Goals are hard to come by in today’s NHL and one team that knows all about this is the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve had a disappointing year across the board and while their goaltending has been a problem, their inability to finish at even strength has also contributed to them missing the playoffs. They are scoring less than two goals for every sixty minutes of five-on-five play, which currently ranks them 25th in the NHL. What makes this doubly frustrating for Flyers fans is that their team is winning the shot battle, ranking 9th in the league in five-on-five Corsi For Percentage.
When we see something like this, the default answer is usually that a team is getting unlucky and things will normalize next year. This is true in a lot of cases. The Flyers probably aren’t going to shoot at 6.55% at five-on-five over multiple seasons, even if goal-scoring is down across the league. They also received some sub-par goaltending from Steve Mason in Michal Neuvirth. Mason posted his worst save percentage since he was a Columbus Blue Jacket (four whole years ago if you can believe it) and Neuvirth posted the lowest save percentage of his career at .891. If these two had average seasons, the Flyers might be looking at a wild card spot now. That said the goal-scoring is still an issue and it’s one that has been going on for a few years now.
Goal-scoring woes are something that are tough to figure out and they’re also something coaches don’t have a lot of control over. There are not many players who can just fire & score off the rush like they did in the 80’s and there are a lot of goals that happen out of pure coincidence now. With the league averaging a little over 5 goals per game now, they have been limited to small random events and there isn’t a whole lot you can gain by looking at just goals in one season.
That said, the Flyers goal-scoring woes at even strength aren’t new as there has been a trend going on over the last three years.
The Flyers have fallen off a cliff in terms of five-on-five goal-scoring since 2014. It started in Craig Berube’s final year where they were awful offensively across the board and has continued under second-year coach Dave Hakstol. While Hakstol has made some improvements in his two years with the Flyers, they’re playing in the offensive zone more and creating more shots per game than normal. However, the goals haven’t been coming for awhile and they’ve reached a new low this year. Some other stats show that there might be a problem, as Philadelphia currently has a 49.06 Expected Goal percentage on Corsica.Hockey, which takes shot quality into account and 38.5% of their shots come from defensemen.
Again, it’s hard to know how much control a coach has in this instance but we can take a closer look at what the Flyers are doing tactically to see if there’s any impact here. This is something Hockey Graphs writer Ryan Stimson has started doing with tracking passing stats. Through his work in previous seasons, we know that shots that come off a passing sequence have a higher chance of finding the back of the net than ones without. He also expanded on this over the summer by looking at certain passing sequences & found that shots from passes behind the net lead to higher percentage shots and conversely, passes back to the point lead to lower percentage shots.
Intuitively it makes sense, as a pass from behind the net will likely yield a shot from closer to the net, whereas a shot from the point is less accurate and will have to travel through bodies to even get to the net. This type of data is very useful but unfortunately, it’s only available through manual tracking. Ryan has some of the last two seasons tracked through his work & volunteers and I have been tracking this season. I currently have 60 Flyers games tracked for this season and we can use that to look at where the Flyers passes are coming from to get a look at how they are creating their offense.