At the end of December, the Flyers were at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and out of the playoff picture. However, since the start of 2018, no team in the NHL has been better. The Flyers are 18-5-2 in the new year, the best record since Jan. 1, including a sparkling 10-3-0 in February, which helped boost them to the No. 2 spot in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the first-place Washington Capitals.
The success coincides with a significant, and highly successful, change to the lineup.
Early in the season, Flyers Coach Dave Hakstol kept two of his stars, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, together on the top line. They outscored opponents 30-21 at even strength, with the majority of the scoring chances (51 percent) going in Philadelphia’s favor. But having Giroux and Voracek together allowed opponents to focus on that one line, causing the Flyers to score a below-average 2.8 goals per game through November. On Dec. 2, after his team suffered a scoreless drought of more than 119 minutes, Hakstol decided to split up his star tandem, keeping Giroux with Sean Couturier and sending Voracek to the team’s second line.
Since then, Giroux is tied for second in the NHL with 46 points (11 goals and 35 assists) in 38 games, Voracek is tied for 12th with 39 points (six goals, 33 assists), and the Flyers are now thought of as Stanley Cup contenders.
Beyond those individual performances, Philadelphia’s top line of Giroux, Couturier and Travis Konecny has been superb. They have outscored opponents 25-11 this season at even strength, with almost seven of every 10 scoring chances taken in the slot or crease going in their team’s favor. Only Patrice Bergeron’s line in Boston (26-9, 74 percent), Henrik Zetterberg’s line in Detroit (15-6, 71 percent) and Filip Forsberg’s line in Nashville (22-10, 69 percent) have a higher share than Philadelphia’s top trio.
Giroux is the point driver on Philadelphia’s top line, posting 22 goals and a team-high 74 points, but Couturier’s play is every bit as important. Without him, Giroux’s line is outscored by opponents, with just three of every 10 high-danger scoring chances going in Philadelphia’s favor. There is a small sample size at play here — Giroux has only skated 126 minutes without Couturier — but Couturier influenced production last season, too, indicating this isn’t a one-hit wonder riding shotgun with Giroux.
|Percent in Flyers favor|
|Sean Couturier, even strength||Total minutes||Goals||Shot attempts||Scoring chances||High-danger chances|
The second line has changed around Voracek since the change in December, but the team has converted 33 of 184 high-danger chances (18 percent) with Voracek on the ice — and 53 of those chances are of his own making, second-most on the team after Couturier. (The league average is 13 percent.) No player on the team has more primary assists (36), and only Blake Wheeler has more primary assists among all forwards skating at least 1,200 minutes. Giroux ranks fifth.
On the blue line, Shayne Gostisbehere has emerged as a possible finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defenseman. Gostisbehere has 50 points, tied for third-most among defensemen, while skating more than 21 minutes per game. He’s also adept at clearing out the crease: Among the 73 blue-liners playing at least 1,000 even-strength minutes, Gostisbehere ranks 13th for the fewest high-danger scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes (9.8). Among defensive pairs playing at least 300 minutes together at even strength, Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov have the sixth-highest goal differential (plus-11).
In addition to helping Philadelphia at even strength, Provorov is key on the penalty kill, making him one of only 44 blue-liners to skate at least 150 minutes against the opposition’s power play. Among that group, Provorov is tied for fourth in fewest high-danger scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes (19.2).
The Flyers are also getting better goaltending then they have in years past, and they added Petr Mrazek before the trade deadline after injuries forced the team to make a move. Mrazek has stopped 22 of the 24 high-danger scoring chances he has faced at even strength and the lone chance he has faced on the penalty kill, endearing himself to his teammates through his three starts with the club.
“Ever since he’s been here, he’s been making big saves and keeping us in games,” Couturier said of Mrazek to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi.
According to playoff odds by Hockey Reference, the Flyers are now a near lock to make the playoffs (98.8 percent) with a 1-in-3 chance at winning the division. Philadelphia is also given a 4 percent chance of winning the team’s first Stanley Cup since 1975.
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