Flyers Atop NHL, So Enjoy It While It Lasts

The Flyers are currently atop the NHL, but what is the reason for their success?

Going into the All-Star break, the Flyers have a lot to be happy with. In fact, they could possibly be the best team in the league. Let's quickly run down some of the numbers. The Flyers are:

  •  Tied for 1st in the NHL with 71 points.
  • 1st in the NHL with 33 wins.
  • 2nd in the NHL with only 12 regulation losses.
  • Tied for 1st in the NHL with a plus-44 goal differential.
  • Tied for 1st in the NHL with a 1.43 five-on-five goal differential.
  • 1st in goals per game with 3.46.
  • 9th in goals against per game at 2.54.
  • Tied for 5th in the NHL with 32.5 shots per game.

By most standards, the Flyers are in the top-2 in the NHL. And yet, there is some cause for concern because they are currently getting an unsustainably high shooting percentage.

Here are the Flyers' shooting percentages at 5-on-5 and goals per 82 games for the past 4 years:

5v5 Sh% 5v5 GF/82
2007-08 8.1% 133
2008-09 9.1% 167
2009-10 7.7% 148
2010-11 10.1% 207

 

I don't think it's difficult to spot the outlier there. This year, there are only three teams (Dallas, Colorado, and Detroit) getting even a 9.1% team shooting percentage, with Dallas getting the second highest at 9.6%. This year, league average is 8.3%.

Where is this jump coming from? Seven of the Flyers' 13 forwards are on the ice for a 10% shooting percentage or higher, so the answer is basically everywhere. However, the line of Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Ville Leino are all getting 11.45% shooting or higher. That puts three Flyers in the top-10 in the NHL in highest on-ice shooting percentage. It therefore shouldn't be a surprise that the Flyers have three of the NHL's 5 best players in goals for per 60 minutes. Maybe Danny Briere can be spoken of alongside Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos this year, but nobody will confuse Hartnell or Leino with the NHL's elite.

Now, there is an explanation for their success that isn't simply "luck", though that is definitely part of it. In fact, most of the Briere line's success comes from the team's depth. With Mike Richards, Andreas Nodl, and Jeff Carter, the Flyers are able to deploy Briere in the offensive zone against the opposition's third line. The only three forwards on the Flyers to start even half of their shifts in the offensive zone are Briere, Hartnell, and Leino.

Meanwhile, Carter, Giroux, Richards, Nodl, and van Riemsdyk are getting most of their minutes in their defensive zone against the other teams' top-6 forwards. Having other players on the team that can handle tough defensive assignments and tough situational minutes allows the Briere line to destroy weak competition in an optimal environment.

In all, it seems that the Flyers depth and ability to stay healthy are driving their success. Without players like Andreas Nodl and Darroll Powe to step up and play defensively responsible minutes in the top-9, the Flyers probably don't have the luxury of keeping Briere's line away from their own end. Without Jeff Carter embracing the role of elite two-way center and meshing well with Claude Giroux, the Flyers are also unlikely to have that luxury.

Maybe the Flyers can keep going at this ridiculous rate all the way to a Stanley Cup - which would surely be nice - but they most certainly won't be this lucky for long. They will either be slowed by an injury, a lineup shuffle, or the salary cap in the offseason. But Flyers fans should enjoy this run while it lasts, because it won't last another season.

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