How Far Can the Flyers Ride Special Teams?

It should be no secret that the 2013-2014 Flyers are an average team at even strength. They currently sit at 17th in 5v5 Goals For/Against at .95, smack in the middle of the pack. And if we look at Fenwick Close %, a good stat for measuring puck possession success, the Flyers are 24th out of 30 teams at 48.8%. Simply put, they tend to get out-possessed, out-shot, and out scored at 5v5.

As you can see from the chart above, the Flyers have been holding steady at roughly 48% Fenwick close after recovering from an their abysmal start. Its a safe bet that they’ll continue to be an average 5v5 team moving forward. This is the reality of a team relying so heavily onĀ  Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn to carry the workload defensively. But do these poor 5v5 numbers doom this team to an early playoff exit? Maybe not.

Since Berube took over as head coach in early October, special teams play has been the real driver of the Flyers success in the standings. The team currently ranks 10th in powerplay% and 7th in PK%. Pierce Cunneen took a statistical look at the Flyers PK for Broad Street Hockey earlier this season, and concluded that they are operating at a truly elite level. Thanks largely to the stellar efforts of Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Kimmo Timonen this might be the best penalty kill the Flyers have had in years. On the flipside, a lethal first unit powerplay featuring Giroux, Voracek, Kimmo, Simmonds and Hartnell has been tearing opposition PK’s apart. All together, special teams accounts for nearly 30% of the Flyers total goal production on the season. Its entirely possible for Berube’s Flyers to ride this special teams success to a deep post-season run. We’ve seen it happen before.

In 2007-2008, the Philadelphia Flyers were coming off of the worst season in franchise history. Young centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were handed the reigns along with a new head coach in John Stevens. Much like our current Flyers, this team had a ton of potential and talent up front, but was severely ham-stringed on defense. Outside of the freshly acquired Kimmo Timonen and a young, developing Braydon Coburn, they sorely lacked competent puck moving d-men. And it showed in their 5v5 numbers. The 07-08 Flyers were 23rd in 5v5 Goals For/Against at .90, and 25th in Fenwick Close at 47.3%.

The saving grace for John Stevens first season was incredible special teams with the 2nd best power-play conversion percentage in the entire league and a top 10 PK. Thanks to Mike Richards, the Flyers were one of the most dangerous short-handed teams in the league, scoring 13 short handed goals. Steven’s team squeaked into the playoffs as the 6th seed, and went on a surprising underdog run all the way to the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That remarkable and unexpected run was due largely to special teams and a little good fortune.

Is another conference final run in our future? A number of things would need to fall neatly in the Flyers favor, but it is certainly possible. If Steve Mason catches a hot streak at the right time, if the Flyers get the right match-ups, and if the special teams hold up; this team might just survive a round or two. It would certainly help to see another Fleury-esque melt down by an opposing goaltender. Keep your fingers crossed! Although the odds might be stacked against the Flyers down the stretch, in this case an old sports cliche applies. Anything can happen in the playoffs.

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