Well, that sure was interesting. After a tough series against the Bruins last week, the Flyers were looking to get themselves back on track in their series against the Devils. They got a bit of a boost as Shayne Gostisbehere was able to return for this series, but it was still far from a perfect pair of games for the Flyers. That said, they did take at least a small step forward, and in the process, picked up a pair of wins. So where does that leave us? Well, let’s talk about it.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.
45 Corsi For % at 5-on-5
It’s been one of the stories of the season so far, the Flyers’ struggles at 5-on-5, and if this series against the Devils told us anything, it’s that this is certainly still a work in progress. Across both of these games, they averaged an adjusted 45 CF%, giving up a distinct edge in possession to the Devils in both of these games.
Now, we can make note that this was an improvement over their last series against the Bruins, when they posted a 39.27 CF%, so perhaps we could spin this as being the Flyers trending in the right direction, but it still doesn’t feel like them looking leaps and bounds better.
Because there were some especially brutal stretches—the Flyers made it through the first two periods of last night’s game with just eight shots across all situations, and that’s a real problem. They picked up nine in the third period as they got rolling and were able to look more effective, and that’s where their results came from, so they were just saved from having it be too little too late. But it’s still not a stellar complete body of work.
It feels like a pretty massive understatement, but their struggles to generate chances are hurting them in a big way. They’ve gotten lucky that once they were able to get something rolling, the’ve been efficient in cashing in on those chances, but this isn’t a model that feels terribly sustainable.
21 high-danger chances generated at 5-on-5
That said, we did see a bit of positive growth in the Flyers’ 5-on-5 process. While they did lose the shot quantity battle, if you will, they did well to keep the Devils to the outside and limit the number of high danger chances they were getting. They picked up 21 high danger chances of their own at 5-on-5 (13 on Tuesday and eight last night) while holding the Devils to 16, which is good for an adjusted 61.15 HDCF%. Pair that with their 52.81 xGF%, and we can, overall, feel pretty good about the Flyers’ efforts in generating quality chances for themselves.
And that’s good on a couple of fronts. On the one hand, the few dangerous chances they allow, the easier their goaltender’s job is going to be. They’ve made things hard enough on both Carter Hart and Brian Elliott to start the season, so this was a nice reprieve. And on the other side, we know that generating high danger chances is a good thing, and we saw them getting rewarded for it in these games, with seven of their eight goals scored coming off of high danger chances. That’s a pretty immediate payoff, and it’s hard to be too fussed about that.
17 shot attempts on the power play
In another less than shocking development, we got another mixed bag of a series from the Flyers’ power play. They didn’t have a huge workload, totaling 11:11 between these last two games, but the effectiveness was certainly skewed towards Tuesday’s game, when they showed some crisper passing and were able to pick up two goals (both for James van Riemsdyk). It looked for a moment like they might be tapping into something, but then yesterday they lost some ground, and even though they only had 2:55 of power play time to work with last night, they looked more listless, struggling to get much of anything going.
They come out of this series with respectable enough shot impacts, with 17 shot attempts, 11 shots, and seven high danger chances, which is a total we might be fine with in a vacuum, but understanding that it’s skewed so heavily in favor of Tuesday’s game has that total losing some of its luster.
And maybe this is something we should just be expecting, power plays can tend to be streaky after all. But it’s fair to hope for a bit more consistency, and that’s something the Flyers are certainly still trying to lock down.
0 high-danger chances against on the penalty kill
After what’s been kind of a tough run for the Flyers’ penalty kill to start this season, this series saw them take a nice step towards getting themselves back on track. We didn’t see a whole lot of the penalty kill over these last two games, as they totaled just 8:46 of ice time, but they were solid in those limited showings. They limited the Devils to 11 shot attempts and nine shots, as well as exactly zero high danger chances. It was a strong underlying process, and that’s what allowed them to keep the Devils off the board on the power play in both of these two games.
We saw a couple of new looks on the penalty kill, particularly with the injection of Nate Prosser into the lineup last night in place of Robert Hagg (and even a look with Shayne Gostisbehere on the penalty kill after Travis Sanheim took a penalty), and the results were good. Now, it remains an open question if these results will hold if the personnel is changes again, but there was still a lot to like from the penalty kill this week. And here’s hoping they can keep that rolling into their next series.
33 saves for Carter Hart
We’re going to hone in on last night’s game specifically for these last two points, which means it’s time to offer up some praise for Carter Hart’s game. It certainly wasn’t a perfect one—the goal he gave up on Damon Severson in the first period was simply one he should have had, even with the poor defensive coverage that preceded the shot. But the good news was that he responded well to that dodgy start, and often came up big for the Flyers when they just couldn’t seem to get any momentum rolling to save their lives. All told, the Flyers allowed 34 shots across all situations, and Hart stopped all but one of them (including all eight high danger chances allowed). As we noted above, this wasn’t a terribly strong game for most of the skaters, and it was a hard fought game as the Flyers held on to get the couple of chances they needed to put this game away. It very easily could have gotten out of hand and gone the other way while the skaters were still trying to get it together, so that fact that they were able to pull off this win is a huge testament to Hart’s play.
62.01 Corsi For % for the fourth line
The Flyers’ top two lines were a bit of a mess in last night’s game, if we’re honest, but the Flyers did find some balance and found quite a bit of productivity from their fourth line of Michael Raffl, Connor Bunnaman, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. It wasn’t a stellar night for the Flyers by the possession numbers, but this fourth line was the real exception to that, as they found what we can only call some pretty stellar results. On the night, they posted an adjusted 62.01 CF% (good for +23.94 percent relative to their teammates) and a 97.10 xGF%, as they positively dominated their matchup. And given this, it doesn’t feel surprising that they were the ones to finally break the tie in the third period and give the Flyers the jump they so desperately needed.
We saw this line get a big boost in minutes in the third period, and it makes sense why—they were playing a simple game, getting in cleanly on entries, not making any big or risky plays, and just dedicating themselves to forechecking well and crashing the net for chances. It wasn’t a flash game, it was back to basics, and it’s exactly what the Flyers needed, and exactly what was lacking from their other lines, for the most part. We can give this line all the credit in the world to sticking to their strengths and finding a way to be productive, but we also understand that if it’s your fourth line leading the charge for you, that’s a bit of a problem. The good news, perhaps, is the Flyers got a glimpse of a game plan that can be effective for them, now they just have to take the next step an implement it throughout the lineup.
We should feel decent about where things are at with the Flyers, right? They’re 5-2-1 to start the season and tied for second in the division. That’s good, right? It is, technically, but somehow it still doesn’t quite feel like it. And maybe that’s just going to be something we have to live with?
It’s no secret that the Flyers’ process is far from perfect, and while it doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be magically cured by getting a couple of players back in the lineup, it’s still also true that they’re missing two of their key pieces in Sean Couturier and Philippe Myers. So maybe, while we do want to see them shore up some of their details, it’s also fair to adjust our expectations. Maybe for now, gutting it out and doing just enough to stick around in games is okay too. Pretty wins are all well and good and we sure do like them, but maybe we’re okay if they wait until the Flyers have a full and healthy lineup again. This may have to do for now.