Flyers Gameday: 1/7/19 vs. STL; Flyers at Midpoint: Inside the Numbers
Game 42 Preview: FLYERS vs BLUES
Interim head coach Scott Gordon's Philadelphia Flyers (15-20-6) begin the statistical second half of the 2018-19 season on Monday as they host former Flyers head coach Craig Berube's St. Louis Blues (16-19-4). Game time at the Wells Fargo Center is 7:00 p.m. ET.
The game will be televised on NBCSP. The radio broadcast can be found on 97.5 FM The Fanatic with an online simulcast at FlyersRadio247.com.
This is the first of two meetings this season between the inter-conference teams, and the lone meeting in Philadelphia. The teams will rematch on April 4 in St. Louis. Last season, the Flyers swept the two-game season series with a pair of regulation wins.
On Nov. 2, 2017, a severely injury-depleted visiting Flyers team visited St. Louis to play a Blues team that, at the time, was undefeated at home and considered a top contender in the Western Conference. Philly put forth a gutty effort and got a phenomenal team effort led by Ivan Provorov, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier plus a great game in goal from Michael Neuvirth (33 saves). At one juncture of the game, a hit by ex-Flyer Brayden Schenn knocked Couturier out of the game, but Schenn's former Flyers linemate returned to record a pair of assists. Goals by now-former Flyer Brandon Manning and Giroux (ENG) lifted the Flyers to a 2-0 victory.
By the time the teams met in Philadelphia on Jan. 8, 2018, the bottom had started to drop out on the Blues (en route to missing the playoffs) while the Flyers were surging into 2018 after a Western Canadian road trip in early December had turned their fortunes for the better after overcoming a 10-game winless streak (0-5-5). When the Blues came to Philly, the Flyers greeted then with a goal on the opening shift and went on to win a 6-3 decision.
In the first half of the 2018-19 season, very little went right for either the Flyers or the Blues. after expectations were raised by big-name acquisitions for both teams -- Ryan O'Reilly for St. Louis, James van Riemsdyk for the Flyers -- during the offseason. As they meet on Monday night in Philadelphia, the Flyers are one point out of the basement in the Eastern Conference and 15 points (factoring the ROW tiebreaker) off the pace for the lower wildcard playoff spot. The Blues are in last place in the West, nine points below the wildcard cutoff.
The Flyers are winless in six games since the leaguewide holiday break, going 0-4-2. The team enters the second half of the season with a 7-9-3 home record and 8-11-3 road mark.
Philly enters this game coming off a frustrating 3-2 overtime home loss to the Western Conference leading Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon. The Flyers held a pair of one-goal leads on tallies by Travis Sanheim (power play) and Travis Konecny and did not play poorly overall. They also got a good game in goal from rookie Carter Hart. However, the Flyers were unable to close out their trailing opponent in the latter portion of the third period, and ended up of settling for one point. The same outcome happened when the teams played in Calgary.
There weren't a lot of Flyers breakdowns. However, in an all-too-familiar pattern from this season, the Philly miscues that did happen were of the glaring attention-to-detail variety: a bad line change at four-on-four resulting moments later in the deadly Johnny Gaudreau getting an open look at the net from one of his favorite shooting spots, a coverage lapse on the tying goal by Matthew Tkachuk, and multiple errors of commission and omission on the final sequence of OT leading up to TJ Brodie's game-winning goal. Three of Calgary's five best scoring chances ended up in the Flyers' net on the afternoon.
The Flyers held a full practice at the Skate Zone on Sunday, despite Sunday being the team's only non-gameday until Wednesday with a back-to-back looming against the Blues on Monday and on the road in Washington on Tuesday. The team will have a total off-day on Wednesday regardless of the outcomes of the next two games.
All lines and defense pairs from Saturday's game remained intact at practice, with healthy scratch Jori Lehterä substituting on the fourth line for Michael Raffl (maintenance day). Raffl is available and expected to play on Monday. Andrew MacDonald (lower-body injury) remained off the ice on Sunday but his timetable per general manager Chuck Fletcher is for him to skate on Monday and work toward a return later this week.
After practice on Sunday, Gordon said that 20-year-old rookie Hart would get the start against the Blues. He is undecided about the Washington game.
When 35-year-old veteran Mike McKenna, claimed off waivers from Vancouver on Friday, makes his first start or relief appearance as a Flyer, he will become the seventh goalie to appear in a game this season for the Flyers. That will tie a dubious NHL record. In a coincidental twist, Gordon himself made his NHL debut for the Quebec Nordiques as the seventh goaltender the team used during the 1989-90 season.
At the midpoint of the season, Giroux leads the Flyers in scoring with 46 points (13 goals, 33 assists). He is followed by Jakub Voracek (10 goals, 22 assists, 32 points, -17), Couturier (15 goals, 14 assists, 29 points in 39 games), Wayne Simmonds (12 goals, 6 assists, 18 points, -15), and Shayne Gostisbehere (5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points, -19). Limited by early season injury to 25 games to date, van Riemsdyk has six goals and 14 points.
