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The Flyers’ top players need to step up

The Flyers need their best players to be, well, their best players.

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers have scored just 11 goals through their first seven playoff games after the round-robin tournament. Four of the 11 goals have been scored by one player – Jake Voracek –, with the other seven goals being spread among five players: Michael Raffl and Joel Farabee with two goals each; and Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov, and Philippe Myers with one goal each.

Of the 11 goals, only seven have been scored at 5-on-5 play. That’s in 316 minutes and 58 seconds across seven games, a rate of 1.32 goals per 60 minutes. Even the Detroit Red Wings scored 1.63 goals per 60 minutes in the regular season. The Flyers more than doubled their playoff rate of 1.32 G/60 in the regular season with 2.79 goals per 60 minutes. Of the seven 5-on-5 goals, Raffl has two, with Voracek, Hayes, Farabee, Provorov, and Myers each scoring once for the other five.

There are a handful of key players missing from that list of playoff goalscorers. It’s been widely discussed that the Flyers’ top five regular-season goalscorers have just one goal in the playoffs – and that goal came on a lucky bounce in front! Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and James van Riemsdyk have yet to score in the playoffs, and neither has Scott Laughton, who finished tied for sixth-most goals (13) with Ivan Provorov in the regular season.

Not only have they not scored, but Konecny, Couturier, and Giroux each only have one point at 5-on-5 in the playoffs. Giroux (three) and Couturier (two) each have mulitple power-play assists so they’re contributing a bit, but it’s not nearly at the level that the Flyers need them to be.

The Flyers’ best players need to be their best players, and that’s not happening right now.

The Montreal series was one thing. The Canadiens played a suffocating defensive style and the Flyers adapted to win in a low-scoring series behind some great play by Carter Hart. The Flyers were able to push through with a few power-play goals in a Game 5 loss and Hayes finally got one of the top five goalscorers on the board in Game 6. Montreal was able to dictate most of the style of play and Carey Price was playing at a high level, but the Flyers were able to beat them at their own game with Hart out-dueling his idol.

The top players were still playing solid hockey all things considered against the Canadiens, so there wasn’t as much to worry about. It was boring hockey, but they were making it work and advanced in six games.

With the Canadiens series in the rearview mirror, the Flyers had a clean slate for their second-round series against the New York Islanders. There were still some concerns about the Flyers’ offense, especially against another defensive team, but the Isles aren’t just the Canadiens 2.0.

We saw that in the second period of Game 1, when the Flyers controlled play for the majority of the period but couldn’t find the back of the net. It was one of their best periods in quite some time – possibly since returning to play –, but they had nothing to show for it.

Coming into the series there was – and still is – hope that the Flyers would get back to their style of hockey against a team that doesn’t drive play as well, and they did to a certain extent. That thought process also contained the hope that the Flyers’ top players would be able to take their game to another level. We just didn’t specify in which direction.

In Game 1 against the Islanders, the Flyers’ top players didn’t play at the same level they did in the Canadiens series; they somehow got worse. While the rest of the forwards were holding up their end of the bargain and doing their jobs, the top line was the worst line on the ice in Game 1.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and at 5-on-5 play

The Flyers finished the game with a Corsi-For Percentage of 52.27% (63-47 shot attempts) and Expected Goals-For Percentage of 46.57%. Some of that was due to score effects, leaving them with a score adjusted Corsi-For Percentage of 51.4% and Expected Goals-For Percentage of 40.9%. We’re just going to focus on the raw numbers, however.

Of the Flyers’ four forward lines, three of them finished with a CF% and xGF% above 50%. One of them finished below – well below – 50%.

