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Flyers Second-Half Surge: A Deep Dive

Before the NHL pause, the Flyers were in the midst of a second-half season surge to the postseason

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

In the wee hours of Jan. 8, 2020, when the Flyers returned home from a rough post-Christmas road trip that saw then win just one of six games, the team was at a crossroads. They had just taken a baby step in the right direction during a 5-4 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes but the direction of the team's season was uncertain. 

Starting with the Flyers' 3-2 victory over Washington in the first game back from the post-Christmas road trip and halting with the National Hockey League's COVID-19 related schedule pause on March 12, Philly rattled off a record of 19-6-1, including a nine-game winning streak from Feb. 18 to March 10. In the process, the Flyers are within a single point of first place in the Metro.

The Flyers have had winning streaks and surges before in recent seasons. But this one looked and felt different -- including in terms of statistical numbers that portend an ability to sustain a high degree of success when NHL hockey returns when it is feasible to do so. 

Following is an in-depth look at what has driven the Flyers' rise to the brink of the top spot in Metro.

The Turning Point 

Back in November, the Flyers posted an NHL best 24 points as they went 10-2-4. December and early January, however, were a roller coaster. While the Flyers continued to have plenty of success at the Wells Fargo Center, they went just 2-7-1 on the road between Dec. 11 and Jan. 7.

Heading into their Jan. 8 return to the Wells Fargo Center to play the Capitals, the Flyers found themselves with a 22-15-6 overall record. The team had fallen into sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and needed to pull their heads back above water in an ultra-tight race for an Eastern Conference wildcard spot.

Now the Flyers had to come home on the second half of a back-to-back to face a Washington Capitals team that was leading the President's Trophy Race with 65 points. At the time, Philadelphia trailed Washington by 15 points in the standings. 

A late second-period shorthanded goal by Kevin Hayes and a strong all-around third period elevated the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Caps. As the team took off from there, many of the players and coaches looked back on that night's victory as the turning point in a stellar second-half.

"It's a game-to-game process, but there's no doubt that win against the Capitals was a huge one for us against a good team in our division. They gave us a hard game, we played through some adversity, and we executed well in closing it out," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said on Feb. 7.

Handling Top Opposition

The next night, on Feb. 8, the Flyers traveled to DC and blew out the Capitals, 7-2. It was a statement win in a series of victories against top-end competition. Ultimately, following a 5-2 road win against Washington on March 4, the Flyers went 3-0-1 in their four-game season series with the Capitals. But the Caps weren't the only upper echelon NHL team the Flyers have handled successfully in the second half.

Along the way, the Flyers staged a dramatic 6-5 shootout win over Boston (Jan. 13) after trailing the Bruins by a 5-2 score in the second period. It was the Flyers' second shootout win over Boston this season. Two nights later, the Flyers visited the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and skated off with a 4-3 overtime victory decided on a dramatic tally by Jakub Voracek.

Bookending the NHL All-Star break and their bye week, the Flyers grabbed three of four possible points against the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins with a 3-0 home shutout victory and a hard-fought 4-3 overtime road loss that saw Philly dominate the third period. Over the home-and-home set with the Penguins, the Flyers blanked Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the score sheet in five of the six regulation periods they played. 

In early February, while Carter Hart was out with an abdominal muscle injury, the team rallied around callup netminder Alex Lyon, who backstopped the club to a 6-3 home win over the Colorado Avalanche. At the NHL schedule pause, the Avs sit two points behind the Blues in both the Central Division and overall Western Conference standings.

Even in the Flyers 1-0 home loss to a scorching hot Tampa Bay team on Jan. 11 (the Bolts' 10th straight win at the time) and the 2-0 home loss to Boston on March 10 that ended Philly's nine-game winning streak, the games were highly competitive and could have gone either way.

Then there were the home-and-home sweeps. Over the course of February and March, the Flyers faced home-and-home sets against the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers (winners of five in a row and nine of 10 heading in) as well as home and road games within the same week against the Florida Panthers. The result: The Flyers went a perfect 6-0-0 in these games to build a cushion in the standings and set their sights not merely on a wildcard but on overtaking the Capitals atop the Metro. 