The Flyers current top defense pairing duo at even strength is time-on-ice leader Provorov (four goals, 13 points, -13) along with Travis Sanheim (four goals, 13 points). Since the arrivals of Rick Wilson as an assistant coach and Gordon as interim head coach, Sanheim's TOI and workload against high caliber opposition has greatly increased in conjunction with the opportunity to be paired with Provorov.
The Blues are two games from reaching their statistical midpoint of the season. Monday's game in Philly will be game 40 for the club. The club has played slightly better of late but still not well enough to make headway in the standings. The team is 5-5-0 in its last 10.
St. Louis enters the game coming off a 4-3 home loss in regulation to the New York Islanders on Saturday. Talk about a frustrated hockey team: The Blues actually outshot the Islanders by a 34-14 margin for the game, including a 22-8 edge over the final 40 minutes. The Blues even led by a 2-0 score heading into the first period. It all went for naught. The Islanders had only two shots on goal in the second period and scored on one. In the third, New York had six shots and scored on three.
The Blues got off to a good start, as tallies by Schenn (8th) and Zach Stanford (6th) staked St. Louis to a 2-0 lead by the first intermission. Matt Martin got the Isles back within a goal early in the second period but the Blues still took a 2-1 lead to the locker room.
Disaster struck. The Islanders scored three times in the third period to build a 4-2 lead. A late goal by O'Reilly (16th) made it a one-goal game again but the Blues never found an equalizer. Jake Allen took the loss, stopping 10 of 14 shots.
Entering Monday's game, the Blues rank 24th in the NHL with a 2.82 goals-per-game average. The team's 3.28 GAA also ranks 24th. The power play (19.7 percent, T-15th) is in the middle of the NHL pack but the team's 75 goals scored at 5-on-5 ranks in the bottom one-third (22nd). The penalty kill clocks in at 79.5 percent (17th).
The off-season addition of O'Reilly brought one one of the NHL's premiere two-way players and he has fared well individually: team-highs with 16 goals, 38 points and a plus-eight. The club as a whole, however, has underachieved. Vladimir Tarasenko has 11 goals, 23 points and a minus-11. Schenn has 23 points and is minus-nine. New addition Tyler Bozak (van Riemsdyk's longtime center in Toronto) has six goals and 18 points. Injuries have limited Jaden Schwartz to 26 goals (three goals, 13 points).
In the future, big things are expected from 19-year-old rookie Robert Thomas, who was a big star in the Ontario Hockey League and a quick riser for the Canadian junior national team. He's shown some flashes of what may lay ahead (four goals, 13 points in 34 games, including a pair of goals over the last five games) but he's experiencing all the usual growing pains that most teenage players in the NHL undergo while navigating the learning curve.
With the exception of a few players such as the speedy Schwartz, the Blues veteran core up front is among the slowest in the NHL, nor are they especially fast in some spots on the blueline. Correspondingly, the team has sometimes run into problems with opponents that play with a lot of pace. Additionally and just as importantly, Allen is having an off season (14-13-4 record, 3.07 GAA, .898 save percentage).
The St. Louis blueline has chipped in 19 goals this season, led by eight from Colton Parayko and five from Alex Pietrangelo. However, no defenseman has more than Dunn's 18 points (three goals, 15 assists).
Projected Lines (Subject to change)
28 Claude Giroux - 14 Sean Couturier - 11 Travis Konecny
23 Oskar Lindblom - 19 Nolan Patrick - 93 Jakub Voracek
25 James van Riemsdyk - 40 Jordan Weal - 17 Wayne Simmonds
12 Michael Raffl - 21 Scott Laughton - 22 Dale Weise
9 Ivan Provorov - 6 Travis Sanheim
53 Shayne Gostisbehere - 3 Radko Gudas
8 Robert Hägg - 26 Christian Folin
79 Carter Hart
[56 Mike McKenna]
Scratches: 15 Jori Lehterä (healthy), 44 Phil Varone (healthy), 47 Andrew MacDonald (lower body), 41 Anthony Stolarz (IR, lower body), 30 Michal Neuvirth (lower body), 37 Brian Elliott (IR, lower body), 10 Corban Knight (IR, collarbone), 5 Sam Morin (ACL surgery).
20 Alex Steen - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 57 David Perron
17 Jaden Schwartz - 10 Brayden Schenn - 7 Patrick Maroon
12 Zach Sanford - 18 Robert Thomas - 91 Vladimir Tarasenko
XXXXXX - 49 Ivan Barbashev - 70 Oskar Sundqvist
4 Carl Gunnarsson - 27 Alex Pietrangelo
19 Jay Bouwmeester - 55 Colton Parayko
29 Vince Dunn - 41 Robert Bortuzzo
6 Joel Edmundson
50 Jordan Binnington
[34 Jake Allen]
Scratches: 15 Robby Fabbri (healthy), 43 Jordan Schmaltz (healthy), 21 Tyler Bozak (day-to-day).