Game 1 stats (5v5)

Line Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 TOI CF% xGF%
Line Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 TOI CF% xGF%
1st Claude Giroux Sean Couturier Jakub Voracek 9.77 45 11.72
2nd Joel Farabee Kevin Hayes Travis Konecny 14.45 65.71 52.43
3rd Scott Laughton Derek Grant Nicolas Aube-Kubel 10.28 75 67.76
4th Michael Raffl Nate Thompson Tyler Pitlick 7.85 62.5 78.92

Vigneault ended up putting together four lines that look pretty good on paper, and if the top line can get going, I wouldn’t mind seeing these stick together.

But the stats from Game 1 are the exact opposite of what you expect – and want – to see. The top line got buried while the rest of the lines drove play. Even if you look at the score-adjusted numbers the top line had a 39.32 CF% and 9.56 xGF%, with the other three lines above 50 CF% and only the second line barely below 50 xGF% (46.69%).

The bottom six played lower-event hockey, with the third line out-chancing the Islanders 4-3, and fourth line 4-2. They still controlled the majority of play, however, combining for a 22-10 shot attempt advantage, which was similar to the second line’s 23-12 shot attempt totals.

The top line was a different story, however.

The Flyers allowed 30 scoring chances against and 11 high-danger chances against in Game 1. The top line was on the ice for nine scoring chances and nearly half (five) of the Islanders’ high-danger chances while only generating three scoring chances (zero high-danger). The second line allowed seven scoring chances, but also had 13 scoring chances of their own.

The Flyers were out-attempted 11-9, outshot 7-4, and out-chanced 9-3 with the top line on the ice. Oh yeah, and they were on the ice for the Islanders’ second goal with Couturier getting beat down low.

From an individual standpoint, Couturier was the worst of the three forwards on the top line. He had a team-low 37.5 CF% and 11.54 xGF%. He was on the ice for just three scoring chances for and a whopping 13 against (six high-danger). Couturier had just one blocked shot attempt and two giveaways.

It was simply a completely uncharacteristically bad game for the Selke Trophy finalist. In fact, it was Couturier’s worst game in terms of Expected Goals-For Percentage since March of 2017.

On to Voracek, who has been the Flyers’ best skater throughout the playoffs. Unfortunately, that didn’t continue in Game 1. Voracek was right behind Couturier with a 45.83% CF and 22.48% xGF. He also only had one shot attempt, but it was on goal, and he had one giveaway and one takeaway.

Lastly is Claude Giroux. I dug into if Flyers fans should be worried about the captain on Monday morning, and Giroux actually had one of his better games on Monday night.

Giroux managed a 50% CF (still -9.52 relative) and only had a 27.74% xGF. However, he had a few good scoring chances for the first time in a while. He had three shot attempts (two on goal) and a playoff-high three individual scoring chances, including his first high-danger chance since the final round-robin game. That resulted in 0.16 individual expected goals for Giroux, which is somehow his highest total during the playoffs (not including round robin – 0.25 vs. the Lightning).

These three top-line forwards were the only three Flyers with a CF% of 50 or less in the game. That’s simply unacceptable in Game 1 of the second round.

If the top line had played an average game instead of a poor one – if Couturier was able to cut off the pass to Pageau (or cover him), if another pass or two connected, etc. –, the Flyers would’ve been in a much better position and likely could’ve won Game 1. But they didn’t. The entire team started out slow to put the Flyers behind the eight ball, and while the depth forwards put some pressure on in the second period, the top line didn’t do as much and couldn’t execute when they had their chances.

Couturier, Giroux, and Voracek are the only three players that haven’t left Philadelphia since 2012. If that trio wants to become a part of the Flyers’ first Eastern Conference Final berth since 2010, they’re going to need to step up.

Alain Vigneault can make all the changes he wants to the bottom six between JVR, Nate Thompson, Connor Bunnaman, or whoever, and bottom pair between Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg, but none of that will matter if the Flyers can’t score.

There’s not much more room for excuses. From 2014 to 2018 the Flyers made the playoffs three times with subpar rosters and got bounced in the first round. Now, with a deep roster and a fantastic goalie, the top players need to find another gear and take the Flyers to the next level.

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