Know Your Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Jeff Gross

Philadelphia has had something of a rough start, currently out of the top 8 in the East. But are they a bad team?

Philadelphia is a shadow of their former selves, they were one of the strongest teams in the whole league from 2008-12, which lead to some deep playoff runs but no cup. But now Chris Pronger is gone, Timonen is old and the Flyers are diminished. But diminished doesn't mean bad, they are still a very dangerous team.

Forwards
Simmonds-Giroux-Read
McGinn-Schenn-Voracek
Rinaldo-Couturier-Talbot
Fedotenko-Briere-Knuble

Claude Girioux is going through a rough patch. Philadelphia's star forward lead a dominant two-way line last year between Hartnell and Jagr, was +10 in goals and +7.8 in shot attempts per 60 playing the best opposition head to head. But neither winger is available to him today and he's -3 and neutral on puck possession so far this year. Philadelphia needs him to get on track to lead a team that doesn't have Richards and Carter anymore.

Schenn's line has been the Flyers's best this year. They get some shelter zonally, but have been very strong on puck possession and have scored at a decent clip. This is a big step up for Brayden Schenn who while dominating lower leagues has never been very good in the NHL. Its also surprising to see someone like Tye McGinn in a scoring role and doing well, but injuries can force strange combinations.

Couturier is Philadelphia's shutdown forward at 19 years of age. He has the Lars Eller job of carrying a scrub in Rinaldo and a bottom sixer in Talbot to take defensive draws against good opposition. He's a pretty special player though, dragging this line up to even under brutal circumstances.

That last Philadelphia line would be threatening years ago. In the present though, its really nothing much. Briere is even worse 5 on 5 than he used to be and is just getting pounded territorially. He needs score effects to bring him up to a respectably bad ~48% on 5 on 5 puck possession metrics, with the score close he's running at around 40%. Likewise, without Timonen he runs at 44.2% on corsi this year.

This group wins with Schenn's line, holds about even with Giroux and Couturier and loses with Briere.

Defense
Coburn-Schenn
Grossman-Gervais
Lilja-Foster

Philadelphia had one of the strongest defensive corps in the whole league not that long ago, with Pronger-Carle and Timonen-Coburn being two 1st pairing caliber duos and Meszaros carrying a 3rd pair. Now they are an absolute trainwreck. Timonen is injured which leaves only Coburn of their former quality 5 man group. In their place is an assortment of the not very good. And Coburn is having a rough go of it so far, 45.6% on Fenwick 5 on 5. Luke Schenn never rose above bottom pairing quality in Toronto, Grossman is a decent enough 4-5. Gervais, Lilja and Foster are questionable as NHL regulars. I wouldn't blame the Flyers forwards at all if they sink while playing in front of this bunch.

Power Play
Simmonds-Giroux-Briere
Voracek-Foster
Knuble-Schenn-Talbot
Coburn-Read

Flyers were a deadly team with the man-advantage last year, with Claude Giroux arguably the leagues best PP forward. This continues this season with the Flyers far above average in puck control and scoring with his top unit out there. A key question is whether they will be as effective without Kimmo Timonen though, Foster is the only other defenseman they have used regularly on the man advantage and while their shot production keeps level, they have not converted as well with him on the point. They'll probably still be dangerous but I wouldn't be sure on that.

Penalty Kill
Talbot-Fedetenko
Giroux-Read
Coburn-Grossman
?-Schenn

Talbot has been above average on the penalty kill, Read has been terrific (0 goals against) pretty much everyone else is average. Open question who replaces Timonen on the 2nd pairing. Overall a pretty average penalty killing squad. Couturier was removed from PK duties due to ineffectiveness resulting in 10 goals against despite decent puck possession.

Matchups
Philadelphia is a pretty tough matchup squad. Obviously you probably want to mark Giroux with your best two-way guy but Schenn's line is offensively dangerous as well. You also know that they will be trying to get Couturier out to suck away offense from your top scorers. Habs will probably want Plekanec against Giroux, Desharnais/Eller against Schenn, Galchenyuk against Briere and Eller against Couturier. They'll probably seek to get Couturier against Desharnais and Schenn against Galchenyuk. The key will be getting offensive zone time and then exploiting the weak defensive group to maintain it and limit the amount of offensive mischief their strong forward group can get up too.
With this deep offense at forward, it may not be that bad that MTL is icing a more balanced defense rather than moving up Subban.

Global Performance:
Philadelphia has been losing but they shouldn't be taken lightly, 51.62% Fenwick close and a history of good 5 on 5 play implies strongly that they will rebound. They may collapse without their top defenseman in Timonen though. They are also 7th in producing shots 5 on 4 and 11th in prevent shots 4 on 5 so their special teams should be above average as well. Unless the Habs are the beneficiaries of a well timed collapse of their defensive corps, this should not be an easy match.
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