FLYERS AT MIDPOINT: INSIDE THE NUMBERS
What you are about to read isn't pretty, but it is reality. It's a in-depth look inside the Flyers team numbers at the midpoint of the season, trying to identify the specific areas where the team has gone wrong.
Through 41 games, the Flyers have averaged 2.78 goals per game (ranked 24th). From an analytics standpoint, as tracked by NaturalStatTrick.com, the team ranks 8th in total scoring chances but in the bottom one-third of the league in converting those chances into goals.
As a team, the Flyers rank 9th both in Corsi and Fenwick metrics. The bottom line, however, is the Flyers' scoring has been way too erratic. They have already had 13 games where they've either been shut out (five times) or held to a single goal (eight times).
At 5-on-5, the Flyers are in the middle of the NHL pack (16th overall) with 82 goals scored. The bigger issue is that the power play -- which annually produced anywhere from the top one-third to top one-half of the league until this season -- is near the bottom. Even with the club having scored three power play goals over the last two games, the 9-for-96 quagmire that extended from Oct. 13 until the third period of the Carolina game on Jan. 3, the Flyers rank 29th in the NHL on the power play at 13.9 percent (17-for-41).
Until this season, the Flyers had been a good team in the 3-on-3 overtime while struggling mightily in shootouts. This season, that hasn't been the case. The Flyers were 2-0 in their only two shootouts in the first half, but have already dropped six games in overtime. Overall, the Flyers have suffered 11 one-goal losses. That's the most in the NHL. One fact that is true regardless of era or other factors is that good teams typically find ways to prevail in one-goal games whether they are of the low-scoring or high-scoring variety. Lesser teams do not. Specific to OT, the Flyers are 1-6 in games decided in overtime and 3-6 when shootouts are included.
Now let's look at the defensive side of the equation.
From a purely statistical standpoint, the Flyers have yielded the second-fewest scoring chances of any team in the NHL this season and the third-fewest scoring chances from high-danger areas of the ice. However, just as the Flyers' shooters have had problems converting their relatively high volume of chances into goals, the Flyers goalies and team defense has had issues keeping opposing scoring chances out of their net.
Philly ranks 28th in save percentage on opposing scoring chances and 28th in total save percentage. While that certainly is an indictment of the overall goaltending the Flyers have received this season, it is both unfair and inaccurate to blame only the goalies.
There have been far too many games this season like the team's two most recent ones. In the Jan. 3 against Carolina, the Flyers yielded five goals. One was unstoppable due a PK positioning breakdown. Two were non-routine but also not impossible saves. One was an odd-man rush but a relatively innocuous shot that leaked through Michal Neuvirth's five-hole for a backbreaking goal that short-circuited a Flyers comeback bid. Another was a relatively routine save opportunity on a power play one-timer to the short side from the top of the right circle.
In the aforementioned Calgary game, all three opposing goals came off one or more significant breakdowns by Flyers skaters. Moreover, the Gaudreau goal was typical of another deadly issue this season for Philly; opposing teams' best players being able to get open looks in their wheelhouse. The same shot from the same spot by a lesser finisher might have been shot into the goaltender as he moved across or high and wide of the net. Have a bad line change that results in Gaudreau getting an open look from the dot, and the next faceoff will be at center ice. Such goals are not the fault of the goaltender.
Overall, the Flyers the Flyers hit the halfway point with a team 3.61 GAA. Thant ranks 30th in the NHL; totally unacceptable and a burden that falls on the entire team but which improved goaltending in the second half should help improve somewhat.
On the penalty kill, the Flyers have yielded 33 opposing power play goals on 131 opportunities to rank 28th in the NHL in PK success rate (74.8 percent). What's hidden within those numbers is that the PK has been pretty decent since Thanksgiving -- the team entered the Black Friday matinee against the Rangers at an astoundingly awful 68.5 percent on the kill -- but the atrocious first 21 games and a couple of isolated "hiccup games" since then have made the attempt to climb to the roughly 80 percent NHL median, which nothing special but can be worked around, into a herculean task.
At 5-on-5, the Flyers have yielded 92 goals this season; the sixth most in the NHL. That is a major downturn from last season, when the Flyers ranked 3rd in FEWEST 5-on-5 goals allowed at the midpoint in the season and, despite a downturn in the second half (partially due to goalie injuries -- a carryover factor all season this year), the team still finished tied for 9th-best in that crucial category. Ninth-best last season to sixth-worst in the first half of this season very much reflects a key factor in why Philly was a 98-point team last year and is on a 70-point pace at the midpoint this season.
Allowing opposing shorthanded goals was a problem last season for the Flyers and continues to be one this year, except minus the power play goals to offset them. Last season, the Flyers gave up 10 SHG; tied for 3rd most in the NHL. Midway through this season, Philly has burned six times (tied for sixth-worst).
On the positive side: After not scoring a shorthanded goal in the first two months of the season, despite fairly numerous chances, the Flyers scored three shorthanded goals in December: Dale Weise at Pittsburgh on Dec. 1, Claude Giroux in Buffalo on Dec. 8, Sean Couturier in Calgary on Dec. 12. The Flyers scored three all last season.