What to make of the Philadelphia Flyers?

The shorthanded Philadelphia Flyers skated into Lake Tahoe for their 15th game of the 2021 season and are still searching for an identity.

It is hard to take the loss to the Boston Bruins in Lake Tahoe seriously, considering Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Justin Braun did not play due to covid regulations. The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t really have Carter Hart either, as he clearly didn’t have it and looked like a rookie against Boston.

The first two goals he let up weren’t necessarily weak, but he sure would love to have them back. The second period is where he opened up some holes and gave the Bruins an eazy-pass. It wasn’t a good game, and it was a shame for NHL fans that they had to see two old-school rivals play each other while one had a hand tied behind their back.

Who is this team? What is the Flyers identity? Do they have one?

The Flyers (8-4-3 2nd-East) are the greatest mystery of the 2021 NHL season. Marked by inconsistent performances and unusually soft play driving statistics, Philadelphia keeps rolling along and piling up victories. Their record is a dazzling 8-2-1 if the four losses to their Lake Tahoe opponent, the Bruins, are removed from the equation. Pretty remarkable, considering some statistics that are eye-opening in many cases. Take, for example, the Flyers rank dead last in average shots per game with 23.3.

Some hockey fans place their allegiances behind the ‘eye test.’ A lot of new era fans worship the advanced stats. Questions will always find an answer when the eye test and statistics tell the same story. Right now, that story speaks of an incredibly lucky team.

At this point, can anyone still say the Flyers are lucky? Before their covid-related ten-day layoff, Philadelphia started to round out their game and play a more consistent brand of hockey. It appeared whatever funk they were in to start the season was beginning to fade. One thing remains constant; the Flyers shots on net totals remain low.

Philadelphia is a statistical anomaly, the Bermuda Triangle of professional hockey. One could pose the question, how can the Flyers rank 6th in goals per game while directing the fewest shots on net? Luck was the easy answer in the early going. Many orange and black fans were in a permanent state of worry and frustration. Give credit to those fans that were not panicking because many Flyer diehards were out for blood prematurely.

No matter how many wins they compiled, Philadelphia had been unquestionably godawful and unresponsive at times to start the season. A lot of the built-up aggravation amongst fans became solidified by the consistently low shot totals. However, what has become clear, is that the Flyers don’t need high shot totals to win games. They have depth at the forward position that has become the envy of the league. Their goal scorers finish their opportunities, sporting the highest shooting percentage in the NHL at 14.3%, entering the game in Lake Tahoe.

Philadelphia also ranks second to last in Corsi for percentage (45.7%) on the 2021 season. CF% is a statistic that uses shot attempts per team to analyze which club is driving play. In other words, it’s a way to measure which club is outplayed and vice versa. Philadelphia was heavily outplayed in the early going, at least the first 10 games of the season they were outplayed in all but maybe one. They currently have the 8th best point percentage in the entire league. How are they winning games?

The Flyers get pinned down in their defensive zone for large portions of games. Failed breakout attempts, lost puck battles, inaccurate/indecisive passing attempts, and a passive box-point pressure system are a few of the many factors contributing to the extended defensive zone time. They have started to clean up some of those issues lately, especially with the return of do-it-all Selke-winning forward Sean Couturier. If the Flyers plan to compete for the Stanley Cup this season, they will have to continue to write the ship in their defensive zone.

Philly is winning because of their offensive zone creativity. Except for a few games, the Flyers have been lethal when getting sustained pressure in the attacking zone. They seem to have the right balance of net presence and perimeter puck movement. Two players that have shined this year are James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes. JVR has been known more for his gritty garbage goals and physical prowess throughout his career. His play-making ability and passing talent, in particular, this season have been outstanding.

As for Hayes, it is unbelievable the player he has turned into for the Flyers. Building off a strong first year, Hayes continues to get better and better with every game. He is dominant in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick and seems to create a scoring opportunity every shift.

Philadelphia’s next move must be to bring in defensive help. Preferably a top-four right-handed defenseman. Mike Yeo’s group does not perform to the levels anybody expects from them, and something needs to change. Fifteen games are enough of a sample size to know that certain things aren’t changing—time to bring in a player, a difference-maker.

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