.)

NHL Team Performance, Special Teams, 2019-20

Team PP G Diff PP xG Diff PK G Diff PK xG Diff ST G Diff ST xG Diff
Team PP G Diff PP xG Diff PK G Diff PK xG Diff ST G Diff ST xG Diff
Red Wings 2.76 3.96 -8.61 -7.04 -5.85 -3.08
Sabres 5.1 4.5 -8.35 -6.37 -3.25 -1.87
Canadiens 4.48 4.54 -6.3 -6.02 -1.82 -1.48
Rangers 7.03 6.28 -6.78 -7.71 0.25 -1.43
Canucks 8.05 5.46 -6.08 -6.71 1.97 -1.25
Avalanche 5.72 5.41 -5.22 -6.29 0.5 -0.88
Panthers 6.9 5.94 -7.29 -6.63 -0.39 -0.69
Wild 6.45 4.99 -7.54 -5.67 -1.09 -0.68
Coyotes 5.77 4.51 -5.35 -5.03 0.42 -0.52
Senators 3.67 5.61 -6.29 -6.11 -2.62 -0.5
Blues 7.93 5.33 -6.37 -5.76 1.56 -0.43
Jets 7.17 5.87 -6.77 -6.17 0.4 -0.3
Kings 6.04 5.77 -7.13 -5.95 -1.09 -0.18
Blackhawks 3.75 5.28 -5.19 -5.4 -1.44 -0.12
Sharks 4.5 6.04 -4.03 -6.11 0.47 -0.07
Blue Jackets 4.09 4.7 -5.53 -4.68 -1.44 0.02
Flames 6.12 6.17 -5.23 -6.12 0.89 0.05
Flyers 6.88 4.77 -5.29 -4.62 1.59 0.15
Maple Leafs 6.31 5.2 -6.36 -5.05 -0.05 0.15
Islanders 4.75 5.73 -4.98 -5.58 -0.23 0.15
Ducks 4.09 5.3 -5.42 -4.92 -1.33 0.38
Lightning 6.86 5.63 -5.78 -5.13 1.08 0.5
Oilers 9.02 6.98 -4.89 -6.44 4.13 0.54
Stars 7.46 6.75 -6.29 -5.89 1.17 0.86
Predators 5.15 6.71 -7.06 -5.84 -1.91 0.87
Capitals 4.72 5.62 -4.87 -4.71 -0.15 0.91
Penguins 5.85 6.04 -5.11 -4.69 0.74 1.35
Golden Knights 7.29 7.2 -6.77 -5.58 0.52 1.62
Bruins 7.61 6.46 -4.76 -4.84 2.85 1.62
Devils 4.7 5.9 -4.58 -3.96 0.12 1.94
Hurricanes 7.68 7.81 -4.61 -5.12 3.07 2.69

As it tends to go with special teams for most teams, the Habs have had their ebbs and flows when it comes to both the power play and the penalty kill. Unfortunately for them, the flows with one side seem to be followed by even stronger ebbs from the other side. The Habs’ underlying defensive performance on the PK (the red dotted line below) has been worse than its underlying offensive performance on the PP (the blue dotted line below), and slowly but surely over the course of the season their actual performances have lined up pretty well with their expected performances.

By comparison, here’s what the Flyers’ season-long special teams performances have looked like. You can see in the second chart here a shift upward around game 60, the beginning of the long winning streak they had right before the pause — that was the point at which the Flyers’ power play started to remember it had good players on it and started producing results, and over their past 20 games it’s produced more offense than the PK has allowed — but their season-long performance has been pretty similar between the two.

Essentially, the Flyers have gone back and forth in terms of net special teams performance, but on the whole have been pretty even and have (if you want to read into recent special teams performance, which is risky because it’s a small sample, but nonetheless) been trending in the right direction. Montreal, meanwhile, has been underwater on special teams basically all year long, with a penalty kill that allows more offense than its power play produces.

And in addition, the Flyers have actually spent more time just playing on the right side of special teams. The Flyers have played about 29 more minutes at 5-on-4 than they have at 4-on-5, while the Canadiens have spent just under 42 more minutes at 4-on-5 than at 5-on-4.

All of which is to say: a big gap in special teams play is part of why the Flyers look like a better team than Montreal. If that discrepancy plays out in the series ahead of us, the Flyers will already be in a pretty good position. If it doesn’t, the series gets more interesting.