Like déjà vu all over again, it’s time for another look at the schizophrenic Philadelphia Flyers – because if you recall, we already examined the hot now, cold now Broad Street Bullies in our Winter Classic Preview.
Things were bad enough then, when a month long scoring drought devolved Philadelphia’s young, elite offense into a poor excuse for the Adirondack Phantoms––Bad enough to cost head coach John Stevens his job on December 4th, in fact––but once wasn’t enough for those darned Flyers. No, we’re revisiting the topic because the perplexing Jekyll and Hyde act has persisted throughout the season, with the team literally scoring as prolifically as the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Green-and-Semin Capitals during extended hot streaks and struggling worse than the popgun Oilers and Bruins during extended cold streaks.
Think that’s an exaggeration?
Pts: Points per game (average over dates shown)
GF: Goals For per game
OGVT: Offensive GVT per game
Philadelphia Flyers - Offensive roller coaster, 2009-10
Dates Gms Offense Pts GF OGVT Notes - Injuries and coaching
10/2-11/13 15 Hot 1.4 3.80 0.87 10/27 Gagne out
11/14-12/19 19 Cold 0.6 1.95 -0.81 11/16 Emery's initial injury?
12/4 Stevens fired
12/6 Emery out
12/17 Gagne returns
12/21-1/23 16 Hot 1.4 3.75 0.93 12/21 Leighton's first game
1/15 Emery returns
1/24-2/6 6 Cold 0.7 1.67 -0.82 2/1 Emery's last game
2/8-3/5 7 Hot 1.6 4.00 1.03
3/7-3/28 12 Cold 0.8 2.00 -0.74 3/16 Leighton's last game
3/23 Carter's last game
Total 75 1.1 2.91 0.08
Over three sets of 15, 16 and 7 game upswings interspersed throughout the season, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and company scored 3.82 goals per game, a full goal higher than the NHL average of 2.83 GF for 2009-10. That mark is within hailing distance of the Greatest Show on Ice––the Washington Capitals––who have been scoring at an astounding 3.89 goals per game clip this season. Yet––and here comes the bad news––the Flyers’ scoring funks have been off-the-charts bad. Over similar stretches of 19, 6 and 12 games throughout the season, Philly has scored an anemic 1.92 goals per game, over half a goal worse than the NHL’s most pathetic offensive teams, the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers. It’s literally been like suiting up an AHL team in front of your goalie for half the season.
Philadelphia Flyers - Compared to the best and worst
Team Gms Pts GF OGVT
PHI (Avg) 75 1.1 2.91 0.08
NHL (Avg) 2264 1.1 2.83 0.00
PHI (Hot) 38 1.4 3.82 0.92
PHI (Cold) 37 0.7 1.92 -0.79
Washington 75 1.5 3.89 1.08
Edmonton 75 0.7 2.53 -0.30
The takeaway? Clearly, there’s significant offensive prowess on the roster. We thought we knew that to begin with, but the Flyers have now demonstrated that elite scoring capability repeatedly. Looking back on it, the coaching switch from John Stevens to Peter Laviolette did make sense in that light – when you have an obvious case of underachieving talent, you see if changing the skipper can get through to your lost flock. But the Flyers have proven that they’re not an easy nut to crack. As you’ll see below, Philadelphia actually performed better under their former coach:
TGVT: Total GVT per game
%Boucher: Percentage of coach’s game started by Brian Boucher in goal
Philadelphia Flyers - Coaching comparison, 2009-10
Coach Gms W L OL Win % GF GA GD TGVT %Boucher
John Stevens 25 13 11 1 0.540 3.08 2.72 0.36 0.12 24%
Peter Laviolette 51 25 21 5 0.539 2.82 2.78 0.04 0.08 35%
Total 76 38 32 6 0.539 2.91 2.76 0.14 0.09 32%
Scoring was better under Stevens (3.08 GF to 2.82 GF), but both coaches come in dead even in winning percentage – Slightly under the NHL average of .558 (apparently bad luck given the slightly positive GVT per game). Defensively, Laviolette can be excused for having dealt with a tad more of Brian Boucher in net than his predecessor.
Speaking of which, let’s compare Philadelphia’s netminders as well, to see what effects the carousel-of-injuries has had on the bargain bin goaltending corps of the Flyers…
This past offseason, general manager Paul Holmgren controversially decided to revamp his entire last season’s goaltending tandem (Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki), to invest the NHL’s smallest percentage of payroll on goaltending and to bring exiled Ray Emery back from Russia as his starter. While the approach was certainly questionable, the results have been a mix of good and bad, lucky and unlucky:
GGVT: Goaltending GVT
DGVT: Defensive GVT
SGVT: Shootout GVT
TGVT: Total GVT
GVT/Gm: Total GVT per Game
Philadelphia Flyers - Goaltending performances, 2009-10
Name Gms Save % GGVT DGVT SGVT TGVT GVT/Gm
Ray Emery (through 11/14) 14.2 0.924 6.4 0.1 0.6 7.0 0.49
Ray Emery (after 11/14) 13.9 0.886 -6.0 0.4 0.1 -5.4 -0.39
Ray Emery (All games) 28.1 0.905 0.4 0.5 0.7 1.6 0.06
Brian Boucher 22.3 0.893 -5.2 0.5 -1.4 -6.1 -0.27
Michael Leighton (PHI only) 24.1 0.918 7.2 -0.1 0.5 7.6 0.32
While we can look back on Emery’s .905 save percentage and injury plagued season ultimately as a failure, the ex-Senator was an outstanding .924 over his first fourteen games, before any hint of injury appeared. The ineptitude of backup Brian Boucher in part forced Holmgren’s hand to pick up Carolina castoff Michael Leighton to fill in for Emery; Leighton miraculously transformed into a quality netminder in Philly. Yet, perhaps this stroke of luck, coupled with a hint of stubbornness, kept Holmgren from picking up a Tomas Vokoun, Tim Thomas or Dwayne Roloson at the deadline. What was at the time a missed opportunity to vault into the NHL’s elite by picking up a star like Vokoun turned into a disaster when Leighton’s subsequent injury relegated the team to the underwhelming Boucher for the remainder of the season and playoffs.
Yet, at the end of the day––believe it or not––goaltending is a comparatively minor issue for the Flyers. As we’ve seen, Philadelphia’s Achilles’ Heel is their offensive inconsistency. Their offensive mood swings ensure that the Flyers won’t make a deep run into the playoffs––the first half dozen game scoring swoon will end their postseason–– and will haunt their franchise until they change their mix of players to address the issue.
Riding one of those hot streaks a few weeks ago, the Flyers were looking like a lock for the Eastern Conference’s 5th seed – something the rival Devils, the probable 4th seed, surely would have wanted none of. While the tanking Flyers can kiss those middle seeds goodbye now, it would take an epic collapse for them to completely fall out of the playoff picture. As a consequence, Philadelphia will likely become a huge wild card in the Eastern Conference playoffs, dropping to a lower seed, but with a puncher’s chance of knocking out one of the top teams…if they can get their act together. Though weakened in goal with Boucher, look for the Flyers to put a scare into Washington, Pittsburgh or Buffalo if their offense ends up on the upswing at the right time.
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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