Why the Philadelphia Flyers are an Eastern Conference dark horse

The Philadelphia Flyers are in a playoff spot for the first time this season, and Chris Therien explains to the Hockey Central @ Noon crew how and why.

The Eastern Conference may be as wide open as it’s ever been heading into the playoffs, with only the Washington Capitals considered to be a real contender for the Cup. However, one team that no one should sleep on right now is the one battling hardest for that final playoff spot: The Philadelphia Flyers.

Since the calendar turned to 2016, the Flyers have been a top-10 team in terms of scoring chance differential at even strength – eighth-best in the NHL to be precise. The Flyers haven’t been much better than league average on the defensive side, but in terms of generating even strength scoring chances, they’ve been the third-best team in the NHL in 2016.

Here are some other key measures for the surging Flyers:

– They boast a top-10 forecheck in the league
– They spend the fourth-most time with possession of the puck in the offensive zone
– They have the sixth-highest per cent of plays with or for the puck in the offensive zone
– They are tied for sixth-most successful passes to the slot per 20 minutes at even strength
– And they are tied for third-most successful East-West passes.

Essentially, the Flyers move the puck extremely well in the offensive zone and they’ve continued to do this even when missing important players like Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek for short periods.

What’s most dangerous about the Flyers though, is how deep in the slot they’re able to shoot from.

Flyers

The ability the Flyers have to get pucks in close to the net will be invaluable come playoff time, especially when you have a guy like Wayne Simmonds to knock pucks past goalies.

The Flyers like to trade punches when it comes to scoring chances, but it’s worth noting that while they do give up about the average number of chances against overall, they give up fewer than league average from the most dangerous zone on the ice.

Flyers-against

The league average percentage of shots on net from the inner slot is 18.3%, with 38% of shots overall coming from the slot in general. The Flyers give up just 17.6% from the inner slot, and 37.2% from the slot. That’s not a huge gap, but when you’re producing 20.5% of your own shots from the inner slot, and 40.1% of your shots come from the slot in general, it makes a difference.

Another reason the Flyers might be a great dark horse bet in the East is that one of their most likely first round opponents just plainly hasn’t been very good for a fairly long while. No offence, Boston.

Looking at Corsica’s 25-game rolling average score and venue-adjusted Corsi graphs, the Flyers are improving while the Bruins are in the gutter.

Flyers-Bruins

Obviously there’s more to the game than possession statistics and scoring chances, but dominating those areas is a good sign heading into the playoffs, and the Flyers may be getting hot at the right time.