Last week following a 6-1 loss to the woeful New York Islanders, our own Anthony SanFilippo dropped some interesting tidbits while highlighting the importance of the Flyers’ upcoming four-game road trip:
“…if it’s not fixed, something is going to happen.
There are some grumblings within the organization that these four games are all the Flyers have left in the patience tank.
If these issues aren’t corrected, Dave Hakstol’s job could be on the line…
If these issues aren’t corrected, a major trade could happen – and you want to know who’s the prime candidate there? Jake Voracek…
And could even Rob Hextall himself be in trouble? Yes, yes he could.”
Given the internal strife, I expected Hakstol to tweak some things, but two games – and two victories – into the road trip, the Flyers have dramatically altered their offensive game plan. In doing so, they appear to have figured out something the rest of the league had long since discovered: shots from the slot and in the crease provide a greater chance of scoring than shots from the point.
To illustrate this point, let’s compare the Flyers’ offensive zone heat maps from the last four games:
10/25/18: 0-3 loss @ Boston Bruins
This game featured a decent variety of shots from wide positions near the blue line and a high density of shots from the slot in 5-on-5 play. Their 53.5% Corsi-For% at even-strength ([the number of shots taken, including blocked shots, misses, and shots on goal]divided by Corsi-For + Corsi-Against) was higher than at any point over their first seven games, while their Fenwick-For% at even-strength (essentially Corsi-For% minus all blocked shots) of 57.1% was the third-highest of the season. The advanced stats in the this game suggest that the team was simply unlucky in converting their chances.
The power play, on the other hand, featured a Flyers’ attack devoid of such high-quality chances from in the slot and near the crease.
10/27/18: 6-1 loss vs. New York Islanders
The Flyers faced an all-out assault against a dreadful Islanders’ attack in the final home game before the current road trip. The Flyers did show a willingness to get involved in the slot, though by comparison, their shot density from the blue line was exponentially higher than that of New York. The team’s Corsi-For and Fenwick-For numbers were higher, but the actual number of quality shots on goal were lower than against the Bruins. The power play numbers were simply stunning:
This shows the shot concentration on the Islanders’ three power plays on the day. The corresponding image isn’t even worth showing. The image was blank. That’s right, folks, not a single unblocked shot attempt on any of the Flyers’ three power plays. This led to plenty of fans and media questioning the team’s tactics, especially on the power play. Fast forward three days and things have drastically changed.
10/30/18: 3-2 win @ Anaheim Ducks
Holy schnikes! Will you take a look at that? Not only did the Flyers’ attack at even strength feature a high density of shots from the slot, there was a greater effort to crowd the net and create opportunities in the crease. While shots from the point were still a point of emphasis, notice the marked increase in those shots coming closer to the circles, as opposed to the zone parallel to the blue line. The traditional stats show the Flyers out-shot Anaheim by 11 shots (36-25), while the advanced stats show an even percentage of Corsi-For and a slight Fenwick edge. In this case, the traditional metrics tell the true story.
On the power play in this game, it was clear that Hakstol and his coaching staff emphasized getting high-quality chances from in the slot, while encouraging net-crashing. Sure, the patented left circle shots from Claude Giroux were still there, but the Flyers found success closer to goal and came out of Anaheim with a crucial victory.
11/1/18: 5-2 win @ Los Angeles Kings
In Thursday night’s victory over the Kings, the Flyers generated plenty of offense from all areas of the offensive zone, but take special note of where the three even-strength goals were scored: the slot. Clearly, the coaching staff believed they could exploit the Kings from the circles and slot, while attempting to get some shots on net from inside the blue line. The Flyers led this game in traditional and advanced shooting metrics once again, while the advanced stats show a modest advantage for the Flyers in shots created.
If the Flyers’ effort against the Ducks was encouraging, it was even moreso against the Kings. While not every shot generated was from near the crease, the only registered unblocked shots were.
Hakstol’s back was against the wall following that 6-1 home loss to the Islanders. To his credit, he adjusted his game plan and it has paid dividends in the first two games of this pivotal trip. We’ll have a better idea as to how effective the plan will be going forward starting with Saturday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, who absolutely embarrassed the Flyers in their home opener, 8-2. The Coyotes are no slouches, either. Were the two initial wins enough to save Hakstol’s job for now? Possibly. Should the Flyers take any solace in that? Absolutely not. Now is certainly not the time for complacency.