The Flyers' failures in the shootout have become commonplace, but if past history has shown us, the team has to improve in the skills competition as they position themselves for the postseason.
Over the course of more than 40 storied NHL seasons, there are not many things that the Philadelphia Flyers are ranked dead last when examined statistically. But there is one in which the Orange-and-Black hold the all-time worst record, and that, not so surprisingly, is in the shootout. Since its inception as one of the 'new rules' following the lockout that cost the League the entire 2004-05 campaign, Philadelphia has struggled in the skills competition from day one.
Their 20-39 record all-time in the shootout is last among the NHL's 30 teams, and that's pretty amazing when you consider the talent at forward that GMs Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren have assembled along the way.
You would think the team's success rate would be much higher. But why are they so bad at it this year? Let's look at some stats.
The current campaign has seen the club win just one of the six contests that have reached beyond the overtime period with which to determine a winner. That's a disgraceful 16.6% if you're keeping track. The Flyers rank 28th overall for the present season, with only the St. Louis Blues (1-6) and Carolina Hurricanes (0-4) experiencing less success than Philly. When breaking down the home and away marks, their shootout record mimics their overall success rate -- much better on the road than at home. In four tries thus far, the Flyers have yet to win one of the awful tiebreakers at the Wells Fargo Center, while they have split the two decisions on the road.
More bad numbers: Flyers netminders have stopped just six of 16 skaters this year for a miserable 38%, which is also last in the NHL. Included in that number are three stops in 10 opportunities at home, and three saves on six opposition chances away from the 'friendly confines'. Compare those numbers to that of the Detroit Red Wings -- Detroit netminders have stopped 25 of 29 shooters for an astounding 84% save percentage.
The goaltending breakdown is eerily similar. Ilya Bryzgalov, who suffered a frustrating shotoout loss last night after posting his 25th career shutout against the New York Islanders. After shutting the Isles out for 65 minutes, he continued the trend of taking the collar in losing all four of the games that have gone to a shootout since coming to Philadelphia. Bryzgalov has stopped only 2-9 shooters this season -- both in the same game against the Winnipeg Jets on January 31 before yielding a goal to Bryan Little on the third shot to be saddled with the loss. In three other tries this season, he has failed to stop a single shooter.
Sergei Bobrovsky has fared much better than his fellow countryman, posting a 1-1 mark in the 2011-12 shootouts. He won the lone Flyers' shootout triumph in the last contest prior to the NHL All-Star break, stopping Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Mike Santorelli in South Florida to earn a much-needed extra point in the standings.
The poor performance of the goalie tandem in the shootout is only continuing what has become a horrid tradition in South Philly. The Flyers own the worst save percentage of ALL-TIME -- 30th overall (81-189, 57%); at home (44-93, 53%); and on the road (37-96, 61%). THE bottom of the all-time NHL rankings. Robert Esche, Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, Michael Leighton -- all struggled mightily while donning the Orange-and-Black.
This season, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins has already won seven of his nine shootouts, which has helped an injury-ravaged Pens club remain close to the upper echelon of both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference races.
But all the blame should not be shouldered by the Philadelphia goalies alone. The Philly shooters haven't been lighting it up, either. Consider:
- Flyers' shooters are a combined 5-17 (29%) in the shootout, which ranks 17th in the League. At home, Philly has been successful on just 2-11 (18%), but have hit on 50% (3-6) on the road.
- Giroux and Briere are the only two to have scored more than once. Giroux is 2-4, while Briere was stopped for the first time last night by the Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov after having scored on his first two earlier in the year.
- James van Riemsdyk, who remains out indefinitely with a concussion, is the only other Flyer to score in the shootout this season, beating Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Colorado in his only opportunity.
- Wayne Simmonds (0-3), Matt Read (0-2), Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier (both 0-1) have not been able to beat opposing goaltenders in the late-night skills competition.
When you add up the futility at both ends of the ice, it's not so difficult to see why the Flyers haven't been able to accumulate those extra bonus points.
And make no mistake, whether you like the idea of the shootout or not as method of deciding League games (EDITOR'S NOTE: Will not harp on this, but as I've said in the past it takes away the team aspect of a game. Akin to taking your top slugger and opposing pitching ace and having a home run competition to decide Major League Baseball games that remain tied after 12 innings. Totally ridiculous), they are extremely important in determining the final standings at the end of the regular season.
One only has to point Flyers fans to the last game of the 2009-10 campaign when Philadelphia had perhaps their greatest success ever in the skills competition in beating Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers in a do-or-die situation. Brian Boucher somehow was able to outduel the 'King' in what became a galvanizing moment for the club, which jump-started an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The irony of it all was just how horrible the team had been at pulling out any victories in the shootout, while Lundqvist has historically been one of the best in the competition. If the Flyers lost that shootout, they would have been sitting at home and watching the postseason on television, with no chance to make a long run into the spring.
As the regular season moves into its final weeks, each point becomes priceless. Each team is battling for positions and many for their very postseason existence, and more and more of the games go past the overtime period.
That's why Peter Laviolette must find something that works in the shootout, because as we've seen in the past, it can mean life of death for a team's playoff hopes. Yes, it's that important.