By Kevin Fortier (@ksfortier)
Photo Credit: Heather Barry
The Flyers ended the 2017-2018 season with a thorough beat down of the New York Rangers. They needed one point to clinch a playoff spot and they made sure they achieved that goal. The Flyers will now face their cross state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning tonight in Pittsburgh.
Before we get into an examination of the playoff match up, let’s take a look at how the Flyers fared this season compared to last year.
The Flyers finished the season with 249 goals, 12th best in the NHL, and 236 goals against, 14th best overall. Both of these were significant improvements from the prior season where the Flyers ended the season 20th in goals for and 19th in goals against.
They went from a negative goal differential of -19 to a positive 13, a 32 goal swing year to year.
The Flyers’ power play conversion rate has improved in each of the last three seasons. In 2016 they converted 18.9% compared to 19.5% in 2017 and 20.7% this season. Their ranking, however, has declined from 11th in 2016 to 14th last season and 15th overall this season. This doesn’t mean this year’s power play was worse than last year’s, it just means that other teams are improving at a faster rate in this area than the Flyers.
On the other side of special teams, the Flyers’ penalty kill continues to be a disaster. They finished 29th overall this season killing off a meager 75.8% of the short-handed situations. That was down from 79.8% last year and 80.5% in 2016.
On the bright side, the Flyers’ penalty minutes has sharply declined over the past two seasons from 966 PIMs in 2016 to 844 last year to 679 this season. However, the Flyers gave up the same number of short handed goals (54) this year as last year on 38 fewer short handed situations. They also dropped from 10 short handed goals last season to only 3 this season.
The Flyers’ offense this season improved overall and the star players improved their contributions significantly. Last season, no Flyer had more than 61 points and they had four forwards between 54 and 61 points.
This season, Claude Giroux set career totals in goals, assists and points. Jake Voracek set career highs in assists and points. And Sean Couturier more than doubled his highest goals output and nearly doubled his total points. They contributed 75 goals this season, up from 41 last year.
The decision by coach Dave Hakstol to move Giroux to the left wing and play him with Couturier in the middle was a significant change for the team this season. But despite the emergence and resurgence of the top three points producers, there was a significant drop off in goals and points for the rest of the forward lines.
The Flyers’ defense corps also increased their goal output from 35 goals last year to 50 this season. They accounted for 20% of the goals this season, up from 16.5% last year.
The defense’s total points did drop off from 29% of the points last season to 26% this year. The absence of Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto accounted for 33 fewer assists, and Radko Gudas’s personal point totals drop from 21 to 14.
Two defensemen saw significant improvements in points from last season. Ivan Provorov’s goals nearly doubled from last season, though his assists stayed the same at 24. And Shayne Gostisbehere almost doubled last year’s production, going from 39 points to a career-shattering 65 points this year.
On the other side of the puck, of the Flyers’ forwards last season nearly every player had a negative +/-. Most were in negative double digits. Voracek, Giroux, Schenn and Simmonds were a combined -70 for the season. Of the top 9 forwards only Sean Couturier finished in the positive territory with a +12. The only other forwards who played most of the season and ended positive were Matt Read +3 and Dale Weise +1.
This season that was completely reversed. The only regular top-nine forwards who had a negative score were Wayne Simmonds (-16), Jori Lehtera (-8) and Valtteri Filppula (-7). Fourth line center Scott Laughton also had a negative score (-10).
One of the great strengths this season for the Flyers was in the face-off circle. They finished second overall at 53.1% winning percentage. Giroux lead the way winning 58.6% of his face-offs. Down the middle all of the Flyers centers ended the season above 50% success rate, including rookie center Nolan Patrick which is a significant achievement.
Photo Credit: Heather Barry
The Flyers return to the playoffs tonight facing their cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season, becoming the first team to have a 10-game winning streak and miss the post season in NHL history. Meanwhile, last season Pittsburgh won their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
This year the Flyers had a 10 game losing streak and clawed their way into the playoffs, just two points behind last year’s champs.
The Penguins won all four of the head-to-head match ups this season, relying heavily on their high-powered offense. The Pens routed the Flyers 5-1, 5-4, 5-2 and 5-4 this season, outscoring the Flyers 20-11 overall.
The Penguins hold the significant advantage with special teams. They have the NHL’s best power play with a 26.2% success rate, and the 17th best penalty killing unit. Their penalty kill succeeded 80% of the time, versus 75.8% for the Flyers.
The Penguins had the third best overall goals scored number at 270 goals for. The Flyers had the advantage in goals against, giving up 236 versus the Penguins’ 248.
Neither team has had much success in net of late. Both teams had their starting goaltenders miss significant time down the stretch.
Matt Murray, who won the Stanley Cup in each of his first two seasons in the NHL, was in and out of the lineup over the course of the season for the Penguins. He finished with 2.97 GAA and a save percentage of .907. He has shown he can return and take over a series, though. He came back from injury against Ottawa last year and dominated the rest of the way towards winning the Cup against Nashville.
The Flyers significantly improved their goalie situation when they signed Brian Elliott in free-agency last summer. He finished the season at 2.66 GAA and a .909 save percentage. But he had abdominal surgery in February and has only recently returned to the lineup.
Regardless of who wins, it looks like the Flyers and the Penguins are in for a long series. Hopefully the Flyers are at the stage in their “Process” where they can match up against last year’s Champs.