In general, the Flyers have dramatically picked up their play on the road, over the last two months. The team was just 9-13-2 in away games heading into their overtime victory in St. Louis. Dating back to that game, the Flyers have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 away games.

Winning Convincingly: Strong Processes

Over the Flyers last 26 games overall, they have outscored opponents by a 91-60 margin. They were the NHL's highest-scoring team during that stretch (3.64 goals per game), and the fourth-hardest to score against (2.40 GAA).

Through the first 43 games of the season, the Flyers had won 22 games overall but only 18 were in regulation or overtime. Twenty-six games later, the team is up to 31 regulation wins (tied with Washington) and 36 regulation plus overtme wins (one behind the Capitals) among their 41 overall victories.

To break things down even a bit further, in the last 26 games, the Flyers have:

* Tied Boston for the NHL's best overall record.
* Posted a 23.5 percent success rate on the power play (19-for-81), ranking 7th in the NHL in that span.
* Posted an 82.9 percent success rate on the penalty kill (opponents are 14-for-82), ranking 10th in the NHL. The Flyers have also scored six shorthanded goals in that span; tied for 2nd most in the league). 
* Allowed just 28.1 shots per game (3rd stingiest in the NHL).
* Averaged a 51.2 percent Corsi (total shot attempt differential); 9th in the NHL.
* Generated 54.5 percent of the high-danger scoring chances per game (4th best differential in the league) and 53.8 percent of the Expected Goals (3rd best in the league).
* Won 54.7 percent of all faceoffs (best in the NHL).

Additionally, the Flyers have tended to take over games in the 2nd and/or 3rd periods; a strong indication of their overall depth and Vigneault's ability to regularly roll all four forward lines and all three defense pairs. Over the last 26 games, the Flyers have outscored opponents by a 24-19 total in the first period. In second periods, the edge has grown to 37-20. In the third, the Flyers have a 31-22 goal edge.

Once the Flyers have forged ahead in games over the last two-plus months, they've tended to stay ahead the rest of the way. When leading after the first period over the last 26 games, the Flyers have sustained only one loss (in OT). When leading after two periods, Philly is a perfect 16-0-0 across that span. 

Balance and depth

In the 26 games, Travis Konecny leads the team with 24 points (11g, 13a) along with Sean Couturier (10g, 14a). Just as important, though, has been the balance across the entire lineup. Thirteen different players have contributed 10 points or more in that span. Nineteen different players have chipped in at least one goal and eight players, including rookies Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Joel Farabee, have tallied at least five times. Some other notable developments:

* Flyers defensemen have contributed 15 goals during the last 26 games (led by Ivan Provorov's four and three apiece from Matt Niskanen, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hägg).

* Couturier has won faceoffs at a stellar 60.9 percent clip while taking a team-high 376 draws. Meanwhile, Claude Giroux has won 63 percent of his defensive zone faceoffs and 55.4 percent overall across 361 draws taken.

* Couturier is also the Flyers individual leader in Corsi (51.9 percent) percentage over the last 26 games.

* Tyler Pitlick leads the team with 67 credited hits; one more than defenseman Hägg.

* Provorov leads the team with 42 blocked shots; one more than Hägg.

* Konecny has created a team-high 17 power plays over the last 26 games.

* Jakub Voracek created 16 rebound opportunites for teammates, nine of which resulted in goals.Overall, Voracek has a team high 18 assists.

* Niskanen leads the team with a +18 rating across the last 26 games, followed by Scott Laughton at +15.

In terms of goaltending, not surprisingly for any team in the midst of a lengthy run of success, the Flyers' netminders have been getting the job done. Over the last 26 games, Hart has posted a record of 11-3-0, a 2.08 GAA, and .929 save percentage. Brian Elliott is 7-2-1, 2.34 GAA and .908 SV% with two shutouts. Lyon went 1-1-0, 3.55 GAA, .890 SV% in his two starts and one relief appearance.

Final thoughts

The Flyers status in the Metro Division is backed up by very strong team numbers across the board. When the NHL is able to end the current hiatus, the team will have to get back to the level they've displayed since Jan. 8. If they can do so, a deep run in the playoffs is possible. 

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