Mandatory Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre
In 2019-2020, the Philadelphia Flyers had a lot of working parts that were firing on all cylinders during the regular season. Securing a spot in the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs had a lot to do with the work of the Flyers defense and goaltending. Ivan Provorov is a top twenty defenseman, and that Carter Hart is a top ten goaltender, but Philadelphia’s defense success is not exclusive to those two. As a team, the Flyers had a top ten defense in 2019-2020.
When discussing the total goals against and goals-against average for the Philadelphia Flyers defense, it’s crucial to note Carter Hart at home versus Brian Elliott on the road. Hart was almost automatic on home ice while Elliott was the road warrior. In total, the Flyers allowed a total of 191 goals, which was eighth-best in the league. Breaking that down to goals-against average, Philadelphia averaged 2.77 per game (seventh-best in the NHL.)
As you dig deeper into the Philadelphia Flyers defensive pairings, you’ll find the second and third pairings were honorable in 2019-2020. Robert Hagg, usually on the third pairing after Shayne Gostisbehere had surgery, finished with the highest on-ice save percentage on the team (94.6%.) Philippe Myers was the runner-up in this advanced-statistic. Every defenseman on the Flyers finished above 90% except for Travis Sanheim (89.7%.) The quality of the pairings in 2019-2020 complimenting the goaltending made the Philadelphia defense stubborn.
Scoring on special teams was not a strength for the Philadelphia Flyers, but stopping opposing teams’ powerplays from converting was. In total, the Flyers penalty kill was on the outside looking in of the league top ten (81.8%,) placing eleventh. On most nights, Philadelphia would kill more penalties than their season percentage. The Flyers’ net penalty kill was 85.7%, meaning they played mostly better than their ranking.
Shorthanded success is paramount to consider when discussing defensive prowess. Hockey games are not only won during five-on-five scenarios. If special teams defense is vital to postseason appearances, the Philadelphia Flyers are evidence of four-on-five and three-on-five quality.
A sure way to mitigate goals scored is by blocking shots. Ivan Provorov led the Philadelphia Flyers in blocked shots (111.) He was the only Flyers defenseman who entered triple digits in shots blocked. A collective defensive effort in mitigating shots on the goal helps out the goaltending. Philadelphia had a healthy mix of stoppers, two-way defensemen, and excellent goaltending to claim their place as a top ten defense.
One game that stands out in familiar was Brian Elliott’s shutout victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In that game, the Penguins only mustered nineteen shots. Elliott’s other shutout, against the Detroit Red Wings, the Philadelphia Flyers allowed sixteen shots. In all, the Flyers ranked first in the league in shots against per game (28.7.)
Success in the faceoff circle was a crowning jewel statistic for the Philadelphia Flyers skaters. As a team, the Flyers were the best in the league at winning the faceoff draw. In doing so, they secured extra possessions and limited their opponents’ time with the puck. That means taking away scoring opportunities. Defensively, it’s one of the best weapons.
More than fifty percent of the time (54.6%,) the Philadelphia Flyers were winning faceoffs. The best kind of defense comes from forwards who can gain an offensive possession. That will help the penalty kill by clearing the puck. This statistic requires a team effort, which puts more emphasis on the Flyers and their case of a top ten defense.
Flyers Defense Verdict
The Philadelphia Flyers defense was very close to being labeled “elite” in 2019-2020. Those different defensive outlooks justify that the Flyers hover around the area of sixth-best in the NHL. Philadelphia finished with the fifth-fewest losses last season, and it has a lot to do with how the defense played.
Philadelphia’s success in 2019-2020 puts pressure on their defensive performance in 2020-2021. Chuck Fletcher’s offseason moves to replace Matt Niskanen will be held with critical evaluation. Generally, the Philadelphia Flyers have the same players on their pairings. Philippe Myers may be the correct candidate for the top-line pair, collaborating with Ivan Provorov. At the end of this next season, it’ll be interesting to compare the work of Erik Gustafsson to the Flyers in 2019-2020, or even his own 2019-2020 performance.