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MELTZER: The numbers say...

Flyer contributor looks at the analytics behind the Flyers early season success

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

Through 17 games this season, the Flyers have a 10-5-2 record; a three-point improvement from last season (9-7-3). That may not sound like much of a jump. In the micro sense, it is not.

There is, after all, roughly 80 percent of the schedule remaining. Plenty of work must be done to sustain what has been going right and to continue to improve in several areas that remain a work in progress.

Nevertheless, the overall outcomes through 17 games represent a good starting point for the team. If the same pace were to be essentially sustained -- with only minor up-and-down fluctuations -- the Flyers would finish with 100 or more points by the end of the regular season. 

In the bigger picture, though, what's more important than short-term outcomes is the underlying process of how the team has played. That's where sustainability originates, and also shows where further improvements are needed. 

Put more simply, on most night so far, the Flyers have played the right way. That doesn't mean there haven't been periods of games or a couple of entire games where the team has gotten off-track. But the overall process has been good and promises to further improve. 

Here's a look at the big picture and some underlying team analytics through the first 17 games this season, compared to last season.


1/5 of the way through then & now

The Flyers aren't putting as many pucks in the net so far at 5-on-5 as they did last year at the same juncture of the season (things fell off later), but almost everything else is better; in some cases, much better. Three crucial areas:

* Through 17 games, the current team is possessing the puck more than the opposition. That wasn't the case last season at this point.

* Special teams are better by leaps and bounds; both on the power play (two units that are legitimate threats to score, rather than just one) and the penalty kill (an improvement process that started in the second half of last season and accelerated so far this season).

* The team goals against average, while there is still room for improvement, has gone from near the bottom of the pack to the middle of the pack. Part of this is systems and buy-in, part of it is due to much-needed goaltending stability with Carter Hart and a healthy Brian Elliott compared to the revolving door of goalies and ineffectual goalie play that quickly dragged the team down despite its respectable-enough first 17 games last season.

2018-19 (Through 17 games)
Goals per game: 3.29 (ranked 6th)
Goals against average: 3.53 (ranked 29th)
Power play: 13.8 percent (ranked 28th)
Penalty kill: 70.5 percent (ranked 30th)
Special Teams Index; 84.3 (ranked 30th)
Team Corsi: 49.16 (ranked 20th per other stat sources vary)

2019-20 (Through 17 games)
Goals per game: 3.12 (ranked 13th)
Goals against average: 2.94 (ranked 14th)
Power play: 21.5 percent (ranked 11th)
Penalty kill: 85.4 percent (ranked 7th)
Special teams index: 106.9
Team Corsi: 54.1 percent (ranked 2nd per other stat sources vary)


106.9 (85.4% PK + 21.5% PP)

Many NHL teams use a benchmark number for special teams success that is derived by combining their power play and penalty killing success percentages to arrive at their special teams index number. 

Former Philadelphia Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock has said that he uses 105 (in any combination) as a target goal for an outstanding special teams number. Anything below 100 needs improvement. Last season the Flyers had a 95.6 special teams number (78.5% PK + 17.1% power play).

3. CORSI/FENWICK: 54.1%/53.2% 

Team Shot Attempt/Unblocked Shot Attempt Percentages 

Different publicly available sources have different numbers, and the NHL uses the terms "Shot attempt percentage" and "Unblocked shot attempt percentage" rather than Corsi and Fenwick. 

For tracking purposes here, we'll use NHL's 54.1 percent Shot attempt percentage (Corsi) and 53.2 percent unblocked shot attempt (Fenwick), as the official numbers for the Flyers. Both rank 2nd in the NHL. Even when adjusted for the score of the game, the Flyers are right near the top. (Note: Natural Stat Trick places the team Corsi at 52.38% and Fenwick at 51.6%, while Hockey Reference has the team Corsi at 51.7%).

Looking at shot attempt percentages is one proxy for measuring puck possession differentials at 5-on-5. Below is another.


A look at the start percentage: 50.12%

Per, the Flyers rank 13th in the 31-team NHL in terms of the percentage of 5-on-5 shifts that start in the attack zone (50.12%). That's slightly above the middle of the NHL pack but a huge jump from last season's pace. Last year, the Flyers started just 46.35% of their shifts in the offensive zone; 29th in the NHL.


Team Chances: 52.36%

According to Natural Stat Trick's calculations, the Flyers rank in the top one-third of the NHL (9th overall) with 52.36 percent of five-on-five high-danger scoring chances (shooting opportunities in the areas of the ice from which the most goals originate). A year ago at the same point of the season, the Flyers ranked 16th (50.71%). 

In terms of the expected goals percentages, or weighted quality-of-shot differentials, the Flyers ranked 21st (49.02%) through 17 games last year, and rank 10th so far this season (51.71%) per the same site.

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