Maybe the Flyers don’t have a shot differential problem after all

While the shot differential has been a hot topic, the Philadelphia Flyers rank atop the NHL in scoring efficiency. Is it all by design?

Through ten games in 2020-2021, the Philadelphia Flyers are currently atop the NHL standings. Offensively speaking, every opponent has dictated the pace, placing the pressure squarely on Carter Hart and Brian Elliott. Some of this has to do with Sean Couturier missing time due to injury. The Flyers shot differential has become a glaring topic of discussion. That makes sense, especially from a fanbase who would scream for the players to “shoot” if fans could attend.

Of the ten games played, Philadelphia finished behind in shots nine times. The anomaly was during a 5-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils. Currently, the Flyers shot differential stands at -101. Shockingly, they own a 7-2-1 record and are among the elite in scoring efficiency.

The AV System

Ranking fourth in scoring, Philadelphia is still working towards an identity. Only two games ago, Alain Vigneault benched Travis Konecny. The system Vigneault installed constitutes playing hockey “the right way.” Benching Konecny was an attempt to send a message to the reigning leader in team scoring.

“There’s a bigger game, there’s a 200-foot game that you need to play. Tonight he’s going to get an opportunity to reset, and I’m sure next time he’s going to be in the lineup, he’s going to be real good for us.”

Alain Vigneault; 1/30/21 – NBC Sports Philadelphia

Pointing out that a 200ft game is critical holds the team accountable for defensive ethic. Forechecking makes it difficult for opposing teams to generate clean entries from the neutral zone while creating short-ice counter attacks. Winning battles in the neutral zone emphasizes quality shots over quantity. That is a crucial value within Vigneault’s system. Throughout most of his career, a team coached by Vigneault isn’t usually near the top of the league in shot volume.

To the untrained eye, the Flyers are unable to put pressure on opposing goaltenders. When coached to take quality shots over quantity, you run the risk of being outshot by opponents. So far, Philadelphia has taken a total of 236 shots on goal. They’ve scored 35 goals. That’s nearly a conversion rate of 15%, which ranks first among teams who’ve played ten games.

How are the Flyers scoring?

“Quality shots” means “high-percentage shots.” Those kinds of opportunities are close to the goaltender within the slot or across the crease on a rush. In different scenarios, “high-percentage” takes on new definitions. On the powerplay, setting up a tip-in deflection off a screen helps. These are all different variations of “quality shots” that Vigneault welcomes in his system.

Only five goals have been scored from above the faceoff dot or between the boards and faceoff circle. That means nearly 86% of the Flyers’ goals are “high-percentage.” If you’re going to have a player take a perimeter shot on goal, Kevin Hayes is the one. It is no coincidence that he had the game-winner on Sunday night. If it weren’t for bad luck, he could have also had a hat-trick against the New York Islanders.

Nearly 69% of the total goals for Philadelphia take place closer than 20ft. That is the epitome of quality over quantity. A bevy of different shots, deflections, or tip-in opportunities has resulted in this kind of scoring efficiency. Though not impressive by volume, the Flyers are putting tons of pressure on goaltenders. James van Riemsdyk is one player who contributes to those goaltender nightmares, especially on the powerplay.

“In practices, he tips almost every single puck you shoot.”

Ivan Provorov on James van Riemsdyk; 1/27/21 – NBC Sports Philadelphia

Addressing Shot Discrepancy

More shots on goal are welcome. On average, Philadelphia is being outshot by ten against opposing teams. What we’ve learned in this system is the Flyers could be struggling with the time of possession. The concern is less about the shooting.

At no point in this season has the Flyers been able to possess the puck in the offensive zone more than their opposition. The closest they’ve come was against the Buffalo Sabres, shutting them out 3-0. More recently, Philadelphia has struggled with maintaining the offensive possession. On average, the Islanders started with the puck in the Flyers defensive zone around 81% of the time. Too much pressure has been placed squarely on the defense and goaltending.

Vigneault pressed on Konecny about his 200ft game to send a message to the entire locker room. “TK, in my mind, is one of our top three forwards,” Vigneault said. Accountability doesn’t care if you’re a top-three forward. The Flyers need to improve upon their offensive possession metrics. In his system, using defensive prowess to create offensive opportunities makes this team more dangerous.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

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