Let’s stop kidding ourselves: the Philadelphia Flyers have been on an absolute tear in the last two weeks of the season. They have gone on a 7-game winning streak, and with the way they are currently playing there is a chance they could be major contenders come playoff time.
But what is the source of their success?
The Goaltending is Back
For one, Steve Mason has come out of his early-season funk and has been able to go on his first 6-game winning streak of his career.
Although Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz may have started the streak in his first career start against the Calgary Flames, Steve Mason has been the cog behind the Flyers defense.
Before the first win of his streak against the Boston Bruins, Mason was struggling. With a .892 SV % throughout 17 games, he was not helping his team out in any such way.
There is an old adage that says, “Ye who shall have more shots shall have more saves.” Goaltenders have always said that they prefer to have more action in a game than less. That makes sense; the looser you are, the more flexible you are. If you stand for the entire game you become stiff. Having to make a save suddenly becomes more difficult, no matter where on the ice it comes from.
Throughout the first 17 games Mason had an average of around 25 shots on goal per game in all situations. In the last six, he has faced a total of 34 shots on goal. That is a 36% increase from the first 17 games to the last six.
Is the Flyers Defense Playing Better?
Short answer, ehhhhh.
Long answer, they are playing the same, if not marginally better, than what they have been doing so far this season.
First, we have talked about the shots. The defense giving up more shots is not a good thing at all. However, where the shots come from matters a lot. That could be the saving grace of analyzing defense; no matter how many shots there are, the majority might come from a very safe area of the ice. Some areas, like the high-danger slot, are, well, more dangerous than others.
Let’s talk about shots from the slot. Otherwise known in the statistical world as the High-Danger Area, this is where you do not want to be letting shots come from.
In the BTS (Before the Streak) era, the Flyers defense had a 5v5 High-Danger Corsi Against (HSCA; shots on goal, missed, and blocked against the other team) of 8.591 per game. In that same time frame, they had a 5v5 High-Danger Corsi For (HDCF; shots on goal, missed, and blocked for your team) of 6.772.
Of course, the Flyers usually play with more focus when Mason is not in net. Because the game against the Flames is an outlier in this small data set, I’ve chosen not to include it in the stats here.
In the DTSWM (During the Streak with Mason) era, these numbers have not gotten better. The Flyers defense had a 5v5 HDCA of 7.667 and a 5v5 HDCF of 4.167.
The Offensive Production
You may be fooled by the Flyers offense. While they have been scoring a lot recently – 21 goals in 6 games – their Shot % has also gone up. In the DTSWM era, the 5v5 Shot % of the Flyers is 10.169%. Before the 7-game winning streak, it was 7.547%.
When the Shot % is that high, it usually is an indicator of overachieving. PDO (Save % + Shot %) is another way to tell. The closer to 1.000 you are, the more normal, or par-for-course, you play. The Flyers have a 5v5 PDO of 1.045 in this time-frame.
The biggest issue with the Flyers offense right now is their reliance on special teams. Only 12 of their 21 total goals in the games Mason has started on this streak have come from 5v5 play. Yes, the Flyers are second in the league on the Power Play with a mark of 23.6%, but if they want to remain successful, they must get better on 5v5 situations.
Will They Cool Off?
Every team in the NHL rely on a certain amount of luck to become successful. In the case of the Flyers, that luck is skyrocketing. Perhaps the luck is from the “Woos” heard throughout the Wells Fargo Center during Flyers home games? They are 7-0 in the woo era!
But on a more serious note, Steve Mason is the reason behind the Flyers’ success. After his dreadful start, the bounce-back he has had has been good enough to carry the team on his back. As they say, the team with the hottest goalie has the most success, especially in the playoffs. Even if Steve Mason cools off, he’ll need to do well enough to support the Flyers in everything the team does. They are a team that has a culture of relying on goaltenders, and that isn’t changing here.
Unless the Philadelphia Flyers and Steve Mason can keep up the ridiculous pace in Shot %, Save %, HDSV% and Powerplay %, they won’t be this hot for too much longer.
Dylan is the Global Puck columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can follow Dylan on Twitter @10phillyphan.
Sources for Stats