How and why these Flyers fly

Kyle Cantlon
NHL Editor
It's not that obvious why the Flyers are so good, but they're obviously good. (Getty)

From fringe playoff contenders to potential Stanley Cup favourites, it’s time to believe in these Flyers even if you’re not exactly sure why.

It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes this Philly club so good and such a threat come playoff time. They currently boast zero (0) players at the 65-point mark and no 25-goal scorers. Their .903 team save percentage on the season is 16th best in the league. They don’t shoot a whole lot, as they rank 17th in SOG per game.

This group isn’t flashy or necessarily pretty to watch, and nothing stats-wise from their total body of work this season jumps off the page at you.

Alas, we must dig a little deeper to find the reasons for the Flyers’ absurd run as of late—one that’s seen them go 18-4-1 since Jan. 13 and not only climb back into the playoff picture in the East, but put themselves in a position to win the Metro and guarantee themselves home-ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs, which would be immense for a team that’s been devouring every opponent who’s entered the Wells Fargo Center gates as of late.

Let’s try to make some sense of this, shall we?

Peaking

Like the St. Louis Blues just last season, the Flyers shockingly flipped the script on a half-season of ineptitude after the new year, and went from seemingly destined to miss the playoffs to legit Stanley Cup contenders on the heels of a monstrous winning streak and some key in-season adjustments.

Popular and highly-regarded playoff and projection model makers including The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn and MoneyPuck.com—who hopped on the Blues as Cup contenders before almost everyone last season— have the Flyers as a favourites to reach the Cup final and even win it.

MoneyPuck’s model especially, which factors in things like recent trends and how teams are peaking lately, loves the Flyers right now, and it’s hard to argue with that damn algorithm as since the start of February the Flyers rank top-five in expected goals rate at 5v5, top-three in expected goals against per 60, and top-six in expected power-play goals per 60—three key metrics which helped predict the Blues’ unfathomable run last spring. 

Playoff odds as of March 10. (via MoneyPuck.com)

The Peeper

The jump in the team’s power-play efficiency is one that really stands out. As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor pointed out in a recent piece, the team recently went back to the structure and setup that made their PP1 so deadly for a good chunk of the last decade, which generally has Claude Giroux on the left-side point, Jakub Voracek on his off-side wing, a left-handed shot (either Sean Couturier or Kevin Hayes) posted in the slot, a righty at the top of the crease (Travis Konecny), and a defenseman (Ivan Provorov) up top.

“Well, we got moved back to our old spots — basically, we play the same way we did over the past nine years,” Voracek told NBC Sports’ Brian Boucher after a win over the Rangers last Sunday. “It took us a little bit to find our rhythm again. Now, we just have a lot of options — every time we make a pass, it’s very dangerous for opposing teams.”

That adjustment has resulted in a major upswing in production over the past month-and-a-half as the Flyers rank third league-wide in PP efficiency since mid-January (26.0%) after hovering near the bottom of the league in that category for the first half-ish of the season.

The team’s 5v4 rate metrics have improved mightily over the past month, too.

(Table via The Athletic/Charlie O'Connor; stats courtesy of Evolving Hockey.)

Cou and Giroux

Unlike the Blues last season, there was no mammoth, big-chip moves that prompted the Flyers’ turnaround. No stud, seemingly out-of-nowhere goalie coming up from the AHL to save the day. No mid-season coaching change to re-direct the sinking ship, either. Those major moves—via Carter Hart and Alain Vigneault—were taken care of over the last calendar year.

The Flyers’ mid-season shakeup was much less extreme but so far is paying off immensely. Vigneault decided to put Couturier and Giroux—the team’s top dogs—on the same line alongside Voracek after the team got pumped by the Devils in early February, and the trio hasn’t looked back.

Giroux has eight goals and 18 points in 14 games since the switch, Couturier has nine goals, while Voracek has all of a sudden turned into an all-world feed machine, posting a whopping 15 assists in 14 games since that fateful January drubbing at the hands of the Devils. The unit’s on-ice expected goals for percentage is sitting around 60 per cent over that time, too.

Post-Injury Carter Hart

It was an up-and-down start to the young netminder’s second NHL season, as he posted very average numbers through the first chunk of his season before going down with an abdominal injury in mid-January.

Hart has looked like a completely new guy and has been one of the NHL’s elite stoppers since returning to the Flyers lineup on Feb. 10, going 9-1-0 with a .934 SV% over his last 10 starts while posting a plus-5.95 goals saved above average mark over that time—immensely better than the plus-0.88 mark Hart was rocking before the injury. If his numbers can stay anywhere near where they’ve been over the last month heading into the playoffs, this team will be frightening to say the least.

Home Cooking

The Flyers have taken care of business at home. Philly has two more wins than any team in the league at home, posting a 25-5-1 mark at the Wells Fargo Center this year, while boasting an absurd plus-1.62 goal differential—by far the best and more than half a goal better than any other team in the league.

The team’s .931 SV% at home leads the league, too. Owning your barn in the playoffs is crucial to a deep run, and Philly has held homecourt the best of anyone this year by far.

The Flyers are a momentum freight-train barreling towards the playoffs right now, and you’d hate to be a team stuck in their way.

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