PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 26: Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers and his teammates celebrate a goal by Scott Hartnell #19 during a third period power play in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 26, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Small sample sizes are fun, even when they don't agree with what you saw.
After getting through the first round, and with looming roster decisions - well, okay, maybe only one - why not look at how the team has performed a quarter of the way through their journey. It's something I always enjoy doing, so now seems like a great time.
In the playoffs, playing only a few games does funny things to the numbers. Small sample sizes have a great way of teasing people - like Dwayne Roloson stopping 94.9% of all shots - and the Flyers are no different. Remember when everybody was saying Mike Richards needed to step up, because he was invisible? Yeah, he really wasn't. There are many examples, but let's just look at the numbers.
As a refresher, all data is at 5-on-5. Here are what the columns are: Games Played, Goals For, Goals Against, on-ice shooting percentage, on-ice save percentage, Fenwick percentage, Corsi percentage, percentage of offensive zone faceoffs, and percentage of offensive zone faceoffs not including Flyers icings.
Included at the bottom of each table is the team totals, so there is a baseline to compare to.
All tables are sortable by column.
First, the forwards:
What do we see here? First off, the Flyers best offensive players were... Mike Richards and Kris Versteeg. Definitely surprising. The Flyers worst defensive forwards? Danny Briere, Ville Leino, and Scott Hartnell. Not surprising. But that's why we included shooting and save percentages, to further show the effect of having such a small sample.
The Flyers as a team are shooting slightly better than league average, but Versteeg and Richards are over-performing. James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux are dominating the puck possession metrics (Fenwick and Corsi) but are under-performing in the scoring department. In other words: they will begin scoring even more goals if they keep playing this well and getting such favorable zone starts from Peter Laviolette.
On the down-side, the Flyers biggest liabilities on defense were the members of the Briere line, despite Peter Laviolette choosing to put them in the offensive zone more than 75% of the time.
If you notice, Peter Laviolette is opting to completely shelter four players (Leino, Zherdev, Briere, and Hartnell) in the offensive zone while completely burying three (Betts, Powe, and Carcillo). In the middle, you see Laviolette using Richards and Versteeg as the tough-minutes top-9 forwards, rotating Giroux and Carcillo in with them. And yet both Richards and Versteeg destroyed the Sabres.
Against Boston, the Flyers will need the Briere line to stop giving up so many goals - which they probably will, as their on-ice save percentage regresses to the mean - and start scoring more. They can't rely on Richards and Versteeg to play this well going forward (how have those two not been written about yet?), so they will need more offense from Giroux and van Riemsdyk. The good news is they can probably expect those two to chip in a couple extra goals soon.
To be honest, this completely surprises me. Matt Carle was consistently impressive in the first round, but he appears to be the worst top-4 defenseman here. But as he's the one with the lowest offensive zone start, he gets a mild pass. Then, when looking at his on-ice save percentage, it becomes apparent that his goals against are the result of poor luck.
Moving on to the rest of the top-4, look at how impressive Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn were. They both got high offensive zone starts and unsustainably high on-ice shooting percentages, but they earned it with strong possession metrics. It all goes hand-in-hand (small sample sizes, again), but it is worth noting that those two had a great series.
Last, but not least, Andrej Meszaros was a steady player in that series, receiving team-average luck, team-average opportunities, and finishing just below team-average in possession metrics. He was third-best (ahead of Carle) that series, which will be even better now that Pronger is back. Huge upgrade to the third-pairing, great fill-in when Pronger is injured.
In the battle for "least-worst #6 defenseman", Danny Syvret again comes out on top. He's received the same poor goaltending luck but is a minus-2 because the team isn't scoring when he's on the ice. Which is explained due to his team-worst offensive zone start. But in terms of possession metrics, Syvret is beating O`Donnell. In terms of tough starts, Syvret is beating O`Donnell. Those who look solely at plus/minus will once again be missing just how lucky Sean O`Donnell is.
Against the Bruins, Pronger will be a huge asset. The D is playing well already, but with Pronger back, the team should see Matt Carle return to his regular season form. Then, they will slot Meszaros back on the third-pairing, making him even more effective. And with Meszaros on the third pair, the team should (but likely won't) use Danny Syvret as the #6 guy as an improvement over O`Donnell. We've already been over this, so we don't need to repeat it.
Largely due to Brian Boucher, the Flyers received well above-average goaltending that round. It is difficult to say how well the team played in front of Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton due to score effects in such small samples (roughly 70 minutes of ice time each), but it's pretty obvious that the team played well throughout the series.
The one thing that sticks out is the large discrepancy between the team's total Corsi and their Corsi with Boucher in net. I'm confident most of this can be explained due to score effects (the team was trailing by up to three goals during large chunks of Leighton and Bobrovsky's small ice time, resulting in more shots for the Flyers), but it is striking nonetheless.
In looking at this, there were a few names that jumped out as pleasant surprises and a few that were disappointments. Mike Richards, Kris Versteeg, and Kimmo Timonen were pleasant surprises. None of those three are at all likely to continue that level of play, but they are not getting nearly enough credit for how well they played last series.
On the disappointing side, Matt Carle, Ville Leino, and Danny Briere jumped out. Yes, Briere scored 6 goals. Leino scored 3. And yet, neither one of them are a plus in standard plus/minus. And at even-strength, despite being completely sheltered from their own zone, the duo (along with Scott Hartnell) gave up at least 5 goals. With none of the three were above 50% in the Fenwick battle, that line needs to tighten up on defense. Which they should do simply by receiving better goaltending luck.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the Briere and Richards lines perform, as well as the impact Prong has.