Flyers Finally Get a Breather: Where do they stand?

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

It’s hard to believe that the Flyers’ season opener against Pittsburgh was only 11 days ago. Now, finally, the Flyers get a two-day rest before resuming the campaign in Washington on Friday.

In that short time, the Black and Orange have compiled a crummy 2-5-0 record, earning just 4 points and the 3rd worst rank in the conference standings. Within the Atlantic, the division-leading Devils are already 4 points ahead of the Flyers with two games in hand.

For the season, the team is 25th in goals per game (2.00), 19th in goals against (2.86), 23rd on the power play (13.5%), 29th on the penalty kill (67.7%). They rank 1st in four categories: losses, hits, penalty minutes, and power plays.

What the hell is going wrong here? 

Granted, circumstances have not played in the Flyers’ favor. They are one of only three teams that had already played 7 games by Tuesday, and 5 of those were on the road. (Coincidentally, the Flyers, Stars, and Blue Jackets also each have two wins apiece.)

To make matters worse, the Flyers lost two key cogs to injuries: winger Scott Hartnell and defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Both add offensive presence to the ice. Hartnell is very effective with screens and snap shots between the circles. Meszaros often creates space by passing and puck possession at the blue line in the offensive zone. Both are missing from the woeful power play unit.

But beyond the lack of rest and lamentable but unavoidable injury attrition that accompanies every season, the problems go deeper. The team appears disorganized, perhaps even dysfunctional in the early going.

Most notably, the Flyers have had a lot of trouble maintaining possession.

Consider, for example, the number of shots the team has taken. In 2011, the Flyers were 4th in the league in shots/game, averaging 33.2 This season that number has dipped drastically to 27.3, good enough for 27th place. Conversely, the defense has remained static in this respect, allowing nearly the same rate of shots against (28.3 in 2012, 28.4 in 2011).  (Stats via NHL.com)

The lack of shots is a direct reflection of the ugliness that is visibly apparent on the ice: sloppy passing, inability to maintain possession along the offensive boards, lost face offs, poor positioning, etc.

It is also very difficult to overestimate the importance of shot differential. As Eric T. of NHLNumbers.com succinctly explains, “[shot differential] correlates strongly with scoring chances, zone time, and puck possession, and is the best predictor we have of future goal scoring.” In other words, if the Flyers continue to shoot the puck and allow shots at this rate, the season is almost certainly in the tank.

Exacerbating the problem is a criminally-low shooting %. The Flyers have scored on only 5.1% of their shots at even strength and 9.3% with a one-man advantage. Contrast this with the Islanders, who have scored on 11.1% of their shots in 5v5 play and a ridiculous 22.2% of their shots when 5v4 (stats via behindthenet.ca).

Because there have only been 7 games, there is a high degree of probability that these numbers will regress to the norm. The Flyers’ scoring is likely to improve even if they continue to shoot at the same rate, while the Islanders are almost certain to come back down to Earth.

So where does this all leave us? In essence, the Flyers are playing badly and getting some bad luck to boot. They are sitting in last place and, without a significant turnaround in both categories they are unlikely to be competitive during the playoff stretch.

On the other hand, following the game in Washington on Friday, the Flyers close out the opening quarter of the season with a 4-game homestand against the ‘Canes (twice), the Panthers, and the Lightning. The Caps are also struggling at 1-4-1, and none of the other teams should completely overmatch the Flyers in their own barn.

If the Red and Orange can turn it around and get to 6-6, they’ll be well-positioned for a playoff run. On the other hand, should Laviolette fail to find the right line combinations and lady luck gives Philly the cold shoulder, it’s conceivable that the Flyers could drop to 2-10, which would likely spell an early end to the already strike-shortened season.

Posted on January 30, 2013, in Flyers, Hank Mushinski, Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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