[EDITOR’S NOTE: This was written for The Broad Street Bully website.]
Another NHL season is underway and Philadelphia Flyers fans are already panicking and revisiting the narrative that the Flyers are a slow starting team. In fact, we even talked it about in Episode 18: Festivus Grievances and that was released December 24, 2015.
As a Flyers fan, you’ve seen it too many times before. To set the table: they sleepwalk through the first period until they eventually start playing once the second period starts. Some nights they keep the momentum going for the third and some nights they coast off their second period accomplishments. It’s a crapshoot.
But how true is the “they start games slow” narrative? After I realized that NHL.com had a very elaborate stat tracking system, I ran some targeted searches and brought back some relevant information. I looked at the time from Peter Laviolette’s first season through the end of the 2017-2018 NHL season.
I sorted these tables into three categories: goals the Flyers scored by period, goals scored against the Flyers by period, and then Flyers wins and losses when scoring the first goal or ceding the first goal.
The results may surprise you.
Here’s a timeline for you before jumping into the meat of this piece:
2009-2010 was when Peter Laviolette took over for John Stevens in December
2009-2010 Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks
2010-2011 Flyers lost in the Conference Semi-Finals to the Boston Bruins
2011-2012 Flyers lost in the Conference Semi-Finals to the New Jersey Devils
2012-2013 was the lockout shortened season
2012-2013 Flyers missed the playoffs
2013-2014 was Craig Berube’s first year with the team
2013-2014 Flyers lost in the first round to the New York Rangers
2014-2015 Flyers missed the playoffs
2015-2016 was Dave Hakstol’s first year with the team
2015-2016 Flyers lost in the first round to the Washington Capitals
2016-2017 Flyers missed the playoffs
2017-2018 Flyers lost in the first round to the Pittsburgh Penguins
|Season||Goals For||Period 1||Period 2||Period 3||OT|
|% of Total||28%||36%||34%||2%|
|Season||Goals Against||Period 1||Period 2||Period 3||OT|
|% of Total||29%||34%||35%||2%|
Flyers Under Peter Laviolette
From 2009-2010 through 2011-2012, the Flyers lowest goal total for a season was 232, with the highest total topping out at 260. Ignoring the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, this block of seasons is singled out because it represents Peter Laviolette’s time as the coach of the Flyers.
Therefore, it makes sense that the Flyers highest amount of first period goals over the 2009-2018 time span is from the Laviolette era. As an offensively minded coach who did his best work not focusing on defense, the Flyers under Laviolette were left to run and gun. They would give up four goals, but manage to score five.
This was especially on display in the 2009-2010 season. It even happened against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals. Every game, except for the 2-1 game two loss, were high scoring affairs.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded in June of 2011, just before that year’s NHL draft. A year after making it to within two wins of the Stanley Cup, the Flyers blew up their core of players and used the trades as an opportunity to bring in new blood. This included the likes of Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Brayden Schenn. It also opened the door for Claude Giroux to step up into a larger team role.
The newly gutted Flyers went into the 2011-2012 with Chris Pronger as the captain until he was eventually sidelined with a freak eye injury and then concussion related symptoms. The rest of the season played out with the Flyers not assigning a new captain.
With the loss of Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux was able to launch himself into a team leader. As an added bonus, Giroux’s play skyrocketed playing with NHL legend Jaromir Jagr during the 2011-2012 season. As a reward for his elevated play, Giroux was officially named the new captain of the Flyers on January 15, 2013.
The Giroux, Hartnell, and Jagr line also catapulted Giroux and Hartnell into being looked at as legitimate scoring threats. Giroux put up 93 points during the 2011-2012 campaign, in contrast to his previous career high, 76 points in in 2010-2011.
First period goal totals under Laviolette were high. So were 2nd period totals. And third period totals. Basically, Laviolette built the team to run a high octane offense and put points on the board. That was reflected in the Goals For stat every season.
