The Philadelphia Flyers have the best line in the league. Claude Giroux has been a new version of himself since moving to left wing, Sean Couturier has realized his offensive potential, and Jake Voracek is bouncing back in a big way. The three have been huge for the Flyers this season.
There is no secret that the Flyers have a depth scoring problem. Three forwards have been carrying the team through the first quarter of the season, while the others have chipped in minimally over the first month and a half.
Before we get deep into it, just a quick primer on a few stats. Corsi for percentage is the percentage of shot attempts on net a player’s team gets compared to how many they allow. If a team gets seven shot attempts to their opponent’s three with a player on the ice, the player has a corsi for percentage of 70%.
Expected goals for is a metric similar to corsi for, but factors in shot location and quality as well.
Article originally published on 11/18, stats are through 11/17.
The top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jake Voracek is not only the best line on the team, but the best line in the league as well. The trio leads the league in goals for (18), and goals +/- (+11) with just seven goals allowed in 236 minutes at 5v5 play this season. Tampa Bay’s top line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Vladislav Namestnikov is just behind them with 17 goals for and 9 against. But one line can only carry a team for so long.
The Flyers’ recent struggles have magnified the depth scoring drought. The last time a bottom-nine forward scored was in the 3rd period of the game against the Colorado Avalanche. It has been 263 minutes and 23 seconds since then without a goal from someone not named Giroux, Couturier, or Voracek. The top line broke out of it this week, but the secondary scoring is still running dry.
Unfortunately, as good as the top line is, the other lines they’ve used consistently have been nearly as bad.
The fourth line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl is the only one that gets somewhat of a free pass, because they’ve been able to at least generate chances. They’ve been on the ice for two goals for in 135 minutes, but they’ve played much better than that. Out of 103 lines that have played 50 or more minutes together this season, they have the 23rd highest expected goals for of 5.16. For reference, the top line has 11.64 xGF (2nd best). Those are the only two lines that stuck together, and for good reason.
While corsi for percentage treats all shot attempts as equal, expected goals factors in shot location and quality as well. Corsi and expected goals each have their uses.
The fourth line is one of the two lines in the league with 82 minutes together and two or less goals for. Of the 80 lines that have played at least 82 minutes together, only two have generated less than two goals for. Yup, you guessed it, those two lines are both from the Flyers. Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, and Wayne Simmonds have two goals for and four goals against in 82 minutes together, while the other is the unlucky fourth line with two goals for and three against in 135 minutes together.
The fourth line at least has been snakebitten, but the other trio has only generated 2.69 xGF. Their xGF per 60 minutes of 1.95 is 16th worst among the 103 lines with 50+ minutes together.
Filppula and Simmonds are also two-thirds of another line that has struggled. There are 14 lines of the 103 that have generated one goal or less in their 50+ minutes. The trio of Filppula, Simmonds, and Konecny is one of them. They are also 15th worst in xGF (1.96) and 23rd worst in xGF/60 (2.04).
That covers four of the five trios the Flyers have had together for 50+ minutes at 5v5 this season, but the other one isn’t great either.
Prior to his injury, Nolan Patrick played nine games with Dale Weise and Travis Konecny. They played 53 minutes together, and are the worst of the five Flyers’ lines with a 43.64% corsi for percentage, and just ahead of the Konecny, Filppula, Simmonds line with 45.37 xGF%. But they are the only Flyers line to play 50 minutes and not allow a goal. That’s more luck than anything, as they had the worst xGF60 with 2.19. But they generated two goals for as well.
Of the 103 lines across the league, they have the 14th worst expected goals for of 1.96, decimal points ahead of the Konecny – Filppula – Simmonds line.
Patrick was with Konecny again in his return, but had Simmonds on his other wing instead of Weise, that’s definitely a step up in talent, but it didn’t show up on the scoreboard yet.
The Flyers are an unbelievably top-heavy team and that has been evident this season. The past handful of games have exploited that, and the depth forwards need to step up.
When things are bad, they seem to typically get worse before they get better. That has been the case for the Flyers in the recent games as they’ve been panicking at times and reverting to too many shots from the outside. Their two goals on Thursday night, and many of their goals this season, have come from higher-quality chances in the slot. Getting to the dirty areas is huge, and resorting to perimeter shots has been an issue for the Flyers over the past week, especially against the Wild.
The team has been struggling at even-strength, which has gotten most of the focus, but that has carried over to the power play as well. The top unit scored on Thursday night to end a 1-for-18 stretch, but the power play was just 1-for-5 on the night. It seems as if they are still stuck in a rut at both even strength and on the power play.
If the Flyers want to get back to scoring on a regular basis, they need to get back to what they were successful at earlier in the season. They need to get the puck down low, generate shots from the slot via passes from below the goal line, and just get to the front of the net rather than relying on shots from the point.
Breaking up the top line might be an option if the struggles continue, but right now the Flyers need their other forwards to step up. Wayne Simmonds, Jordan Weal, and Travis Konecny need to produce and contribute to help the team win. Those guys, especially Simmonds, shouldn’t need to be sparked by a linemate. Moving one of the top liners down to the second line would certainly spread out the offense and help get those guys going, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
Dave Hakstol has shuffled the middle-six up, but it hasn’t resulted in anything. Patrick’s return gives him a new weapon, and the rookie knows that he needs to contribute more offensively than just three points in nine games prior to his injury. A middle-six with Simmonds, Konecny, Weal, and Patrick should be able to score, and a solid center like Filppula won’t bring them down. Weise is the only member of the middle-six now that doesn’t belong. Matt Read has been a healthy scratch for the Flyers and brings more to the table than Weise or Jori Lehtera, who is now a healthy scratch as well, but he hasn’t gotten a chance recently.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have a handful of young guys that fans have been clamoring for, but that not might help much at this point either. Oskar Lindblom and Danick Martel will likely need more time in the AHL, and only get called up if an injury occurs. Mike Vecchione is an interesting choice, however. He played four years of NCAA hockey, is a solid two-way forward, and has been on a hot streak with the Phantoms. Calling up a younger player to replace a veteran doesn’t seem to be in Ron Hextall’s wheelhouse, though, unless the players really force his hand.
Hakstol has tried different combinations in the middle-six and it’s really up to the players to produce. Simmonds has had chances but got robbed, and the same goes for Weal and Konecny, but at some point one has to get into the back of the net.
The top line has been carrying the Flyers this season, but the depth forwards are going to need to start producing in order for the Flyers to get back to their winning ways.
All stats through 11/17 via Corsica.Hockey
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