Have the Philadelphia Flyers Come off the Rails?

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistNovember 2, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 01: Ray Emery #29 of the Philadelphia Flyers fights with Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals during the third period at the Wells Fargo Center on November 1, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Capitals shutout the Flyers 7-0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Flyers lost a lot of things on Friday.

They lost a hockey game, 7-0, to the Washington Capitals. They lost leading scorer Vincent Lecavalier to a facial injury. They lost new addition Steve Downie to a concussion. Goaltender Ray Emery just lost his temper, pummeling an unwilling opponent in Braden Holtby. It’s hard not to wonder if the season wasn’t lost in the same game.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 10:  General Manager Paul Holmgren of the Philadelphia Flyers speaks to the media after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on December 10, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Philadelphia has already fired one head coach. Last night, the home crowd called for Flyers’ general manager Paul Holmgren to join Peter Laviolette in unemployment.

Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News (who also provided the injury information above) reports that Holmgren responded by going into the locker room during the second intermission to address his players. He also writes that the Flyers declined to provide any details on what exactly was said, though given the ensuing fight-filled third period, it’s fair to speculate that a group hug was not part of the proceedings.

The Flyers’ problems stretch far beyond a single game. The injuries coming out of the loss to Washington are going to make an uphill climb that much tougher, but this was already a team with significant issues.

The good news? At least some of those issues are surmountable.

The chart below shows all of Philadelphia’s forwards with 10-plus shots. The two columns on the right show how many goals we would normally expect those individuals to produce if they were shooting at their career averages.

Flyers forwards: Shots, goals and shooting percentage
PlayerShotsSH%GoalsCareer SH%Exp. Goals
Matt Read368.3314.45
Vincent Lecavalier2619.2512.23
Claude Giroux260.0011.53
Brayden Schenn238.7210.52
Wayne Simmonds234.3111.83
Jakub Voracek214.8110.32
Sean Couturier180.008.11
Scott Hartnell170.0011.22
Maxime Talbot147.1111.82
Adam Hall 120.007.01
Michael Raffl110.00N/AN/A

Even assuming that rookie Michael Raffl’s true-talent shooting percentage is 0.0 (and it isn’t), we would expect those players as a group to score 24 times on 227 shots. They’ve scored 13. That’s almost a goal-per-game less than could reasonably be expected in the early season, and it’s all related to guys not converting their shots the way they normally would.

That’s a correctable situation, the kind of thing that occasionally happens to teams and makes them look far, far worse than they really are. The new injuries will hurt. But even with those absences, there is nowhere for this group to go but up, and when they start climbing, they’d normally bring the Flyers’ record up with them.

Other situations, however, are likely to go from bad to worse.

The offense has understandably been the focal point of attention for many, but it should not be the real worry. The Flyers are getting .922 save percentage goaltending from starter Steve Mason, and they are still averaging more than three goals against per game. And unlike the forwards' goal-scoring, this isn’t a problem that’s likely to correct itself.

October 6, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason (35) before the start of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Center. The Hurricanes defeated the Flyers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions is whether Mason’s success over 17 games in Philadelphia is the new normal or just a pleasant aberration.

Mason was wretched for better than three seasons in Columbus after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, and his career save percentage, even with this late resurgence, is hovering at 0.905. He’s a prime candidate to suddenly turn into a pumpkin, and if he does, the Flyers will be sunk.

The defensive depth chart is also sketchy: long on salary, long on experience and short on effectiveness early.

Sep 16, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit (32) during warmups before preseason game against the Washington Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It was hoped that Mark Streit would be an impact arrival; instead, he’s a team-worst minus-7, and according to ExtraSkater.com, the Flyers are badly out-shot with him on the ice (despite Streit getting premium offensive ice-time). That’s the trend across the board, actually: the Flyers are out-shot no matter which defenseman is on the ice, and only the Kimmo Timonen/Erik Gustafsson pairing is close to bucking that trend.

That’s the deeper problem than some momentary lack of scoring and the even bigger fear than a sudden drop-off from Steve Mason. The core of the team, up front and on the back end, is getting badly out-shot by the opposition. The percentages will go up and down, but in the long-term, teams lose when they are consistently out-shot.

If Philadelphia’s only problem was scoring, it would be more than possible to be optimistic about its season. Despite a lousy start, the team is only six points out of third place in the Metropolitan; they have time to make up that gap. The forwards will score more, and the goaltending has been pretty good and just might stay that way.

But Paul Holmgren’s team is losing the possession war, and if not checked, that’s likely going to cost them the season.


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