Flyers under Craig Berube
After the Flyers moved on from Laviolette, they hired Craig Berube to fill the head coaching vacancy. Berube’s system was a stark contrast to Laviolette’s offensive system.
Berube coached the Flyers from the 2013-2014 season through the end of the 2014-2015 season. During these two years, the team goal total stayed consistent with Laviolette the first year and then dropped off the second year. After switching to a defense first system, it makes sense that totals dropped.
The team under Berube, both offensively and defensively, was decent but not spectacular. And the prospect pool was a desolate wasteland bereft of any real talent.
Flyers under Dave Hakstol
At the start of the 2015-2016 season, Ron Hextall replaced Berube with current head coach, and the ire of Flyers twitter, Dave Hakstol. While not the same system as Berube, Hakstol still places a reliability on defensively responsible two way play.
However, first period goals under Hakstol are lower on average than they were under Laviolette and Berube.
Hakstol hasn’t done much with this lineup. That’s mostly because Hakstol was basically icing one functioning line with three lines that could have matched any other team’s fourth line. But Hextall’s rebuild is almost at it’s end and the Flyers are slowly working in all the prospects Hextall acquired since his took over as General Manager.
Hakstol’s leash is definitely getting shorter. The 2018-2019 season will be a benchmark season for Hakstol and very well may determine his future with the team.
So far this season, the Flyers play has continued with an inconsistent first period. Then the Flyers spend the rest of the game trying to dig themselves out of the hole they created.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Fact of the matter is, if the wins don’t start piling up then Hakstol may be looking for a new position.
Looking at it from percentages, the Flyers, under three separate coaches, scored twenty eight percent of their total goals between 2009 through 2018 in the first period. That’s not even a full one third of all their goals.
The second and third periods are very similar percentage wise, as the second period comes in at thirty six percent and the third period comes in at thirty four percent.
If you noticed those totals don’t add up then you’re forgetting overtime accounts for the last two percent.
So, do the Flyers start slow? Judging by the goal total breakdown by period: yes. They do their best work in the second and third periods.
But why is the first period such a struggle? We’ve already discussed the coaching changes and the various coaching styles the team has had to endure. You also can’t forget the injuries and trades that altered the lineup each year.
So what is left to look at? People are starting to point towards the current core of the team to see if that may be the problem. Since the team leadership became players like Giroux, Voracek, and Simmonds, the stats show the Flyers first period goal production has not been great.
At least when the Flyers were leaning on Richards and Carter, the slow starts could be attributed to their hangovers affecting their overall play. That’s why Sunday matinees against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden were always a hot mess.
If the Flyers were to trade any of their current core, they don’t have any prospects in the pipeline that are close to replicating the level of play the Flyers would lose. Most of them are progressing nicely but they aren’t ready to make the jump to the NHL level.
We may see what happens sooner than later, however. The Flyers may have to let Wayne Simmonds leave, either via free agency or a trade, this season so the organization might get to see what infusing some new life into this core can do for the team.
Realistically, it’s hard to imagine why a team can’t consistently get up and running for hockey games year in and year out. But, if they want to assert themselves as a Metropolitan Division powerhouse and trudge their way back to the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers need to figure out a way to get out in front of games early and build up leads.
Being forced to play from behind sucks the life out of a team and wears them down over the course of an eighty two game season.
|Season||Wins Scoring 1st||Win % Scoring 1st||Wins Opp Scoring 1st||Win % Opp Scoring 1st|
As the chart shows, the Flyers are best suited scoring first if they want to win games. However, under Hakstol, they are more consistently winning games when they don’t score first.
While it’s nice to know that the team can battle back when they face adversity, the stats show it’s best to never have to face that adversity in the first place.
Do they fire Hakstol? Do they blow up the core and rebuild around the likes of Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and the expected savior Carter Hart?
Hextall has to figure out the answer soon because he’s running out of free passes now that his draft picks are maturing, securing lineup spots, and becoming everyday players.
Thanks to NHL.com for their awesome stat search tools.